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Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Do minor changes make the KJV an imitation? Introduction.

As a pastor and supporter of the King James translation, I am asked about certain debates over mistakes, so-called, in various editions or printings of the King James Bible. These “mistakes” are usually in reference to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. For example, some have advocated that only the Pure Cambridge Edition is an exact presentation of the word of God. Others advocate in a similar manner, but come to different conclusions on spellings, capitalizations, and so forth. For example, Nic Kizziah offers a short check list of orthography (scroll to the bottom of his page),[i] which is some cases differ with the conclusions advocated by Matthew Verschuur (Pure Cambridge).
 
We should take printing of the word of God seriously. We want the Bible to be printed accurately, and have a right to question why changes are made. However, we should be reasonable and consistent in assessing them. To radically reject a King James Bible because it has some modern spelling updates, changes in punctuation, capitalization, etc. works against rather than for the support of the King James Bible. There are NO modern printings (i.e., barring replicas) of the King James translation that reproduce the spelling exactly as found in 1611.
 
We have a problem reading our own modern ideas of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and so forth back into discussing and deciding this issue. The modern education system, for many years now, has worked to systematize that which was not originally systematized in the English language.[ii] Today, the standards include sentence case (capitalization at the beginning of a sentence), with other words being in lower case. The main exception of proper nouns – persons, places, “I”, religions/churches (Christianity, Islam, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist), brand names (Pepsi, Skil saw), days and months (Sunday, January). I do a lot of historical research, and in old writings the use of capitalization and spelling does not conform to our modern ideas on the subject. This can be seen regularly – words we would capitalize that are not capitalized, or words that we would not capitalize that are capitalized. We cannot assume that because we would now capitalize or not capitalize a word, that the same was true in 1611 when the new translation was printed.
 
The Declaration of Independence provides a good historical secular example. If Thomas Jefferson had turned that paper in to some of the old English teachers I had, there would have been all kinds of red marks on his “improper” use of capitalization. See also, for example, the first lines of the U. S. Constitution and notice the now-uncommon capitalization.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.[iii]
The poem “This Is My Letter to the World” by Emily Dickinson shows the general capitalization of nouns (even some pronouns) was still common in the U.S. in the 1860s. The common capitalization of substantives (nouns) seems to be rooted in the Germanic background of the English language, or German typography, with a gradual decline of such usage. Some capitalization was simply individual aesthetic – the capitalization of words the author thought to be important. We cannot judge the orthography of the Bible simply by 20th and 21st century standards. 
 
The King James Bible itself warns us off of over-worrying about consistent spelling. Take, for example, Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, where Matthew and Mark spell what Jesus said on the cross in slightly different ways – “Eli” vs. “Eloi”. Surely they are referring to exactly the same thing, while spelling the word differently. The difference in spelling does not change what Jesus said! In those same passages in the 1611 printing, there are some other spelling differences. Matthew 27:46 has “cried” and Mark 15:34 has “cryed”. Matthew 27:46 has “loud voice” and Mark 15:34 has “loude voice”. Matthew 27:46 has “mee” and Mark 15:34 has “me”. These spelling differences did not make the original 1611 printing impure or a counterfeit! (These differences can verified in a 1611 printing HERE.)
 
Over the next two days, I want to interact with the positions of Matthew Verschuur and Nic Kizziah – which are the same but different!


[i] “Orthography” is a noun meaning, “The art of writing words with the proper letters, according to accepted usage.”
[ii] I consider this standardization generally to be a good thing. Nevertheless, it is a human standard, and human standards change.
[iii] And “spell-check” will complain about defence, advising its change to defense.

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