Friday, January 15, 2010

Preservation and Authority

Aaron Blumer does a nice job reviewing several key passages on the How and What of scripture preservation. Claims are made in these passages, but three things are not promised:
  1. The passages do not actually say there will be a recognized form with every jot and tittle perfectly preserved.
  2. Neither Jesus nor the other speakers or writers in these passages say that the word will be accessible for “every generation.” Even if a letter-perfect form of God’s word could be identified with certainty, the promises do not preclude the possibility that this form could be lost for some generations then recovered again (the fact that something has not passed away does not mean we must know exactly where it is.)
  3. None of those who heard these promises when they were given could point to a written form they knew to contain every preserved jot and tittle. That is, already multiple copies existed, and variations among them existed—not only in jots and tittles but (by Jesus’ day) in whole words. (When Jesus spoke, the Scriptures available were hand made copies of the Hebrew OT and Greek versions of the OT known collectively as the Septuagint).
Regarding the perhaps unsatisfying results of this analysis, Blumer writes,
Some will object that if we cannot identify the perfectly preserved text or translation, we do not have preservation in any meaningful sense. But this argument is a distraction from facts we cannot escape. Whether or not we like the implications of what Scripture says (and doesn’t say), the Bible still says only what it says—no more and no less.
This is key, even if there are other passages that could be construed as explaining the details of preservation. Do we accept Scripture as authoritative? Do we trust that God has made known in Scripture what he wanted to make known, or do we insist on Scripture saying what we decide should have been said or needs to be said? Can we tolerate a Bible that is silent on a topic that is dear to us?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Readability Tests: The Facts

What to make of the shocking (shocking to most people who have actually compared the KJV to any of the current translations, that is) KJVO claims that the KJV is more readable? Or perhaps "claims" is too weak a word, given the "23 pages of irrefutable evidence proving the King James Bible is far easier to understand and read," that literacy scholar, reading specialist, language researcher misguided crusader, Gail Riplinger, provides in her infamous New Age Bible Versions.

In her own, pseudo-grammatical, words, the KJV is scientifically or statistically more readable, due to the following:

  • less [sic] syllables per word
  • less [sic] letters per word
  • less [sic] words per sentence
    Here we see the gaping hole in the logic: Readability tests do a lot of counting. Fewer words, shorter syllables, easier to read -- or so the argument goes. Therefore, 1) this phrase 2) would be considered more readable than this phrase. There is some obvious merit to this on the surface, and even some support for it when analysis of actual texts is performed -- analysis that necessarily compares the results of the readability formulae with other criteria. Criteria like ... whether people actually find the texts more or less difficult to read. However, consider the following two sentences:
    1. I want you to bring me all of the books that are over there.
    2. Fetch the sum of yon tomes.
    The first sentence has a calculated readability lower than the second -- because it contains more words -- though most people would say that it is easier to read. Another pair:
    1. Complicated decisions require patience and consideration.
    2. Slow think and wait to choose the right but not smooth path.
    At (comparing scores from several readability tests), the first sentence receives a grade level of "about 20," versus the 4th-grade level of the second sentence! A final example:
    1. Don't forget to write! (Eight- or nine-year-old level)
    2. Hoy tay gu po ni! (Supposedly appropriate reading for four- or five-year-old children)
    Reading, in these tests, is defined in terms of factors such as time needed to utter the words and sentences, and number of different vocabulary words used, regardless of whether the reader knows the vocabulary or can make sense of the grammar. These are not the only factors, but these are what help cherry-picked sections of the KJV achieve ridiculously low grade-level recommendations. By contrast, and in addition to factors such as ease of pronunciation or time needed to finish moving your eyes over all the letters of the text, a realistic decision of readability should include analysis of comprehension, including whether the vocabulary is actually known to the reader.

    Let's consider some examples from different translations, and compare the readability score with how readable the King James actually is:
    1. "He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass" (Proverbs 16:30, KJV). "He whose eyes are shut is a man of twisted purposes, and he who keeps his lips shut tight makes evil come about" (Proverbs 16:30, Bible in Basic English, supposedly one grade level higher than the KJV -- though easier for actual English-speakers to understand).
    2. "But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead" (Romans 7:8, KJV). "But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power" (Romans 7:8, New Living Translation, two to three grade levels easier than the KJV). 
    3. "Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her" (Judges 16:1, KJV, fourth grade). "One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her" (Judges 16:1, NIV, also grade four, although it follows normal a/an/the grammar rules and lacks the Yoda sentence patterns that are so common in the KJV).
    4. Jude (King James, grade 12). Jude (NIV, grade 11).
    There may be shorter sentences in the KJV, but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to read. Longer sentences might actually serve to make the translation of the grammar more clear. There may be fewer unique words overall in the KJV, but that doesn't help if a relatively high percentage of them are archaic. Readability is not merely a matter of "words and syllables." 

    Is the King James version historically significant? Of course. Does it contain examples of beautiful and poetic language? Of course. Is it really more readable, more understandable, for children or for anyone? Perhaps, but ask an elementary school teacher or someone else who teaches reading. 

    (The formulae for the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests, for example, are available here. Test your own text or website samples here.)

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Translation Error

    I've been thinking recently about the language we use -- just to discuss and describe "the Bible." To be accurate, I should really say that the book in my hands is, "an English translation of the Bible," rather than saying that it is, "the Bible." This would be a useful exercise in reminding everyone in earshot that what we read, discuss, and squabble over is not the original words of the Bible, but words 1) not even in the same language, 2) filtered through translation, and 3) filtered through the inevitable interpretation that translation requires.

    Relevant to this topic, here's a brief post from Scot McKnight about the fundamental issue in discussing translated works: You need to know the original language to have an opinion about the translation.

    Here's my point: the authority is the original text, not the translation. The original texts are in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The authoritative text is not in English, regardless of how accurate the translation. No matter which translation you prefer, it is not the authoritative text for determining which translation is best. Yes, we need more [sic] to devote more time to study of the original languages.

    Now, the KJVO dodge would be that the original text of the Bible no longer exists, so it and knowledge of the original languages are unnecessary.... Lucky for them, their favorite translation, miraculously based on an apparently nonexistent source, is already available for them to read.

    If it really were the case that the real Bible is gone, and all we have is a bunch of translations of different quality levels and debatable accuracy, then we're in trouble.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    Deification of the KJV

    Shocking words from KJVO apologist, D. A. Waite, who takes a stand against idolizing, or deifying, the KJV Bible!

    "I believe there are many who use and defend our King James Bible to the extent of making it into DEITY or GOD. They DEIFY the King James Bible (KJB). This is called DEIFICATION. All such action is plain and simple IDOLATRY."

    And, after listing dozens of versions of KJV Bibles printed,

    "Which of the many King James Bibles was the one, if any, that was 'God-breathed'?"

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    King James Dictionary

    Here is an online dictionary of (800) words that no longer mean what they meant at the beginning of the 17th century. This one, though much less comprehensive, is more user-friendly than the Bible Word-book.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    The "Authorized" Bible

    What does it mean for a Bible to be "authorized"? Based on usage by many in the KJVO camp, authorization refers to the beneficent King James' commissioning of an updated Bible. I am loathe to call it a "new translation," given the instructions they were given.

    According to the Oxford English Dictionary, authorization actually means
    • Legally or duly sanctioned or appointed. Authorized Version of the Bible: a popular appellation of the version of 1611. (The Great Bible 1540, and Bishops' Bible (after 1572), actually bore on their titles ‘authorized and appointed,’ but that of 1611 has never claimed to be ‘authorized.’)
    The Cambridge History of English and American Literature confirms that authorization was not given for the "Jacobean revision" (see Note 1).

    The Bishops' Bible continued to be in official use for the Church of England for decades after the 1611 was published, and the Geneva Bible continued its dominance in Scotland. A strange practice if the king had actually "authorized" a replacement Bible for the church that he was supposed to be the head of.

    So, the KJV may be the only proper Bible, but all of the King James "authorization" rhetoric is not a historical reason for believing so. Think of it as more of a red herring in the real Bible translation debate.

    Friday, January 30, 2009

    Obscurity & Vulgarity

    I find this part of the 1611 preface to the KJV fascinating:

    "[W]e have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their Azimes, Tunike, Rational, Holocausts, Præpuce, Pasche, and a number of such like, whereof their late translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar." (17.13-14)

    Note how the KJV translators criticized the recent Catholic translation for "obscurity," or darkness, or lack of clarity. Not the modern sense of "not being well known" mind you.... And to what does this "obscurity" refer? The use of words which, though written in English, were not the most reasonable, most obvious, most compelling, most CLEAR and UNDERSTANDABLE word choices. The Papists' purpose, supposedly, was to "darken the sense," or obscure the meaning of the text, to keep it "from being understood."

    By contrast, the translators believed that the Bible should "be understood even of the very vulgar." Of course, the word "vulgar" itself would "darken the sense," today since few modern English speakers are aware of its more archaic meaning of "everyday" or "commonplace." Check out I Samuel 25:22 (and half a dozen other OT verses) in the KJV for a word that today would be considered a "vulgar"ity but which lacked that inappropriate sense 400 years ago. Is this really the best way to translate the Hebrew for a 21st-century reader? Come on.

    "But we desire that the Scripture may ... be understood even [by ordinary people.]" Thank you, KJV translators! No thank you, KJVO!