Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Beauty and the Bible

A Cambridge Cameo King James Bible, produced in the 70's

Beauty in a Translation Matters

For a number of years now, the best selling translation of the Bible in English has been the New International Version (NIV). Generally the King James Version (KJV) has maintained second place, however, this past month (according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) it was actually in third place, with the new-comer, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) in second place --though this is probably because it is a new version.

However, if instead of asking which translation is selling the most, we ask which translation is the most used, by people who actually read their Bibles, a very different picture emerges. In 2014, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, conducted a study, entitled: "The Bible in American Life," and what they found was that of those who actually read the Bible, 55% used the KJV, 19% use the NIV, 7% use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 6% used the New American Bible (NAB), 5% use the Living Bible (TLB), and 8% use some other translation.

I am sure that there is not just one reason that accounts for this entirely. I would imagine that some stick to the KJV because it is more deeply rooted in the culture, and their religious tradition. However, I think a good part of the reason for this is beauty. The KJV is simply a far more beautiful translation than any other. There is not even a close contender on that front.

Personally, I have been making a point of doing some of my personal Scripture reading out of the Orthodox Study Bible, because I want to be more familiar with its Old Testament translation. The Orthodox Study Bible uses contemporary English -- but it does preserve some of the cadence of the KJV, because it's Old Testament text used the New King James Version (NKJV) as its starting point, and in the New Testament, it is identical to the NKJV. However, despite the fact that it is one of the better examples of a contemporary English translation, reading that text compared to reading the King James is a bit like the difference between eating a hot dog and eating a good steak. A hot dog is better than nothing, and can even be enjoyable on some level, but when given a choice, most people will go with a steak. I make a point of reading the Orthodox Study Bible first each day, simply because I have found doing the least pleasant tasks first, and holding back on the more pleasant tasks, as a reward, is the best way to get them all done. I thoroughly enjoy reading the KJV, and look forward to it very much. And often, I will read it outside of my normal reading plan, later in the day, just because it is a joy to do so. And compared with the NIV, the Orthodox Study Bible is the Sistine Chapel.

People often buy other translations, because they are not used to reading the KJV and they have been convinced that it is too hard to read, but while reading a text like the NIV may be easier on the front end, it has all the beauty of reading a car repair manual, and about as much in it that resonates in the soul or inspires the reader. I think this explains why so many people buy that text, but so few people, comparatively, actually read it with any regularity.

I still have a copy of the NIV that I acquired not long after that translation was first published. And I did read it for a few years, but I have not even cracked it open in close to two decades. On the other hand, I have a copy of the KJV that my mother gave me a year or two earlier (identical to the one pictured above), and I still use it.

For More Information, See:

An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible

King James English and Orthodox Worship

How to teach your children to read and understand the King James Version of the Bible