Study of the King James Bible Part 3

The version did not at once supersede the Genevan and the Bishops'; but it was so incomparably better than either that gradually they disappeared, and by sheer excellence it took the field, and it holds the field to-day in spite of the numerous supposedly improved versions that have appeared under private auspices.

It holds the field, also, in spite of the excellent revised version of 1881 made by authority, and the more excellent version issued in 1901 by the American Revision Committee, to-day undoubtedly the best version in existence, considered simply as a reproduction of the sense of the original. And for reasons that may later appear, the King James version bids fair to hold the field for many years to come.

When we turn from the history of its making to the work itself, there is much to say. We may well narrow our thought for the remainder of the study to its traits as a version of the Bible.

I. Name this first, that it is an honest version.

That is, it has no argumentative purpose. It is not, as the scholars say, apologetic. It is simply an out-and-out version of the Scripture, as honestly as they could reproduce it.

There were Puritans on the committee; there were extreme High Churchmen; there were men of all grades between. But there is nowhere any evidence that any one was set on making the Bible prove his point. There were strong anti-papal believers among them; but they made free use of the Douai version, and, of course, of the Vulgate. They knew the feeling that Hugh Broughton had toward them; but they made generous use of all that was good in his work. They were working under a royal warrant, and their dedication to King James, with its absurd and fulsome flattery, shows what they were capable of when they thought of the King. But there is no twist of a text to make it serve the purposes of royalty. They might be servile when they thought of King James; but there was not a touch of servility in them when they thought of the Scripture itself. They were under instruction not to abandon the use of ecclesiastical terms. For instance, they were not to put "congregation" in place of "church,"

as some Puritans wanted to do. Some thought that was meant to insure a High Church version; but the translators did not understand it so for a moment. They understood it only to safeguard them against making a partisan version on either side, and to help them to make a version which the people could read understandingly at once. It was not to be a Puritan Book nor a High Church Book. It was to be an honest version of the Bible, no matter whose side it sustained.

Now, if any one thinks that is easy, or only a matter of course, he plainly shows that he has never been a theologian or a scholar in a contested field. Ask any lawyer whether it is easy to handle his authorities with entire impartiality, whether it is a matter of course that he will let them say just what they meant to say when his case is involved. Of course, he will seek to do it as an honest lawyer, but equally, of course, he will have to keep close watch on himself or he will fail in doing it. Ask any historian whether it is easy to handle the original documents in a field in which he has firm and announced opinions, and to let those documents speak exactly what they mean to say, whether they support him or not. The greater historians will always do it, but they will sometimes do it with a bit of a wrench.

Even a scholar is human, and these men sitting in their six companies would all have to meet this Book afterward, would have their opinions tried by it. There must have been times when some of them would be inclined to salt the mine a little, to see that it would yield what they would want it to yield later. So far as these men were able to do it, they made it say in English just what it said in Hebrew and Greek. They showed no inclination to use it as a weapon in their personal warfare.

One line of that honest effort is worth observing more closely. When points were open to fair discussion, and scholarship had not settled them, they were careful not to let their version take sides when it could be avoided. On some mooted words they did not try translation, but transliteration instead. That is, they brought the Greek or Hebrew word over into English, letter by letter. Suppose scholars differed as to the exact meaning in English of a word in the Greek. Some said it has this meaning, and some that it has that. Now, if the version committed itself to one of those meanings, it became an argument at once against the other and helped to settle a question on which scholarship was not yet agreed. They could avoid making a partisan Book by the simple device of bringing the word which was disputed over into the new translation. That left the discussion just where it was before, but it saved the work from being partisan. The method of transliteration did not always work to advantage, as we shall see, but it was intended throughout to save the Book from taking sides on any question where honest men might differ as to the meaning of words.

They did that with all proper names, and that was notable in the Old Testament, because most Old Testament proper names can be translated.

They all mean something in themselves.

Adam is the Hebrew word for man; Abraham means Father of a Great Multitude; David is the Hebrew word for Beloved; Malachi means My Messenger. Yet as proper names they do not mean any of those things. It is impossible to translate a proper name into another tongue without absurdity. It must be transliterated.

Yet there is constant fascination for translators in the work of translating these proper names, trying to make them seem more vivid. It is quite likely, though it is disputed, that proper names do all go back to simple meanings. But by the time they become proper names they no longer have those meanings. The only proper treatment of them is by transliteration.

The King James translators follow that same practice of transliteration rather than translation with another word which is full of controversial.

possibility. I mean the word "baptism."

There was dispute then as now about the method of that ordinance in early Christian history. There were many who held that the classical meaning which involved immersion had been taken over bodily into the Christian faith, and that all baptism was by immersion. There were others who held that while that might be the classical meaning of the word, yet in early Christian custom baptism was not by immersion, but might be by sprinkling or pouring, and who insisted that no pressure on the mode was wise or necessary. That dispute continues to this day. Early versions of the Bible already figured in the discussion, and for a while there was question whether this King James version should take sides in that controversy, about which men equally loyal to truth and early Christian history could honestly differ. The translators avoided taking sides by bringing the Greek word which was under discussion over into English, letter by letter. Our word "baptism"

is not an English word nor a Saxon word; it is a purely Greek word. The controversy has been brought over into the English language; but the King James version avoided becoming a controversial book. A number of years ago the convictions of some were so strong that another version of the Bible was made, in which the word baptism was carefully replaced by what was believed to be the English translation, "immersion," but the version never had wide influence.

In this connection it is well to notice the effort of the King James translators at a fair statement of the divine name. It will be remembered that it appears in the Old Testament ordinarily as "LORD," printed in small capitals.

A very interesting bit of verbal history lies back of that word. The word which represents the divine name in Hebrew consists of four consonants, J or Y, H, V, and H. There are no vowels; indeed, there were no vowels in the early Hebrew at all. Those that we now have were added not far from the time of Christ.

No one knows the original pronunciation of that sacred name consisting of four letters. At a very early day it had become too sacred to pronounce, so that when men came to it in reading or in speech, they simply used another word which is, translated into English, Lord, a word of high dignity. When the time came that vowels were to be added to the consonants, the vowels of this other word Lord were placed under the consonants of the sacred name, so that in the word Jehovah, where the J H V H occur, there are the consonants of one word whose vowels are unknown and the vowels of another word whose consonants are not used.

Illustrate it by imagining that in American literature the name Lincoln gathered to itself such sacredness that it was never pronounced and only its consonants were ever printed. Suppose that whenever readers came to it they simply said Washington, thinking Lincoln all the while. Then think of the displacement of the vowels of Lincoln by the vowels of Washington.

You have a word that looks like Lancilon or Lanicoln; but a reader would never pronounce so strange a word. He would always say Washington, yet he would always think the other meaning. And while he would retain the meaning in some degree, he would soon forget the original word, retaining only his awe of it.

Which is just what happened with the divine name. The Hebrews knew it was not Lord, yet they always said Lord when they came to the four letters that stood for the sacred word.

The word Jehovah, made up of the consonants of an unknown word and the vowels of a familiar word, is in itself meaningless. Scholarship is not yet sure what was the original meaning of the sacred name with its four consonants.

These translators had to face that problem.

It was a peculiar problem at that time. How should they put into English the august name of God when they did not know what the true vowels were? There was dispute among scholars.

They did not take sides as our later American Revision has done, some of us think quite unwisely.

They chose to retain the Hebrew usage, and print the divine name in unmistakable type so that its personal meaning could not be mistaken.

On the other hand, disputes since their day have shown how they translated when transliteration would have been wiser. Illustrate with one instance. There is a Hebrew word, Sheol, with a Greek word, Hades, which corresponds to it. Usage had adopted the Anglo-Saxon word Hell as the equivalent of both of these words, so they translated Sheol and Hades with the English word Hell. The only question that had been raised was by that Hugh Broughton of whom we were speaking a moment ago, and it had not seemed a serious one. Certainly the three terms have much in common, and there are places where both the original words seemed to be virtually equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon Hell, but they are not the same. The Revised Version of our own time returned to the original, and instead of translating those words whose meaning can be debated, it transliterated them and brought the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades over into English. That, of course, gave a chance for paragraphers to say that the Revised Version had read Hell out of the Scriptures. All that happened was that cognizance was taken of a dispute which would have guided the King James translators if it had existed in their time, and we should not have become familiar with the Anglo-Saxon word Hell as the translation of those disputed Hebrew and Greek words.

We need not seek more instances. These are enough to illustrate the saying that here is an honest version, the fruit of the best scholarship of the times, without prejudice.

II. A second trait of the work as a version is its remarkable accuracy. It is surprising that with all the new light coming from early documents, with all the new discoveries that have been made. the latest revision needed to make so few changes, and those for the most part minor ones. There are, to be sure, some important changes, as we shall see later; the wonder is that there are not many more. The King James version had, to be sure, the benefit of all the earlier controversy. The whole ground had been really fought over in the centuries before, and most of the questions had been discussed.

They frankly made use of all the earlier controversy. They say in their preface: "Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better. That hath been our endeavor, that our work." Also, they had the advantage of deliberation. This was the first version that had been made which had such sanction that they could take their time, and in which they had no reason to fear that the results would endanger them. They say in their preface that they had not run over their work with that "posting haste" that had marked the Septuagint, if the saying was true that they did it all in seventy-two days; nor were they "barred and hindered from going over it again," as Jerome himself said he had been, since as soon as he wrote any part "it was snatched away from him and published"; nor were they "working in a new field," as Origen was when he wrote his first commentary on the Bible. Both these things--their taking advantage of earlier controversies which had cleared many differences, and their deliberation--were supplemented by a third which gave great accuracy to the version. That was their adoption of the principle of all early translators, perhaps worded best by Purvey, who completed the Wiclif version: "The best translation is to translate after the sentence, and not only after the words, so that the sentence be as open in English as in Latin." That makes for accuracy.

It is quite impossible to put any language over, word for word, into another without great inaccuracy. But when the translators sought to take the sentence of the Hebrew or the Greek and put it into an exactly equivalent English sentence, they had larger play for their language and they had a fairer field for accuracy. These were the three great facts which made the remarkable accuracy possible, and it may be interesting to note three corresponding results which show the effort they made to be absolutely accurate and fair in their translation.

The first of those results is visible in the italicized words which they used. In the King James version words in italics are a frank acknowledgment that the Greek or the Hebrew cannot be put into English literally. These are English words which are put in because it seems impossible to express the meaning originally intended without certain additions which the reader must take into account in his understanding of the version. We need not think far to see how necessary that was. The arrangement of words in Greek, for example, is different from that in English. The Greek of the first verse of the Gospel of John reads that "God was the Word," but the English makes its sentences in a reversed form, and it really means, "the Word was God." So the Greek uses particles where the English does not. Often it would say "the God" where we would say simply "God." Those particles are ordinarily wisely omitted. So the Greek does not use verbs at some points where it is quite essential that the English shall use them. But it is only fair that in reading a version of the Scripture we should know what words have been put in by translators in their effort to make the version clear to us; and the italicized words of the King James version are a frank effort to be accurate and yet fair.

The second result which shows their effort at accuracy is in the marginal readings. Most of these are optional readings, and are preceded by the word "or," which indicates that one may read what is in the text, or substitute for it what is in the margin with equal fairness to the original. But sometimes, instead of that familiar "or," occur letters which indicate that the Hebrew or the Greek literally means something else than what is given in the English text, and what it literally means is given in the margin. The translators thereby say to the reader that if he can take that literal meaning and put it into the text so that it is intelligible to him, here is his chance. As for them, they think that the whole context or meaning of the sentence rather involves the use of the phrase which they put into the text. But the marginal references are of great interest to most of us as showing how these men were frank to say that there were some things they could not settle. They were rather blamed for it, chiefly by those who had committed themselves to the Douai version, which has no marginal readings, on the ground that the translation ought to be as authoritative as the original. The King James translators repudiate that theory and frankly say that the reason they put these words in the margin was because they were not sure what was the best reading. In the margin of the epistle to the Romans there are eighty- four such marginal readings, and the proportion will hold throughout most of the version. They were only trying to be accurate and to give every one a chance to make up his own mind where there was fair reason to question their results.

The third thing which shows their effort at accuracy is their explicit avoidance of uniformity in translating the same word. They tried to put the meaning into English terms.

So, as they say, the one word might become either "journeying" or "traveling"; one word might be "thinking" or "supposing," "joy" or "gladness," "eternal" or "everlasting." One of the reasons they give for this is quaint enough to quote. They said they did not think it right to honor some words by giving them a place forever in the Bible, while they virtually said to other equally good words: Get ye hence and be banished forever. They quote a "certaine great philosopher" who said that those logs were happy which became images and were worshiped, while, other logs as good as they were laid behind the fire to be burned. So they sought to use as many English words, familiar in speech and commonly understood, as they might, lest they should impoverish the language, and so lose out of use good words. There is no doubt that in this effort both to save the language, and to represent accurately the meaning of the original, they sometimes overdid that avoidance of uniformity. There were times when it would have been well if the words had been more consistently translated. For example, in the epistle of James ii: 2, 3, you have goodly "apparel," vile "raiment," and gay "clothing,"

all translating one Greek word. Our revised versions have sought to correct such inconsistencies.

But it was all done in the interest of an accuracy that should yet not be a slavish uniformity.

This will be enough to illustrate what was meant in speaking of the effort of the translators to achieve accuracy in their version.

III. The third marked trait of the work as a version of the Scripture is its striking blending of dignity and popularity in its language. At any period of a living language, there are three levels of speech. There is an upper level used by the clearest thinkers and most careful writers, always correct according to the laws of the language, generally somewhat remote from common life--the habitual speech of the more intellectual.

There is also the lower level used by the least intellectual, frequently incorrect according to the laws of the language, rough, containing what we now call "slang," the talk of a knot of men on the street corner waiting for a new bulletin of a ball game, cheap in words, impoverished in synonyms, using one word to express any number of ideas, as slang always does. Those two levels are really farther apart than we are apt to realize. A book or an article on the upper level will be uninteresting and unintelligible to the people on the lower level. And a book in the language of the lower level is offensive and disgusting to those of the upper level. That is not because the ideas are so remote, but because the characteristic expressions are almost unfamiliar to the people of the different levels.

The more thoughtful people read the abler journals of the day; they read the editorials or the more extended articles; they read also the great literature. If they take up the sporting page of a newspaper to read the account of a ball game written in the style of the lower level of thought, where words are misused in disregard of the laws of the language, and where one word is made to do duty for a great many ideas, they do it solely for amusement. They could never think of finding their mental stimulus in that sort of thing. On the other hand, there are people who find in that kind of reading their real interest. If they should take up a thoughtful editorial or a book of essays, they would not know what the words mean in the connection in which they are used. They speak a good deal about the vividness of this lower-level language, about its popularity; they speak with a sneer about the stiffness and dignity of that upper level.

These are, however, only the two extremes, for there is always a middle level where move words common to both, where are avoided the words peculiar to each. It is the language that most people speak. It is the language of the street, and also of the study, of the parlor, and of the shop. But it has little that is peculiar to either of those other levels, or to any one place where a man may live his life and do his talking. If we illustrate from other literature, we can say that Macaulay's essays move on the upper level, and that much of the so-called popular literature of our day moves on the lower level, while Dickens moves on the middle level, which means that men whose habitual language is that of the upper and the lower levels can both enter into the spirit of his writing.

Now, originally the Bible moved on that middle level. It was a colloquial book. The languages in which it first appeared were not in the classic forms. They are the languages of the streets where they were written. The Hebrew is almost our only example of the tongue at its period, but it is not a literary language in any case. The Greek of the New Testament is not the Eolic, the language of the lyrics of Sappho; nor the Doric, the language of war-songs or the chorus in the drama; nor the Ionic, the dialect of epic poetry; but the Attic Greek, and a corrupted form of that, a form corrupted by use in the streets and in the markets.

That was the original language of the Bible, a colloquial language. But that fact does not determine the translation. Whether it shall be put into the English language on the upper level or on the lower level is not so readily determined. Efforts have been made to put it into the language of each level. We have a so- called elegant translation, and we have the Bible cast into the speech of the common day.

The King James version is on the middle level.

It is a striking blending of the dignity of the upper level and the popularity of the lower level.

There is tremendous significance in the fact that these men were making a version which should be for all people, making it out in the open day with the king and all the people behind them. It was the first independent version which had been made under such favorable circumstances. Most of the versions had been made in private by men who were imperiling themselves in their work. They did not expect the Book to pass into common use; they knew that the men who received the result of their work would have to be those who were earnest enough to go into secret places for their reading.

But here was a changed condition. These men were making a version by royal authority, a version awaited with eager interest by the people in general. The result is that it is a people's Book. Its phrases are those of common life, those that had lived up to that time. It is not in the peculiar language of the times. If you want to know the language of their own times, read these translators' servile, unhistorical dedication to the king, or their far nobler preface to the reader. That is the language peculiar to their own day. But the language of the Bible itself is that form which had lived its way into common use. One hundred years after Wiclif it yet speaks his language in large part, for that part had really lived. In the Bibliotheca Pastorum Ruskin makes comment on Sir Philip Sidney and his metrical version of the Psalms in these words: "Sir Philip Sidney will use any cow-boy or tinker words if they only help him to say precisely in English what David said in Hebrew; impressed the while himself so vividly of the majesty of the thought itself that no tinker's language can lower it or vulgarize it in his mind." The King James translators were most eager to say what the original said, and to say it so that the common man could well understand it, and yet so that it should not be vulgarized or cheapened by adoption of cheap words.

In his History Hallam passes some rather sharp strictures on the English of the King James version, remarking that it abounds in uncouth phrases and in words whose meaning is not familiar, and that whatever is to be said it is, at any rate, not in the English of the time of King James. And that latter saying is true, though it must be remembered that Hallam wrote in the period when no English was recognized by literary people except that of the upper level, when they did not know that these so- called uncouth phrases were to return to common use. To-day it would be absurd to say that the Bible is full of uncouth phrases.

Professor Cook has said that "the movement of English diction, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was on the whole away from the Bible, now returns with ever-accelerating speed toward it." If the phrases went out, they came back. But it is true that the English of the King James version is not that of the time of James I., only because it is the English of the history of the language. It has not immortalized for us the tongue of its times, because it has taken that tongue from its beginning and determined its form. It carefully avoided words that were counted coarse. On the other hand, it did not commit itself to words which were simply refinements of verbal construction. That, I say, is a general fact.

It can be illustrated in one or two ways. For instance, a word which has become common to us is the neuter possessive pronoun "its." That word does not occur in the edition of 1611, and appears first in an edition in the printing of 1660. In place of it, in the edition of 1611, the more dignified personal pronoun "his" or "her"

is always used, and it continues for the most part in our familiar version. In this verse you notice it: "Look not upon the wine when it is red; when it giveth HIS color aright in the cup."

In the Levitical law especially, where reference is made to sacrifices, to the articles of the furniture of the tabernacle, or other neuter objects, the masculine pronoun is almost invariably used. In the original it was invariably used.

You see the other form in the familiar verse about charity, that it "doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not HER own, is not easily provoked." Now, there is evidence that the neuter possessive pronoun was just coming into use. Shakespeare uses it ten times in his works, but ten times only, and a number of writers do not use it at all. It was, to be sure, a word beginning to be heard on the street, and for the most part on the lower level. The King James translators never used it. The dignified word was that masculine or feminine pronoun, and they always use it in place of the neuter.

On the other hand, there was a word which was coming into use on the upper level which has become common property to us now. It is the word "anxiety." It is not certain just when it came into use. I believe Shakespeare does not use it; and it occurs very little in the literature of the times. Probably it was known to these translators.

When they came, however, to translating a word which now we translate by "anxious"

or "anxiety" they did not use that word.

It was not familiar. They used instead the word which represented the idea for the people of the middle level; they used the word "thought."

So they said, "Take no thought for the morrow,"

where we would say, "Be not anxious for the morrow." There is a contemporary document which illustrates how that word "thought"

was commonly used, in which we read: "In five hundred years only two queens died in child birth, Queen Catherine Parr having died rather of thought." That was written about the time of the King James version, and "thought"

evidently means worry or anxiety. Neither of those words, the neuter possessive pronoun or the new word "anxious," got into the King James version. One was coming into proper use from the lower level, and one was coming into proper use from the upper level. They had not yet so arrived that they could be used.

One result of this care to preserve dignity and also popularity appears in the fact that so few words of the English version have become obsolete.

Words disappear upward out of the upper level or downward out of the lower level, but it takes a long time for a word to get out of a language once it is in confirmed use on the middle level. Of course, the version itself has tended to keep words familiar; but no book, no matter how widely used, can prevent some words from passing off the stage or from changing their meaning so noticeably that they are virtually different words. Yet even in those words which do not become common there is very little tendency to obsolescence in the King James version.

More words of Shakespeare have become obsolete or have changed their meanings than in the King James version.

There is one interesting illustration to which attention has been called by Dr. Davidson, which is interesting. In the ninth chapter of the Judges, where we are told about Abimelech, the fifty-third verse reads that a woman cast a stone down from the wall and "all to break his skull." That is confessedly rather obscure.

Our ordinary understanding of it would be that she did that for no other purpose than just to break the skull of Abimelech. As a matter of fact, that expression is a printer's bungling way of giving a word which has become obsolete in the original form. When the King James translators wrote that, they used the word "alto,"

which is evidently the beginning of "altogether,"

or wholly or utterly, and what they meant was that she threw the stone and utterly broke his skull. But that abbreviated form of the word passed out of use, and when later printers--not much later--came to it they did not know what it meant and divided it as it stands in our present text. It is one of the few words that have become obsolete. But so few are there of them, that it was made a rule of the Revised Version not to admit to the new version, where it could be avoided, any word not already found in the Authorized Version, and also not to omit from the Revised Version, except under pressure of necessity, any word which occurred there. It is largely this blending of dignity and popularity that has made the King James version so influential in English literature. It talks the language not of the upper level nor of the lower level, but of that middle level where all meet sometimes and where most men are all the while.

Chapter end

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