Unity and the KJV, part 2.

For part one, see here.

Unity with the Brethren

For Latter-day Saints, the route to truth is through revelation, available to the individual through the Holy Spirit but at all times to be guided by those authorised to reveal doctrine to the church (= the Brethren and their institutions, e.g. Correlation). No matter how good the modern translations, they are the products of scholarship, and Mormon distrust of scholarship runs deep (“to be learned is good if…”). Compare the “uneducated” revelatory genius of Joseph Smith with the ivy league unbelief of a Charles Anthon. Mormon scripture does not speak highly of attempts to translate the Bible by those not mandated by God. Modern Bible translators too, inasmuch as they participate in “higher criticism,” will find their work referenced with “apostasy” in Bruce R. McConkie’s influential Mormon Doctrine.

Translators of the “mainline”  RSV — the new biblical upstart at the time Clark wrote his defence of the KJV — were, in Mormon eyes, scholars first and believers (if at all) second. Compare them with the claimed piety of the KJV translators, who prayed to God to guide their work and who received no financial remuneration for their efforts. While obviously not Mormon, the Jacobean translators are the paragon of the conservative scholar, unsullied by unbelief. It is no surprise that they meet with the approval of J. Reuben Clark, himself a “prophet, seer, and revelator” and member of the LDS First Presidency. Clark was forceful, erudite, and authorised, and there has simply been no similar proponent of another translation. To propose the church adopt another Bible is to counter President Clark, and by extension, the Brethren. To this, one might also add a distrust at the time of a peculiarly Mormon version of the Bible (the JST), given that it was owned by a rival Mormon group.

The language of the KJV has had an important influence on Mormon prayer language and ideas of deference and reverence. Clark asked, “could any language be too great, too elegant, too beautiful, too majestic, too divine-like to record the doings and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ?” Mormons encounter the divine in a markedly formal way, an enduring influence of the KJV. This atmosphere of deference also influences Mormon encounters with church leaders.

Finally, the KJV’s linguistic opacity means that Mormon scripture reading is more a devotional rather than an educational activity. Mormons are enjoined to read Isaiah but not necessarily to understand it, a problem that could be improved by reading a newer translation. However, to use a modern version of the Bible, especially one with a commentary, is to be influenced by unauthorised voices. Seeking to understand the KJV, Mormons are likely to turn to their own authorised commentaries. Thus the KJV keeps LDS Bible education in-house, offering not only unity with Joseph Smith but also unity with the modern Brethren.

Next, unity with Mormon Christology.

Comments

  1. Seeking to understand the KJV, Mormons are likely to turn to their own authorised commentaries. Thus the KJV keeps LDS Bible education in-house, offering not only unity with Joseph Smith but also unity with the modern Brethren.

    Very insightful.

  2. Yeah, this is great stuff, Ronan. And I was especially impressed with the insight J quoted above.

  3. Nice series, Ronan. The “markedly formal way” by which, under the influence of the KJV, Mormons approach God seems to be a result of our KJV-like rhetorical style and also seems to be limited to English. Different languages bring different styles of church conversation and speech, although the Church seemingly does its best to saddle every language with a formal or even archaic Bible for LDS use. So it is less an LDS thing than an English language thing.

  4. nice

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Agreed, Ronan. The formalism of the KJV has been synergistic with the formality of mormonism.

  6. Neal Kramer says:

    This is a very interesting and insightful piece.

    I think the unifying characteristics of the KJV have had more influence outside of LDS circles than in them.

    The KJV unifies by having a very non-sectarian approach to translation. Unlike other translations, it is much less concerned with answering local theological disputes. It is not a study Bible. It has no apparatus for re-making itself in the image of whoever writes all the study materials. For the religiously moderate King James I, it was the very best way to try to calm the religious disputes that were threatening to tear England apart.

    Because of its relative neutrality, the KJV has been able to transcend its historical moment and continue to be a viable scripture for people of faith beyond the narrower confines of sect or circumstance. It powerfully leads the reader to Christ. In this sense, it best reflects the moderate mainline protestant belief in Christ without the need for one true sect.

    Concerns about the archaic language of the text cannot be dismissed. The average reader of English today can no longer navigate the language of Tyndale from nearly 500 years ago (the primary source of the KJV).

    One suspects that the Church will address the question at some point in time, unless the modern language of topical guides, Bible dictionaries, and lesson manuals is not already a powerful solution to this problem.

    However, that is not to say that the KJV has been anything less than the most important Bible in the 500 year history of Protestantism. It remains the most compelling “book” ever published in English. Given that the language of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants appears to be dependent on the aura of sacredness the text provides, the KJV is also a profoundly primary source of the LDS language of faith, even today.

  7. These posts are fascinating. I am struck by the parallels between the arguments which JRC and his intellectual followers use to support the KJV and those used by the Roman Catholic church to support the Vulgate during the reformation and the Latin Mass pre-Vatican II. The same interweaving of biblical text and church language existed in that tradition. I guess some may debate whether the Catholic church survived the transition to the vernacular – but at least they did it. As long as we persist in our use of Tudor English based on the authorized version, non-English speakers will be at a disadvantage in the restored church.

    Sheldon

  8. How much does the issue of public domain affect the decision to continue to use the KJV? It is my understanding that this had much to do with the much-heralded new LDS edition of a Spanish language bible, and I just wonder if there are modern English translations that have entered into public domain yet.

  9. I think time will push the KLV out. Some very good points have been made, but at some point it just won’t work for a world church of many languages(?) We already see this in the Church’s Spanish Bible. Spanish may become the commom language of the Church.
    The Catholic church gave up Latin in it’s Mass. The world gave up French in diplomacy for English.

  10. I’m teaching primary for the first time. A lot of the class is getting kids familiar with using their scriptures. As they read the KJV and clearly don’t get half the words I’m wondering about the value. On the one hand so much of our historic culture of the last 150 years is tied to the KJV. Further I actually think that getting kids to read the KJV will help them in general if only to push their vocabulary and skills. But in terms of religious instruction it seems like we use a very difficult method to communicate fairly simple ideas.

  11. To truly replace the KJV you need three things:

    1. accuracy
    2. poetry
    3. common domain access.

  12. I understand the need to have a standard bible for materials, class instruction, etc. And for that reason I think the KJV, for the reasons the author’s pointed out, is probably the best route. But I do wish that the Church seemed less defensive about using other translations or study bibles both in church and in personal study. The CHI instructs that no other translation is to be used in SS classes, and when was the last time you heard a GA or a member cite a different translation for clarity (rather than Webster’s dictionary)? There’s no reason why you can’t have an official translation while also encouraging the use of other versions.

  13. …when was the last time you heard a GA or a member cite a different translation for clarity (rather than Webster’s dictionary)?

    Juan Uceda, He Teaches Us to Put Off the Natural Man, Priesthood Session, 2010.

  14. My main beef with the use of the KJV is that it feels like we as a church aren’t really interested in understanding what the scriptures mean. We have created a culture where tradition, increasingly simplification and correlation, fear, and a lack of interest in trying to understand what we believe have led to the lamentable situation that many members in places where the church is well established attend their sacrament and sunday school meetings and seem to learn less and less about the scriptures every year (and forget what they once knew). We who pride ourselves on continuing revelation our becoming more and more the stereotyped Christian sect ensconced in the traditions of yesteryear.

  15. ” Mormons encounter the divine in a markedly formal way, an enduring influence of the KJV. This atmosphere of deference also influences Mormon encounters with church leaders.”

    Good insight! I have noticed that evangelical members of my family use contemporary language in prayer and I get the feeling they are communicating with a real person instead of sending practiced phrases to a distant deity.

  16. Great series Ronan, I’m excited for the next part.

  17. mondo cool says:

    “Mormons are enjoined to read Isaiah but not necessarily to understand it, a problem that could be improved by reading a newer translation.”
    vs.
    ” And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.”
    Hmmmmmm…..

  18. #13: Good catch; admittedly, I was basing that comment off of memory. At the same time, Elder Uceda doesn’t mention he’s using the NIV in his talk; you’d only find that by checking the footnotes. I guess I would hope that some would feel comfortable to say “As the NIV translates this passage…” or something like that. But it’s not a big deal, in the end.

  19. #11: very true.
    As for the comments about people understanding less and less of the language of the KJV, I’ve definitely seen that. I’ve been filling in for our ward’s seminary teacher for a week or so and even the 14-17-year-olds who have or are studying Shakespeare in school give me blank looks when verilys and wherefores crowd the text. (Granted, blank looks from teenagers early in the morning may not just be Jacobean English…)
    I can respect that antiquated language can increase our respect for the divine, but when it obscures or impedes our ability for understanding and feeling the Spirit and the message of the gospel, perhaps the training wheels of modern language aren’t a bad thing.

  20. Excellent stuff, Ronan. These articles have caused me to reflect upon how these attempts to situate use of the KJV in terms of unity emerged at a time when these other translations have become increasingly popular. It is interesting to observe how the KJV has become (perhaps increasingly) a marker of religious identity.

  21. Thanks Ronan. This is excellent.

  22. Interesting thoughts…the more I read here, the more I think my upbringing was not normal. My mom studied the Bible with commentaries and other translations…I just thought that was studying the scriptures. I think a little effort required to understand isn’t bad.

    I’m clinging to the KJV I guess…but the posts are thoguth provoking to consider why we (i) cling.

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