Wednesday, July 7, 2010

#168-King James Version-Part 3

The above painting by Ford Madox Brown of Jesus Washing Peter's Feet is one of those rare paintings that brings anguish and grief when you look at it long enough. I don't know about you, but I find myself immediately taking the position of Peter in this picture, and all I can do is cringe. Can you imagine the embarrassment of having He, the Son of Man, washing your feet?

The image is absolutely absurd. It makes no sense. It defies logic. He is the King, I am the servant. And yet, Matthew 20:28 tells us the King did not come to be served, but rather He came to serve.

And thus I cringe.

So what does this have to do with the KJV? Everything.

The most common answer of why we don't allow the reading of other translations in church is that "we don't want to offend" the older generation since they have grown up with that translation.

Ah, yes. The "I don't have a problem with you doing ___________, but i just know that it will offend the older crowd" card.

How wonderful! It makes so much sense...

And in the process offend my generation and those younger right into a death march out of the church because we were too stubborn in keeping the admittedly unessential traditions of men of the past in our church as to not offend the older crowd!

In other words, we're worried that we raised the older generation on some false legs, and instead of attempting to show the beauty in genuine diversity to them, and get rid of those bad legs, we'll keep as is...

And so we are raised to believe in the great ascension that we say defines Christianity. Serve those who are above you and came before you. And when you ascend levels of authority, or grow old, then you will be served too... Ah what a glorious and convenient hierarchical model. Everything's on the up and up.

"Come up little children to us. And when we die, I promise you, there will be new children to come up to you."

"Learn to understand our culture and Bible of old, and you too will be exalted one day."

But is this the story of Christ? Did not God descend from the highest of heights and manifested himself in the form of sinful man?

And to which men did Christ reach to? The religious elite and rich of the day or the forgotten sons and daughters without a home?

Where is the example of servitude in such a model?

Now I am not suggesting that the older generation get down on its knees and wash the feet of the younger generation per se. I am just simply saying, this is a critical time right now for our movement, and my generation is waist deep in pride and confusion.

If the elders stay stubborn in unnecessary formalities and demand a KJV only church, then we most likely will arrive at a stalemate that sees my generation forfeit the message outright and look elsewhere to a community that allows the NLT to be preached over the pulpit for instance.

But rather, what I am talking about here is that maybe we could choose to be the lesser and thus suck up whatever discomfort we may feel in our close attachments to some of these tradition of elders for instance, and lead by example of how we won't let personal preference get in the way in letting the Gospel go down to the level of whatever state the young people are at.

Now, elder brethren, you may be scorning what I have suggested. But let me add one more thing:

My peers and I are dying. I can drag this out for many years to come (and I will), but most of my other peers are either staying alive because they have found a sense of community in their youth group (and thus their spiritual walk is defined by a social circle and time at the altar ), or just simply have lost their passion flat cold. We need a recitation (and I swear it's not because we're just openly rebellious). And I am merely hypothesizing that a little more servitude (or even horizontal communication) may be the trick instead of being talked down to from the heavens, where upon our only way to spiritual liberty is by climbing a mountain.

Note that while I used the KJV as an example above, the implications are far broader. And no, I am not Emergent. And no, I am not talking compromise either.

Okay, I had to get that out of my system...

Now let's get to the KJV more specifically...

In Part 2 of the series we saw how much more accurate newer translations can be (over and again the KJV whose manuscript availability was minimal).

But that won't be enough.

In our quest for certainty, we want to know we have the Word of God in its absolute form. Forgetting that we don't have one copy of any of the original versions of the Bible as they were written in Greek (or Hebrew if it was an OT book). The Bible wasn't written in English, but yet we insist there should be one true translation of the Word of God, failing to recognize that language is constantly and always changing. (Look no further than I Corinthians 4:4, where "I know nothing by myself" is written in the KJV (which made sense in the 17th century, but really means something completely to us than what Paul is trying to express) but more properly should be worded in our language as "I know nothing against myself."

But yet many want us to go to the museum of the language of the KJV and excavate all its linguistic confusion, in order to approach the Word of God...

We want to formalize Christianity into a vault of untouchable absolutes, failing to realize the absolute power of the KJV is but a result of the culture of the 1600's, whose own culture was nothing sacred.

I could go on a lot more about the intricacies of the KJV and its shortcomings, but I don't want to confuse the reader out of faith in the Word of God itself, for I certainly believe the KJV is infallible. I believe it inspired. I just don't believe it any more or less inspired than other more recent translations.

It may seem irreverent that someone even dare suggest the Word of God be changed for modern times to make it more readable, but you have come to the argument of the Roman Catholics who refused to let the Latin Vulgate be translated into any other vulgar language. Especially the English language, which at the time was considered the language of barbarians. I imagine the argument went something like that when the Bible was written into that poorman's English: the Word of God lost its beauty and poetry.

But what about the Koine Greek that the NT was written in? The language itself was nothing formally spectacular. Rather, it was rather common and simplistic compared to the formal Greek of the philosophers and educated. But yet here is the language that Jesus is choosing to initially reveal himself in. If you can stomach this concept, you can stomach a more common Bible translation instead of the KJV.

In this regard, the Word of God is in some sense, irreverent. It does not seek to speak in reverence the language of the elite, but rather seeks to be understood by all. It doesn't seek to be translated as to awe academia (though some parts do indeed do this), but rather desires to be comprehended by all man, and thus in each man's own tongue (Except for the book of Romans. No one understands that book).

If we cannot grasp this concept, then we are like the Israelites who conceived of their Messiah as only a Royal Earthly King. Of course the real Messiah was killed for his inability to live up to these expectations. Their idea of a King was one they should serve in all His majesty, but they couldn't listen for a split second to a King who would serve them and sit in the house of a prostitute or tax collector.

The Jews taught Religious Piety and serving the tradition of elders (Mark 7) as the way to God's favor. Jesus' way to God's favor was way lower than that. A descent of sorts to the feet of a lying man (Peter). And even further to be hung on that tree.

A note on preferred translation

The question of good translations boils down to this: Paraphrase or formal equivalence?

Do we go for the emotional impact of the what the author in the Bible is trying to convey (and thus allow for more artistic liberty in the translation), even though important phrases or words may be omitted from the text or do we try to go for a word for word translation with the Greek as much as possible, even though many times the emotion of the text is loss, and we can be left with a Bible composed of a dry and distant dialect?

The Message is the quintessential paraphrased text. The Greek-English Interlinear Bible is as close as we get to a "word for word translation." (trust me, a literal word for word translation into English would be incomprehensible).

Between the Formal equivalence and the center are the KJV, RSV, NASB (even more conservative than the KJV), NKJV, NRSV.

In the middle are your NIV's, NLT's (though left of the NIV), CEV, NCV.

In the paraphrased is the Message and the Living Bible.

With this variety in mind (as each translation attempts to measure meaning, intent and style of the text differently), I am a big advocate of a triangular method of Bible reading.

Basically, I have one-two from each category: (NASB/NRSV for the Formal Equivalence, NIV for a moderate reading, and then the Message for the Paraphrase). When I am trying to fully digest a certain book of the Bible or a chapter, I am sure to read the passage from each category (formal equivalence, moderate, paraphrase). This way I don't restrict my understanding of a chapter/book to what one translation was describing. Further, the triangular method allows me to hone in on a proper meaning (it's usually in between the 3), and lastly and most beneficially, I find the different translations bring out different subtleties in the text that I would have completely missed in my devotion had I stuck to one translation.

In conclusion of these 3 parts, know one thing:

"Read your Bible, pray every day, and you'll grow."
-traditional hymnal



  1. Great post as usual!

    Could you talk a little more about the NRSV? A non-Pentecostal friend of mine recommended it. But then I read about the NRSV online and I heard a few people complain that it was translated by Catholics and is anti-Protestant. I'm guessing the people that said that might have been KJV only.

  2. M,

    Sorry for the delay. What I enjoy about the NRSV is what I would call academic honesty. Thus they do not try to make the bible gender neutral, but rather translate "man" where the bible reflects "man" (many recent translations translate "man" into "person" to not offend females).

    They really try to utilize those ancient manuscripts that we have uncovered in the past 150 years. Also, they claim to not have an agenda (which is not entirely possible), but I think ultimately the NRSV is one of the more academic translations. They let you know where there are controversies between the words they chose in the translation and what other words others have used in the past, and why they chose what they did (at least in the OXford Annotated edition that I own).

    Naturally, an academic translation also brings a liberal slant, but I have no trouble with that, and would rather be confronted with those issues than swept under the rug. I have not heard the argument that it was anti-protestant, but can see that as possible in terms of many NRSV's have the apocrypha included (which are only in Catholic bibles). But that said, because my bible did have the apocrypha in it, my understanding of the post-exhilic Judaism was greatly enhanced by these books (Maccabees for instance).

    I hope that helps. But then again I'm the guy who gets where more spiritual optimism from philosophy books than I do in your traditional "How to pray better" practical Christianity book.

  3. I really enjoyed this short series on the Bible versions. One that I didn't see you mention but I enjoy is the Amplified. This isn't a version you can easily read out loud to someone but I do like how it shows the various meanings in many of the passages.