05 May 2016

The King James Version—My favorite Bible in English

My favorite Bible version in English is by far the King James Version (KJV)—sometimes called the Authorized Version (AV) because it was authorized by King James of England. It was originally published in 1611. It is the only English version approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1992 the First Presidency, in part, said: “Since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the King James Version of the Bible for English-speaking members. The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts. ‘We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.’ (A of F 1:8.) Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter-days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.”[1] In the LDS Bible Dictionary, under Joseph Smith Translation (JST) we find in part: “Although not the official Bible of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the JST offers many interesting insights and is an invaluable aid to biblical interpretation and understanding. It is a most fruitful source of useful information for the student of the scriptures.” So I suppose we can also use the expression Authorized Version, with a double meaning.

Additionally, more than any translation in English, the KJV preserves the references to the Messiah, many of which are lost, obscured or perverted in modern translations. For years I have been quite concerned with a plethora of new Bibles that take Christ as well as His Divinity out of the Scriptures.

As a student of the scriptures I find the language of the AV sublime and poetic. It is the text used in Handel’s Messiah. It is the text we have come to love after decades of exposure to it. Even though English is my second language, I find the AV easy to read and to understand. Furthermore, the translation is more literal. In the literature one often reads of literal vs. dynamic Biblical translation approaches—although to different extents both are included in every version. The more literal give us something closer to a word-for-word translation while the more dynamic attempt to translate the general sense or meaning of what is meant. Because dynamic translations require even a greater amount of interpretation of the text—and I generally rather ponder and interpret the text myself if there is not something already from the Brethren on that subject—I prefer the more literal translations such as the KJV. 

Of all the Bible translations I have (over fifty), the AV gives us the most accurate rendering of the Hebrew extant Bible. Note again, that the Hebrew we do have, the Biblia Hebraica or Masoretic Text as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls are copies of copies. As mentioned by the Brethren, we do not have original versions of the Bible in any language. All the ancient manuscripts in other languages than Hebrew are also copies of copies.

The New Testament has its own unique set of additional challenges that must be mentioned as a warning: the source text is different. The KJV used what is called the Textus Receptus or Received Text, while many of the other versions do not. Some of those versions do a good job in the Old Testament but fail miserably in the New. Many of the references to the Divinity of Christ are removed and complete verses are eliminated. For an excellent presentation on that topic see President J. Reuben Clark’s April 1954 General Conference address, “Our Bible.” For the remainder of this paper my comments will be directed to the Old Testament, although similar issues appear in the New.

Difficulty in Translation

It is very hard to translate. I know, because I have translated my own books from Spanish to English and from English to Spanish. Even though I know the material intimately, it is a very challenging and time-consuming task.

Some believe that the same word should be translated consistently throughout the Bible. Yet words in Hebrew and Greek are as rich in multiple meanings as words in English or Spanish. Look at the richness and variety of even the simplest words in your English Thesaurus. To find the right translation we need to understand the nuances of both languages: that of the source as well as that of the target language we are translating into. We must not only understand the words, but also the context. For instance, how should the expression HA-GOYIM (הַגּוֹיִם) be translated? We find that the Hebrew הַגּוֹיִם is sometimes translated as the Gentiles or as the nations. Our perspectives, beliefs and understanding will guide us in making those decisions. Certainly, gentiles and nations are not synonymous in meaning. Other words in Hebrew and Greek offer us an even more extensive set of possibilities.

The matter is further complicated by other issues such as ellipses (things that are left out but implied). In earlier articles we have spoken about cultural ellipses that imply a larger amount of missing text as well as the simplest forms of ellipses. The words in italics in your KJV show which words are implied in the source language but are not there—either because of the way that Hebrew is written and often because the concepts were thought to be understood by the readers.
In Ezekiel 37:18, for instance, we read: “And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?” The translators of the AV are telling us that they had to supply the elliptical word, meanest, because it was implied in the passage. The KJV is wonderful in that many of the elliptical additions are clearly shown. There are a few modern versions who use the same techniques but many do not.

There are a number of Hebrew constructions that are rendered the way we read and speak English rather than by how the original language is used. For instance, “I Jehovah,” אֲנִי יהוה (e.g., see Genesis 15:7; Exodus 7:5; Leviticus 11:45; Isaiah 48:17, etc.) is rendered in the KJV as “I am the Lord,” so that the words “am the” should also be in italics but they are not. I suppose it would be somewhat distracting to show every single word that ought to be in italics. The Darby and LEB versions, on the other hand, respectively render Isaiah 48:17 as “I am Jehovah” and “I am Yahweh.” Rotherham renders it “I—Yahweh.” And several Spanish translations such as RV1865 give us “yo Jehová.” In the אֲנִי יהוה example, the translated meaning is essentially preserved either way.
There are verses, however, where various translations give us drastically different meanings and even the very opposite sense from each other. We have explored some of those examples in past posts. The KJV is very consistent in giving us some of the best, most accurate translation of the Hebrew text as it is available today. But not always. So it is that I say that the KJV is my favorite almost all of the time, but from time to time, however, I need a “second opinion.” This helps me to see something I may have missed so that I can better understand.  

I do not have a second favorite that I can always count on. Rather, I draw more heavily from a list of about fifteen or so other versions. Some of the precursors of the KJV are also particularly useful. Even my less frequently visited translations will sometimes offer important help. I find the ancient manuscripts such as the Targum, Dead Sea Scrolls, LXX, Syriac, and Peshitta veritable treasures in the study of Scripture. Today, I will limit my examples to two that are of particular interest to Latter-day Saints.

Prophetic perfect. Isaiah 53:2 speaks of Messiah and reads: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (KJV). One scriptural concept used in the Hebrew Bible is often called the prophetic perfect. In it, an action is spoken as if completed, even if it is in the future, because the Prophet or Seer has seen the event as if it had already taken place. This should immediately arouse us as Latter-day Saints, yes, we have heard that before. For example, Leeser translates the same Isaianic passage from the Hebrew more literally as: “Yea, he  grew up [וַיַּעַל] like a small shoot before him, and as a root out of a dry land: he had no form nor comeliness, so that we should look at him; and no countenance, so that we should desire him.” Other versions that include the prophetic perfect here include the AMP, ASV, BBE, Bishops, CEV, CJV, ERV, ESV, GW, HCSB, ISV, JPS, LBP, LBLA, LEB, LHI, NASB, NBLH, Rotherham, RV, TLV, WEB and WEBA. The reason this concept is familiar to us is because the Book of Mormon was also translated from an ancient manuscript and gives us several like examples: “And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption” (Mosiah 16:6).  

Inspired Version. In the Inspired Version (JST), the Prophet Joseph Smith replaced the Hebrew יזה sprinkle in Isaiah 52:15, as in “sprinkle many nations” with gather; “gather many nations.”  The Hebrew scholar Schiller-Szinessy[2] has, which coincide exactly with the Inspired Version: “The fact is, יזה here comes from the root וזה to accumulate, to gather, to attract.” I worked hard to find additional information on the Hebrew יזה. A colleague directed me to one of my favorite dictionary references, the Gesenius Lexicon: “יָזָה an unused root. Arab. وزى to gather selves together,” as well as the Emphasized Bible, which under Isaiah 52:15 has: “gather to himself” and more importantly, gives Fuerst’s Hebrew Lexicon (Williams & Norgate, 1871) as a reference. In the 1867 version of the Fürst Lexicon (see pp. 917-918) we find additional information of great interest: “נָזָה II. (Kal not used), intr. same as יָזָה (which see) to go together. Deriv. the proper name יִזִּיָּה.[3] Hif. (future יַזֶּה) to collect, Isaiah 52:14-15, like as many were amazed at him—and therefore fled from him—will he now gather to himself many nations. The versions have thought sometimes of expiating, purifying, sometimes of causing to exult; but the explanation now given is the most suitable.”[4]

Words are so rich in meaning, whether they are in English, Spanish or Hebrew or any other language, that in reality one word may not do them justice. One translation that takes this into consideration is the Amplified or AMP, which uses additional words when necessary. In the KJV, we have something similar in the way of marginal notes. Different LDS editions have emphasized the marginal notes more or less than others. 

In summary, I have a love-hate relationship with these other versions as sometimes they help but often they obscure the passages about the Messiah and His Divine Nature as the very Son of God. Gladly, we have the inspired writings and talks of latter-day Prophets, Apostles and General Authorities as well as the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I am grateful that the Brethren have chosen the KJV as the Bible for English speaking Latter-day Saints.    

[2] The author of this dissertation says of himself: “I am now 61 years of age, and I so loved the Hebrew Bible in my youth that I knew the whole of it by heart before I was ten years old. But, although the whole Bible has ever been dear to me, my favourite prophet has always been Isaiah. Him I studied under Jews, Rabbanites and Quaraites; him I studied under Christian, Roman Catholics and Protestants. He has ever been my thought by day, my dream in the night; my comfort in trouble, my exultation in happiness” (pp.6-7). An Exposition of Isaiah 52:13-15; and 53; Delivered before the Council of the Senate in the Law School on Friday, April 28, 1882, Cambridge.  
[3] Pronounced something like Yizzayah, and in modern English it is sometimes written Izayah, both of which sound like the Hebrew pronunciation of Isaiah. 
[4] Fuerst [Fürst], Dr. Julius, A Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, Professor at the University of Leipzig. Translated from the German by Samuel Davidson, D.D. of the University of Halle. London, Williams & Norgate. 1867 (3rd edition). First German Edition was published in 1857. 

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