Atonic verses

Let’s assume you’re an atheist. You despise religion. You don’t understand how otherwise intelligent and cultured people can possibly believe that tosh. You yourself are way too intelligent and cultured to be so duped.

Fine. I accept your position, although, to be frank, I unfashionably don’t respect it. Nevertheless I’m prepared to sit next to you on the same high cultural perch, wherefrom we can both look down on those over-credulous simpletons.

It’s from that elevated plateau that we compare two versions of one New Testament verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12. Version A is from the King James Bible, Version B is from the New Living (actually stillborn) Translation.

A: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

B: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Obscene Version B (along with all the other modern translations) destroys the majestic poetry of Version A. Anyone failing to see that not only despises religion, but also hates the English language, thereby proving he’s neither intelligent nor cultured. For the very essence of our culture is the unity of content and form or, for those to whom the Bible has more than just aesthetic significance, God and man.

Actually, at the time Paul wrote, mirrors were made of polished metal, not glass. But forget petty pedantry: just admire the beauty of Version A and cringe at the ugliness of Version B. Which subversive, tone-deaf, linguistic castrato thought that B was actually an improvement over A?

I know all the usual arguments. It’s all about accessibility. These days nobody talks in the KJB language, and most people can’t even understand it. So they’ll be driven away from the elitist and patronising Church and into… well, dissipation, atheism, jihad, you name it.

Alas, empirical proof for this assertion is conspicuously lacking. When the KJB was standard fare in Anglicanism, attendance was considerably higher than now. A church able to accommodate hundreds every Sunday may now welcome merely a dozen parishioners, each spared the hardship of obsolete phrasing.

Those ideological vulgarisers don’t seem to realise that nobody talked that way in 1611 either, when Lancelot Andrewes and the other 46 poet-scholars-priests finished the translation. They aimed to find words doing justice to the sublime poetry and majesty of the message, not words heard in the street.

The KJB was created during the greatest period in English poetry, one roughly demarcated by Henry VIII at one end and Charles II at the other. The English language as we know it then came to life, reversing the progression of human life. Born an aesthetic giant, poetic English has been growing punier ever since, shrinking to the stunted dimensions of modern scriptural translations.

That period was blessed with the greatest poets in English and one arguably the greatest in any language. Shakespeare (who many scholars believe translated parts of the KJB, specifically Psalm 46) towers over the rest but, reaching the same celestial height, stand two other peaks of our language: the KJB and The Book of Common Prayer.

Anyone may deny the divine truth of Anglican scripture, but only a barbarian would deny its aesthetic truth. And only a vandal would try to bowdlerise it, turning it into an exercise in humdrum, anti-musical triteness.

In addition to being inept and demotic, modern translations often distort the meaning. For example, they fail to correct one of the few failings of modern English, one that most other languages don’t have: its use of ‘you’ in both its singular and plural senses.

When God says ‘you’, does he mean me personally or mankind at large? The KJB avoids this misunderstanding by distinguishing ‘thou’ or ‘thee’ from ‘ye’ or ‘you’. Thus, when Jesus says to Nicodemus “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” he’s talking to one man about a duty of all. Replace ‘thee’ and ‘ye’ with the politically correct ‘you’, and the injunction becomes ambiguous.

And when the Lord’s Prayer says “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”, the earth isn’t the physical planet saved by Al Gore, but the earthly realm saved by God. All modern translations obtusely ignore this by using the demotic and inaccurate ‘on’.

The New KJB goes so far as to cast doubt on the divinity of Christ by referring to him as “God’s servant”, rather than “God’s son”. The former makes him like ordinary believers who are all God’s servants; the latter makes him God. “Le style” appears to be not only “l’homme même” but also evidently “dieu même”.

Let’s not be dogmatic about it, as it were. If the cultural degeneration of modernity has sunk so low that the language of the KJB needs freshening up, freshen away. But do engage a team made up of scholarly poets as accomplished as Lancelot Andrewes and his men.

Do we have such men? If yes, see what they can do. If not, rather than lowering ecclesiastical texts to the level of functionally illiterate readers, demand that the latter rise to the level of the former – and help them do so with education that actually educates.

As it is, it’s next to impossible to find an Anglican church where proper scripture is used. Only intrepid holdouts among the C of E clergy insist on the KJB and The Book of Common Prayer, and they are marginalised by the hierarchy.

But at least, Anglicans have the option of using proper texts – Catholics don’t, not since Vatican II (1962-1965) vulgarised the liturgy by effectively ousting Latin Mass. It’s still celebrated in a few London churches, but finding one is even harder than finding a 1662 Anglican church.

That transition from the Vulgate to vulgarity put Catholics in even direr straits than Anglicans. Since the KJB reflects Protestant theology (in, for example, eliminating seven books included in the Catholic canon) and is therefore off limits, Catholics have to subsist on the barely digestible fare of modern translations.

One would think it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to ‘Catholicise’ the KJB by, for example, producing a stylised translation of the expunged seven books. But where there’s no will there’s no way. Both Churches have surrendered to modernity – not only in style but increasingly in substance.

Christianity has vanquished numerous deadly heresies. But it’s meekly ceding ground to the deadliest one of all: vulgarity.

11 thoughts on “Atonic verses”

  1. The newish mis-translations are also very off-the track away from the light and in the darkness, when it comes to the Book of Revelations. This is especially true when it comes to symbols; for example converting 144 cubits to 216 feet, thereby totally missing the symbolic meaning of numerals used in apocalyptic literature.

  2. Although I deprecate your overall attitude to religion, being of the atheistic persuasion, I completely agree with you on this topic. Anglicanism might save its soul by returning to the King James Version.

  3. To hell with the establishment, I’ll take genuine Christianity no matter the denomination. The less thought given to the hierarchy the better.

  4. Well, I must be a Philistine as I prefer my scripture in plain, modern English. I am old enough to have grown up with the KJV, but I am used to the NIV these days. Of course, the language used in the KJV is more flowery and colourful I admit (and it fits nicely with an early morning communion service (1662)), but I have found the ESV to be the most inspiring prose for me.

    1. Apart from many serious omissions, (such as “God” replaced over 300 times by sovereign), the main problem with “plain, modern versions” is the translated words chosen; here are some examples from the KJV to newer texts: righteousness to not morality; holiness not character; godliness not values; heathen changed to nations, servant meaning is altered in NIV to now slave, scapegoat to goat (which confuses the Jewish historical meaning), science to knowledge, superstition to religion… . By the way, do you still play the flute?

      1. I bow to your superior biblical knowledge, but as I said, I am used to the NIV. It sits in my church pew, and I have a personal copy. I have only recently rediscovered my faith, and I have endeavoured to grow my knowledge of scripture through personal study and attendance at courses. I am old enough to have been taught scripture from the KJV in my childhood, but as I said, I’m more comfortable with the modern script. What’s important is that the true meaning of the bible shines forth into the dark recesses of my brain…oh, and I haven’t played the flute for years…

        1. As I write this, I’m looking at a beautiful two-volume edition of the Tyndale Bible on my bookshelf. It did serve as a basis for the Authorised Version, and some of its verses are even more beautiful. Some aren’t, but the differences between the two aren’t huge, although the Tyndale isn’t as complete. It’s interesting that Andrewes and his colleagues used Latin to argue about the English phrasing of the text. Most of them had the Vulgate version in the back of their minds, and that influenced their work, beneficially I think.

          1. We have the reissued 1611 KJV. “J” is not even introduced into the language it’s rendered “I” and “u”is “v”…but otherwise it’s hardly altered over the four centuries.

  5. “We now see through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known”. Sound familiar? It’s a translation of the Latin Vulgate (common Latin) first published in Rheims 1582 mainly for the benefit of RC Priests who were coming over here as missionaries among other political activities. Alas, I haven’t access to other English translations such as Tyndale’s 1525-31 Cloverdale’s 1535 etc. The King James Bible is a revision of the then official Bishop’s Bible of 1568 and was started in 1604 and published in 1611. Hopefully, some better informed person than I will take this history up. I cribbed much of the above from John F Craghan’s entry in the Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia. Intellect an history apart Corinthians 13:12 is a real stunner init !

  6. NOT merely words themselves but the word as meant within the context of the time two thousand years ago. Carpenter as described the trade of JESUS as defined today would best called a wood working artisan.

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