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Deus caritas est

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John 5 : 39

"Thou art inexcusable O man"
Walt Whitman wrote of the miraculous wonder all around us, how the humblest varmints and critters of nature are miracles enough "to stagger sextillions of infidels."

[from Leaves of Grass]

Superiority of the King James Bible

Olga S. Opfell, The King James Bible Translators

Wide-ranging influence of enormous overall impact
Because the 1611 Bible is great literature, a true English classic, its influence on the world of letters has been profound. Lawrence Housman writes, "Not Shakespeare nor Bacon nor any great figure in English literature has had so wide and deep an influence on the form of all the literary and political world." One writer, in fact, once imagined what might happen if the King James Version were to suddenly disappear. "People would not know what the great writers were talking about."

The Royal Inspiration behind the translation
The most influential version of the Bible in the English-speaking world bears the name of one of England's most eccentric kings -- James I, the awkward, slovenly, somewhat effeminate son of the beautiful Mary Queen of Scots. In no sense did he ever appear regal. He was goggle-eyed, contemporary accounts tell us, his legs were wobbly, and his tongue was too large for his mouth. But ....

justifiably attributed refinements [include] his reputation as a paragon of learning, crammed with Greek and Latin and other tongues. In spite of his physical disabilities, his mind was first rate. Already at the age of seven he "was able, extempore ... to read a chapter of the Bible out of Latin into French and next out of French into English as well as few men could have added anything to his translation." In due time he became known as the most educated sovereign in Europe. Almost to the end of his life, book learning remained one of his chief passions. He was also tireless in theological discussions, where he was usually well informed.

The greatest work in all English literature
Winston Churchill calls the Authorised Version a veritable masterpiece. It was certainly a work of art. The translators frequently borrowed whole passages from earlier English Bibles, particularly Tyndales and Geneva. But take a look at the book of Romans, which echoes with the cadences of the Vulgate-derived Rheims version of 1582.

Olga Apfel notes the enormous influence of the King James Bible. She quotes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch that the KJV "set a seal on ... national style, thinking, and speaking. Appealing to scholars as well as to humble men, it permeated the thinking of all classes. To this day its common expressions -- labour of love, lick the dust, clear as crystal, a thorn in the flesh, a soft answer, the root of all evil, the fat of the land, the sweat of thy brow, the shadow of death, the skin of the teeth -- are heard in everyday speech.

The influence can be traced throughout English civilization, on the home island and overseas, for the royal Bible served as the foundation stone that migrating Englishmen carried to the ends of the earth, and thus it forged a bond among various branches of the English race. American history -- political, religious, social, educational -- has been rooted in it. As Bliss Perry has said, "That the colonizing Englishmen of the seventeenth century were Hebrew in spiritual culture, the heirs of Greece and Rome without ceasing to be Anglo-Saxon in blood, is one of the basal facts in the intellectual life of the United States.

Beyond doubt, the generally matchless style of the King James Version has ennobled English speech and writing. The literary influence, to be sure, cannot always be distinguished from that of earlier versions. As John Livingston Lowes notes, through a long process, "the gradual exercise of something which approaches natural selection," there came about "in both diction and phraseology a true survival of the fittest." Certainly the felicitous style also owes something to the fine quality of the original, particularly the Hebrew Old Testament.

The best of two unlike tongues
The diction and phraseology, Lowes tells us, are a marvelous fusion of the Anglo-Saxon and Latin elements of the English language. The Anglo-Saxon matches the Hebrew original in simplicity and directness; the Latin element brings sonority and stateliness. In certain sections one element predominates over the other; elsewhere the two are blended. To wit, large sections of the epistles draw heavily from the Rheims version, while the coinages of a few gems of English like "loving kindness" "tender mercy" "morning star" are right out of Miles Coverdale. The version then in widest use was the Geneva Bible, and certainly it was generally speaking, a quality translation. But King James and the higher clergy hated that version, with its blatant Calvinist slant, its cumbersome and partisan theological footnotes, and the taunting tone with which the Puritans and Calvinists brandished their "True Word of God." So the Archbishop of Canterbury, respectful of His Majesty King James' wishes, instructed that the principal source should be the Bishop's Bible, except where the original texts differed. But the Bishop's Bible had little to recommend it, except for the fact that it was "nihil obstat" to the Church Authorities. It wound up being generally ignored.

Political balancing act
So the translators had to walk something of a tightrope. The clergy -- and the King himself -- cordially hated the Geneva Bible, then the favorite of the people of the growing towns and cities. Since Henry the VIII a clear break with the church of Rome had existed, being reinforced by the upheavals of Henry's son and two daughters' reigns, and then the unifying outrage that England felt shortly in the aftermath of the gunpowder plot of Guy Fawkes and his fellows, just shortly after King James took the throne. The result was a translation that availed itself of the best of several earlier translations then at hand, but one that was careful not to admit any politically incorrect influences. The Geneva Bible and the Rheims New Testament were both too good as translations to just ignore, but the King James Version's debt to either was impolitic to acknowledge.

A 'goof' of the King James translators?
The translators of our 1611 version borrowed heavily from the Rheims New Testament of the Catholic exiles. (As Rheims itself had borrowed from Tyndale and others). But a limitation of all of these, to the degree they consulted the Vulgate but not the Greek, was the fact that the Greek was original, the Vulgate was not. I happen to suspect that some degree of mistranslation was therefore bound to occur. For example, the famous "Charity Chapter" of I Corinthians 13. This chapter was a favorite of Martin Luther King. As a theologian he was actually more at ease in Greek than in Latin. If the Latin caritas was a fair translation of the original agape, what is the best English word for it? Shouldn't agape have been rendered love?

Praise for the King James Version
Aside from the diction and phraseology, the rhythms of the King James Version, deeply rooted in emotion and stronger than in earlier English Bibles, have greatly influenced English style. The rhythms, the words, and the imagery crowd the works of British and American writers as varied as Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, John Milton, John Bunyan, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Patrick Henry, Charles Lamb, Thomas de Quincy, William Blake, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Charles Dickens, John Greenleaf Whittier, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Thomas Carlyle, Herman Melville, John Henry Newman, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, T.S. Eliot, and Winston Churchill. Mary Ellen Chase claims that without the King James Version "there would be no Paradise Lost, no Samson Agonistes, no Pilgrim's Progress ... no Negro Spirituals, no Gettysburg Address" ... and none of the sonorous intonations or the thrilling appeals of Martin Luther King.

King James Version - online - the most original I could find, but spelling is modernized

King James I - the faith and foibles of a sinner whom God both inspired and used significantly

His Majestie King James - some biographical material (paints him a saint)

Dark is the Night - but oh - Bright is the Day! {when tragedy strikes}

The Ten Words - the story (in brief) of the Ten Commandments

The Family Bible - an all American perspective by an all-time legendary American - Willie Nelson

The Bible in Latin - English scholar uncovers some of the treasures of this ancient version

Patriotic - background music is Princess Diana's favourite hymn

Saint George

A webpage on the Ten Words: the divine revelation to Moses at Sinai

Blessed be the Name
baruch ha-Shem

The New Martyrs

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