7: The lie of the need for modern language

By Jim MacIntosh

For this section, I will firstly provide an excerpt from a book entitled The King James Version Defended, by Edward F. Hill. The following is from Pages 218 and 219 of that book:

But, someone may reply, even if the King James Version needs only a few corrections, why take the trouble to make them? Why keep on with the old King James and its 17th century language, its thee and thou and all the rest? Granted the Textus Receptus is the best text but why not make a new translation of it in the language of today? In answer to these objections there are several facts which must be pointed out.

In the first place, the English of the King James Version is not the English of the early 17th century. To be exact, it is not the type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. It is biblical English, which was not used on ordinary occasions even by the translators who produced the King James Version. As H. Wheeler Robinson (1940) pointed out, one need only compare the preface written by the translators with the text of their translation to feel the difference in style. And the observations of W. A. Irwin (1952) are to the same support. The King James Version, he reminds us, owes its merit, not to 17th century English - which was very different - but to its faithful translation of the original. Its style is that of the Hebrew and of the New Testament Greek. Even in their use of thee and thou the translators were not following 17th century English usage but biblical usage, for at the time these translators were doing their work these singular forms had already been replaced by the plural you in polite conversation.

In the second place, those who talk about translating the Bible into the language of today never define what they mean by their expression. What is the language of today? The language of 1881 is not the language of today, nor the language of 1901, nor even the language of 1921. In none of these languages, we are told, can we communicate with today's youth. There are even some who feel that the best way to translate the Bible into the language of today is to convert it into folk songs. Accordingly, in some contemporary youth conferences and even worship services there is little or no Bible reading but only crude kinds of vocal music accompanied by vigorous piano and strumming guitars. But in contrast to these absurdities, the language of the King James Version is enduring diction which will remain as long as the English language remains, in other words, throughout the foreseeable future.

In the third place, the current attack on the King James Version and the promotion of modern-speech versions is discouraging the memorization of the Scriptures, especially by children. Why memorize or require your children to memorize something that is out of date and about to be replaced by something new and better? And why memorize a modern version when there are so many to choose from? Hence even in conservative churches, children are growing up densely ignorant of the holy Bible because they are not encouraged to hide its life-giving words in their hearts.

In the fourth place, modern-speech Bibles are unhistorical and irreverent. The Bible is not a modern, human book. It is not as new as the morning newspaper, and no translation should suggest this. If the Bible were this new, it would not be the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible is an ancient, divine Book, which nevertheless is always new because in it God reveals Himself. Hence the language of the Bible should be venerable as well as intelligible, and the King James Version fulfils these two requirements better than any other Bible in English. Hence it is the King James Version which converts sinners soundly and makes of them diligent Bible students. (Note: Dr. Hill is no doubt intending to say that it is the KJV which he believes the Holy Spirit uses to convert sinners. Conversion is the work of the Spirit, not the work of a version of the Scriptures. -JM)

In the fifth place, modern-speech Bibles are unscholarly. The language of the Bible has always savoured of the things of heaven rather than the things of earth. It has always been biblical rather than contemporary and colloquial. Fifty years ago this fact was denied by E. J. Goodspeed and others who were publishing their modern versions. On the basis of the papyrus discoveries which had recently been made in Egypt it was said that the New Testament authors wrote in the everyday Greek of their own times. This claim, however, is now acknowledged to have been an exaggeration. As R. M. Grant (1963) admits, the New Testament writers were saturated with the Septuagint and most of them were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Hence their language was not actually that of the secular papyri of Egypt but biblical. Hence New Testament versions must be biblical and not contemporary and colloquial like Goodspeed's version (The Complete Bible, An American Translation (1939)).

Finally in the sixth place, the King James Version is the historic Bible of English-speaking Protestants. Upon it God, working providentially, has placed the stamp of His approval through the usage of many generations of Bible-believing Christians. Hence, if we believe in God's providential preservation of the Scriptures, we will retain the King James Version, for in doing so we will be following the clear leading of the Almighty.


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