Wednesday, February 16, 2011

KJV and Politics

This short article by Giles Fraser makes a point about the political aspects of the KJV translation:

The translation, begun in 1604, was meant to bolster the authority of the established church. King James I ordered that the Greek word "ekklesia" be translated as "church", not "congregation" or "assembly", to give the impression that the Bible proposes top-down ecclesiastical authority. He insisted that there be no marginal notes in the text. This dangerous commentary in the more radical Geneva Bible led to the questioning of the divine right of kings.


There's some truth to this. But there's more to say. The publishers of the KJV excluded both the preface of the translators and notes that might be construed as controversial. But they did include marginal notes and footnotes discussing e.g. diverse textual traditions; disputed readings; and alternative translations of the Hebrew or Greek. Inclusion of these notes became a precedent followed by successive editions and translations of the Bible. And by including these textual notes, ordinary readers like you or I have access to the minds of these and any translators and their discussions. 


It was the translators rules not King James himself that stipulated there should be no controversial notes. Would that these rules could be published with the KJV all the time!


Ward S. Allen published the Latin and Greek notes of one of the translators of the KJV--John Bois--which he found in the Bodleian Library. These are the only notes made by any of the KJV translators and it is to Ward Allen that we owe an eternal debt of gratitude for finding and publishing them. These notes indicate, among other things, that the epistles of the NT received more attention from the translators than the gospels. And that the translators deployed words that had recently been introduced into the English language: "Godlynesse" at 1Tim 6:6 and, by way of Andrew Downes, another translator and Bois' Greek teacher at Cambridge, the verb "amaze" at 1Peter 3:6. There's scarcely a page of these notes from which one does not catch the excitement of translation.

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