Review: ‘Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible’

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Bert Perry's picture

I've been aware of the "false friends" issue for many years, though I love and use the KJV myself, but I have to wonder if we really ought to embrace, not shy away from, textual arguments.  The trick is that if the argument stays with the archaic nature of Jacobean English, then the use of the KJV simply becomes a test of "being more spiritually mature", and you'd get pressure to use the "real" Bible as soon as possible--much like this Bee article about a young man receiving the spiritual gift of faking tongues.

Not that I'm against the difficulty argument, but I think those who favor freedom in which translation to use need to know a bit about how manuscripts were copied, why it's nearly impossible to get them without errors, and how declined languages make the copies more robust against errors.  Then as well we need to help ourselves--as Americans we aspire to monolinguality on a good day it seems--understand the reality of difficulties in translation, and why a given word doesn't always translate the same to English, and that this is OK. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


If you want to demonstrate to somehow how an over-emphasis on literalism will slant a text's meaning, check out the English subtitles for Disney's "Let It Go" in French ...

If you know the song in English, then you'll immediately see the issue. The translation seems kind of accurate, in a crass, literalistic sort of way. But, the nuances of the lyrics are lost - almost to the point of being indecipherable. Now, of course, a few caveats:

  • The original lyrics were in English, true
  • But, we can assume Disney accurately rendered them into colloquial French for a release in France.
  • So, we can reasonably assume we're beginning with a coherent expression of the song in French, which YouTube's closed captioning renders into wooden English

The basic point is that there is no such thing as a 1:1 correspondence in language, and the subtitles here demonstrate that in a way ordinary people with no language training can understand. That's why a slavish devotion to over literalism is bad; but many well-meaning Christians assume it's good - even though no translation is that literal! This might be a good way to introduce the "translation philosophy" debate!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I say this in all kindness to friends who want to disagree with points in Mark's book. Please read it first and don't make assumptions, even on good reviews like this one.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture


Hey, it links to the SI review ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture


I think the days of speaking of formal and nonformal equivalence as though the options were binary passed a while ago and folks are generally aware that there are degrees of correspondence. So, though there is no 1:1, 100% formal equivalence, there are "nearly formal" and "not even close to formal" ends of the spectrum.

I'm of the school of thought that says "nearly formal" is best for general use but the more paraphrastic translations are often helpful as well, and in some situations, ideal. (I didn't hesitate to give an NIrV to my son when he was young and struggling with reading... but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone with an 8th grade or better reading skills.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.