In my post about new year’s resolutions I mentioned that I plan to read the Bible from cover to cover this year (something I haven’t done for about fifteen years). and I also mentioned that the version I planned to use was the New English Bible. But I’ve since had cause to revise that decision.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version (known as the King James Version in much of the world). I’ve never read much from the AV; that’s partly because there are so many other excellent translations, but I suspect there’s another reason. My early years as a Christian coincided with the publication of several modern translations (the NEB, the Living Bible, the New International Version etc.) which were lauded by some and hated by others who insisted that ‘the King James was good enough for St. Paul so it’s good enough for me’ – or, as a song by Sydney Carter put it, ‘I love the dear old Bible with “Jehovah” and “begat” – it’s not that I believe in it or anything like that!’ My father (who was hugely influential in my early years as a Christian) was definitely a proponent of modern translations, and so I unconsciously imbibed something of a disdain for the AV.
I’m still a great believer in modern translations; our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew has advanced by leaps and bounds since 1611, and the English language has changed dramatically since then too. The revisers of 1611 (and it’s important to remember that they were revisers, not original translators – they were taking earlier versions like Tyndale and Coverdale and the Bishops’ Bible and improving them) were intent on improving translations that were less than a century old; they would probably be horrified to discover that 400 years later some people still think their translation is the last word in biblical accuracy!
But nonetheless, the AV is surely one of the greatest works of English literature ever produced, and its language echoes down the centuries in books and poetry and plays and music and in phrases that we all use without thinking about it (‘drop in the bucket’, ‘fly in the ointment’, ‘a law unto themselves’, ‘a multitude of sins’, ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, ‘all things must pass’ etc.). Surely, if one claims to be a reader (as I do), and if one were to compile a ‘bucket list’ of great books to be read before you die, The AV must figure on the list.
And, truth be told, Tudor and Stuart English doesn’t scare me much any more. I’ve learned to enjoy the works of Shakespeare and Milton and the Book of Common Prayer; I love reading those books out loud and savouring the striking phrases that just seem to taste good in the mouth! Cranmerian phrases like ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts’ are very pleasing to me and I get a lot of enjoyment out of reading them.
So – I’ve revised my resolution and have decided that is the AV that I am going to read through this year. So far I’m half way through Genesis and I’m really enjoying it. And I’ve discovered that my enjoyment of it is multiplied if I can read it out loud to myself; hearing the sound of the words is way better than just reading them silently in my head. It helps to slow me down, too, so that I notice things I wouldn’t if I was reading silently.
I may reconsider some of my other resolutions too. This is because I’m currently reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and am very impressed with the thoughtful and methodical way she went about bettering her life. My resolutions seem kind of haphazard compared to hers, and I also need to think some more about how to actually achieve them (her ‘Resolutions Chart’ seems like a good idea). More on this later. Meanwhile, the hour to resume work hath returned. Blessings be on thy day, gentle reader.