Thursday, 10 February 2011

Idolatry and the KJV?

A revamped version of what will go in our church magazine...

Most have picked up that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. The consensus that this translation is a masterpiece is undeniable. But what has struck me, is that the wonder of the book itself rests on more than the skill of its translators. The atheist George Bernard Shaw acknowledges this:
"The translation was extraordinarily well done because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in different stages of culture, but the word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes. In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully artistic result.”
The translators were drive by a desire to honour God and make plain what they (and billions of others) believe to be his words to humanity. And could it be that the consensus over the wonder of this particular translation is itself evidence that the Greek and Hebrew words behind it were indeed revealed by God? Consider Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd…” or Jesus’ sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” or the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: “love is patient, love is kind…” Whether we read these things in faithful modern translations or older ones, the simple beauty and profundity of the words remain.

The Bible comprises 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1500 years. So how might we explain so much that is truly wise, memorable and life-transforming coming from such a selection of authors from such a small part of the world? And how might we explain the fact that from such diversity we hear a coherent message of God engaging with his world and entering it in his Son? Would the word ‘miracle’ explain these things? Would the word ‘inspiration’ be appropriate?

There is a consensus that Shakespeare’s language and ideas make him one of the world’s greatest playwrights. Given this, can we not accept that the consensus about the language and ideas brought to us in the Bible acts in the same way? Couldn’t it also be evidence of an even greater single author?

This is by no means to denigrate the King James Version. Its translators had a particular way of rendering the original that has been an example to translators ever since. However, those very translators would, I think, be horrified at the praise they are being given. Instead, they would want the praise to be directed to the God whose words they so loved. In fact, they might even be concerned that to praise them rather than God was no less than idolatry because it credited them with what is in fact to God's glory. This is a striking reflection when one considers the King James mania today.

In describing these translators George Bernard Shaw went on:
“they made a translation so magnificent that to this day the common human Britisher or citizen of the United States accepts it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God.”
As you hear more about the King James Bible this year, I do hope it will move you to actually pick up your Bible and read it a bit more. As you do, do remember that what you are reading provides constant evidence that God is actually speaking through it.