On the KJV’s impact on the English language, post #3–David Daniell

Photo taken by Lonpicman

Bust of William Tyndale

This is a continuation from “On the KJV’s impact on the English language, post #2–Lynne Long

David Daniell, The Bible in English

“The language of KJV is beautiful. Right through the sixty-six books of the Bible, from ‘They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ (Genesis 3) to ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’ (Revelation 7 and 21), phrases of lapidary beauty have been deeply admired: ‘My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle’ (Job 7); ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?’ (Isaiah 14); ‘The shadow of a great rock in a weary land’ (Isaiah 32); ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you’ (Matthew 7); ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17); ‘The unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 2); ‘Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life’ (I Timothy 6); ‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12); ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Revelation 3).” (429)

“Phrases from the KJV are so familiar that they are often thought to be proverbial wisdom: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4); ‘Escaped with the skin of my teeth’ (Job 19); ‘Saying peace, peace, where there is no peace’ [430] (Jeremiah 6); ‘They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind’ (Hosea 8); ‘The signs of the times’ (Matthew 16); ‘Fell among thieves’ (luke 10); ‘Scales fell from his eyes’ (Acts 9); ‘Full of good works’ (Acts 9); ‘A law unto themselves’ (Romans 2); ‘Wages of sin’ (Romans 6); ‘The powers that be’ (Romans 13); ‘All things to all men’ (I Corinthians 9); ‘Filthy lucre’ (I Timothy 3); ‘Let brotherly love continue’ (Hebrews 13); ‘The patience of Job’ (James 5); ‘Perfect love casteth out fear’ (I John 4). If such are not proverbs, it has been thought, then they must surely be from Shakespeare.” (429-30)

What’s good and bad in the King James Version. Note objection to the “KJV was the only good thing from committee” trope:

“All the quotations so far in this chapter are indeed splendid phrases: yet, without exception, all of them came to KJV from the Geneva versions, and almost all of those directly from Tyndale. One of the first things to do in studying the making of KJV is to recognize the nature of its particular dependence upon its predecessors. This is unexpected at a time when royal politics were strongly against the Geneva versions, and Tyndale was still publicly unmentionable as a heretic. By those who know little history, the creation of KJV has often been considered miraculous, being among other things the only time a work of genius has been produced by a committee. First on any list of ‘miracles’ associated with KJV is its heavy and often verbatim dependence on Tyndale. Not only does Tyndale-the-heretic come through so cleanly: it is remarkable that, 1611 being a time when the English language was powerful and flexible, Tyndale’s work is so good when it was all done eighty years before, when the English language was uncertain and restricted.” (430)

“Not that King James’s revisers did not themselves have many good moments. Even following Tyndale closely, they made admirable changes. The addition of the word ‘little’ to Tyndale’s phrase ‘Suffer the children to come unto me’, as in Mark 10:14, is one of them. With help from Coverdale and Geneva, delicately sharpening Tyndale’s (Matthew 22:14) ‘For many are called and few be chosen’ to make ‘For many are called, but few are chosen’ is another. Yet another is in Romans 8:31, this time with help from the Vulgate, shading Tyndale’s ‘If God be on our side; who can be against us?’ to ‘If God be for us . . . ?’ There is a multitude of such fine, subtle changes.” (430)

“On the other hand, there is a greater multitude of meddling for the worse as will appear below. Adding ‘indeed’ to Tyndale’s ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ at Matthew 26:41, a change taken from Rheims, was not good: it adds a touch of distance and formality into Jesus’ direct words to his fearful disciples. Directness is what was lost by turning into Latin (directly from Rheims, itself directly from the Vulgate) the last sentence of Matthew 6, so that Tyndale’s punchy ‘For the day present hath [431] ever enough of his own trouble’ became the more lofty ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ Among the worst of many is the loss of character, so present in the Hebrew, in making the serpent in Genesis 3 say to the reluctant Eve not, with Tyndale’s instant dismissive ridicule, ‘Tush ye shall not die,’ but the prissy, considered, ‘Ye shall not surely die.’” (430-31)

“Moreover, it must also be said, however unpopularly, that quite large tracts of the Old Testament prophecies in KJV are unintelligible. To take only one example, at random as KJV fell open, Micah 1:11: ‘Pass ye away, thou inhabitant of Saphir, having thy shame naked: the inhabitant of Zanaan came not forth in the mourning of Bethezel; he shall receive of you his standing.’ . . . REB (1989) clarifies the sense: ‘Take to the road, you that dwell in Saphir! / Have not the people of Zaanan gone out in shame from their city? / Beth-ezel is a place of lamentation; / she can lend you support no longer’.)” (431)

“For, in its making, KJV was saddled with two disadvantages. First, for political reasons, its base English text had not to be a Geneva version; and, second, there had to be little annotation. Thus was thrown away for readers much of the textual scholarship and all the exegetical commentary richly available. (Geneva made that final prhase in Micah 1:11 ‘the enemie shall receive of you for his standing’, with an explanatory note that it means that they will pay for the delay of their enemy, who will not depart until he has overcome. The Hebrew is not easy to follow, and modern understanding is different: but Geneva makes some sense.) Each divine working on the new version received for the base text his own copy of a folio Bishops’ Bible—disastrously for the Hebrew poetry. In that version, there had to be strictly no marginal annotation.” (431)

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