In a recent Mark Ward video, discussed in this post, he attempts to defend his argument that Edification Requires Intelligibility by appealing to I Corinthians 14. Ward contends that while 1 Corinthians 14 is clearly dealing with the gift of and speaking in tongues during public worship, 1 Corinthians 14 also has immediate application to the Bible itself and specifically to translations.
He goes on to say that his historical theological argument regarding 1 Corinthians 14 is bolstered by the KJV translators themselves because the KJV translators reference 1 Corinthians 14 in the Translators Preface to the Reader. The place which Ward references is,
“But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? as it is written, “Except I know the power of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh, a Barbarian, and he that speaketh, shall be a Barbarian to me.” [1 Cor 14]”Translation Necessity
Before making the central point of this post it is important to observe that the Preface only goes on to name languages foreign to the English reader: Hebrew, Greek, Scythian, Syrian, and Roman/Latin and even how they were considered foreign when compared among each other. What they do not mention is Wycliffe’s translation in Middle English, and we’ll get to why I think that is important in just a second. But first let’s talk a little bit about Middle English.
Most linguistic historians place Middle English between 1100 and 1500. Here is an example of what Middle English looks and sounds like compared to Old, Early Modern, and Modern English:
Anyone having trouble understanding “norissed” and “fyllyng”? Well you wouldn’t be the only ones. The image that heads this post is a portion of a gloss included in a compilation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tails printed in 1598, 200 years after Chaucer’s original work and only 13 years before the writing of the 1611 KJV.
The aforementioned gloss contained over 2,000 entries of what Mark Ward would probably call archaic words and “False Friends.” And yet, instead of changing the original text of Chaucer, the compiler offered an extensive gloss. Ward would have us abandon the KJV for a puny 56 “False Friends” while Chaucer enthusiasts of the 16th century were fine with over 2,000 such entries. When do Ward’s arguments turn from shallow linguistic commentary to outright calls for lethargy and laziness? For the sake of unity around a standard sacred text I’d think the religious academics like Ward would be at least as stalwart as Chaucer enthusiasts.
But it doesn’t stop here. When did Tyndale write his first New Testament in English? That’s right, 1523, only 23 years into the regular use of Early Modern English. Tyndale’s parents undoubtedly spoke Middle English. Tyndale grew up around it. And yet the KJV translators did not take Ward’s stance on 1 Corinthians 14. They said nothing of Middle English as foreign. Indeed, Wycliffe, before Tyndale, translated the Bible into Middle English but the KJV translators didn’t malign Wycliffe’s work for its “False Friends” and archaic words. No, no, they said,
“we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession, (for we have seen none of theirs of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.”And Answer to the Imputations of Our Adversaries
Critical Text advocates love this line from the Preface, and now it’s time Ward owns it. Wycliffe’s translation was in Middle English, but it was not accounted as foreign by the writers of the preface and they certainly didn’t connect Wycliffe’s work to 1 Corinthians 14. Rather they affirmed it.
And how different is the Early Modern English from the Middle English? This article from the University of Kentucky observes,
“During the early modern period, between 10,000 and 25,000 new words entered the English vocabulary, primarily loan words adapted from Latin and foreign languages. Accordingly, many early modern writers stand as the first evidence for a particular word in the Oxford English Dictionary. As of May 9, 2017, Shakespeare is cited 1495 times as the first evidence of a word; dictionary writers Thomas Blount (1618–1679), Randle Cotgrave (d. 1634?), and John Florio (1553–1625) are cited as the first evidence for 1466, 1350, and 1201 words respectively; and John Milton holds 556 first citations for a word.”https://exhibits.lib.ku.edu/exhibits/show/english-language/middle-and-early-modern
Could you imagine being someone like Tyndale attempting a translation of the New Testament at the advent of Early Modern English? Some 10,000 to 25,000 new words enter English Vocabulary in the early modern period. That’s a lot of words, a lot of opportunities for False Friends, but of course the KJV translators make no mention of these radical shifts in English, nor does anyone of note mention 1 Corinthians 14 as a biblical proof for condemning this growth in the English language.
Rather the works of Shakespeare and Milton survive as some of the greatest works ever written in English. And this leads me to another point. We are currently in a socio-cultural educational matrix where the literary brilliance of and like those mentioned above is maligned and/or ignored.
Rather than the English language growing more precise and enlightening it is growing more truncated and confused. You need look no further than the fact that so few, and especially academics, are unable to define what a woman is. Or the claim that homosexual civil unions are the same as divinely ordained marriage or the advent of safe-spaces or the obsession with microaggressions and hate speech or the fact that a human in the womb is regarded as a mere clump of cells. The list goes on and one. Words and what they mean are not being made better, more erudite, more beautiful. No, they are becoming more and more truncated, more like double-speak.
The KJV translators did not balk at the growth of the English language, rather they embraced it and translated a marvel of literary genius, the King James Version. Meanwhile, Ward and those of his ilk would have us cast off this marvel. Why? Because it doesn’t make sense to the common folk, he says.
So Ward would have us cast off the KJV and why not Shakespeare, and Milton while we are at it, only to embrace a truncated and deteriorated modern version based on a truncated and deteriorated version of the English language?
What happened to the spirit of the KJV translators who chose to translate the KJV into a language which was old even for their time, embraced a host of loan-words by receiving 10,000 to 25,000 new words into the contemporary vocabulary?
Ward’s arguments are taking us backward. His arguments explicitly and implicitly argue in favor of a devolution of the English language. Modern classical education demands that students read Shakespeare and Milton, and part of what we are saying is that the KJV ought to be retained for the same reasons we retain Shakespeare and Milton. Indeed, we ought to retain the KJV as the standard sacred text of the English-speaking Church.
Ward says the plowboy doesn’t understand KJV English and here my 15, 13, and 12 year old are reading Shakespeare, Milton, Kant, Aquinas and the KJV in high-school as part of the Great Books of the Western World curriculum or as part of Omnibus I-IV.
Do you know why there are words in the KJV that people don’t know? Simply because we stopped reading the Bible, we stopped preaching the Bible, and we stopped studying the Bible. The Multiple Version Onlyists divided the church on the version issue with their misguided and endless insistence on multiplying versions which has lead to greater and greater biblical illiteracy. Churches, individuals in churches, generations of Christians do not share a common biblical language. They don’t know what each other are saying and they don’t know what the Bible is saying. All it takes is a 10 minute look at your Facebook feed to prove that point.
And now that we are grossly illiterate regarding the words of Scripture, Ward would have us embrace a version of the Bible suited to that illiteracy while ignoring the fact that endless versions have drawn attention away from the KJV as the standard sacred text. Now, surprise surprise there are words in the KJV the plowboy doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand because those like Ward promised a better Bible and didn’t deliver only to turn around and blame the KJV for being archaic.
The early text-critics were glad to be emancipated from the Ecclesiastical Text, and in their pride they thought they could make their own, only to fail to replace the KJV as the standard sacred text. Disarray, confusion, and dissention arose within the church and instead of text-critics blaming themselves for inciting such disarray, confusion, and dissention they turn around and blame the KJV for being archaic. Ward continues to carry this same water from the same broken and godless well. His work is merely a variation on the same theme:
KJV bad > Ours better > Ok, ours not better > Ours only sufficiently reliable > “150 years later” > Now church cannot understand KJV > See, KJV bad.
In sum, 1.) while the KJV translators did cite 1 Corinthians 14 they only cited it regarding foreign languages. 2.) Early Modern English is significantly different than Middle English and yet the KJV translators made no such attempt to besmirch the work of Wycliffe, in fact they approved of it. 3.) Early Modern English was in significant flux during the time of the writing of the KJV and yet the translators did not take the opportunity either to associate 1 Corinthians 14 with earlier and advancing versions of the English language. 4.) Finally, the reason why the KJV is archaic is not because it is archaic in itself but because for the last 150 years scholarship and her ecclesiastical acolytes have variously redirected the attention of God’s people to other Bibles and as such the language of the standard sacred text has fallen out of use both in the church and day-to-day living. In short, those like Ward have contributed and continue to contribute to making the KJV unfamiliar only to turn around and blame the KJV for being unfamiliar.