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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation » User review

One-Stop Shop for the History, Literary Merit, and Cultural Influence of the KJV on Its 400th Anniversary

  • Feb 7, 2011
The Committee on Bible Translation of the New International Version (NIV) recently released a revision of that bestselling Bible. In an explanation of changes made to the NIV, the committee made the following remark regarding its revised translation of 1 John 2:16:

"Has anyone really improved on the KJV [King James Version] rendering of these three expressions [i.e., lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life], to which the updated NIV returns? ... The language still communicates, and the poetry and style to which the NIV has returned is magnificent."

I imagine that this statement warms the cockles of Leland Ryken's heart. (Full disclosure: I was a student of Ryken in two classes at Wheaton College--British literature and Milton.) He has been a public critic of the NIV since writing "The Literary Merit of the New International Version" for Christianity Today (October 20, 1978), an article which concluded that the NIV had little of it. He is also a proponent of the "essentially literal" translation philosophy of the English Standard Version, on whose translation committee he served as literary editor. He has defended that translation philosophy in two books: The Word of God in English and Understanding English Bible Translation. According to Ryken, this translation philosophy undergirds the KJV and its modern progeny: the Revised Standard Version (RSV)--though not the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the ESV. These modern translations share the same philosophy as the KJV, but they also are conservative translations in that they seek to retain the vocabulary and cadence of the KJV, consistent with accuracy and readability, of course.

This year (2011) is the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the KJV. In honor of that milestone, Ryken has published The Legacy of the King James Version, which outlines the KJV's publication history, literary excellence, and cultural influence for a general audience. Ryken covers a lot of ground quickly and in an easy-to-read style, offering suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter as well as endnotes that point the reader to more detailed sources of information. If you are going to read one book this year in honor of the KJV, I recommend this one for its breadth of topic and ease of reading.

In the Afterword, Ryken proposes that "we should celebrate a victory, lament a loss, and resolve to hold on to what is excellent." The victory is the four hundredth anniversary of the KJV, a translation that continues to sell better than most modern translations, routinely coming in at second or third on the sales rankings. The loss fourfold: (1) "we have lost a common English Bible in both the church and the culture at large"; (2) "the authority of the Bible went into eclipse when we lost a common Bible"; (3) "biblical illiteracy has accompanied the decline of the King James Bible"; and (4) we have lost "the affective and literary power of the King James Bible." In light of this, Ryken argues that we should use those translations that, like the KJV, translate in an "essentially literal" and conservative fashion as well as read the KJV itself on a regular basis.

I don't know whether I agree with Ryken's recommendations, although I am using the ESV this year in my reading, writing, and preaching. But I can't help and wonder whether another wholesale translation of the Bible into English or thoroughgoing revision of an existing one really benefits the readers. I know it's good business, but is it good for anything else?

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George Paul Wood ()
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I'm happily married to a maximally perfect woman, and we have a baby cuter than which none can be imagined. For a living, I'm the Director of Ministerial Resourcing at AG HQ in Springfield, MO. … more
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“A very accessible and informed guide to this magisterial English translation of the Bible. Few will fail to benefit from its wisdom and learning.”
Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology, Oxford University; Senior Research Fellow, Harris Manchester College, Oxford

“What a treat—the leading evangelical scholar on the Bible as literature discussing the Bible translation that is probably the greatest achievement in English literature! Ryken tells the story of how the King James Version came into being and describes its wide-ranging impact over the last four hundred years, while frankly contrasting the literary merits of the KJV with some of the modern translations. This is an important topic treated well. I found it riveting and edifying.”
Ray Van Neste, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies; Director, R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies, Union University

“Who would be more qualified to write the definitive study of the history, stylistic excellence, and pervasive influence of the King James Bible than a distinguished professor of English, Milton scholar, expert on Puritanism, and authority on the Bible as literature? Professor Ryken fills the bill, and he has produced an exemplary work: its research is extensive, its scholarship is impressive, its argument is reasonable, and its readability makes it accessible to scholar and layperson alike.”
D. G. Kehl, Professor of English Emeritus, Arizona ...

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ISBN-10: 1433513889
ISBN-13: 978-1433513886
Author: Leland Ryken
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Crossway Books
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