Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Archbishop Mark Haverland weighs in

on Bible translations

The following was written by the Metropolitan of the ACC:

The English poet and critic, C.H. Sisson, wrote a scathing review some years ago of the then new English prayer book called the Alternative Services Book (ASB). The lessons in the ASB were taken from a wide variety of modern Bible translations, but not from the Authorized Version, the so-called King James Version. Sisson’s acid comment on that decision was that the readings were taken from every translation but the best.

Since the first, great need in the matter of the Bible is to get people actually to read it, there is a place for modern translations. Archbishop Cahoon used to use the very simple, readable Good News Bible, whose formal name, I believe, is the Today’s English Version, for that reason. For people who may be frustrated by 16th and 17th vocabulary and verb endings, there is a place for modern translations and, especially, for the Revised Standard Version. But that place is limited: a starting point to initiate Bible reading and basic Bible knowledge. Personal Bible study can be encouraged by a sturdy, modern translation. Public Bible reading, and especially Bible reading in the context of public worship, should be from the best translation, which still is the KJV.

The desirability of the KJV of course includes its literary superiority and historical influence. However, I also have been interested to see some recent evidence of revival of scholarly preference for the KJV. First, I would mention the redoubtable Robert Alter. Alter is Jewish in background, but I do not know if he has any religious faith at all. He is nonetheless a brilliant reader and interpreter of the Hebrew Bible, as can be seen in such books as The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981) and The World of Biblical Literature (1992). In the mid-1990s a whole spate of books appeared on and about Genesis, and they included a translation and commentary by Alter called simply Genesis (Norton, 1996). In an extended preface to the reader Alter discusses the translation of Biblical Hebrew and agrees with the English scholar, Gerald Hammond, in arguing that the KJV remains the best translation.

Alter’s – and Hammond’s – reasons for this judgement are many. While the KJV is sometimes based on shaky Hebrew texts or imperfect understandings of the Hebrew, Alter points out that most modern translations have ‘a shaky sense of English’. Furthermore, modern translations tend to try to explain and interpret in the course of translation: what Alter calls ‘the heresy of explanation’. While translations are always something of an interpretation, the modern translations seem to embrace this fact as an opportunity rather than be aware of it as a danger. The KJV tends to be more literal, more earthy, more concrete, and less prettified than modern translations, all of which facts render it closer to the Hebrew. In fact the modern translations often place ‘readers at a grotesque distance from the distinctive literary experience of the Bible in its original language.’ (p. x) Alter provides many examples. One example here will have to suffice. The Hebrew word zera‘, ‘seed’, can refer both to plant seeds or to semen. It is used by extension to mean ‘offspring’, ‘progeny’, ‘descendants’. But the Hebrew, when meaning ‘progeny’, still always retains the direct connection to the more basic meanings of ‘seed’. The KJV consistently renders zera‘ with its basic Hebrew meaning, ‘seed’. Modern versions are liable to render the word with the derived, secondary, and less literal meanings of ‘offspring’ or ‘descendants’. This makes the text less literal, less concrete, and further from the Hebrew meaning and mind.

Alter also argues that Biblical Hebrew was a somewhat stylized, decorous language, not everyday speech, so ‘there is no good reason to render biblical Hebrew as contemporary English’. A fussily old-fashioned language also is inappropriate, ‘but a limited degree of archaizing coloration is entirely appropriate, employed with other strategies for creating a language that is stylized yet simple and direct, free of the overtones of contemporary colloquial usage but with a certain timeless homespun quality.’ (xxv-xxvi) And for that ‘the right direction...was hit on by the King James Version’.

Another recent writer, Calum M. Carmichael, also prefers the KJV. In The Story of Creation: Its Origin and Its Interpretation in Philo and the Fourth Gospel (Cornell, 1996), Carmichael writes that : ‘In quoting biblical texts I have relied on the King James Authorized Version of 1611 but have made changes where called for. I have used the AV because it is in almost all cases a more literal rendering of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts than any other translation. It also has the merit of reminding the reader of something I consider to be very important, namely, that biblical literature is a product of the past and hence of a culture quite different from our own.’

In recent years those of us who prefer the KJV have often been made to feel that we are benighted obscurantists, ignorant yahoos. How nice to know that professors at the University of California-Berkeley and Cornell think that we fuddy-duddies were right all along.


poetreader said...

A joyous thank you to the Archbishop for a really fine statement.


spaethacc said...

There is one question, however, that remains for me. Would the Archbishop think it appropriate to at some point undertake a project such as the Third Millennium Bible (except using the Greek & Hebrew instead of simply a Webster's Dictionary) as well as including the work of David Norton?

Anonymous said...

Nothing ruins Christmas for me quite as much as hearing St. Luke's beautiful Christmas story, St. Luke 2:1-20, read from one of the modern versions. These versions are totally lacking in the beautiful prose of the King James Version.

Instead of Mary being "great with child", she is "pregnant", etc. The new versions just lack the good taste and literary quality of the King James Version.

Many of the Baptists, Church of Christ, and others, who like classical Anglicans still use the King James Version, refer to other translations as "perversions" (not versions) of the scriptures.

I have always thought that they probably had a good point.

It is good to hear from Archbishop Haverland on this issue. As always, it is well written and full of wisdom.

BCP Catholic

Fr Tom said...

Archbishop Cahoon used to say, "I have been using the TEV for Bible study for many years, but I still can't quote a single verse from it." While I use the RSV for my study Bible, there is clearly a need for a bible translation that is suitable for public reading - the KJV fills that need.

Anonymous said...

Have any of you used the New American Standard ?
What are your thoughts on this translation ?

poetreader said...

I'm going to shamelessly quote myself from the other thread. I have used NASB, and ...

NASB is probably the best scholarly translation of modern times, though it does have the problem of relying on such texts as Sinaiticus (at least I concur with Fr. Hart in considering that to be a problem), but, nonetheless, it is a more faithful (more literal) rendition of the original tongues into English than the more or less paraphrased ("dynamically equivalent") or even distorted "translations" that have been fobbed off upon us.

However, I find (and I know I sound subjective here) that I simply can't use it publicly because of the unpleasantly stiff English in which it is rendered. As a poet I find my tongue balking at reading it aloud, and I find that, when it is read in my hearing, I don't absorb what is said. I'm afraid that, while it is pretty good as an "eyes only" version, that "eyes only" reading is only a secondary use of the Scriptures, and that it isn't suitable for the primary, oral, presentation of the Word in the Church.


spaethacc said...

Archbishop Haverland, Fr. Hart, Ed., Fr. Kirby, etc:

My apologies; I forgot to ask this in my last post: are there any scholarly books that you would suggest devoted to the subject of the textus receptus and the KJV?

poetreader said...

I'm hoping the clergy members are able to provide some leads. I've been gleaning a little here and a little there for years, and have the impression that the "Academy" from which an unending stream of "scholarly" deconstructions of Holy Scripture is flowing has other matters of deep concern than the establishment of an accurate canon of Scripture. There seems (I hope I'm overreacting) to be a fervent desire to demolish traditional Christian teaching. Is there such a schp;ar;y work extant?


Canon Tallis said...

When it comes to the translation of both the New Testament and the Old, I am always called back to my college years. We had a marvelous English professor, Dr John Raines, who had done his doctoral thesis on Milton's work which had required an extensive knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was also a lay reader and chorister at St. John's, Norman and was the usual reader of the lessons in Morning Prayer on Sundays. I am sure that almost everyone believed that he was reading them from the huge copy of the AV on the brass eagle, but from my position in the sanctuary I could see that he was translating them immediately from the original text into language every bit as fine as that of the AV.

He also taught classes on both testaments which were only taken by the bravest of the brave because he worked you harder than you would have ever thought possible. He was a great churchman.

But, horror of horrors, an archbishop who actually knows of what he writes. That, in itself, is worth a Te Deum.

Anonymous said...

The English Standard Version (ESV) is much used over here in the UK. It's in the AV 'family', more akin to the RSV and was produced to give an orthodox alternative to the NRSV. I believe it was the base translation for the AMIA 'Anglican Prayer Book' published a couple of years ago (as an aside I would love to hear what Continuum folk think of that Prayer Book – would a review be possible?). The AV was recently re-published by Cambridge in an edition which restored some original features and included an additional volume with extensive note. As a matter of interest the UK Penguin paperback edition of the AV also uses this text and is very cheap indeed.

Sadly, the 1662 BCP and AV are not available to buy bound together in the UK as they once were - I believe the US 1928 is still available with the AV. Reading the AV Bible within the context of Mattins and Evensong is, for me at least, the best way to encounter the Holy Scriptures within the context of Trinitarian prayer and worship.

Fr Edward

Sandra McColl said...

Fr Edward: There is a single-volume English 1928 proposed book (which, as you know, fully incorporates 1662) bound with a KJV, but the KJV is arranged in chunks, breviary-style, according to the 1922 Lectionary as revised in 1928. It therefore won't replace your KJV. The new edition is a photographic reprint on economical paper, which isn't nearly as fine as the paper of the original and therefore results in what I term The Brick of Common Prayer. It's still a handy volume, though.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I confess that I have not seen the English Standard Version (ESV), but if it was produced as an alternative to that horrible NRSV, it already has earned some place of honor.

Will said...

Regarding "spaethacc's" question about scholarly works on this issue: allow me to recommend the text by Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translations. I found this most helpful, and he praises the ESV highly. Ryken favors the ESV and the NASB over the NIV and the NRSV because the first two use "formal equivalence" as the translation priniople rather than the "dynamic equivalence" principle of the NIV and NRSV.

I like the KJV myself, but among modern translations I go for the ESV over the NASB (my other choice) because of its readability.

Ken said...

Wonder why nobody has put a plug in for the NKJV? IMO, it is better than the ESV, or perhaps I should say that I see no reason for my spiritual well being to "upgrade" to an ESV.

Many of these different versions are owned by the different publishing houses. This allows them to increase the profit margin. The constant production of translations in the last forty years is ridiculous. The English language has not changed that much.

BTW, my last Bible purchase, actually a Father's Day gift, was a KJV which was bought more for aesthetic reasons. My other KJV was just a paperback. Its very nice, here is the link:

poetreader said...

On the other thread ("God the Father"), where this discussion began, I said the following, and a couple of other comments followed:

I'll throw my two cents in, having made extensive use of the NKJV. It is based on the same Greek and Hebrew texts as the KJV itself, and it does make a valiant attempt to preserve the rhythms of the KJV. In many respects I like it a great deal for private study and devotional use, but it does have its drawbacks. While claiming to be a modern language version, it keeps certain words and phrases which were accurste according to the meaning those words held in Elizabeth's time, but which become innacurate when they are used with contemporary definitions.

For example, Proberbs 31:10, "Who can find a virtuous woman..." The word, which came from the Latin virtus, then meant full of strength -- i.e. '...a strong' woman...'. however, that is not what the word means today. a woman full of virtue in the modern sense of the word is a lovely thought, but it isn't what the Hebrew says.

There are a lot of such problems, possibly leading to a mishearing of the text. I also miss very much the distinction of singular ("thee") and plural ("you) in the modern version. Because the language no longer contains this distinction, there are a number of passages easy to misconstrue unless some locution is added in translation to point out how many people are being addressed.

Aside from these few fairly minor problems I do like the version.


PS, So far as I know, however, NKJV doesn't appear on the list of versions allowed for public worship, in which case it shouldn't be so used

poetreader said...

Having said that about the particular version, I will agree wholeheartedly that the proliferation of translations is not really a good thing. Rather than encouraging a wholehearted search for the truth conveyed by the Scriptures, it has supported the endless brouhaha over a textual criticism that the Fathers would have seen as irrelevant foolishness. Even when they quoted slightly different versions of the text (as BTW did the NT when quoting the OT)they were content to take what they had and to preach from it. The language has not changed sufficiently to require a replacement for the KJV, and a small amount of explanation is sufficient to make its meaning clear.

Another point: the issue is not "my spiritual well-being". Individual study, though a valuable thing, is not the primary purpose of Scripture. For an individual who really wants to hear God, any honest translation will speak of the things of God to his profit. However, every translation (including KJV) is subject to the abuse of people who want their own false ideas to be ratified, and universal availability does not provide universal understanding

The issue at hand is not what version "I" may profit from using, but what version best serves the major purpose of public reading ant teaching in the Church. I've used many translations and will continue to do so, but will not teach from anything but the Authorized King James, and prefer that that be what I hear in public worship.


Anonymous said...

I grew up using the NKJV for the most part (except for using TLB when I was very young, and for a brief period of using the NIV). My version of choice for private Bible reading now is the Third Millenium Bible, though I still will refer back to the NKJV.

Anonymous said...

Oops--I forgot to post my handle on that last comment.

Doubting Thomas

Canon Tallis said...


I followed your link but could not tell if this edition contained the Apocrapha or not. Without that it is of little use to the a traditional Anglican.

If anyone knows where it is possible to get a large print version of the Authorized Version which contains the Apocrapha, I would appreciate being told.

Ken said...

Canon Tallis,

No, that version does not have the Apocrypha. I wish it did.

I think the Oxford Press makes a version with it, but it is in paragraph form and not verse form.

There is also a 1611 version that is availabe, just do a search for "KJV bible store".

Anonymous said...

Our local Bible & Church Supply Store sells the KJV version of the books of the Apocrypha. It is a small bound book that compliments your Bible, if you have one without the Apocrypha.

It saves the cost of buying a whole new Bible.

We use it to supplement the large Bible we have at the church for the Lectern which doesn't have those books. I just lay the small book of the Apocrypha inside the big Bible, and no one knows but what I am reading the lessons from the Apocrypha from the big Bible.

One thing I enjoy this season of the year in Morning Prayer is that so many of the First Lessons of Morning Prayer are from the Apocrypha.

BCP Catholic

Anonymous said...

Archbishop Haverland is owed great thanks for his excellent article on the AV for public reading.

I am glad he has referred also to Robert Alter's commentaries and translation of The Five Books of Moses. I am using his translation for the course on Genesis which I currently am teaching at Temple B'nai Israel in Easton, "The Creation Witnessed Through Ancient Eyes." His very literal translation does real honor to the Hebrew cadences.

As the historical-critical folks endlessly if rightly point out that the Genesis accounts were a good deal of cut-and-paste by the ancient R in order to satisfy E,J,P,D & H, it is Alter and the ever-resilient Baruch Halpern who remind us that those scriptures were developed as the AV for public reading in their own time --- which is why the Hebrew reads so majestically.

In this sense, the Hebrew was inspiration to the English translators of the AV, and their predecessors to some extent. They knew the beauty of holiness they had to honor.

In his recent book The Lost World of Genesis One, Professor John H. Walton speculates that the 1st chapter may have been written as a "temple text" --- that is, that God's whole creation is a description of his temple, the universe. He then well wonders if there may have been an annual feast day to commemorate the Creation. If so, this also would help us to understand the inordinate literary dignity of this writing, made for public reading on that feast day.

Then, I add my thesis that as First Genesis (ch. 1-11) was developed in the face of the Babylonian Captivity, it had to confront the Mesopotamian cosmologies of the Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish (to which many Jews had succumbed in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome). And thus First Genesis had to surpass the pagan texts not only in faith content, but also in elegant, eloquent language. It was written by Jews to convert Jews back to Judaism.

So, the Bible is its own witness and instructor as to why in our own time we honor the beauty of the words themselves. Archbishop Haverland is quite right. "The words of the LORD are pure: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (Ps. 12:7.)

+Joel Marcus Johnson

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed His grace's essay and concur with his assessments. The AV (known to Americans as the KJV) is the best for liturgical use and, for that matter, for any reading aloud.
It was produced before modern schooling had almost abolished any reading other than silent reading.

When one purchases a copy of the AV, he should insist on an edition which includes the succinct notes at the head of each chapter. For example, for Isaiah 52, we find, "1 Christ persuadeth the church to believe his free redemption, 7 to receive the ministers thereof, 9 to joy in the power thereof, 11 and to free themselves from bondage. 13 Christ's kingdom shall be exalted." For the Song of Solomon 4, we find "1 Christ setteth forth the graces of the church, 8 He sheweth his love to her 16 The church prayeth to be made fit for his presence."

How refreshing to find interpretive notes which treat the OT without apology as Christian Scripture! But sadly these are omitted from many editions. They are found in the "Preservation Press" printing distributed by APA.

And on the other hand, shun those printings which give "the word of Christ in red," falsely implying that we have differing levels of inspiration in the Scriptures. I insist on having a Bible in which all words which are God-breathed are printed in the same color.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Johnson: With all due respect I am not comfortable with your proposal of I and II Genesis.
I have never accepted the concept of more than one Isaiah, so your proposed division of Genesis is more than my heart can bear. The "mythological" section Gen 1--11 is connected to the remainder of the book, the "saga" portion (II Genesis??), by a genealogy, which makes the higher-critical division quite arbitrary and artificial.

Genesis has its own built-in dividing points, the "Toledoth" markers, occurring at 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, etc, showing a careful literary architecture consisting of ten sections preceded by a creation-prologue. Obviously the unified product of one skilled author. Catholic tradition has maintained that this was Moses, and Our Lord Himself spoke frequently of Moses as the human author of the Torah. "They have Moses and the Prophets...."

Will said...

I would join (if I read him right) Fr. Wells in what he says, and I would urge Bishop Johnson to re-evaluate that thesis about "First Genesis." There is very sound conservative scholarship out there that upholds Mosaic authorship of the entire Book, and I do strongly believe that is a far safer position for the health of the Church.

poetreader said...

I'm not sure the endless debating over precisely who wrote the Pentateuch, or how it came to be what it is, is awfully constructive toward teaching the Faith. I'm not sure that insistence on a literal authorship by the hand of Moses is what Our Lord or Hebrew tradition had in mind. The authority does not, after all, rest in the man Moses, but in the inspired text as it has come down to us. By the same token, the elaborate documentary hypothesis seems unhelpful also, inasmuch as it is so often advanced as a way to avoid the miraculous and the divine nature of revelation. My, admittedly nonscholarly, reading of Genesis seems to indicate two things: 1/ that the material probably does come originally from several sources, and 2/ that these sources have been edited into a marvelous and cohesive unity. Its origin is a matter of interest, but not of great significance. It is its content, and its acceptance by God's people (of two dispensations) as veritably the Word of God, that is of eternal significance. However the Torah (and the rest of the Bible) came to be, it is what it is, and the Holy Catholic Church has recognized it as ultimately from God's own hand.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Will, you did read me correctly.

The 18th and 19th century literary theories about multiple Isaiahs, Daniel written about 300 years after the Exile, and a Pentateuch (perhaps Hexateuch or Heptateuch) stitched together from documents produced by JEDP, has been absolutely devastating to the Church's confidence in the OT as the Word of God.

It should be recalled that this type of Biblical "critism" developed in precisely the same academic atmosphere which spawned theories that the plays of Shakespeare were written by anybody other than "William Shagsper," that Beowulf had multiple authors, that the Homeric Epics were somebody's compilation of a pile of folk ballads. This sort of tommyrot has long been dismissed from serious scholarly circles, but it seems to linger on in Biblical scholarship.

Take a look at Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Parts in blank verse (unrimed iambic pentameter) but other parts are in prose. Does that imply two different authors? And the scenes written in blank verse always seem to end in a heroic couplet. That must be the final redactor. Or take Dickens' novel Dombey & Son. The son dies in precisely the middle of the book, which surely proves that Dickens abandoned the novel half way through and left someone else, 200 years later at least, to write the second half.

This sort of idiocy would be laughed out of school in secular literary criticism. But it has proved itself quite useful in creating a culture of skepticism and mistrust in the Bible in Biblical studies. So it has hardened like a crust of barnacles on the majority of mainline seminaries.

John A. Hollister said...

Father Wells' comment about "the same academic atmosphere which spawned theories that the plays of Shakespeare were written by anybody other than 'William Shagsper'" reminded me of a quip I read years ago to the effect that "Shakespeare's plays were not written by William Shakespeare but by another man of the same name."

John A. Hollister+