At the LogosTalk blog, Mark Ward has posted some much-needed insights into Bible translation—directly from the quills of the KJV’s own translators. Would you believe they never expected the KJV to be very well-received? Or that they knew it wouldn’t be the ultimate English translation of the Bible? Or that they expected better and different translations to come along in future generations?
Ward first translates the original preface to the King James Version into modern English. Then he reflects on some lessons we can learn from it about Bible translation. In particular:
- People don’t like change.
- Watch out for petty objections.
- No translation is perfect.
- People must have the Bible.
I find especially helpful Ward’s comments on the way uninformed readers today love to make sweeping generalizations about what is the “best” Bible translation or “best” way to translate segments of the Bible:
The KJV translators anticipated waves of abuse from the great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents of today’s internet trolls. If there’s one line in the KJV preface that has come to mind over the years more than any other, it’s this from the second sentence: “Cavil, if it do not find a hole, will make one.” In other words, by sentence two the KJV translators are already complaining archly about the human propensity to let petty objections destroy something good.
Every Bible translation involves approximately 327 gazillion decisions about word choice, word order, textual criticism, assonance and consonance, meter, theology, tradition, typography, the current state of the target language, and numerous other factors. Someone, somewhere, is going to dislike just about every choice of any significance—particularly if it is an innovation overturning an established tradition. As the KJV translators say, “So hard a thing it is to please all, even when we please God best, and do seek to approve ourselves to every one’s conscience.”
I think (I hope) most Christian people have a sense that it is indiscrete to offer unsubstantiated opinions about pork futures in Australia (Market’s goin’ up ten points this year!) or the best fabric blend for patio table umbrellas (80% polyester, 10% elastane—that’s what I always say!). But somehow sweeping generalizations about the NIV (They’ve given in to gender politics!) or the ESV (They’ve given in to gender politics!) are permitted, even from people who’ve never read either side in significant translation debates.
It’s not wrong to have opinions about Bible translations: it’s wrong to speak opinions boldly about complex matters when you haven’t done the work to back them up. Internet commenters and cavil-hole makers of all sorts, be warned: the KJV translators are on to you.
If you can see any piece of yourself in Ward’s criticism, I highly commend his reflections to you.
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