Anglican Samizdat

May 9, 2009

Conveying truth through language

Filed under: Christianity — David Jenkins @ 7:52 pm

I once had a heated discussion with a person who had left the Dutch Reformed Church to form – with others – a new denomination because the Dutch Reformed variety was insufficiently Calvinist. As I recall, I pointed out to him that I was unimpressed since, by his own admission, he had little choice in the matter.

One of his idiosyncrasies was that he believed that the King James translation of the bible was the only reliable one; no argument could budge him from this. To the average Evangelical this might sound absurd; nevertheless, Malcolm Muggeridge used to claim that the beauty of the language of the Authorised Version was an inseparable part of the truth it conveyed: change the language and you damage the truth. Before I was a Christian, I was inclined to agree; less so now.

Rex Murphy seems to have a similar view:

I’m driven often to the Bible, both for its wisdom and its prose. Strange that the only text that seriously can be said to rival Shakespeare in trenchancy and power of expression should be a work primarily of religion, not literature, a compound book by many authors and, for English readers, a work of translation as well. The King James Bible is the only – as we say these days, though perhaps with some impiety considering my subject – standalone creation that can claim equal status, for its literary excellence, with the otherwise unmatchable harmonies of Shakespeare.

I think the apparent dichotomy between the powerful literate expression of reality found in the KJV and the more accurate to the original but prosaic ESV, for example, is that language does create an aesthetic truth of its own that can be captivating – or perhaps it uses aesthetics to drive home more effectively the truth it carries.

It is the Authorised Version that has insinuated itself into our language and, thus, into our psyche: “through a glass darkly”; “vanity of vanities; all is vanity”; “In the beginning was the Word”; “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”   – and so many more.

The Message tells us: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog”;  “Smoke, nothing but smoke”; “The Word was first, the Word present to God”; “GOD, my shepherd! “I don’t need a thing.” Arresting perhaps, but hardly memorable.


1 Comment

  1. For me it’s the Book of Common Prayer, even in it’s modernized 1962 version that the ACoC prints. The 1918 version is better in many ways.

    Comment by Gawk — May 9, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

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