Days like this I miss the King James Version

Today, I encountered two jarring examples of translations of our Biblical texts, one in Morning Prayer, the other during Mass that make me dearly miss the King James Version, and keep my hope alive that somehow, someday, we can make a case for a KJV Catholic edition for Ordinariate use with good footnotes for the problematic areas.

First example, from Morning Prayer.

The First Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, thou knowest.” Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done it, says the LORD.”

Prophecy to the breath?  Arrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Here’s the KJV:

Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. (KJV)

Without knowing the KJV version, how will future generations get the resonance of T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday?

Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen

Then, during Mass today, the Epistle 1  John 5:1-7

Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child . . .

” . . . loves the parent loves the child?”    That sounds like some Canadian social justice types did the translation to make the language “gender neutral.”

To say nothing of the clunkiness of the language.

Here is the King James Version:

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

A few of us ended up in a discussion about this during coffee hour, where I aired my lament, and a young man whipped out his phone to a site that does line by line translation comparing the Greek and so on.

Then Fr. Hayman joined us, and we discussed the way the word begetting refers to the father’s role in begetting offspring, and also to the special way in which Christ is begotten and thus has the same nature as God the Father, but we, who are not begotten, can also be called sons and daughters of God.

I’ve also been thinking of the King James Version in the recent remembrances of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the anniversary of his assassination, with many bringing to mind the cadences of a Gospel preacher in his famous speeches.

How much were those famous cadences resonating with the King James Version?  I’m not sure whether he in fact used it, but I would not be surprised.





10 thoughts on “Days like this I miss the King James Version

  1. The Douay-Reims sin’t too bad either:
    Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. And every one that loveth him who begot, loveth him also who is born of him.


  2. That which jars often is that which forces us to study the matter more thoroughly and thus to come to a deeper and more complete understanding. I don’t know about Hebrew, but the word used similarly in the original text of the new testament — the Greek pneuma — actually means wind, breath, and spirit all at once. Thus, we read the text that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” — the word translated as “breathed” and as “Spirit” is actually the same word in the original text.

    Having said that, there’s also the fact that modern scholarship has gained access to ancient manuscripts that were not readily available to western scholars in the time of King James. If there’s a real disparity between an older translation and a modern translation, the modern translation is more likely to be correct.



      • Yes, Ruach (Hebrew), like Pneuma (Greek), may be translated as “wind”, “breath” or “S/spirit”; the context regularly determines which is most appropriate. In fact, Ezekiel 37, like John 3 (Jesus and Nicodemus), counts on the punning upon the word to bring out a fuller sense of a divine Mystery. “Wind”, catching the sense of the “four winds” (also ruach), at Ezekiel 37:9 is a better choice than “Breath” — he calls upon the Wind (Ruach) to blow Breath (Ruach) into these bodies, even as the LORD will put His Spirit (Ruach) into His people that the may live! In like fashion, John 3:9 in the KJV most appropriately reads, “the wind (pneuma) bloweth where it listeth…so is every one that is born of the Spirit (pneuma)”. …And sorry, Norm, but the verb “to breathe” at John 20:22 is emphusaō, which is not the same word as “spirit” (pneuma) at all (the former verb evokes a sense of puffing, i.e. a gentle breath; whereas the most closely related verb to pneuma, πνέω pneō, indicates a much stronger breathing, or better, blowing. As for you, Deborah, you are making a good argument for joining us in time for Mattins in order to hear the KJV readings(!) Blessing, Fr. Doug

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I myself use a BCP1928+KJVA combined volume. We have quite a bit of latitude as layfolk; I see no reason why you couldn’t do the same, Deborah (et al). I somehow have trouble imagining Chief Inquisitor Ladaria coming after you for using the “wrong” translation in your daily office, even in a communal setting.

    Maybe I’ll switch to the RSV-2CE in ten years or so, when (or if?) the Daily Office will finally be approved and published.


    • Well, yes and no.

      In private prayer, we “lay folk” can pretty much do whatever we wish. We also are not under any obligation to pray the Divine Office, so we can ignore it completely.

      That said, only a form of the Divine Office that conforms to the norms promulgated by the Vatican is a participation in the authentic liturgical prayer of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. The form of the office in the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours and the single-volume Christian Prayer meet this requirement, as do the forms used by Catholic religious orders and cathedral chapters and the form in the otherwise obsolete Book of Divine Worship developed for the parishes erected under the so-called “pastoral provision” in 1983. The form of the office in the Customary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham probably also meets this requirement. However, the liturgical books developed by the Anglican Communion and by various “continuing Anglican” bodies currently do not. Thus, praying the divine office in any edition Book of Common Prayer would not constitute participation in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.



      • I find the legal positivism underlying a lot of the “private vs. liturgical prayer” distinction in the Latin church today to be incredibly wearisome, and especially silly considering the state of the ars celebrandi these days. I take it you’d argue that celebrants who insert and/or change things right and left in the Mass are also by the same token only offering “private prayer,” since such changes are explicitly forbidden by the rubrics? Or are they still offering “liturgy?” And if the latter, why the double standard?


      • When there’s a deviation from the approved liturgical books, the question is whether it’s invalidating or merely illicit. If it’s invalidating, there’s a BIG problem! Here in the Archdiocese of Boston a few years ago, a priest purported to baptize an infant by pouring water while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.” Word reached the chancery, and the auxiliary bishop detailed to investigate the matter determined that the baptism was null and void, then directed the priest to baptize the infant using the correct formula (which the parents of the infant supposedly refused). But if it’s a question of using the wrong collect or reading the wrong set of readings during a mass or something of the sort, it’s no big deal. There are provisions in the liturgical books themselves for minor adaptations to accommodate particular pastoral situations, some of which are within the competence of the principal celebrant or the pastor of a parish and some of which require the approval of the diocesan bishop or even the episcopal conference.

        However, this situation does not involve a deviation from the approved liturgy. Rather, it involves the substitution of another liturgical book that has not yet received approval.



  4. One other note — I think it’s very telling (and speaks in its favor) that many Orthodox in this country also use and recommend the Authorized Version for private devotional use.


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