For it Verily Behooveth Us to Read from His Majesty’s Bible

I am hardly one to bitterly decry contemporary translations of the Bible, but given that my very first Bible in English was a well-thumbed King James Version, I have never been able to shake the feeling that every other translation is, well, literarily substandard by comparison. And certainly, no rendering in a contemporary translation makes me squee with sheer delight the way that Acts 17:5 in the KJV does:

“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.”

“Certain lewd fellows of the baser sort”! That’s the stuff; it doesn’t get much better than that. (I admit that the Revised English Bible’s “some ruffians from the dregs of society” is also amusing, but clearly not anywhere near as much as the KJV.)

This is a favorite of mine, and also of my good friend and mentor Andy Smith. Other mutual KJV favorites include Isaac “sporting with Rebekah his wife” (Genesis 26:8), and what should be the “life verse” of all those who imagine that “verses” are the ultimate units of biblical discourse, I Chronicles 26:18:

“At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.”

(Methinks that some company specializing in the manufacture of blasphemous Christian trinketry, by which I mean the many ridiculous items usually for sale in Christian bookstores, should try its hand at making some gadget or another featuring this verse. I’m sure that someone out there will find some deep, spiritual meaning for it.)

Anyway, back to “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.” Why, I think I just might have found a whole new title for my biblioblogroll!

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8 responses to “For it Verily Behooveth Us to Read from His Majesty’s Bible

  1. Star Wars aficionados will appreciate the HCSB translation:

    they […] brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace and formed a mob

    The TNIV’s “bad characters” seems positively bland in comparison.

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  2. very nice…

    after wondering who it was that I had that rather delightful discussion with about Grudem over at Better bibles, thanks to Jim you’ve now been added my to google reader

    mike aubrey
    evepheso.wordpress.com

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  3. Mike, I’m delighted that you found my blog, because this means that I thereby found yours! As you know by know, I too have added you to my reader; I look forward to keeping up with your excellent posts in the future.

    All of which is to say, of course, that a critic of Grudem is a friend of mine. ;-)

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  4. Esteban,
    I realize that this post is three years old now, but I am moved to comment. I simply must share with you the rendering of Acts 17.5 in the Rheims New Testament: ‘But the Jews envying, and taking unto them of the rascal sort certain naughty men, and making a tumult, stirred the city: and besetting Jason’s house, sought to bring them forth unto the people.’

    (In the original printing, in fact, it looks more like this: ‘But the Ievves enuying, & taking vnto them of the ra∫cal ∫ort certaine naughtie men, and making a tumult, ∫tirred the citie: and be∫etting Ia∫ons hou∫e, ∫ought to bring them forth vnto the people.’)

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  5. Schmendrick> Oh, no worries! One of the reasons I don’t automatically close the comments to old posts is that, from time to time, someone will do what you just did.

    The D-R rendering is pretty good, yes, but I think the KJV still takes the cake!

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  6. In professional literary translation, it is a mistake to translate only literal meaning and lose the artistic and aesthetic qualities of the original. In some genres (like poetry), the aesthetics are in fact more important than the literal wording when rendering the text in another language.

    Though I understand why people think they’re getting a true rendition of “God’s words” the more literal the translation is, I think a lot of meta-information is lost when the Gospels and epistles are rendered as bland, wooden language. Most of the Bibles I’ve read verge on complete incomprehensibility in many passages.

    One Bible I appreciate for its translators’ attempts to produce a translation with good literary qualities is the Jerusalem Bible, which included JRR Tolkien among its translators and consultants.

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  7. Forget Christian trinkets, “Parbar westward” should be the name of a parachurch ministry!

    Oh.

    Wait.

    It is.

    Was.

    Yep.

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  8. Paul> I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve noted elsewhere that slavish adherence to form can easily distort meaning rather than convey it clearly. Of course, the other side of the coin is that, since form also conveys meaning, too much detachment from it can distort meaning just as much. Needless to say, it’s a tough act to balance, as I’ve learned from bitter experience.

    What I find the most disappointing about any number of English translations out there is their consistent failure to reflect the literary register of the various biblical books in their original languages. All we get, as you note, is something of a literary monotone, which is invariably bland. This blandness is not peculiar to either formal or functional translations, but it is equally the parcel of both (cf. the NASB vis-à-vis the NIV, for example). This means, at least in principle, that were due attention paid to register, we could have translations across the theoretical spectrum that would reflect, in keeping with their chosen translation principles all the while, the literary artistry of the various biblical books (or else the lack thereof!). It is much to be regretted, however, that Bible translators do no often bring to the table either a sensitivity to the translation of register, nor indeed an acquaintance with the principles and practice of professional literary translation.

    I tend to like the JB, though it is unfortunately prone to reflect rather outlandish conjectural emendations of the Hebrew text, and as Dom Henry Wansbrough (editor of the NJB) tells the story, portions of it were not translated from the originals at all, but rather from French. (Also, I should note that the role of Tolkien in the production of the JB has been greatly exaggerated, not least of all by the preface to the JB: in fact, he only completed the Book of Jonah, and prepared a draft for the Book of Job, later participating in the final review of its translation. It appears he might have been consulted about some other matters, but which in particular is not certain.) From the perspective of my religious commitments, it is also undesirable that it uses the name “Yahweh” in the Old Testament. Still, I have soft spot in my heart for it (and for its revision, the NJB) precisely because they tend to be literarily excellent. However, my favorite translation from a literary point of view is and always shall be the Revised English Bible, with deep nod to its predecessor, the New English Bible.

    Nathan> I know!!! You know, I’ve joked about this “Parbar westward” bit for ages, and then one day I googled the tems and landed on that ministry’s page. Regrettably, about 13% of my brain cells perished as a result.

    And thanks to both of you for stopping by and commenting!

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