O Me of Little Faith

I’m not quite ready to begin talking about my next Pocket Guide, so let’s take this opportunity to introduce you to some previous versions. First up: Pocket Guide to the Bible. One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 7 — “Versions and Perversions: A Selective Survey of Translations.” It details the most popular biblical translations, starting with the most famous of all: the KJV.

Here’s what the Pocket Guide said about it… (pp. 159-160)

The King James Version/Authorized Version (KJV/AV1611)

First published in: 1611, by the Church of England, at King James’ behest.

Translation style: Formal Equivalence

Quick description: The great-granddaddy of English Bibles and what you probably default to when reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Twenty-third Psalm or the Christmas Story from the book of Luke. Pretty much the most important book in Western civilization.

Why you should read it: Because this is what the Bible’s supposed to sound like. All the rich, grandiose language — with verbs ending in -eth and a host of thees and thous — make it seem, well, holier than modern translations. Plus, if you don’t read this version, you’re apparently going to hell. (Footnote: This is the viewpoint of a branch of extremely fundamentalist Independent Baptist Churches, who believe the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible to be divinely inspired — in addition to, and occasionally in place of, the original manuscripts. Most of this line of thinking developed during the whole demon-RSV brouhaha, which you’ll learn about tomorrow.)

Not so fast: The Shakespearean language sounds cool but can be difficult to understand. People who find the Bible incomprehensible probably came to this conclusion upon reading the archaic King James. And in that case, they’re right. Plus, biblical scholarship has grown a lot since the seventeenth century, so modern versions are slightly more accurate.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Tomorrow: A quick overview of the Revised Standard Version.

In the meantime, what do you like about the KJV?

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