Hopefully you have seen a number of the essays that have been written this year on the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. Since May is the actual anniversary of the publication of the KJV there has been a flurry of stories in the last week or so. Here is an overview of some of the main stories. Many of the stories cover common ground so I try here to highlight the particular contribution of each item.
Baptist Press has a nice story on the KJV drawing largely from Michael Haykin, professor at Southern Seminary. The story covers the history and literary influence briefly but well. It also deals with the abiding value of the KJV.
Christianity Today’s cover story in the current issue is “A World Without the King James Version, by Mark Noll. Noll treats some negative results of the predominance of the KJV.
Barton Swaim’s, “God’s English:The Making & Endurance of the King James Bible, 1611-2011″ in Touchstone Magazine summarizes the history of the making of the KJV but also (his main contribution in my opinion) discuss the power of the language and the value and propriety of having a “religious language.” He also, as others have done, notes the effort of the KJV translators to adhere to a fairly literal approach to interpretation. He states:
“It is the chief virtue of the King James Bible that its translators adhered to the original texts even at the expense of allowing ambiguities and enigmas to pass into the English translation. Their priority lay in allowing the Bible to speak for itself, in all its strangeness and mystery.”
I think Swaim is right here, and this is one of the key lessons the KJV can pass on to us today.
“Why the King James Bible Endures,” by Charles McGrath in the New York Times deals with the power of the language arguing that the elevated, antiquated language (the language was already a bit archaic in 1611) is a secret to the translation’s power. McGrath identifies himself as a “nonbeliever” stating:
“Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor. Even some of us who are nonbelievers want a God who speaketh like … well, God. The great achievement of the King James translators is to have arrived at a language that is both ordinary and heightened, that rings in the ear and lingers in the mind.”
These essays provide good food for thought as we look back in order to look ahead. These and other issues will be addressed at the upcoming festival, KJV400: Legacy and Impact at Union University. Registration opened this week, and it promises to be an enlightening and entertaining event.