Yesterday was a strange and eerie anniversary. Six hundred years ago, on May 4, 1415 the body of Bible translator and Christian dissident John Wycliffe was exhumed from his grave in England, burned and his ashes were thrown into the river. And if that wasn’t weird enough, this was done over thirty years after his death.
It sounds like something from a Dirty Harry movie.
“You think this is over punk? Thirty years after you’re dead, I am going to dig up your body, burn it and throw your ashes in the river!”
There is no statute of limitations on anger.
Wycliffe had made himself a major pain to the Christian establishment and they hated him for it. But his true sin worthy of being dug up and burned was he led the process of translating of the Bible into English, with work done by “unlicensed laity” and was declared a heretic three decades after his death.
Over one hundred years later, William Tyndale translated the Bible into English for the first time and was arrested, hung and then burned at the stake.
I am not sure, but maybe from these two instances is where we get the concept of “overkill.”
More than seventy-five years following Tyndale’s death, the King James Version of the Bible was published (1611), which drew heavily on the translation work from Tyndale (some estimates set it at 75-80%), proving that time does heal some hurts.
Quite a number of years ago, I was working for a company involved with fund-raising for various non-profits. On one occasion, I took a phone call from a gentleman who wanted some information about a certain Bible ministry before he made a substantial donation in support of their work. (If I recall, it was $10,000)
Before sending his donation, he wanted to confirm the Bibles being printed and distributed were using the King James Version and not some other edition. Did I mention that the ministry was sending Bibles to Russia? (Kind of a key point here)
Me: “No sir. We are sending Russian language Bibles to Russia”
Him: “Are they King James Russian-language Bibles?”
Me: (Trying not to laugh) “No sir, the King James Bible is an English translation and we are sending Russian-language Bibles to Russia.”
Him: “So, they are not the authorized version. Thank you for your help”. (Hang-up)
He did not make the donation. Evidently he expected Russian believers to first learn English, then learn 17th century English, and then, and only then, would they get a Bible.
I am not a Bible translation expert, but the King James Version is not an original source document of the Scriptures. Moses did not speak the king’s English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek and Aramaic. Maybe English was one of the many tongues at the tower of Babel, but I am only guessing.
Sometimes we worship words rather than The Word and sometimes worshiping words takes interesting forms.
I have to think one reason that most movies depicting Biblical events employ British actors speaking the king’s English is because the language is somehow more “spiritual” in most viewers’ minds because of the popularity of the KJV.
Every Christian has been in a prayer meeting when a regular person from the church has transformed themselves into a member of King James court when praying. Maybe they are worshipping the words rather than The Word or maybe it is simply habit.
When Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ released over a decade ago, a controversial element was the various characters speaking Latin, Aramaic or Hebrew with English subtitles. Gibson did that because the people in the original story spoke Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew. He dared to be accurate.
To conclude, we all have a choice of two options when communicating, and you need to choose one or the other, so choose wisely.
The first option is to have a lovely combination of words crafted by you and delightful in every way in your mind, saying exactly what you want to say without input or changes from anyone.
The second option is to communicate a message clearly with the help of a team of people who are thinking about how it will be understood.
The first choice focuses on you and your words. The second focuses on the reader and the goal. Deciding what is most important to you could mean all the difference to your writing career.
Worshipping words is a hollow religion anyway.
Wow! What a powerful post. My first thought was, if I’m going to be burned at the stake, I’d prefer to already be dead.
I find it interesting you lumped Mel Gibson in with Wycliffe and Tyndale. He’s still alive, but his life sure unraveled after the movie.
One of my prayers is for my words to be used to God’s glory. I’m always open to making my stories stronger so they shine for Him.
Thanks for a great post!
This reminds me of a certain CBA when a person approached me with the question, “Is there any chance that your books could be re-published with KJV instead of NIV? We can’t use them otherwise.”
These are children’s books with one verse at the end of the story, and the version was chosen simply for the child’s level of understanding.
A lively discussion ensued, and my husband rescued me before anyone was burned at the stake. But it’s still hard for me to understand the devotion to the KJV. Thanks for a great post. 🙂
I loved this post, Dan. Words are powerful. And, words of life are still opposed today. My prayer is that the words that I write will reflect God accurately, and encourage readers. I hadn’t thought about how others can help a writer see how the writer’s words will affect and be received by readers. Yet another reason to have other sets of eyes on the things I write.
Mocha with Linda
Great post. I still shake my head and smile/wince at the story my sister, who was a career missionary in a South American country, told of a volunteer who told her that he was concerned that her pastor didn’t preach about Jesus. My sister thought back over the sermon and told the volunteer that the pastor said “JesuCristo” (Spanish translation) many times. The volunteer wasn’t satisfied and insisted that the Bible says that at the name of JESUS every knee shall bow.
Oh my. I would probably burst into laughter and then stop abruptly to comment, “Oh, you were serious.”
Drives people crazy. (By the way, I never, ever do this with my wife. Works great with teenagers though.)
I’m thinking. I’m thinking.
This post scooped me along and deposited me in the midst of myself. Yikes!!! Advice please on how to gather a team asap.
A great review team would be people who are not editors, but potential readers. Showing what you have written and asking, “Does this make any sense?” is an excellent start.
Thanks Dan. I will work on rounding a couple people up. Most don’t want to read it until the end but readers in progress would be so awesome!!
Excellent post, Dan! I’ve found this even today. People feel like the KJV is THE one and only. I prefer a modern translation, one that reads like I think and speak.
The funny thing is that most of these people who believe the KJV is *the* one and only aren’t actually reading the original 1611 version. They’re reading the re-edited 1769 version.
This is timely for me as I work on edits for my debut novel. I crafted such lovely turns of phrase, but they’ve got to go!
Thanks for an informative and entertaining post. As we write, it helps to visualize a reader, a real flesh-and-blood person, looking over our manuscripts.
I appreciate all the translations available to us but I do struggle with the Message. Guess I’ve got to get over myself.
Great post, Dan. Other eyes help me see what I wrote. My eyes tend to see what I wanted to write.
I like that. Even I understood it!
Sandy Faye Mauck
Boy, Dan you do love to stir the pot. LOL. I like you analogy in the sense of our words and translating to the ones reading them. But I wonder what the word will look like in txt or slang or ebonics to get through. How does Shakespeare translate to Russian, I am wondering.
I personally use the KJV for several reasons. And I am not KJ only. I use the TIB (The Interlinear Bible -word for word) extensively.
For one, the KJV is not copyrighted. The language is beautiful and yes one must dig harder to get some of the meaning but what I have seen is a horrible mistranslation of very important scriptures in the common versions. All the enemy has to do is take a scripture, give it a little twist and by the time the 2nd and 3rd editions come out Voila, the truth is gone and what is left is some happy sappy version of what is supposed to be the Words of Life.
The KJV has its issues and the translators were also water-downers in their time (because of King James). But as we keep watering it down, it becomes worse and better to be ‘spued’ out of His mouth and ours.
I also don’t want to compromise truth in my writing. After all, if I expand to reach out to everyone en masse, then I will have to alter the heart of my work, the truth God wants me to convey to those I am writing.
I don’t worship words but I do hold in honor a 66 book letter from my King and Savior. I have no doubt the time will come when we will face execution for craving truth.
Certainly I agree Sandy about not compromising truth.
In what we write, often we would rather be creative than communicate truth clearly. It would be great to do both!
It is often said that the KJV is not copyrighted. But technically the KJV was published under the copyright protection (or permission) of the Crown in England. That protection is considered to be in perpetuity, but would only affect publishers based in the UK. For example, below is found on the Cambridge University Press web site:
Rights in The Authorized Version of the Bible (King James Bible) in the United Kingdom are vested in the Crown and administered by the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.
Outside the UK the King James Version is considered Public Domain.
A fascinating book on the issues related to the KJV and modern translations is THE KING JAMES ONLY CONTROVERSY by James White (published by Bethany House Publishers). I had the privilege of editing that book and it is still considered the best book on the topic. The author does a masterful job of making the issue of “textual criticism” understandable.
Sandy Faye Mauck
Steve, I didn’t know that in the UK it was not public domain. Interesting. It has been years and I know we’ve read that book and also the others on the other side of the coin.
My husband actually enjoys reading the 1611 – talk about a translation issue and a challenge! But we don’t believe the KJV nor most modern versions are spot on. The scariest thing is that people think paraphrases are translations. And the newer editions of the translations keep thinking they have to change even more. I sometimes wish I could give my own translation based purely on the Holy Spirit But I don’t think I will live that long.
Most people have never read the preface explaining the way King James directed the scholars to translate that version. Very eye-opening. For instance they were not allowed to change the names that were in common usage at the time. For instance LORD could not be changed to the original language because that is what they used. Most Christians don’t even know that capital LORD is the name of God there in the tetragrammaton. And even Jehovah would not have been correct because there were no “J”‘s in the original Old English. “J’ was not in use until approx. 1634, I believe.
We love to dig in Biblical word archaeology (<; and by His Spirit.
Sandy Faye Mauck
Yes, Dan, that is so. I often back up and ask the Lord to show me what to write when I can see I have gone too far with the ‘me’ in what I have written.
Dearest Daniel, Thy words of wisdom about Worshipping Words have proventh to me and thou vast multitude of thy followers to be Devine in nature and generous in it’s simplistic beauty. Jester Mark
So much here to make me stop and think.
Words. Words. Words. Powerful but true. Words piercing the mind and causing a revolution. Words men died for, spoke for all to hear and guided many down the journey into the heart of God.
And then there’s $10k lost – lost to those who needed to hear such words. I just can’t wrap my mind around that loss. It breaks my heart to see pride do such damage (not to say anything of ignorance).
Our own words written down are powerful too, but we need that screening process you talk about. I’m working on that team even now as we speak.
Thanks, Dan, again for your thoughtful words…
Enjoyed your historical facts and quotes, Dan! I love the English language (and the influence the KJV has had on Western literature) as well as the plentitude of translations and commentaries and other linguistic tools for our understanding of biblical principles. But I’m really glad you didn’t assign the word “bibliolatrous” to your critique of those who worship words; I’m trusting you don’t believe there’s any way we are able to idolize the Bible itself (I mean the actual Word of God, not the words of particular languages), but that we’re called to “eat” God’s words and make them part of us.
But you do bring up the hermeneutical issue of where meaning resides–in the text itself, in the author, or in the reader. I would love to hear more on this subject, Dan. As a novelist very soon to have my first nonfiction book published, I suffer an internal (bipolar?) struggle between how to “communicate a message clearly” (your words) through nonfiction and my urge to illustrate (biblical) truths through creative fiction.
Has anyone else here struggled with this as well–the two halves of the brain warring against each other? My solution so far has been to express myself through veiled fiction and then, switching hats, through more clearly evangelical, propositional, or instructive nonfiction (writing as well as speaking).
Sandy Faye Mauck
I can relate to that Deb. It is like one minute you are an artist painting a garden and the next minute you are an accountant. Makes you dizzy.
In my artist days, someone said I was a bit “linear”. It took forever to figure that out because I honestly can’t draw a straight line most of the time.
Maybe we are just 50-50 people—right/left brained? It sounds like you like to study like I do and yet fiction right now is my best outlet to get to the heart of the matter.
I have plans for non-fiction and have complied notes for years.
Very well said, one of your most potent posts. I actually have a friend who is utterly dogmatic about the KJV and I have a nephew who is as dogmatic about being kosher – well he was until a missionary said, “would you like to tell the Chinese Christians near me that pork is off the menu?” Its like telling Russians to get educated King James style. I recall Paul facing similar patterns. I would not dare suggest that he was ‘an end justifies means’ apostle, never, but as he inferred from his teachings on circumcision, outward signs of compliance can never substitute for an inward change of heart. To that end, no matter our dogma or version, unless hearts are transformed, we will miss the point and if hearts are changed, who cares anyway for the single version of grace, Jesus, will write His witness on the tablets of our heart. That is in line with His promise to show us His ways without our needing to rely on third party manipulation, pet ideas, private dogmas, etc. So, applying that to writing, places a higher burden on me to communicate the living Christ than the dead letter, for only the revelation of who Jesus is can set captives free, transform lives and be the rock on which the church stands – and that invokes a language that every believer relates to, the language of love and grace. God help us to get the point. Thanks Steve.
Enjoyed this article. I will look forward to more. This piece was great I will pass on this info. I guess being burned after death is less painful. But what a message. When I can read more between the lines (I suppose I should say inspiration has taken hold.)
Pondering your blog that continues to intrigue me brings the readiness that takiing exact NIV words, paragraphs, and punctuation designed in architectural engineering, graphic design with some folk art will upset some people but may be good for High Schoolers and creative sorts. We’ll see. At least I will not be burned at a literal stake.