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Scott McMahan
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Posted by: Scott McMahan | more..
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This is a discussion of a monograph by J.P. Thackaway which I
encountered. I greatly respect Mr. Thackaway and have listened to his
sermons online. I wanted to discuss some points in this paper because
they appear in many other places. (It's easier to interact with his
paper, for example, than audio sermons.)

Mr. Thackaway attempts to establish the readability of the Authorized
Version (AV, or in America the King James Version), and he is not
alone in this, by using the Flesch Reading Ease Score. (FRES) "It
measures the average sentence length in words and the average word
length in syllables." I see the FRES used very often in discussions of
the AV, probably because it does very well in this analysis.

First, the FRES does not analyze what makes the AV difficult for
modern readers. The readability problems are not in sentence length
(when the NIV makes several huge sentences in the original into a
shorter sequence, that's seen as taking license with the text) or the
length of words. Readability problems include obsolete grammar (parts
of speech); obsolete syntax (the order of words); obsolete and rare
words; and word which, although are still used in English, have
changed their meaning. Unfortunately, Thackaway seems to have missed
this point: "In the light of these results, one wonders what the real
difficulty with the AV is. Much is made of its archaic
language...pronouns...verb endingsbut might that not be very much
beside the point? These have not affected its readability rating in
our test." But the factors listed here are not measured by the FRES.

Second, and following from this, a computer statistical analysis is
not a modern English reader, and I personally find this is the blind
spot in the argument that the AV is readable. I don't recall ever
seeing anyone give the AV to a modern English reader, with a college
education, who is unfamiliar with the AV, and asking that reader to
create a summary of a book like Galatians or Ephesians. Why is this
sort of practical experiment not undertaken? All the statistics in the
world don't really matter compared to whether an actual reader reading
the text can understand it or not. (I would like to say that part of
this is the fault of the AV editions available. I have never seen an
edition that explains the pronouns, verb endings, word order,
etc. which would go a long way in helping the reader. Why do no modern
editions of the AV include this information?) Why not get actual
readers involved? Particularly people who were not brought up with the
AV and who do not already know the language.

"The AV uses significantly fewer English words..." - absolutely true,
because the English language used a fluid word order with inflected
endings in the early modern period of the English Bible. (And the AV's
English was antique even in its 1611 time. Compare the AV to other
writing from that period.) Using an earlier English is what allows the
AV to translate more precisely, because English used to be much closer
to the original languages than it is now. The number of words balloons
when the "helping" words that preserve the rigid word order of modern
English are added. (I'd like to see this analysis done with those
words filtered.) English is simply more verbose now.

Perhaps: "the alleged difficulty with the AV could simply be our
inevitable difficulty with divine truth" - there is truth to this. In
fact, a whole lot of people have great difficulty with the gospel and
correct theology even with modern Bibles which spell it out
plainly. Also, many deviant theological positions use the AV and
understand it very well, but twist and distort the truth. (The Word of
Faith people are like this.) At the same time, I know I actively want
to understand the truths of the Reformation, and I have never been
granted any divine insight into the AV text. It's as opaque to me now
as it was several years ago.

Category:  King James Plus

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