15 March 2012

Reading the KJV to Young Children...and to Myself

I have chosen, for many years now, to read the King James Version of Scripture to my children during our daily morning Circle Time. This is not to say that the KJV is the Only True Version. I attend a church that utilizes the ESV, although, being a Biola graduate, I'm fairly well obligated to use the NASB. For our Romans class, our oldest son reads the week's passage every day, each day in a different translation.

All of that is to say that I fully embrace the usefulness of the various available translations. I don't want to be seen, in what I am about to say, as one of those Good-Christians-Only-Use-the-KJV people.

Okay?

Okay.

After many years of studying Scripture using various translations, I have personally come home to the KJV, and I've found it to be very enriching.

Today, I thought I'd share a few of the reasons why.

Archaic Language Enhances

I have had people tell me--in loving concern, of course--that in exposing my children to archaic language during Bible reading, I am jeopardizing their understanding. The implication is that all of the language needs to be immediately accessible to them. We'll come back to this idea later, but for now let me just say that I don't believe this is true.

When I was in seminary, one of my favorite professors did his daily Bible reading using the Greek text. He always came to class with these amazing insights. The Greek, though, was sometimes a struggle for him to understand, even though he taught Greek. It would never be as natural to him as reading in English, which was his first language. But reading in a more difficult language gave him more insight, not less. The amount of thinking he had to do naturally increased the amount of time he spent meditating on passages.

Likewise, I have been reading through my Bible this year using the KJV. This is the first time I have done this. I cannot rush through it the same way I am tempted to do in the modern translations. The unfamiliarity of the language assaults me at every turn--I cannot escape, I cannot read mindlessly. {I know some of you are perfectly capable of reading a modern translation with your full mind; I am the weaker brother here.} Truly, I have felt pursued by the Hound of Heaven when I read it.

Thees and Thous Clear the Way

If I were to start a movement, it'd be to bring thee and thou back into usage. Growing up, I always thought that these terms were fancy ways of saying you. I thought that perhaps people who retained the usage {which is very uncommon, I know} were putting on airs.

What I didn't know was that thee and thou have clear grammatical usefulness. Did you know that you is plural while thee and thou are singular? Once you know this, it is so helpful in trying to understand difficult passages! It gets more complicated than this, of course, but in a fabulous way.

Thee is typically a direct object, or the object in a preposition. In fact, it is the objective case {in Latin we'd call it the accusative case} of thou, so when we see thee in a passage, there is a certain clarity that we do not see in modern English {which we know is there in the Greek and Latin texts, which are wonderfully precise}. Likewise, thou is singular and in the nominative case, meaning that thou is always the subject {grammatically speaking} of the sentence.

It wasn't until we really got into studying Latin that I appreciated how clear this makes the language, and also how true it enables a translator to be to the original language. By discarding thees and thous, we have simplified the language, yes, but in the same sense that muddied waters are a simplified form of mud and water separately. There is less distinction made, not more. The result is that misunderstanding is more likely, not less.

Metaphor is the Bridge to Understanding

I already linked once before to Cindy's brilliant little piece on metaphor's ability to enhance understanding. What I am saying here is tied to that idea.

In I Peter 1:3, Christians are told to "gird up the loins of your minds." If you know Greek, then you know that this is exactly what the Greek says. It's a metaphor, a poetic device. The KJV translates it precisely. The ESV, NIV, and NASB, however, all say to "prepare your minds for action." This, my friends, is not a translation.

It is an interpretation.

The translators have made an executive decision to eliminate metaphor and attempt what Martin Cothran calls the "direct route of bald prose":
To say that the best approach to truth is the direct route of bald prose not only goes against the approach of the original Biblical writers, who employed vivid imagery in their writings, but is also an example of what Richard Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences, once called the "quest for immediacy"—the idea that truth must be approached like a conquering mental army, besieged and taken captive. But truth is mystery, and tearing the veil off of it reveals little. It can only be approached indirectly.
Metaphor is what keeps the heart soft. It communicates layers of meaning, rather than a singularity. It is more than the sum of its parts.

Frankly, it is more natural to ponder the metaphor of girding up the loins of one's mind than it is to ponder preparing one's mind for action. Preparing for action is only one aspect of girding up the loins, which implies virtues such as courage and strength and manliness. There is so much more to think about when immersed in the original imagery.

A Gift to My Children

What has been interesting to me is that my children do not seem to find the language archaic. A.-Age-Seven can often narrate a story from the Old Testament in the KJV language better than she can a story from James Baldwin or Aesop. I can only attribute this to the fact that I have read it to her since she was two or three, and to her it is her native language.

I am only giving my children what I myself have found beneficial. We could talk about manuscript validity {I don't think the Textus Receptus, from which the KJV is  translated, has the problems some people think it does, but that is just my opinion.} We could talk about money, which is the real fuel behind the modern versions and updates. We could talk about the ethical issues involved in something like copyrighting the Word of God. We could talk about the KJV enhancing the intellect in a way the NIV never could.

But these are just background noise, in my opinion. They are real issues, yes, but I don't think they are reasons to use or not use a translation. We must think more broadly than that.

I'm not saying there is never a reason to use the modern translations. I myself have used them for years, and I still use them regularly. My husband uses them when he reads to the children. And obviously he and I both use retellings written for children. What I am saying is that there is more to the KJV than meets the eye, that it has its own peculiar benefits, and it ought to be considered seriously for family reading.

24 comments:

  1. I grew up reading the KJV. My children read NASB at church and the NIV at school. I use the ESV for my daily reading (at the moment).

    Here's what I'm doing on Friday and Saturday ~

    http://explorepassages.com/about

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WOW Dana, that looks amazing! I wish I could be there!

      Delete
  2. Brandy,
    The KJV is what we use, too. (My husband is a big ESV fan, though.) I agree with you...our children don't find the language to be a stumbling block at all, and memorization flows so beautifully. Thought-provoking post, once again. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Trisha!

      My husband uses the NKJV, but that isn't really a conviction; someone bought him one years and years ago and now he's attached to it. :)

      Delete
    2. we're on a ESV kick currently... but I too love KJV for the reasons you mentioned.

      Delete
  3. My private school used only KJV, so I memorized most of my Scripture in this! I plan on using KJV as well for the kids...right now, we are using mostly story Bible's and I read daily from the NKJV for my personal study. Very interesting post and a good reminder to include the beautifully written KJV into our learning! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What kind of school? Catholic? Classical? Just curious, because I think that is pretty rare for most Christian schools.

      Delete
    2. The curriculum they used was A.C.E. (which I dislike VERY much btw ;) ) and since it used the KJV, we used the KJV for everything (ie chapel, memorization etc). :)

      Delete
  4. I always thought thee, thou, thy were familiar and ye and you were formal. Is there any truth to that?

    BTW, we love the KJV here too, but I'm always as careful about saying so for the same reasons as yours. I use the NASB when we get "stuck" on a meaning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I *believe* that came later. Thou is the second person singular pronoun, but when it fell out of usage, some used it as a sign of familiarity. Ye and you are both second person plural. Likewise, thine is singular while your is plural.

      At least, that is what I've read. :)

      I hate how polarizing these issues can be, to the point where people are afraid to admit that they read it!

      Delete
    2. I wonder if the idea of using "ye" and "you" formally corresponds to the "royal we" usage? Perhaps this occurred at the same time?

      Delete
    3. I wonder if that could be! In Russian (and many other languages) one you is plural and formal, the other is singular and informal. So, when you are being polite, even to one person, you're actually addressing him as ya'll. :-) Maybe it used to be like that in English, too? I think I had heard that somewhere.

      Delete
  5. My boys and I are reading through the Psalms together through three different versions - NKJV (my personal Bible), NIV (which they got as a gift) and my father-in-law's KJV, which is my middle son's favorite. All my favorite praise songs come out of the KJV, of course, and so that's what I have memorized! We find it fascinating to hear each verse in a different translation, and definitely prefer the KJV and NKJV to the NIV. My middle son loves the "thees" and "thous" in his Bible. :)

    Definitely agree with your point about metaphor. What is the Bible without poetry and metaphoric prose?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that you are doing that! It wasn't until recently that I realized the benefit of reading parallel translations.

      Delete
  6. The pronoun thing is definitely confusing in all of the modern translations. Our Sunday School teacher often jokes that someone should pen a Texan translation, with ya'll as the plural of you. The first thing he does when he teaches a passage is to go through and clarify all of the pronouns, direct objects, etc. I think that one reason we have such a Me and I centered American brand of Christianity is because of the pronoun translation problem. We read "you" and claim what was never meant to be claimed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think your pastor is on to something! I am not Texan, but I could definitely embrace that move. :)

      I appreciate your take on the lack of plural pronouns and the me-and-I-centered Christianity we see in our culture. I remember when I first realize that Jesus' rebuke of Nicodemus was in the plural, even though Nicodemus was alone. That was something to think about!

      Delete
  7. "The unfamiliarity of the language assaults me at every turn--I cannot escape, I cannot read mindlessly."

    good point!

    ...thee and thou have clear grammatical usefulness

    especially when learning another language!! :)

    these are just background noise, in my opinion. They are real issues, yes, but I don't think they are reasons to use or not use a translation. We must think more broadly than that.

    yay. i love the way you said that. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. We decided to go ESV for family readings and for memory, but you do have me thinking. I hadn't settled what to do for sure for Bible next year; perhaps we will just listen to a KJV audio version.

    Part of the reason our memory work is all in ESV is that I do prefer a direct and straight-forward writing style; although I love KJV & Shakespeare style English, I don't want my students to write or speak in that style. However, I do want them to be comfortable in that style of English, so I really should get us in there. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't want my students to necessarily write in the KJV style {unless I am raising a Howard Pyle?} but I *do* want them to fluently think in metaphor.

      Delete
    2. Yes, that is a good thing. I had only really taken into consideration the language aspects (patterns, phrases, understanding, etc.) and hadn't thought about the metaphor angle. Plus, I wanted *one* familiar version, because I memorized things in 3 different translations and often heard 2 or 3 different translations and now it's hard for me to locate what I'm thinking about because I mix up the words used in different translations. I have to use Google rather than a concordance. :)

      Your posts always are challenging. I appreciate it. And I definitely do agree with the 1 Peter 1:13 translation v. interpretation.

      Of course, you do need to check sometimes to see if they have the right picture in their head for the metaphor. I had several embarrassing *adult* moments when I used metaphoric phrases incorrectly because I had a different picture in my head (formed as a child) than the phrase actually meant (not KJV-related; one was "screw you." I pictured screws and a drill and leaving someone to hang on a wall). That was embarrassing. :)

      Delete
    3. That is hilarious! And you make an excellent point. I remember looking at the infamous drawings by the children of Fred Sanders. One of them was illustrating the wise man being "like a tree planted by streams of waters." The picture shows a stream of water picking up a tree and planting it! I still laugh when I think of it.

      My husband and I are actually trying to develop a family game where we try and use metaphors or similes to describe something, and try to one-up each other. It hasn't gotten very far yet, but it's a goal. He's much better at it than I am.

      I definitely see your point about memorizing only one version. I will have to keep that in mind. We have been memorizing everything KJV *except* I Cor. 13, which we memorized in the version that most people have it memorized in--I think that is either the NIV or NASB...I don't remember because once I found the common one, I printed it out.

      Delete
  9. I wish I could start a blog called After Afterthoughts, where I would just quote you. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you start your project to bring back thee and thou, could you please add whence and whither to the program? Thank you.

      Delete

I absolutely adore hearing your thoughts, but...*please* remember to play nicely!