The Odd Bible Translation Situation We’re In

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The Book of Mormon (1830) and the Pickthal translation of the Qur’an (1930), both completed long after “thee” and “thou” faded from common English usage, both adopted the archaic syntactical and grammatical forms used in the KJV. Why?

Here’s the Book of Mormon:

4671693346_a10e8cd56c_mHoly, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever. (Alma 31:15)

Here’s Pickthal’s translation of the first Surah:

quran_pickthall_english_small_In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment, Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.

Of course, the old ASV (1901) did the same:

Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (Gen 3:11 ASV)

Why?

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

6 thoughts on “The Odd Bible Translation Situation We’re In”

  1. IMO it’s just an effort to attach an air of dignity and grandeur… by borrowing what used to be seen as “Bible English.” If you want your book to be seen as a holy book, make it sound bibley.

  2. That’s exactly what I think, Aaron. And that’s why the post is titled “the odd Bible translation situation we’re in.” English-speaking Christianity handed this opportunity to these religious groups. I can’t blame us very much—the KJV is truly beautiful. But this post provides one among a number of reasons why translations ought to reflect common usage. A minor reason, I grant.

    I asked two young Mormon missionaries about this a few months ago. They actually said precisely what you did, that God put the BOM in the language most calculated to call forth the religious feeling and reverence of Americans of the time.

  3. I’m sure they didn’t append “because the book is a complete fraud but it was less noticeable that way.” 🙂
    Another way to look at it: the lofty language of KJV was so culturally influential, there was no way for any “holy” text to be taken seriously if it didn’t sound like it. … and some would argue that it should still be in lofty language.
    I’m not among them, though I do think translations should always strive for the linguistic high ground in the culture. Didn’t feel that the latest NIV did that, though I think ESV does a pretty good job in general, and NKJV is decent as well. NASB makes me cringe often from a “good English” standpoint (though the transparency to the Greek is often well worth it)

  4. Right. =| I tried to press that argument a little, but mainly I focused on getting them to read a modern translation of the Bible. They seemed interested in that prospect.

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