Thinking Anglicans

Christmas opinion

Jane Williams continues her series for Comment is free belief with The Book of Genesis, part 2: In the beginning. “The history of how Genesis was created and passed down through the ages reminds us that we have the book for a reason.”

Kathleen Staudt writes for Episcopal Café about The poetry of Handel’s Messiah.

Giles Fraser writes for Comment is free belief about A fetish for the Bible. “The King James version has been manipulated for 400 years. Save it from the text obsessives.”
He also writes for the Church Times about Finding the numinous in music.

Mr CatOLick writes about that detail demands that you and I do not hate.

Peter Mullen writes for The Telegraph about Christmas at church: Grab a pew – if you can find one.

John Wilson in The Wall Street Journal asks Do Christians Overemphasize Christmas?. “Some theologians claim that Easter is more important. That’s wrong. When we celebrate one, we celebrate the other.”

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Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good morning from Virginia, where we enjoy a dusting [I hope] of snow. Giles Fraser’s piece on the KJV is excellent. I don’t know if the pratice of printing the KJV with the words spoken by Jesus in red print is common elsewhere, but it’s popular here. I have such a Bible = it was a gift when I was confirmed. A friend of mine worked for a time in a local bookstore. One day a man came in, wanting a “King James Bible with the red words of Jesus.” She found… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

Perhaps Peter Mullen should read Giles Fraser’s excellent piece on the Authorized Version (and its fetishists).

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

“American fundamentalists who think it is the only acceptable translation – ‘the Bible fell from heaven in 1611′” — from the Giles Fraser KJV article Any non-American who read this who thinks Fraser is exaggerating, I can assure you he’s not. One fine Sunday a number of years ago, I heard an Assemblies of God — a fundamentalist Christian denomination — minister preach from the pulpit that God handed Moses the KJV on Mount Sinai. How the befuddled Moses was supposed to read the thing, I have no idea. I found Mr. Fraser’s article to be excellent. And while he… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

‘From about 11.30, the organist would play quietly some of Bach’s little Christmas pieces’. Really? I wonder what those are.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Peterpi – I may have posted this before but some years ago when I was working in the then SPCK bookshop in Bristol I came across an American Evangelical pamphlet about biblical translations which recommended the KJV as being the real word of God and castigated a modern translation because a known lesbian was amongst the scholarly translators.

Simon Dawson
Guest

What we forget is that these are stories, and to keep their truth and power then the stories need to be told afresh to each generation in new language by skilled story tellers. Old fetishised language dies.

For those that missed it, this morning’s Christmas service from St Martins in the Fields, London (on BBC radio) showed exactly how the story should be told today, without a thee or a thou, but a lot of talking sheep.

Star at about 8 minutes in – enjoy

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00wqj4x/Christmas_Service/

Simon Dawson

Sara MacVane
Guest
Sara MacVane

Luke and Matthew were undoubtedly referring to the 3rd century BCE Greek translation of Hebrew scripture, which has long been known as the Septuagint,where the verse in Isaiah is indeed rendered virgin (but it could also be ‘young woman’). And though I don’t have the Greek texts in front of me right now I seem to remember that Gabriel’s answer to Mary’s question (‘How can this be?’) is a quotation of what the angel said to Sarah – not ?all things are possible with God’, but ‘no word of God is without fruit’.

kieran crichton
Guest

Richard Ashby: here’s a quick list of Bach’s organ pieces for Christmas off the top of my head. There’s roughly a dozen Christmas chorales in Orgelbuchlein, plus the canonic variations on Vom Himmel Hoch (From heav’n above I came), not to mention the fantasia on In Dulci Jubilo. You could add to these the partita on O Gott, du Frommer Gott. Also, there’s three lovely settings of Allein Gott in der hoh sei Ehr (To God on High be Glory) in the 18 chorales, and a further three in Clavierubung. The Schubler Chorales relate more directly to Advent, but a… Read more »

Mark Clavier
Guest
Mark Clavier

During my third time reading John’s Prologue on Christmas Eve–and cringing once again at the NRSV’s clumsy use of language–it struck me that all our translations these days are aimed at clarity for study: a laudable goal. But lost is the idea that Scripture was written to be heard (silent reading of Scripture is an early medieval invention) and, in a sense, tasted. I think we desperately need, if not the AV, at least some good translation that is conscious of elegance, rhetorical technique, and memorability. But, Fraser’s piece amused me greatly. He sees the goal of the AV as… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Keiran – the point I was trying to make is that they are hardly ‘little Christmas pieces’ which makes them sound like something out of ‘The Village Organist’ and underestimates the contribution and abilities of the organist too.

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

I am fascinated by the comments on Jane Williams’ piece. Apparently, in the UK, the strident atheists are the first and most vocal to jump on such an essay. Here, in the US, it would be the strident fundamentalists, excoriating her for not holding to an absolute literalism.

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

“…the few nutters congregated largely in the Deep South who believe the AV to have been translated by Divine fiat.”

Oh that you were right about the ‘few nutters.’ Let me tell you – they not just a few and not just in the Deep South. Look at a map of the US with that states with anti-gay marriage laws or constitutional amendments.

Fr Mark
Guest

Pat O’Neill: “I am fascinated by the comments on Jane Williams’ piece. Apparently, in the UK, the strident atheists are the first and most vocal to jump on such an essay.” Interesting comment, Pat. I wonder whether they are strident atheists so much as unchurched people who rather resent churchiness being pushed under their eyes in the newspapers all the time. Churchpeople’s views do get much more column inches in the UK than in most of the rest of Europe, as far as I observe. Yet churchgoers in the UK are a small and ever-shrinking percentage of the population, so… Read more »

david rowett
Guest

Re: Peterpi – I use the Isaiah 7.14 text as a means of separating translation wheat from chaff when anyone asks me what version of the Bible to buy. And I commend the site http://av1611.org – which has the most wonderfully outrageous defences of the KJV, including “The New International perVersion Did you know the New International Version (NIV) removes 17 complete verses, 64,576 words, contains blatant lies and that’s just the beginning. . . Must reading for every Christian! “

HAppy CHristmas/St Stephen/Christmas I/Holy Family…..

Murdoch
Guest
Murdoch

For all her Sunday school credulity, Jane Williams does site the Hebrew scriptures in sixth century Babylon. The idea is beginning to take hold, that whatever went before, Jewish religion was codified about six hundred years before Jesus. The history they came up with at that time is mostly unattested, if not outright fanciful.

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

Even Canada is not immune from the “nutters”. After midnight Mass, the retired priest who concelebrated with me and read the Gospel got an earful from a parishioner who was very much upset at the use of the NRSV and the lack of the angelic greeting “good will toward men”, which led into a long diatribe against modern translations.

(though I have to agree that the phrasing of the NRSV on that verse is rather clumsy)

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Fr Mark “That would certainly have given them a early block in terms of shared experience with the rest of society. Or maybe my hunch is wrong and there’s some other obvious reason?” I only understand the German system reasonably well and I notice that the level of theological conversation in the public sphere is high. Die Zeit, a major weekly newspaper, has a whole section on faith and the articles there would not be out of place among the best collected here on TA. One big difference I am aware of is that you cannot become a priest without… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

My standard Christmas sermon recalls a letter to the editor of the Canadian Churchman (which has long since become the Anglican Journal). A woman wrote to the paper to complain about the Moderator of the United Church of Canada. (Why one would write to the Anglican paper to complain about the Moderator of the United Church escaped me then and escapes me still.) The letter concluded with a line to the effect that: “Doubtless the Moderator prefers the Good News Bible and those other modern translations of scripture that try to bring God down to our level.” The contrast of… Read more »

Malcolm French+
Guest

I think that Mark Clavier makes a good point about the difference between a translation designed for study and a translation designed for being read aloud. While I find the NRSV to be better than most in this regard, it still has its challenges.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Fr Mark

Cif belief is a subsite of Comment is free in the Guardian online which deals specifically with religious and ethical issues. Those who are not interested in questions of religion and philosophy can easily visit other parts of Comment is free or a different section of the Guardian website and comment on articles on numerous other topics. However, contributors have to be able to write for readers some of whom have very little knowledge of the particular religious or philosophical tradition mentioned.

Columba Gilliss
Guest
Columba Gilliss

May i recomend the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures? The first translation by jewish scholars directly from the Hebrew? It is readable and fascinating for a Christian reader whose eyes too easily slide over what it familiar. The very arrangement of the books is different and presents different thoughts for me.
Columba Gilliss

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Speaking of utter fundamentalistic belief in the literal inerrancy of the Bible: I remember the time when I, as parish priest, was challenged by a new parishioner who disagreed with my interpratation of a particular Bble passage. He said that, fterwards, he went to the local Baptist Pastor, who took down a heavy King James Bble from his stacks of large books and promptly stood on it! (Yes, it was a version big enough for both feet to be accommodated at once). “You can tell your Vicar”, he said, “That this is where I stand!” I say this, not to… Read more »

RobinD
Guest
RobinD

@Richard Ashby – I’ve found very little Bach that I don’t love, and all of it responds to good technique and devotion. I believe the ‘little organ pieces’ (likely from the “Little Organ Book”!) are such in comparison to the great toccatas and such, and there is no criticism implied of the organist’s skill.

RobinD
Guest
RobinD

Re the KJV – I grew up in the Episcopal church so first encountered the KJV as a child, but have also studied and used a number of different English translations. As a lay reader, I love to read from the KJV because it flows so beautifully. However, I also frequently wish that instead of NRSV which we use now, I could substitute a completely unfamiliar translation. We tend to get lost in the familiar beauty of something like the KJV, and stop hearing the full impact of the text. (This is particularly true for me, as a musician, with… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“For those thousands of people who queue up for services over Christ­mas, here and throughout the country — and the choir is obviously a huge part of the draw — the language of God is experienced as music.” – Canon Giles Fraser, C.T. article – As a one-time Franciscan brother, I learnt to go along with the idea of music within the Mass and Offices of the Church – as a gateway to beauty in worship. It has been said that ‘a prayer sung, is twice prayed’ – a sentiment with which I am inclined to agree, as long as… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest

Savi H: “Cif belief is a subsite of Comment is free in the Guardian online which deals specifically with religious and ethical issues. Those who are not interested in questions of religion and philosophy can easily visit other parts of Comment is free…”

I’d be interested to read why you think it is that there are so many irritated atheists commenting there.

evensongjunkie
Guest
evensongjunkie

I wept when read Canon Fraser’s article about music.

Happy Christmas
Bradley Upham
Lakewood, Ohio USA
dba “CBFH” and “ESJ”

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

I’ve been following the KJV vs other translation conversation with interest. When I taught a college level course in the Bible as literature, I used an NRSV study edition, with excellent notes, background essays and maps. Since most of my students were largely innocent of familiarity with the Bible, this helped me devote class time to literary discussions rather than being a walking footnote. The last time I taught the course, however, I found a paperback version of the KJV set out in paragraphs, like the modern translations. This makes it easier to follow narrative than the traditional KJV format.… Read more »

Bill Moorhead
Guest

Regarding Jane Williams’ piece: Pat O’Neill: Yes! Fr. Mark: What I don’t understand about the strident atheists or the unchurched or whoever they are is why they are bothering to read CIF Belief at all, much less take the time to submit comments. Hmm. Maybe the Holy Spirit is nibbling on their toes? I really am okay with strident atheists who actually know what they don’t believe. Most of the folks who write in all the snarky comments to CIF Belief really have no idea what they’re talking about. I see that comments are now closed on Dr. Williams’ article.… Read more »

John Waldsax
Guest
John Waldsax

It is always a joy to observe how some posters here prefer idle speculation, when knowledge of the facts, especially concerning a person’s public ministry, would embarass the point they are struggling to make. Of the half dozen bishops know to me personally, the Bishop of Truro is certainly one of the very best communicators. In particular he has been popular with young people for whom the clarity and simplicity of his language, and the unstuffy classlessness of his personal approach have been remarked upon positively for years. Many confirmation candidates from his years in Dorset still recall the pleasure… Read more »

jnwall
Guest
jnwall

As someone said to the priest after the service when the RSV was first used for the Lessons, “If King James English was good enough for Jesus, its good enough for me.”

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

david rowett, I took a look at the av1611.org site — and couldn’t make it past the first page. I accept your word for whatever else is there, because on the first page, it has a display counter counting all the people who have died today and are going to Hell. I can’t help but feel it does this gleefully. I almost felt ill. My God! How I hate people who still believe in some sort of angry, vengeful, judgmental, merciless, Thor/Zeus God hurling thunderbolts and opening wide the gates of Hell, with no other outcome possible, for those other… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

“In particular he has been popular with young people for whom the clarity and simplicity of his language, and the unstuffy classlessness of his personal approach have been remarked upon positively for years.”

Good grief! Isn’t it nice that he speaks in words [and apparently thoughts] of one syllable to condescend to the simple-minded young? Maybe you meant better than you wrote, but no wonder your churches are not full. “Hear – I’m going to say this very slowly and carefully so that your young and limited minds can understand..”

MarkBrunson
Guest

I’ve never found the KJV to be “flowing,” just unnecessarily flowery. The Scripture *is* indeed read to be heard – and understood. KJV is a clanging cymbal of “thees”, “thous”, and sexual euphemism.

MarkBrunson
Guest

Who engaged in “idle speculation” on Bp. Thornton? The only thing I’ve seen written here palpably *demonstrates* a simplistic (not simple) way of communicating that relies on everyone accepting the same worldview. That’s fine if two people are talking, and you’re saying “Well, I believe . . . ,” but, if you go into a public media outlet, especially if you are teacher of the church, and post a ridiculous grammar-school essay in defense of “traditional” marriage, no one should be surprised if the writer is called on said ridiculous essay! My most charitable reading – which I gave –… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest

John Waldsax: good for him, then. So what’s yor explanation for him writing such a poorly argued piece that appears to show yet another church leader completely out of touch with the reality of modern Britain? There’s obviously some reasonthat bishops keep doing this (Michael Scott-Joynt is in the news again at he moment for doing the same thing); I’m just trying to ask what it might be. Evidently we can discount educational/social segregation at an early age, after all. Why do you think they do come out with things which are so out of touch? I’m asking as one… Read more »

Andrew Brown
Guest
Andrew Brown

Cif belief is infested by anti-theist trolls because there is no policy against trolling or “crusading” as ship of fools calls it. This means that it will always be easier to be jeering and ignorant than the other way round.

This is not the result of editorial policy.

Hector_St_Clare
Guest
Hector_St_Clare

I dislike the efforts over the last century or so to dumb down the Bible. It may be necessary, but it’s a necessary evil. The Bible ought to be presented in beautiful, stately, elevated language, and in language that is distinct from the everyday language that one might use at a baseball game or at the water cooler. The use of a distinct and somewhat archaic (though easily understandable) form of English, in itself, reminds us of the holiness and transcendence of God. Hence, I prefer the Authorized Version. PeterPi, Luke and Matthew didn’t translate ‘almah’ as ‘parthenos’, the inspired… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

But it is not WRITTEN in stately and elevated language! Translation needs to be just that – an attempt to get somewhere near the original.

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

Hector_St_Clare, The Greek Septuagint has entire books and chapters of books that the Hebrew Tanakh does not have. We have no way of knowing what version of scripture Jesus studied from or read from in the synagogue. A lot of scholars think Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, yet I know of no Aramaic language translation of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. I still feel my point was valid: That all translations carry a mindset and a point of view. If Luke and Matthew relied on the Septuagint, then English translations are now being influenced by the translators, Matthew and Luke, as well… Read more »

Mark Clavier
Guest
Mark Clavier

A very interesting new vein of biblical study is the use of classical rhetoric in the NT, particularly in the case of Paul. While Scripture does not employ ornate language (some of the early Fathers like Augustine were embarrassed by the plain and uncouth language of Scripture) it often does employ rhetorical techniques. Again, it was written to be read (or chanted) aloud, to be received primarily through the ear rather than through the eyes. My argument is not so much for the Authorised Version per se as for a translation that recognises the underlying rhetoric and provides for Scripture’s… Read more »

Hector_St_Clare
Guest
Hector_St_Clare

PeterPi, Well, then, I prefer the mindset of the King James translators, as opposed to the mindset of the NRSV translators which holds that Jesus didn’t sweat blood at Gethsemane, that the angel of healing didn’t descend into the pool at Bethesda, that Jesus didn’t forgive the woman taken in adultery, that the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost do not ‘bear witness in heaven’, and that Isaiah did not prophecy the virgin birth of Jesus. Can you explain to me why the NRSV translaters thought it would be good idea to leave those passages out? and why they thought it… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark
“My argument is not so much for the Authorised Version per se as for a translation that recognises the underlying rhetoric and provides for Scripture’s role as a performative text.”

That would be of academic interest, but how useful would it be to emphasise the underlying rhetoric when that is simply no longer how we use the text today?

While translation has to be as faithful to the original as possible it has also to be as meaningful to the audience as it can be.

MarkBrunson
Guest

“. . why they thought it would be a good idea to translate the scriptures into the sort of language better suited to a hockey game or a Ke$ha concert, instead of into the language of Milton, Shakespeare, and Blake?” Because the language of KJV *was* the language of games and concerts at the time? Yeah? Maybe? It was written to be accessible to the people of that time. Tudor English is *not* the language of Blake, btw, as Tudor English was quite different from modern English, which is closer to the writing of Blake. We also know that there… Read more »

Mark Clavier
Guest
Mark Clavier

Erika,

I think it could result in something only of interest to academics, though this is a charge to which some current translations are not entirely immune. But if you consider the use of traditional rhetorical techniques (often the same as found in Scripture) by, for example, Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr., I think you can see how they might have a more universal appeal. Part of the purpose of classical rhetoric was to aid the memory, another aspect of Scriptural writing I think many translators miss.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Because the language of KJV *was* the language of games and concerts at the time?”

That’s about the style and there can certainly be different tastes.
The real question was one of substance, though, and about real material differences between the KJV and the NIV.

Is there anyone here who can shed light on which is, in fact, the more accurate translation as regard the examples given?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark,

that’s true, and I suppose with the increasing awareness of the power of Story and the rediscovery of the bible stories as more than sentences to be parsed, the time for something like that could just be right.

MarkBrunson
Guest

“That’s about the style and there can certainly be different tastes.”

Funny. Thought I’d said that.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

The general answer to Hector St Clare would be that the best version of the Greek/Hebrew does not include these things either – notoriously, Isaiah does not use the word for ‘virgin’ but for ‘young woman’ in his prophecy. I would be perfectly happy to look at examples of the Greek text and its translation on here if he is interested in the particular, which is usually more useful, if he would care to nominate passages in contention.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

The question of the textual attestation of Christ sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane is an interesting one, and depends in part on the reliability of the Western text, or if you prefer D. The fact it turns up in different places in different manuscripts is held against it – I am less than totally convinced by this argument (and I admit to being very conservative in the matter of scholarship) I can see good reasons why the redactors might have introduced it. I can see good reasons why it might have been left out. It is a case where… Read more »