The 400-year-old translation of King James Bible still has loyal following
To that list, David Norton, author of "The King James Bible," would add the political savvy of its translators.
"It's most striking the degree to which their text is theologically neutral," said Norton, an English professor at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. He notes the version didn't contribute to arguments among churchmen, no mean feat in an age of bitter disputes over religious doctrine.
Norton and most university-based Bible scholars don't subscribe to Huff's conception of a once-and-only translation storm.
"The King James Bible is a monument to English poetry and prose at one of its greatest moments," said Richard Rosengarten, a University of Chicago professor who studies the intersection of literature and religion. "But if it's so great, why are there so many other translations?"
In fact, the English in the King James Version was already a bit archaic in its own day, according to Rosengarten and other scholars. "Thee" and "thou" were passing out of everyday speech. So to 21st century young people, it can seem as remote as Latin.
Many subsequent translations — the Revised Standard, Phillips New Testament in Modern English, New English Bible — were inspired by the idea that language evolves. Ancient manuscripts discovered since King James' day give modern scholars a broader view of biblical texts.
That kind of word switch, Huff thinks, is the handwork of translators who may be learned but "not too sure they believe in God."The King James translators rendered a prophecy of Isaiah as "a virgin shall conceive." In the Revised Standard Version that becomes: "a young woman shall conceive."He preaches a fire-and-brimstone Christianity; after Bible study, his flock divides into small prayer groups. Members get down on their knees and join hands to acknowledge that the path from sinfulness to redemption is lifelong.Yet those developments make members of the "King James Only" movement suspicious of modern translations. Updated language can carry the contaminant of updated theology — which raises the hackles of Huff's parishioners.(
Such is the power of the King James Bible that even nonbelievers honor it above all others — as do lapsed Protestants like Frederick William Faber. A 19th century English writer who converted to Catholicism, Faber never forgot the majesty of the King James Bible of his Methodist youth.
"It lives on in the ear like music that can never be forgotten," he wrote, "like the sound of church bells, which the convert hardly knows he can forget."
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