Today, all kinds of fruity voices are reading extracts from the KJV (perhaps more authentically known as the AV) on BBC Radio 4. The reason for this is that this year marks the 400th anniversary of this masterpiece of political expediency and translation error which has shaped and influenced our language, culture and in the Church of England, our very being.
But that is what it is – an influence, and as such one that I am happy, delighted even, to recognise. It was not the first English translation, in the same way that Christianity was not brought first to England by S. Augustine (we were here long before 597); but it has certainly carried the flag for the dominance of English translation.
I once heard someone say “I prefer the King James [Bible, because those are the words that Jesus actually spoke” – he meant it as though Jesus was an Englishman and spoke in 17th Century English! Then again, on a plane to a Holy Land pilgrimage, I was asked by a fellow pilgrim what the Orthodox Jew in front was wearing and I explained it, pointing out that Jesus would have had a prayer shawl, also, she asked of me: “So, Jesus was Jewish?” To my credit and surprise, I merely nodded (perhaps in shock) and simply replied “yes…” Those who know me will need a sit down after that.
There are plenty of others whose God is entirely limited by the pages of Scripture – if it isn’t in the book, then it can’t be revelation, as though God stopped speaking to us after 120AD when the book of Revelation was completed, or 1611 when the Bishop of London cobbled this together and got a royal signature on it. Of course
The AV is, of course, full of manuscript errors, for example, heading one book as The letter of Paul to the Hebrews. How on earth could that error be made? But then again, many other translations are full of errors, inaccuracies and mistranslations because the process of translation is always an approximation, and one word ‘love’ in English will always fail to match the complexity of the five different kinds of ‘love’ used in Greek. For the full journey, get back to the original Hebrew and Greek and listen to proper scholars like Fr Hugh.
Those who blindly live their faith in 17th Century English fail to see that God reveals himself to us. Here. Now. In our ways and in our levels of understanding. It seems to echo what Karen Armstrong seems to suggest: that we have become so sophisticated and erudite in our understanding of science, literature and philosophy, and yet cannot move beyond a Bronze-Age Theology. It may have been the first revelation, but it wasn’t the last and most significantly it betrays a Bibliolatry which is contrary to the word of God.
Actually, maybe that is the issue: the confusion between the words of God (filtered through human experience and written into our Scriptures) and the Word of God which is the incarnate Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Only one of these are immortal, eternal and everlasting, and that is Jesus, the true Logos as opposed to trying to make our God very small indeed, trapped between the pages of a book.
All Scripture is useful, Paul says, but (say I) it is no substitute for faith in the living Lord Jesus.
So, revel in the poetic forms which have influenced our language and countless writers; respect the AV, but don’t try and use it for tapping into God – use a translation which speaks to you, in your language. I usually recommend the New Jerusalem or even the new NIV, and the CEV is okay, especially for young people, but go to a Christian bookstore, open a couple and see what resonates with you, and then let the Holy Spirit work through you as you grow in his Holy Word.