Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Douglas Wilson on: Why the KJV?

Douglas Wilson favours the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. In this video he gives his 3 reasons. They are
  1. Textual basis
  2. Translation philosophy
  3. Church ownership of the version, both translation and copyright.
The KJV uses the the received text. I favour an eclectic text such as used by NIV and ESV. The translation philosophy of the KJV is one of formal translation. ESV and NASB use this philosophy, NIV is more dynamic. I am with Wilson here.

His last point, which is his most important, is that The KJV is product of the church and is owned by the church, or rather in the public domain. Modern versions are products of academia and corporations, and the corporations may be secular using the profits for themselves. I don't see this as a complaint against corporations or profits, rather secular groups profiting from God's word. He would rather church groups feeding any profit back into church work.

Wilson would happily use a more modern version that met these requirements, and he suggests that he would prefer it.

I think there are options that would solve reason 3, but not necessarily all 3 reasons.

Firstly I am not certain that KJV gets around issue 3. Much of KJV came from Tyndale, but the translators were probably the academics of the day. I fail to see how many of the KJV translators differ from modern academics who produce Bible versions. Many of the modern academics are Christians who are committed to the church. And translation committees often use a variety of translators to minimise potential sectarian bias. The chosen translation philosophy of a particular version is likely to lead to greater differences than the fact that translators are tied to academia. As to ownership, I understand that the initial publishers had copyright in perpetuity after the KJV was produced, though this is irrelevant outside the United Kingdom now and probably of little consequence within. The KJV mainly gets around the ownership issue now by virtue of being in the public domain. I am not certain how the KJV profits were used prior to this, but modern versions do use money to offset Bible costs in the developing world.

The biggest problem facing Wilson is finding a modern version prioritising the received text. Most that do will probably be variants of the KJV. Modern versions of the KJV include: KJV 20th Twentieth Century, New KJV, Modern KJV, American KJV, KJV 2000, Updated KJV, New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, Authorized Version Update. Many of these are copyrighted and produced by a single editor.

So it would seem that Wilson's only real option is to arrange for the production of a modern version of the KJV either copyrighted by the church, or released into tho public domain.

I do wonder if the World English Bible (WEB) is a consideration? It is public domain. It follows formal equivalence. The WEB is a modified American Standard Version (ASV) which uses an eclectic text; but the WEB is also based on the majority text which has significant similarities to the received text of the KJV.


  1. His first reason: I agree with you. I prefer the majority text over the textus receptus, especially since Beza changed a verse in Revelation within the textus receptus because he didn't think it made sense: a change which the KJV has kept.

    His second reason: I actually prefer dynamic equivolance, and would like to see more work done on translating the feel of the original text.

    His third reason: This just simply isn't true. The translation was commissioned by King James (hence the name) who did so for political reasons. Additionally it is only free in America because of it is in public domain, like you said, but the royalty of England still own a copyright to it in the UK.

    Additionally, you are also right that the academics of that day also did the same things as the modern academics: they used a variety of different translations as references, and a variety of different Greek texts using similar rules. So his third reason just unequivocally fails.

    That said, the KJV is a decent translation, and shouldn't be shunned.

  2. JCF, I prefer an eclectic text, not majority or received. I don't have a problem with the Alexandrian text type (from my limited reading), and I think there would be a tendency to expand rather than shrink Scripture.

    I don't mind dynamic, and for general reading it may be easier. But for study I prefer a literal text. It is a little too detailed to go into here. I agree that information is more at the level of the phrase, not the word, but there are problem with dynamic texts that I think are lessened with a more literal text. The problem I have with literal texts is when they make literal but irrelevant (and poor) choices to do with word order.

    Personally I have never used the KJV to any great extent. And I don't like the versification format.

  3. Personally, I don't have any real need for literary texts because if I feel I need that kind of depth, I go to Hebrew and Greek. I do like to use them to compare to dynamic texts to see where going to the original language may be beneficial.

  4. JCF, I can't read Greek or Hebrew. Though I do reference lexicons.

    The argument is more about accuracy. Accuracy has priority over word choice, and most agree. The formalists argue the dynamic translations are inherently less accurate for a range of reasons. And dynamic arguments have come from foreign translations to a low literate population. There is quite a lot to discuss around this issue. A book I found useful to the debate is Leland's Word of God in English. Not so much his conclusions (which I can't fully remember) but in terms of the issues to contemplate.

    The other issue is that I find formalists are more constrained (by virtue of the translation philosophy, not necessarily their character?) in actual translation. Dyanamists have more leeway (intrinsically) and I have found some of them pushing the boundaries in translation—missing the meaning and using questionable phrases. All translation may be interpretation, I just think some translations have scope for more interpretation.

    So while I am happy with the NIV, I find the CEV deficient.

    Perhaps I should post some more on this. I would be interested in your ideas about translation from this perspective. I note your recent post on acrostic poems.

    And do you know Hebrew well enough to answer a translation issue for me?

  5. Oh, I totally understand the preference for a formal translation over dynamic. You are right: it is more contrained, and that is most certainly an advantage. The truth that I try to impress upon people is that perfect translation is impossible, and we really all need to start with that fact. A very good example is the Hebraic love of puns: puns never ever translate (A French joke about "poisson poison" may be funny, but "fish poison" doesn't really have the same ring to it). Personally, I think everyone should have both a formal translation and a dynamic equivalant translation around, for the sake of comparison.

    However, while I would agree that a formal translation is usually better for study, I think that ultimately the kind of Bible that is right for the pew, and for devotions, is one that is going to express the heart and emotion and, well, the humanity and passion of the original writers, and formal translation cannot truly do that.

    Personally, I feel that most dynamic equivalance has failed at this so far too. A good example is The Message (which is really a paraphrase of course). What I like about it is that it notes that the New Testament was primarily written in very common Greek, and thus the English should reflect this. I agree. How it fails is that it then translates John and Hebrews the same way (Even though they are written in more sophisticated language). Even worse, it then translates the Old Testament that way too, even though it is written in the very best and highest Hebrew (especially Job)...

  6. I want to see translation that takes seriously the fact that the Bible isn't a single book, but a library: a collection of canonized literature infallibly recording the history of God's interaction with humanity. I want to see a Bible where Job is written in Shakespearean English and Mark is written like the Message. I want to see a Bible where the Book of Psalms actually looks like a book of songs written by different authors.

    I don't want to sound like I am disagreeing with you, for I don't think we are debating or anything. I'm really just sharing my own thoughts.

    ...As far as Greek and Hebrew, I am most certainly a novice. I took Greek and Hebrew in Seminary, but I'm still very much learning. It is a personal goal of mine to eventually be fluent in both, but I am a loooong way from that. I'm not sure if I can answer your question about the Hebrew, but I do know some people who might be more able to.

  7. Thanks JCF. I remember reading about some African Christian (?Zulu) who complained about the psalms. He said they were poor poems because they did not reflect Zulu poetical lore, which had a 12 syllables per line. So he rewrote them in a manner that kept the meaning but had his cultural structure.

    While I prefer formal translations (though I grew up on the NIV and like it), I see a problem in how they use poor word order and don't use "do" and "have" enough with verbs. English doesn't use word order like Greek does, so you just can't translate it. In which case use English word order.

    Staying with formal, I am happy to have higher and courser translation depending on book. Though I think this may come thru a little more naturally in a formal translation than with a dynamic one so long there is no editorial smoothing.

    We don't have pew Bibles. And the preachers use a variety (own preference) including modified translations.

    The Hebrew question I had relates to this post.

  8. I commented on the original post for the hebrew question



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