Monthly Archives: September 2014

Book Review: D. A. Carson’s “The King James Version Debate.”

One of the highlights of my summer trip to Oregon was Powell’s Books.  I was 17 the last time I was there.  It’s got SO many books that I actually got tired of looking at books.  My wallet was thankful.

517y7rh1O3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One book I picked up there was D. A. Carson’s The King James Debate: A Plea for Realism.  Carson, a prolific Evangelical New Testament scholar (this is one of his early books), examines the arguments of the “King James only” school of thought.  These exegetes argue from many angles: that the KJV is based on the best manuscript evidence available, that modern textual criticism denigrates the authority of Scripture, that the KJV is the most accurate and literal translation available.  Carson refutes these arguments one by one.  He introduces the reader to textual criticism and the principles of biblical translation along the way.

Having never studied textual criticism before, some of the facts in this book amazed me.

In no instance do we possess the autograph […] what we possess is something over 2,100 lectionary manuscripts, more than 2,700 miniscules [smaller cursive script], just over 260 uncials [capital letters], and about 80 papyri.  To keep things in perspective, it is important top remember that the vast majority of these 5,000 or so manuscripts are fragmentary, preserving only a few verses or a few books.  Only about 50 of these 5,000 contain the entire New Testament, and only one of these 50 is an uncial (codex Sinaiticus). (17-18)*

Carson goes on to describe the different text-types, or manuscript families, that textual critics use to establish the biblical text.  When textual criticism was in its infancy and Erasmus put together the Greek text (the “Textus Receptus”) used as the basis for the KJV, he based it on a very small number of later Byzantine manuscripts.  Contemporary textual critics, by contrast, prefer an eclectic approach, using all the manuscript evidence available and resolving manuscript differences on a case by case basis. Carson reviews many passages where the Textus Receptus falls short of modern eclectic texts.  He refutes point-by-point the argument of some KJV-only advocates that the Textus Receptus is better than the results of modern scholarship.

I was more intrigued by Carson’s comments on translation.  In the second half of the book, he argues that the KJV is not the most accurate, literal, or doctrinally orthodox translation available.  He points out the obvious: that no translation can be “literal” or “objective.”

Take, for example, the Hebrew word nephesh.  It can mean “soul, heart, life, man, beast”; it sometimes takes the place of a pronoun … and if idioms are considered, it can mean “neck, throat, and desire.” (91)

I can’t recall any English word that conveys all these nuances.  Carson also takes to task the view that the King James Version is more suitable for God because of its lofty language.

In the first century, books written for the literati were still written in Attic Greek.  Is there something to be learned from the fact that the New Testament documents were written by men who, moved by the Holy Spirit, chose rather the colloquial Hellenistic Greek? (98)

I found this book useful because it condensed many different areas of scholarship to make a cogent point.  It’s clear that Carson wasn’t crazy about writing this book or engaging with the writings of people outside the pale of responsible scholarship, but he engages with charity and never resorts to ad hominem attacks.  He does not say that we should stop reading the KJV — he understands that it is meaningful and beautiful to many people.  But he does say that it shouldn’t be the only translation used in congregations, and that if we are looking for accuracy we should look elsewhere.

*This book was written in 1979 — doubtless more have been discovered since then!

Summer’s End: A Brief Update.

On Monday the madness starts: my usual load of five classes, plus continuing work on my two senior theses.  Yikes.  What have I done this summer?

The Rundown

  • I had a difficult breakup — then I feel in love.
  • My friend Brian and I read all of books 6 and 10, and parts of book 9 of the Odyssey — 1,020 lines.  (Thanks Geoffrey Steadman!)
  • I worked through 3/4 of Wheelock’s Latin along with 38 Latin Stories and Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences.  I also went through about 95% of Scott Goin’s Vulgate Old Testament Reader.
  • I continued (and set aside) my very basic journey into Qur’anic Arabic.
  • I began learning Old English with a group of fellow students, eventually translating “The Dream of the Rood,” “Caedmon’s Hymn,” “The Wife’s Lament,” and three Anglo-Saxon riddles.
  • I read thirty books.
  • I worked four days a week in my university’s Archives and Special Collections department.  I learned a lot about how to help researchers and work with primary sources.  Along the way I discovered a lot about the history of my university.
  • Most importantly, I realized that my two greatest intellectual passions (so far) are interfaith dialogue, which I hope to make a career of, and ancient languages and texts, which is so far an avocation.  I’m wondering how the two connect.

My Current Projects

  • Textual Criticism of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Dr. Catherine Murphy has hired me as a research assistant for her project on textual criticism of 4QXII, a highly fragmentary manuscript of the Minor Prophets.  As part of the project, we are doing readings courses in Hosea, Amos, Joel, Jonah, Micah, and Obadiah over the course of the next year.  This is the first time I’m spending an entire quarter focusing on just a biblical text and its modern commentaries, learning to formulate my own questions about scripture.
  • Senior Thesis #1: I’m using the popular story of St. Francis and the Sultan as a case study for the role of a “useable past” for interreligious dialogue — finding historical precedent for contemporary theological engagement that is both useful and accurate.
  • Senior Thesis #2: I’m analyzing the imagery of Herakles/Hercules in Gandharan Buddhist art, hoping to draw meaningful comparisons with early Christian art’s appropriation of Hercules in particular and pagan imagery in general.
  • I’m hoping to publish my article on the conversion experience of Buddhist-Christian “multiple religious belonging.”  I need to do a few more revisions within the next few weeks.
  • Publishing the selected unpublished writings of my late friend and mentor, Fr. George Kennard, S.J.
  • Languages: this fall I am continuing Old English with Beowulf, Greek with Euripides’ Medea, Latin with the intermediate course, and Hebrew with Hosea.  I’m also starting Sanskrit.

And last — some links.

Continuing my (very) occasional “Sunday Roundup” series, here are some posts I’ve enjoyed from the last month or so.

What’s the best way to learn Patristic Greek? I would tell people to lay a good foundation in Classical Greek; if you’re going to pick a grammar, pick one that is Classically orientated rather than Koine. Read some prose and oratory. Then become acquainted with the New Testament, move on to the Apostolic Fathers, and from there launch into LXX and the Fathers. (Languages, Idiolects, and ‘Patristic’ Greek)

All of this is to say, you have people in your churches that want to know God’s word better and some who might be interested in studying the OT and NT formally. Offering Greek and Hebrew provides those interested in formal study exposure to what that might look like in the academic setting and might possibly enable them to open up extra electives in degree programs that offer few opportunities to study something interesting or something in more depth. (Jacob Cerone on biblical languages and the local church)

One afternoon as I was browsing, I found a book by Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh titled Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. When I cracked open that cover and started to read it was like scales began falling from my eyes. I was so enthralled that I dropped everything else, sat down in the floor, and stayed there a good while.

I use the Pauline imagery of scales because for me, this was a moment where I began to see the text of the Bible in a new and profound way.

While I knew that the Bible was ancient, it was at this point that this fact really started to sink in; indeed, it dawned on me that I had basically been shrugging off this temporal gap. (Michael Halcomb’s “aha!” moment that made him enter biblical studies)

Many people living in northern Iraq are Assyrian Christians who speak various dialects of Aramaic, a language that has been spoken for more than 3,000 years. With the rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire in the seventh century B.C., Aramaic became the language that was spoken throughout the ancient Near East. The persecution and extermination of Assyrian Christians by ISIS is threatening the survival of the language spoken by many people living in the time of Jesus. (Claude Mariottini on the death of Aramaic)

People often misunderstand what the word “criticism” means when applied to the Bible “Biblical Criticism” sounds like “I am going to criticize the Bible.” Biblical criticism must have been invented by the Devil (or at least German liberals) in order to destroy the foundations of our faith. But this is not the case at all! “Critical study” refers to the close analysis any text, as opposed to a surface reading. (Philip Long on biblical criticism)

For a language such as French, only the most extreme cases of dialectical differences, such as between Parisian and Québécois or Cajun, pose considerable difficulties for both learners and native speakers of dialects close to the standard. For other languages, however, differences between dialects are so great as to make most dialects other than the standard totally incomprehensible to learners. Arabic is one such language. (Is Arabic Really a Single Language?)