Sunday, November 11, 2012

The ‘Word of the Lord’ in English, Please by George Weigel | First Things

The ‘Word of the Lord’ in English, Please by George Weigel | First Things

Thanks to Austin for alerting me to this article.

13 comments:

Biblical Catholic said...

A lot of the complaints they are making in the comments are about the 1970 OT....and most of the things they single out were actually fixed in the 2011 revised OT....those changes haven't been into the lectionary yet, but when someone complains that Psalm 1 doesn't say 'blessed in the man....'.....in the 2011 edition it does say exactly that.

rolf said...

What's new, just another NAB 'hater' reminiscing about the 'good old days' when he used Elizabethan English in the Mass? Don't mind that there are many generations of people out there that would not understand half of what was said in the D-R (or KJV) if it were used in the Liturgy. Can the NAB be improved, yes and it current went through a big revision which I feel has made big improvements. Any translation can be improved!

Biblical Catholic said...

Talking about Elizabethan language reminded me of something....

When I was growing up my family attended the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod...and at the time they used the KJV......in 1982 they published a new 'hymnal' basically what Catholics would call a 'missal', among the many changes introduced in 1982 hymnal was the change from the KJV to the NIV....

This change made a huge difference...suddenly for the first time ever, the Bible made sense.....

I had grown up thinking that 'the Bible is really hard to understand', but it wasn't really 'the Bible' that was hard to understand, it was just the KJV...

For the next few years, the church I was attending gradually began replacing all its Bibles, as old KJV's were rotated out, new NIV's were rotated in...and for Sunday School, Confirmation class, and later the 'youth group' we would read the Bible, some of us got NIV's, the rest got KJV's....the people who got the KJV's would always complain bitterly that they got 'the hard one', and we would take turns reading from the Bible out loud, whenever the person who was reading had the KJV, we always had to have someone read the same passage from the NIV so that we actually understood it....

I have zero nostalgic sentiment towards 'the good old KJV' or for archaic language in general...I don't think people who advocate using the KJV, or the Douay Rheims, appreciate just how hard it is for young people to understand them, and how the difficulty frankly puts us off from ever even attempting to read scripture.

CJA Mayo said...

Rolf: why dost thou refer to me?

CJA Mayo said...

Biblical Catholic, I'm 23 years old. And not a native speaker of English, nor a native Christian who grew up with the cadences and phraseology of the KJV.

The Douay-Rheims is easier to understand than the KJV; the DRC used current idiom when it was translated and revised, whereas the KJV was self-consciously archaic or timeless from the moment of its release. Much of this is evident in the KJV's syntax, in such phrases as "tell me ye" and similar. However, I think both (and most men I've met agree with me) are pretty simple to understand, sans the rare word which has changed in meaning, when read aloud; they are undoubtedly more difficult to understand when read silently, and the standard setting - verse-per-parargraph in two columns - increases the difficulty of comprehension by a great deal.

In a Clarion KJV or New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, the KJV is easier to understand than most of the Shakespeare I have (Bevington's Complete Works of Shakespeare, updated spelling, 4th rev. ed.).

I don't believe I have an unusually high aptitude for languages, nor an unusually high drive to learn them (although, admittedly, I do have an unusually high drive for learning in general, which may color my own self-perception); the KJV seems to be much more difficult to understand than it actually is, especially if one's experience of it was as a child. I believe virtually every high-school, and, if not, every university graduate would be able to understand it easily.

In other words, the difficulty of reading the KJV or DRC is highly exaggerated. In reality, the original Douay-Rheims (with archaic orthography) is about as hard to read as many people make out the Challoner to be. If one was talking of the 1611 KJV (in Roman, not Black Letter, type), it would be more fair; I have given readings out of the 1611 KJV reprint and very occasionally stuttered or faltered on a word of unusual orthography.

I believe that I may like archaic Biblish because the archaic English makes one slow down a bit and actually parse what one is reading; one can not read vast tracts of the Bible quickly and manage to catch the intended meaning, as in a fictional book, where one merely needs to remain cognizant of the "storyline" or "plot", and not so much the details. As for the KJV or DRC, what I believe to be greater reliability and accuracy compared to most modern translations (and all modern translations that come with the Deuterocanonicals, insofar as I am aware) plays a major role in my choice to use them.

If not, there's always the NKJV, NASB (the two translations which don't come with the full canon, as mentioned immediately prior), and ESV!

However, one is correct that one must adapt the version of the Bible, at least partially, to teaching circumstances; the students should be learning, and aware of the foreignness of the book, so that a translation that is completely easy to understand and in the modern idiom is unusable for those who can understand it (an ESL student will have this at a different level than a ninth-grade student).

Biblical Catholic said...

I don't think the difficulty is exaggerated at all...opinion polls have consistently shows that the #1 reason why people don't read the Bible is because they think it is hard to understand....consistently over the last 30 years Gallup polls show around 80% of people agreeing that 'the Bible is very difficult to read'....

Now...it is true that the Bible is a difficult book, you need a lot of understanding of history and linguistics and whatnot to really 'get it'....an excellent example of this is the Anchor Bible...which was begun in 1956 with the intention of making an introductory commentary on the entire Bible for laity, it wouldn't be advanced, not something for graduate students, but just for uneducated laity....it was started in 1956...currently there are 86 volumes in print, and when it is done there will be 120 volumes...56 years in the making and it will take at least another 20 years to finish it....and that's just an INTRODUCTION, not even something advanced....

But when people tell pollsters that 'the Bible is really hard to read' they don't mean it in the sense that you need lots of historical background etc they mean it in the most basic sense....they can't pick a Bible, read a couple of verse, and have any clue what was said...

Now to most people, the KJV simply IS the Bible....some aren't even aware that it is a translation, they think it is the original....when the RSV was first released in 1952, the released what we would today call a FAQ to accompany the release, the first question they addressed was 'How can the Bible possibly change?' and they go on to explain that the Bible isn't changing, merely the translation and so on and so forth.....

And even if it were true that it isn't hard to understand, you STILL have the problem that the words don't mean what they seem to....many words have changed meaning and now mean the opposite of what they did in the 17th century....for example, the KJV uses the word 'let' to mean 'hinder', it uses the word 'approve' to mean 'allow' etc etc etc

One is not going to walk away with a correct understanding if your read it assuming that you understood what it said when in fact you did not.


It is really time to let these old translations go...

CJA Mayo said...

The Anchor Bible is an introductory commentary for the laity? We use it in seminary! If that's introductory, what is Hermeneia? 201 level? And NIGNT is for intermediate learners?

It's time to improve our understanding of English! And the original languages (that probably comes from the Muslim view of the Koran). But, what's really needed is an NKJV or something similar with the deuterocanonicals - that is, a conservative/conservationist update of the KJV and/or Douay-Rheims (along the lines of the NKJV and Confraternity) without changing textual bases, readings, etc.

The NASB is the closest to this standard, IMO, but it's just as hard to find in a paragraphed version as the KJV. The NKJV is also close to it, and the Confraternity (NT) is essentially right on the mark.

We can never, in modern English, come close to the KJV or DRC again, because the language itself has become debased and lost precision in the time since. For example, in the pronouns. I've adopted, side-by-side with a manuscript using archaic English, the JW's New World Translation practice of putting "you" in to small caps (like "LORD" in the OT) when it is a plural.

At least Knox used words like "adumbration" ;-)

Timothy said...

In my mind, this once again comes down to Biblish. Weigel has likely not read the revised NAB OT and simply repeats the tired old mantra against the NAB by people like the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus. (Btw, I enjoyed reading Fr Neuhaus.). The question remains, which has been brought up here often, whether or not a Bible translation needs to sound like the KJV or RSV to be deemed 'elegant' or even 'literal.' With the NABRE, however, this debate is somewhat moot, since there will again be another revision. Check back in 10 years.

The proposal I found more interesting was when Weigel requested the RSV-2CE to be allowed as an option for the lectionary.

CJA Mayo said...

I think Knox in many places has a very smooth and elegant turn of phrase, and sounds nothing like the KJV-RSV tradition. Likewise, I believe the Jerusalem Bible does in many places. I prefer the KJV-RSV tradition to both of the above, yes, but one can sound like "the word of the Lord" without being part of that tradition (clearly in the Jerusalem Bible, even more so in the NASB, but that's part of the KJV-RSV tradition).

I'm pretty sure all "essentially literal" translations are going to come out somewhere in the RSV-ESV spectrum today, as one can only end up with a certain range of words when translating mostly literally. (Unless the language undergoes a dramatic shift; a mostly literal translation in 400 years, if the Lord delays his coming, will not use the same words one does today.)

I believe also the cadences of the Tyndale tradition are ingrained in Western cultural consciousness as "the Bible" and as "the word of the Lord", so they'll always be deemed more elegant, and, indeed, sound more elegant, than they actually are.

The NAB is just plain bad English: repeating my mantra, "read Isaiah 9:6 in the NAB".

CJA Mayo said...

The below was originally written about the NEB, not the NAB, but I believe it captures the essence of the matter more eloquently than I can hope to (and it also touches on my previous comment about "the debasement of the language" making it impossible to duplicate a KJV-like feat - not to mention that if it could be duplicated, "Christianity don't have that kind of clout no more", as J Mark Bertrand over at BibleDesignBlog said).

http://www.bible-researcher.com/neb-gifford.html

Biblical Catholic said...

I do agree that the English languages changes, it has changed quite dramatically since the publication of the KJV in 1611 (and even in 1611, the language was a little old fashioned though still widely understood)...

But I do think that 'language changes' excuse is used way too often to justify revisions of Bible translations. The language has not changed as dramatically as some Bible translation prefaces like to claim.

For example, the New Jerusalem Bible and the New Revised Standard Version both use the excuse that 'the English language has changed' to justify a new revision, but is this really true?

The RSV was published in 1952, the Jerusalem Bible in 1966.....there are many young people who listen to music, and watch movies and TV, from the 50's and 60's, and I don't think any of them have any difficulty understanding what is being said. Has anyone ever said 'I can't watch 'Leave it to Beaver' the language in that show is so archaic I can't understand it!"? I rather doubt it. But if you read the preface to the New Jerusalem or New Revised Standard Bibles you would think so.....

Even more absurd is when the 2011 NIV uses 'the changes in the English language' as a justification....really? Has the language undergone big changes since 1978? Young people can't watch Star Wars or Smokey and the Bandit because the language is so archaic they can't understand it? Really?

I really wish they would stop offering that argument.

Biblical Catholic said...

"The Anchor Bible is an introductory commentary for the laity?"

Yes, it is.....they haven't necessarily done a great job of maintaining that intent, because several volumes actually introduce new theories, when they were supposed to only summarize existing theories....but that was always the intent from day one...

The earlier volumes do a much better job of being accessible to the laity, but the intent from day one was always that the volumes would present the most up to date scholarship by the most prestigious scholars written in a way that makes it accessible to the uneducated laity....


Here's an interesting article about that from 1982

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/11/books/editing-the-anchor-bible.html

Biblical Catholic said...

And even in the most recent volumes of the Anchor Bible, when you open it up and read the title page it says that it is 'intended for the general reader'....right there in all 86 volumes currently in print.