Richard Lambert on the King James Version

Last week I attended a fireside presented by Richard Lambert, the vice chairman of the Mormon Historical Sites Foundation. His interest in biographically sketching the lives of the 59 King James Bible translators were fanned by Elder Groberg’s brother, who wondered if something more couldn’t be done by that foundation to commemorate the KJV’s 400th anniversary.  Although an attorney by trade, Lambert has already spoken at prestigious symposia on topics in Mormon history. He also happens to be a counselor in presidency of my stake.

The KJV’s birthday was technically on May 2nd, but commemorating events have been occurring throughout the year. Earlier this year BYU put on a conference and then earlier this month BYU professor, John S. Tanner, presented at an Oxford symposium. Several articles have appeared in Deseret News and Mormon Times, including one that features comments from Richard Lambert. Lambert has made trips to England with MT photographer, Kenneth Mays, to capture some of the sites associated with the translators. Even the Church’s website has acknowledged the anniversary and it warranted a mention in Elder Packer’s recent conference address.  Lambert pointed listeners to a website run by the King James Trust that is chaired by the Prince of Wales that includes more details on upcoming events.

Richard Lambert sketched the historical background of England flipping between Catholic and Protestant regimes in the decades leading up to King James’s reign. England during his time exhibited a high to low church spectrum with the Puritans representing the latter pole. He talked about the Puritans bringing up their grievances in a conference at the beginning of his reign. Among other things, the King did not budge on phrasing in English wedding vows about worshipping the wife. He brought up a recent royal wedding that still retained some of that quaint language. One concession King James  allowed was for a new Bible version to be published. Lambert stressed how remarkable it was that scholars on all sides of England’s theological spectrum were allowed to contribute and no tell-all books were written in the aftermath by scholars who may have felt slighted in the process.

So what do you guys think of the KJV celebrations this year? I hope that the English speaking part of the Church of Jesus Christ sticks with the KJV even if that puts us increasingly out of touch with more modern Protestantism. Although alternative translations can be superior on a verse-by-verse basis, I think it would make it harder to understand cross references with the Book of Mormon if a wholesale switch was made. I marvel that Latter-day Saint scholars have made in roads at places like Oxford, perhaps a shared fondness for the KJV has created some common ground?

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About Keller

I was a BYU baby while my parents finished up their advanced degrees in psychology. I have lived in some interesting places growing up: near the Lagoon at Layton; in an old polygamist house in Manti with an upper-story door that opened to the middle of a roof; in Rigby,Idaho, the self-proclaimed birthplace of television; then over to Sweet, a small town north of Boise near some fun river rapids; then for my high school years in Lund (named after a counselor in the First Presidency), Nevada; and full circle back to Utah County for college. Currently I work as an electrical engineering in the defense and space industry in Salt Lake City. I have served in a single's ward elder's quorum presidency and as a hymn book coordinator. I also served a mission in the Bible Belt (Oklahoma City) and to prepare I became an avid reader of FARMS publications. This has lead me to become a volunteer for FAIR as way of furthering my apologetic interests and helping those struggling with tough issues to find useful information. I have also started an interfaith blog to dialog with Catholics and practice "holy envy." I like blogging on historical topics and doing genealogical research.

14 thoughts on “Richard Lambert on the King James Version

  1. Keller, we cannot move to other translation for many reasons, not least of which the fact that many of our temple ceremonies are tied to KJV language. Having said that, many of Paul’s writings are simply incomprensible in the KJV, so I think people should read the NIV or another translation, which really helps.

  2. What Geoff said, but expanding that “incomprehensible” part to include major portions of the Old Testament, certain parts of the Gospels, etc. as well.

  3. I never really understood Paul until I realized that he was a determinist trying to make sense out of compatibilism. Arminians make a valiant effort to place him in their camp, but many of his more paradoxical passages are understood best as making the case for a kind of proto-Calvinism.

  4. I had the privilege to be at the Oxford conference, and it was an odd hybrid of devotional and scholarly presentations. Very controlled environment, well-informed speakers, and a fun atmosphere. The setting was also fitting, as it was in one of the few colleges established by dissenters. I’m still trying to put together my thoughts on the experience.

  5. I’m not sure that other christians’ bible choices have anything to do with it. I’m also not sure that using the KJV is any path to scholarly respectability. And while every other language in teh church gets along without the verbatum BOM and KJV, I think that the English language privilege we assume needs to be argued for and not assumed.

  6. If I understand correctly, there is an analogue in non-English LDS scriptures to the English BoM/KJV relationship.

    Just as many passages (eg. Isaiah chapters) and “stock gospel phrases” in the English BoM use KJV phraseology, the same passages and stock phrases in non-English BoM editions use the phraseology of whatever Bible the church standardized on in that language. IE, the Spanish Book of Mormon parallels the Reina-Valera edition of the Bible.

    It would be interesting to find out if translations of the Spanish BoM done after 1963 made alterations to conform to the then “new” RVR 1963 edition of the Bible. (The current edition of the Spanish BoM is at least the 2nd, and possibly 3rd or 4th translation effort.) Then it would be interesting to see if further modifications to the spanish BoM are made to bring it in conformance with the Church’s recent proprietary “clean room” translation of the Spanish Bible (based on the public domain RVR 1903, since RVR 1963 and subsequent RVR editions are still in copyright.)

    Since I’ve been slinging foreign-language BoM’s, I’ve noticed new editions come out that have changes in translation, such as Chinese, Korean, and some African languages.

  7. Bookslinger,

    If I’m not mistaken — I haven’t checked it for a long while — but I think the BoM in Portuguese has followed a similar pattern to the one you describe. When I began my mission, the Church had just produced a new translation of the BoM in Portuguese, and the language was supposed to be more appropriate for Portuguese speakers than previous editions of the BoM. I’m not sure what exactly the changes were now, but it’s possible that the new translation was also brought closer in line with the Portuguese Bible translation that the Church prefers to use, the Joao Ferreira de Almeida.
    If anyone confirm this or correct me, please do.

    I, personally, think it’s wise to stick with one translation for ecclesiastical purposes. I use many translations when doing my own academic research, but that’s because there are sometimes translations that I feel express things in a way that best suits the point I am trying to make, or which better represent the original Hebrew or Greek, or which include important variants of the biblical text found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Septuagint that the KJV doesn’t have. While catching these nuances may be important for scholarly research, I don’t feel that using various translations of the Bible is necessarily beneficial in a Church setting. I’ve spoken with a number of people from different churches who have expressed frustration at the fact that their church doesn’t stick to one translation. Multiple versions of passages make recognition, memorization, and the like much more difficult.

    For example (and this is a random example, I could probably come up with better ones), let’s say that someone is familiar with the KJV version of Isaiah 53:5 because he likes to listen to Handel’s Messiah and that is what sticks in his head. He would know the verse as saying:

    KJV Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

    But let’s say he goes to church on Sunday and hears the preacher read this from his preferred translation:

    NIV Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

    As our guy flips through his own Bible to try to follow along with the reading, he sees this:

    ESV Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

    Well, the meaning is close enough but the wording is a bit different, plus it feels kind of weird saying it that way because of Handel’s beautifully (KJV) flowing phrases that are stuck in his head. He then goes home to share the passage with his children (who go to a Catholic school, for whatever reason). As he begins to read, the children only barely recognize it because they are accustomed to hearing it expressed in school as:

    NRSV Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

    Now again I admit that this is not the best example and perhaps a bit extreme in scope, but this is what many people have to deal with because of the various Bible translations available to them and because their church or other contexts may not suggest a specific translation for them to use. I’ve had this problem teaching the Old Testament in a university setting. As we go verse by verse reading a section of the Bible, the translations often vary from student to student and while this doesn’t usually cause major problems, it can become difficult to follow along as some translations end up being considerably different from the one you are using.

    I’ve said a lot here trying to make a simple point — that I feel it’s better, in a church setting, to use a single translation. It avoids confusion and misunderstanding; it makes familiarization and memorization easier; it makes teaching and establishing doctrine more straightforward, and so on. Then taking into account the fact that we have additional scripture and revelations that cite biblical passages, it would cause way too much confusion if we now decided to switch to a different translation or encourage the use of diverse translations, at least in the ecclesiastical setting. I won’t argue that the KJV is absolutely the best translation ever made or that it is in all ways superior to all others, but it does have its strong points and because of our long tradition of using it, plus the reasons cited above, I do not think that the Church should suddenly begin using other versions.

  8. David L, excellent example. I have real problems reading other translation of Isaiah exactly for that reason (even though other translations are sometimes easier to understand).

  9. To quote Philip Barlow, “The most basic problem is that the elegance of the “Authorized” English Bible warps for the modern ear the tone of the original texts, thus distorting our perception of the very nature of biblical scripture, which our additional scriptures then echo. One can hear no King James-like cathedral bells ringing in the background when one reads the Gospel of Mark in koine Greek. Mark’s writing is raw, fresh, breathless, primitive. The lordly prose of the KJV, as it is heard by 21st-century ears, is for many texts an external imposition, shifting the locus of authority away from the power of the story itself and toward an authority spawned by the partially artificial literary holiness suffusing our culturally created notion of scripture.
    This exterior authority in one respect gilds the lily of the original message, then construes respect for the gild rather than the lily as a mark of orthodoxy.”

  10. Thanks David – I’m a big fan of “peace” being augmented with the meaning of “whole”. One at war with them self (inner turmoil) as well as with principles God operates under is both lacking peace and wholeness.

    For all the people who are desiring a new translation for the church, perhaps this is one undertaking worth considering. More foot-notes with key translation differences that give you something more to ponder.

    It would have to be done in a proper way to avoid too many foot notes. For instance, I don’t think you’d need to footnote “stripes” and say “or bruised”. But adding in additional concepts like peace to also incorporate wholeness, or even one-ness or unity (of self with the spirit and therefore God) is really worth considering. I’ve always taken peace to incorporate that concept anyway because I think it’s a true principle the Holy Ghost will testify of. So I don’t think I needed a translation to give that answer to me… but it would be nice to see some other thought provoking, short footnotes to spark additional meditation.

  11. Ben S, that’s a decent point. Would you change temple ceremonies, and to what translation would you change them?

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