Thursday, June 10, 2010

Was the King James Version the Standard for the English Speaking People for 300 Years?

Recently in a comment section of a blog post, someone (an Erik DiVietro) asserted that the King James Version was not dethroned as the standard for the English language only because of authoritarian government control. That didn't sound right to me. It was something that I hadn't read. Now I had not read much on this, I didn't think. I've read a couple of the histories of the King James Version, without cherry-picking my sources. But also I've seen comments in many other books that took the position that the King James Version was the standard for the English speaking people for at least three hundred years. I've read this point in books by those espousing a different New Testament text than that of the King James Version, not just rabid King James supporters. It's all I've read. My understanding was that God's people loved the King James Version.

Here's the key portion of the comment:

Your argument breaks down because in the period you're describing, the KJV was the Bible of the English-speaking people because there was no other permitted translation. In the British Empire, it was illegal to use any other translation of the Bible. Any new effort at translation had to be disguised as a ‘paraphrase' and even then the opposition was intense. And any suggestion of revision or retranslation was stoutly opposed not by your group of the faithful but by the academic, political and religious elites.

The English-speaking scholars of your period of use were already arguing for a revision of the Greek text, and by necessity the English. Here's (sic) just a few items to note:

* In 1684, Richard Baxter was imprisoned for paraphrasing the New Testament.
* Daniel Mace, a NT scholar, printed a colloquial translation of the Scriptures in 1729; but his work was ignored because 1) he was a Presbyterian and 2) his translation dared to use current language.
* Richard Bently of Cambridge proposed to restore the text of the New Testament by "By taking two thousands errors out of the Pope's Vulgate, and as many out of the Protestant Pope Stephen's…" His Protestant Pop (sic) Stephen is the editor of the Stephanus 1550 textus receptus.
* In 1731, Leonard Twells wrote a call for correcting Stephanus and was literally shouted down by the Anglican Church.
* As early as 1741, Robert Lowth was calling for a revision of the KJV translation of Hebrew poetry because it did not take into consideration what was becoming known about the workings of said poetry.
* There were somewhere around 40-45 translations into English of the whole Bible, books or sections done between 1700 and 1800.
* It was Archbishop Thomas Secker who sidelined the idea of revising the KJV in the early 1760's. At that time, it was being seriously by many scholars. (I cite Neil Hitchin's 1999 essay on "The Politics of English Bible Translation in Georgian Britain" for further notes.)

In short, it was not your God-fearing remnant who kept the KJV in print and refused any kind of revision. It was the monstrous behemoth that is the Anglican Church.

I will conclude with also pointing out that during this entire time (from the first printing of the KJV in 1611 until the American War for Independence), there were something like 65 different British editions of the KJV floating around – all with variants that were confusing and frustrating. Not surprisingly, the Americans were almost completely cut out of printing Bibles, having to import them from the Crown-licensed printers.

So much so that in 1790, Isaiah Thomas – an American printer – compiled every edition he could find and produced a new edition reconciling the editions. (By the way, Thomas' work was masterful and the basis of all American editions since.)

The young man (an Erik DiVietro) writing the comment called himself a historian, that he was a historian of the English language. With a lot of bluster, he showed irritation that his documented history was not taken seriously. I've read a lot of history, in part because I've taught history for over 20 years. I don't consider myself an expert at any particular area of history. I'm willing to bow to someone else's expertise. However, neither am I naive. I was willing to give this point of view a hearing. Now I do know when I am reading something that is persuasive and then trustworthy. I have a pretty good handle on judging sources. I am very suspect if I hear something new like this view that he was promoting. Historians are usually biased. They often must be taken with a grain of salt. But again, if I'm going to learn, I've got to be open minded.

This self-professed historian of the English language suggested that I would be greatly helped if I read two sources that he recommended, one a lengthy book on the history of the Bible in the English language and the other an article which first appeared in the Royal Historical Society publication in 1998. I obtained both of those books that represented the deep research that swayed this young man, who considers himself to be an expert in this field. By the way, if someone is recommending just two sources, the two that agree with one another, I'm already questioning what's happening. Any historian would. This is supposed to overturn the only position that I've heard.

In the book he exalted as the supreme source to understand the history of the King James Version, The Bible in English by David Daniell, I found the author to be very biased, ridiculously so and obviously so. His sources were not convincing. I was left with the observation that this man had a bone to pick with those who support the King James Version. I will show how what he wrote reveals this. The other source was the article, The Politics of English Bible Translation in Georgian Britain by Neil W. Hitchin. In his second sentence, Hitchen writes:

The long tenure of the King James, or Authorised Version (AV), has caused historians to overlook the existence of the scores of translations which were attempted between 1611 and 1881-1885, when the Revised Version was published.

First, I challenge the premise here that historians overlooked other translations made. Hitchen had plenty of source material to show these translations. Others have made note of these, belying the idea that historians overlooked them. Second, they weren't "attempted"—the translations were completed. They weren't accepted—that's different than being just attempted. In a footnote (fn 8) Hitchen mentions books on the history of the English Bible that either make no point of eighteenth century English translations or as he asserts, "lack an interpretive scheme." He decries the lack of interpretation for the rejection of these translations. Perhaps there was no "interpretive scheme" because no interpretation should have been made. Their dismissal should have been taken at face value.

Hitchen's article centers on "an unsuccessful campaign to get the Crown to convene a committee to produce a new authorised version." Concerning those who wanted this translation, Hitchen writes:

The dissenter's support for a new official version seems to reflect an assurance that they had a stake in the nation's religious life. If so, theirs was a sophisticated use of a key national text to redefine the assumptions of national religious culture either to obtain the limited goal of toleration for themselves.

This should give some hint as to why none of these translations was accepted. Hitchen describes the attempt of a new translation (p. 78):

[T]he ideology of nature was quietly displacing the reformation ideology . . . in the modern idea of ‘science' being applied to biblical texts. The substance and style of early eighteenth century divinity were modelled on scientific precision and sobriety. . . . Jones described a critical technique which treated the Bible as a parallel of nature and the biblical student as a scientist. In early 1789 Edward King's Morals of Criticism advocated an ‘application of modern science to biblical texts', which his reviewer found ‘very interesting'.

We should be happy that a new translation based on these premises was not accepted.

The young historian with which I had my discussion talks as though powerful forces worked against a new translation. Hitchen, speaking of those who had an influence on Archbishop Secker, referred to Benjamin Kennicott, who "expanded the textual knowledge of the Hebrew bible vastly, supported by money from the king." Kennicott (pp. 86-87) "concluded in 1780 by saying that ‘none of the variants was a threat to essential doctrine or increased historical knowledge.'" That doesn't sound like some political conspiracy against a translation. In his conclusion, Hitchen says:

The point at issue in the debate over the English version was whether the old translation illuminated or obscured the Gospel, and whether a new one was likely to be hijacked by heretics. All sides had doctrinal agendas.

This was not a point of authoritarian power being abused, the idea the young "historian" wanted to read into the rejection of a new English translation.

It is helpful to look at the source from which the young man tries to find conspiracies where there are none. The young man mentions Richard Baxter being thrown into jail for making a paraphrase. That is true, but the context of that situation was very local, not national—the case of an over-eager and biased judge overreaching his authority. Nothing more came of it. He says that Daniel Mace had his work ignored because he was a Presbyterian and because the English was too current. He takes this conclusion from Daniell's book, a man who we cannot rely upon for an unbiased view of the King James. Daniell's "historical" position about the King James comes from one major source: Bruce Metzger. When Daniell criticizes the poor textual basis of the King James, he is not making a historical judgment. He takes that from reading Bruce Metzger's twentieth century work of textual criticism. After a quotation of Metzger on p. 510 to criticize the New Testament text behind the King James Version, Daniell writes:

One of the curiosities of Bible history is the superstition about this text, a rigid religious loyalty of many Christian to this textual monstrosity that to try to amend it, or even criticise it, has been branded as near-sacrilege — indeed, still is, in some places.

And then in a footnote attached to this particular sentence, Daniell recounts a story that helps us understand his feelings:

I myself have been publicly reviled for speaking well of Wescott and Hort, the scholarly makers of the pioneering 1881 two volume The New Testament in Original Greek, not knowing that I could in any way be giving offence to a member of a North American lecture audience in the late 1990s. For her, the Textus Receptus was the Word of God.

Can you imagine a "historian" including such an anecdote in the midst of what is supposed to be history? I guess if someone is preaching to the choir, it would be well-accepted. As far as Daniel Mace is concerned, first concerning his "current" English, Luther A. Wiegle of Yale Divinity school regretted Mace's "pert colloquial style which was then fashionable" (p. 509). Mace lost his influence where he was, not because he was a Presbyterian, but because "local congregations were suscepitble to Whitefield's and Wesley's gospel fire" and "in that time [Mace's] flock dwindled." The work of the gospel was a reason for the rejection of Mace. Isn't that a good thing?

As you look at much of the source for Daniell's material about textual revision, you read Bruce Metzger (including the Bentley quote about "Pop (sic) Stephanus"). So we don't have any kind of fresh hardcore uncovering of a conspiracy afoot regarding the acceptance of the King James Version as the standard for the English speaking people.

The young historian says that Leonard Twells had written a call for the correction of Stephanus. It is absolutely just the opposite. When Mace attempted to challenge the textus receptus, Twells wrote a defense, published in three volumes in London, against Mace's text, entitled: A Critical Examination of the late Testament and Version of the New Testament: wherein the Editor's Corrupt Text, False Version and Fallacious Notes are Detected and Censur'd. It really is a joke that he would use Twells as a basis for dislike of the textus receptus, when the man wrote a three volume series both defending it and then criticizing the edits of Daniel Mace.

The young historian writes that Robert Lowth was calling for a revision of the KJV because of his expertise on Hebrew poetry. No. Daniell himself writes (p. 516):

Scholarly understanding of the nature of Hebrew poetry, following Robert Lowth in 1741, was one reason for increasing calls for revision of KJV.

Daniell does not give any evidence of Lowth calling for a "revision of the KJV," just that men were calling for a revision based on Lowth's work---again, not Lowth himself. This is just a blatant falsehood by the young "historian," perhaps with the hopes that no one would check him out.

Later in his book, the supposedly trustworthy Daniell, with reference to Lowth, makes these comments about men's attitudes about the KJV in the mid eighteenth century:

By the end of the 1760s, another view was appearing, one that itself became a myth, supported by carefully manufactured other myths. This was the birth of ‘AVolatry', the elevation of KJV to such heights of inspiration as to be virtually divine and untouchable. From 1769, effectively, there grew the notion that KJV was peculiarly, divinely, inspired. To bolster the supposition it was announced that this translation had been especially venerated from the moment in 1611 that it appeared.

Daniell speaks of double inspiration originating in 1760. Ruckman was a bit behind the times, I guess, according to this account. That's an entire paragraph on p. 619 from Daniell. No documentation is supplied, so where do you think that Daniell got this idea? Now if he's right, those who think this movement started in the mid twentieth century with Benjamin Wilkinson's Our Authorized Bible Vindicated are going to have quite a problem. You can't have it both ways.

It is true that Isaiah Thomas was a historic American printer, who printed the King James Version in 1791 (not 1790, as our young historian wrote). His goal was to make the printing exactly correct. People in the colonies could buy their own American copy of the King James Version. He also printed in 1800 the first American edition of the Greek New Testament. There had been Greek New Testaments in America for a long time, imported from Europe. These Greek New Testaments all were the textus receptus. For the conspiracy theory of young DiVietro to be correct, Isaiah Thomas would have needed to have been forced to print only the King James Version by the British Crown, or at least by the Archbishop of Canterbury. What do you think the chances of that are? No, America was a free country and people wanted the King James Version. They wanted it as their Bible. They wanted to buy it. And they believed in the New Testament Greek text which was behind it.

The assertions made by this young man, who considers himself to be a historian of the English language, are inaccurate and in certain instances, blatantly false on the level of lies. It is the kind of work that is often done to attempt to back up something that sounds brand new. It sounds so new because it is new. I decided to check it out, however, because I would rather get it right than just win an argument. So if you hear it again, know that it is fabricated, made out of whole cloth. Unfortunately, there will be those who read this for which the facts make no difference. They are more concerned with winning the argument. They want the statements to work whether they are true or not, or whether they are being taken out of context or not. I hope that isn't you.

This conspiracy theory that the King James was anything but the standard for the English speaking people for 300 years is false. It can't be supported with facts. People loved both their King James and their textus receptus. These were what biblical, English-speaking Christians accepted as their Bible.

10 comments:

Terry McGovern said...

Bro Kent,

I appreciate the work you do in defending the KJV. It is always a help to me. I think you and I disagree slightly in some areas, in that I would not correct the KJV. This would not be because I believe in double inspiration. I simply believe at the time the KJV was translated, the Lord had assembled some amazing men to do the job. I personally believe their qualifications are far and above those Greek scholars of our day. Therefore I cannot see myself over turning what at least 49 men agreed upon as a correct translation of word/words, based on one or two opinions of today, or what Thayer or Robertson say. I hope that made sense. (After re-reading this I think I went on a rabbit trail, away from the main point of your article. Sorry.)

Another point about the comment the young "historian" made, is I think too often we lose sight of that fact that God is in control, especially when it comes to His Word! One problem many of those who constantly attack the TR/KJV is lack of faith in God and his promises. This is one point you frequently bring to light.

Thanks again for your work!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Terry! I don't say that the KJV is wrong anywhere. I think it is an accurate translation. I don't think that it conveys everything that the original language does, so the English should be explained in light of what God wrote in the original language.

Readers,

I got a comment from Erik, the one referred to in this post. I haven't posted it yet and probably won't, because it is about 7/8 going after me, i.e., personal shots. Usually I let the personal shots go here, but he also said that he doesn't want me to answer what he wrote, that is, interact with what I've written here. He doesn't want me to spend any time answering his comments. He also says he stands by his view.

I welcome anyone to look at the two sources that I quoted from in this post as it relates to whether they have proven that Christians wanted a different Bible than the KJV.

Update to this comment: Erik wrote another comment I haven't posted. He's welcome to come and interact with this actual piece, but now he's just angry that I wouldn't post his personal shots at me, that I don't have the "fortitude" to do that. :-)

Bill said...

Sooo, is this post a case in point for the "Dodge" series, or does it stand on its own, or perhaps both.

Thank you for digging through a lot of material to expose untruths.

jntskip said...

KB,
Just a reminder that you told me "I don't delete comments unless there is foul language. People don't have the threat of getting banned, unless they use foul language. We've got a guy there right now, a ******, not even giving his name, that is being insulting, and he gets to stay."
I don't know what Erik said, but I know what you said. Sadly, you've shown your colors by refusing to interact with Erik in the comments section of the post where this came up, and by refusing to post his comments contrary to your stated policy of openness.

Kent Brandenburg said...

JNTSKIP,

It's true I said that, and it's interesting that you are quoting what I said at your blog here. But I'm going to add something. I'm not going to publish every comment that has only the purpose of insulting. I'm not going to subject my readers to that. So I've added to what I did. I agree with you about what I said.

It's not true that I refuse to interact with Erik in the comment section. He left two comments and neither of them were "interaction" with what I wrote. They just insulted. That's all.

Your blog is operated by Bob Hayton. He should not be standing over anyone, anyone, as a judge for anything. I'm saying that based on his time here. And that relates to nothing that he presently believes or espouses.

You and Erik really are two industrial sized pots confronting a kettle. If Erik wants to talk about the subject at hand, he's welcome, but something tells me that he might only want to keep insulting. I would understand that might be all that he's got going on this issue, but he doesn't get to do it here, nonetheless. And by the way, Erik can keep commenting here, if he doesn't want only to insult---a different policy on this blog than what you're accustomed to.

Christian said...

Brother Brandenburg,

If insulting is banned, then you should start this thread almost clean. Five posts but only one interaction with the post; no scripture (which we all love)--only insults (against our brother)...not a good example of "alway with grace." And may I say not a good trend.

Personally, I appreciate the work you did, but each of us aught to do our own checking...if time permits and we deem it profitable (1 Timothy 3:14) for its use. Inter-library loan is a good place to start. Only one problem...I did ILL for the Septuagent study, but now that I have the book I forgot what I wanted it for. :-)

The comment about Richard Baxter was interesting...all my quick checking on his imprisonment said nothing of a paraphrase...must need to dig deeper.

For His glory,
Christian Markle

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Christian,

Thanks.

Steven Avery said...

Hi Folks,

Paraphrases were always fine, (remember even Erasmus did a famous ealrier paraphrase, with the heavenly witnesses included :) )

Richard Baxter was accused of libel against the church of Scotland in the Paraphrase. (England still had religious persectution.)

http://www.answers.com/topic/richard-baxter
But his worst encounter was with the chief justice, Sir George Jeffreys, in May 1685. He had been committed to the King's Bench Prison on the charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase on the New Testament, and was tried before Jeffreys on this accusation. No authoritative report of the trial exists; if the partisan account on which tradition is based is accepted, Jeffreys was infuriated. Baxter was sentenced to pay 500 marks, to lie in prison till the money was paid, and to be bound to his good behaviour for seven years. Jeffreys is even said to have proposed he should be whipped behind a cart. Baxter was now seventy, and remained in prison for eighteen months, until the government, hoping to win his influence, remitted the fine and released him.

The history given by Erik above is a bit of a laugh.

Especially jumping to 1684 where he grossly misrepresents the Baxter situation -- and not even mentioning that the Parliament around 1650 was even commissioning a new revision of the Bible, an enterprise that would have involved John Owen, Henry Jessey (who worked on his own translation as well) and others. The attempt faltered and vanished into the historical void. Oops.

Essentially the superb excellence of the KJB has kept it in good stead from attacks from often very conflicting, even opposite, angles. So it is hard to spend a lot of time on histories written quite so poorly as above.

Oh, Daniel Mace's translation was not "ignored" because he was a Presbyterian (which makes no sense). And Kent covers some of the panning of the Mace text and translation attempt elsewhere, including the Twells disassembling. It is pretty bad to actually confuse Mace and Twells, which seems to be Erik's confusion. Although I would like to see him give more about the 1731 reference, what source he was using.

Richard Bentley - (sp.)

However, I would not call the Lowth comment a "blatant falsehood" since we do have a comment like the one in this reference:

In 1778 Lowth referred to Seeker's valuable corrections of the English translation and critical remarks on the Hebrew text which 'will be of infinite service, whenever that necessary work, a New Translation, or a Revision of the present Translation of the Holy Scriptures, for die use of our Church, shall be undertaken'.
http://books.google.com/books?id=W1EH9mAWA0IC&pg=PA81

Shalom,
Steven Avery

Steven Avery said...

Hi Folks,

Paraphrases were always fine, (remember even Erasmus did a famous earlier paraphrase, with the heavenly witnesses included :) )

Richard Baxter was accused of libel against the church of Scotland in the Paraphrase. (England still had religious persecution.)

http://www.answers.com/topic/richard-baxter
But his worst encounter was with the chief justice, Sir George Jeffreys, in May 1685. He had been committed to the King's Bench Prison on the charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase on the New Testament, and was tried before Jeffreys on this accusation. No authoritative report of the trial exists; if the partisan account on which tradition is based is accepted, Jeffreys was infuriated. Baxter was sentenced to pay 500 marks, to lie in prison till the money was paid, and to be bound to his good behaviour for seven years. Jeffreys is even said to have proposed he should be whipped behind a cart. Baxter was now seventy, and remained in prison for eighteen months, until the government, hoping to win his influence, remitted the fine and released him.

The history given by Erik above is a bit of a laugh.

Especially jumping to 1684 where he grossly misrepresents the Baxter situation -- and not even mentioning that the Parliament around 1650 was even commissioning a new revision of the Bible, an enterprise that would have involved John Owen, Henry Jessey (who worked on his own translation as well) and others. The attempt faltered and vanished into the historical void. Oops.

Essentially the superb excellence of the KJB has kept it in good stead from attacks from often very conflicting, even opposite, angles. So it is hard to spend a lot of time on histories written quite so poorly as above.

(continues)

Steven Avery said...

Oh, Daniel Mace's translation was not "ignored" because he was a Presbyterian (which makes no sense). And Kent covers some of the panning of the Mace text and translation attempt elsewhere, including the Twells disassembling. It is pretty bad to actually confuse Mace and Twells, which seems to be Erik's confusion. Although I would like to see him give more about the 1731 reference, what source he was using.

Richard Bentley - (sp.)

However, I would not call the Lowth comment a "blatant falsehood" since we do have a comment like the one in this reference:

In 1778 Lowth referred to Seeker's valuable corrections of the English translation and critical remarks on the Hebrew text which 'will be of infinite service, whenever that necessary work, a New Translation, or a Revision of the present Translation of the Holy Scriptures, for die use of our Church, shall be undertaken'.
http://books.google.com/books?id=W1EH9mAWA0IC&pg=PA81

Shalom,
Steven Avery