Monday, April 25, 2011


On April 23, 2011, Charles McGrath's "Why the King James Bible Endures" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, McGrath argues that a major cause of the text's endurance is specifically in its removal from everyday language.  He comments that the language chosen by the fifty-four member group that initially produced it chose wording that was deliberately archaic--though accessible to the readership of the time--so that even on its first printing, the text would have been different from the presumed common speech of the readership.  McGrath also voices annoyance at the tendency of more recent English transliterations of the Bible to assume a conversational tone, commenting that "Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor."  The article effectively articulates and provides support for one view of why the KJV endures, although more could be done to support its assertions and there is certainly room for debate.

In my readings yesterday, I was glad to see the article.  It gives voice to a position similar to one I have held for some time (and yes, I know that I sound like I'm saying "Me, too!").  That position arose at the church my wife and I attend.  I am quite fond of my fellow congregants and of our clergy, but I do not agree with all of the choices they make.  For example, I abhor the use of The Message.  It purports to be a rendition of the canonical Biblical texts in current English, but every time I look at the text, I am struck by its insipidness.

I well understand the desire for inclusivity, and I am aware of the arguments against the phallogocentric patriarchal gender-norming that is evidenced in referring to the Almighty as "Our Father."  And I understand that a desire exists to get people away form rote recitation in pursuit of deeper engagement with a text.  I do not disagree with them, and I do not disagree that corrective measures need be taken.  But I do disagree that in seeking to approach the divine we ought to treat it as though it is no greater than we and is not special--which such pallid--and, frankly, intellectually insulting--language as is found in The Message represents.

While I do subscribe to the idea that, as a man of faith, I ought to seek to involve the Almighty in all my doings, I do not presume to speak to God as though the Most High is my peer.  The Wielder is most certainly not my peer, and it is more arrogant than even I am willing to be to act as though the Shaper were.  It trivializes the relationship I have with the Measurer to have Scripture not so much made contemporary as made the same as chatting with someone in an elevator.

I suppose that the point is that I view my relationship with the Almighty as a special thing, and that special things deserve special treatment.  I know that there is in the United States a prevailing attitude that seeks to break down the kind of differentiation I enjoy (see McWhorter, Doing Our Own Thing), and I know that I am of an older mode in my treatment of it.  That is to be expected, I think, given what I do for a living; that I am a student of older literatures is no secret, and shows up in my references to God in the preceding paragraph.

Even so, I do not know that simplest is best.  After all, Jesus himself taught in parables.

No comments:

Post a Comment