In praise of the King James Version

This is my personal opinion and not that of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society, but I’ve made no secret of my desire to see the Catholic Church approve the King James Version of the Bible as part of our Anglican patrimony and a treasure to be shared.  Of course, it would need the extra books and some footnotes to correct any errors.

In a recent conversation on Facebook, none other than Tony Esolen, an author, translator of Dante, and professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire weighed in.

Here is some of the conversation, starting with a comment from Claudia Brown, of Toronto who writes:

Claudia Brown I had never thought about the fact that in the Gettysburg address you have to travel all the way to “continent” before you stumble onto something strictly Latinate. Not such a surprise, though, when you think how steeped in the King James Bible all literate English speakers and writers were in the past, regardless of which Christian branch they called home. And King James is wonderfully formed from its Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic ancestors, full of short, clipped words into which it is always lumpy to insert too many Latin Immigrants when “updating” the translation. (“Holy Spirit” vs. “Holy Ghost”: no contest.) Things also go awry when the liturgists fiddle with the cadence, dropping “Fishers of men” in favor of the all-time great clunker, “From now on we will be catching people.” Not intrusively Latinate, but guilty of punching the natural rhythm in the face, and whispering vile images in its ear.
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Mana

Deborah Gyapong May the KJV be approved in a Catholic edition, with footnotes if necessary to explain Catholic theology. Can’t happen too soon, in my opinion
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Bill White The KJV even *feels* good in the mouth when it’s pronounced, and its rhythm carries you along and helps you read. You have to fight through some modern texts to read them aloud.
Tony Esolen Deborah Gyapong — I agree entirely. I sometimes cause conservative Catholics a hitch in their breath when I say that the KJV still remains the finest English translation of Scripture. If you can get your KJV with the deutero-canonical books, you’ve got all you need.
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Deborah Gyapong Tony Esolen The KJV and the Book of Common Prayer are the underpinnings of the culture of the English-speaking world and it is so sad to see these foundations eroded.

Manage

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Deborah Gyapong If only we could bring them into the safety of the Catholic Church as part of the treasure to be shared Pope Benedict XVI spoke of in Anglicanorum coetibus. Because Lord knows the Anglican Communion has sent its patrimony, our patrimony as English-speakers, into the dustbin.
Claudia Brown One more observation: for myself, the connection with the KJV was more cultural than religious because I grew up steeped in the Douai translations in my missal. They are close, often identical, to the KJV, but when looking up a citation on one of the comparative Bible websites, the Douai has a habit of coming in second In the quality contest. But they are both products of an era when the sound of language was admired and beloved — where Shakespeare filled the yard of his theatre with people who may not have been able to read, but who knew how to listen, and stood through “Methinks I am a prophet new-inspir’d” as happily as they did for “I see their knavery — this is to make an ass of me”.

The great rupture in basic education over the past half-century has produced a couple of generations who can read , more or less, but who , if they are fortunate enough to cover Shakespeare in their curriculum, too often work with the specialized student texts that feature (as one clueless pupil was heard to call it) “those books with the Shakespeare on one side and the English on the other.” And you can bet there’s not a footnote to be found which illumines any of Shakespeare’s frequent debts to the Bible.

As to the current Catholic controversy over the Englished working of the Lord’s Prayer, the traditional form of which is not easily explained, one should be able to apply to the sacred texts one of the best directives on how to understand Shakespeare: “the best way to understand Shakespeare’s language is to LEARN IT.” So too the long-standing Englished Our Father.

Professor Esolen, who is well-known to faithful Catholics, led off the Facebook discussion with this:

English … most versatile language in the world … because of its highly unusual history. It’s a Germanic language overlaid by thousands of French words brought by the boat-load in the Norman invasion, opening it up to rather easy borrowings straight from French’s parent, Latin, during the Renaissance. And not only the words, but the means for making new words. The result is that English has more words by far than any other language, more means of making new words, and a greater variety of words to express roughly the same thing, but with different shades of meaning or approval, or to be used in different situations….

So, where do the words in this famous sentence come from?

Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or consider this list of near-synonyms:

DIRTY
SOILED
FILTHY
GRIMY
SQUALID
SMUTTY
NASTY

You can play a DIRTY trick on someone, but not a SOILED trick. You can have SOILED linen, but not SMUTTY linen (unless we are talking about Victoria’s Secret or something). A movie can be SMUTTY but not GRIMY. Your hands can be FILTHY but not NASTY. How to explain that to somebody learning the language for the first time?

Or this list of near-synonyms:

JOYFUL
HAPPY
MERRY
JUBILANT
DELIGHTED
BLISSFUL

Or this:

WALK
STROLL
SAUNTER
AMBLE
TRUDGE

3 thoughts on “In praise of the King James Version

  1. There’s always the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. Somewhere in the distant past, I heard that the Eskimo language has about twenty distinct words for snow in all of its nuanced variations while the Polynesian language has none. But then, the Eskimos are surrounded by it while the Polynesians have never seen it in their respective homelands.

    As regards the Authorized (“King James”) Version of the bible, the original edition was complete so it theoretically would be no problem to publish a Catholic edition containing exactly the Catholic canon of scripture. However, there are two problems with it.

    >> 1. The Catholic Church has always maintained that there were serious errors in the translation itself. Unfortunately, you cannot fix such errors with footnotes because we don’t read footnotes when we read the scriptures in the liturgy.

    >> 2. Even if the original translation were not problematic, many words evolve in meaning over the course of time. When I was young, “pot” was a vessel in which you cooked and not something that your classmates might have smoked, while the “gay ’90’s” had nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality, and those examples are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

    In view of these issues, the magisterium does well to exercise caution.

    Norm.

    Like

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