Saturday Short Thought – C.S.Lewis on the KJV

At the risk of opening a bigger can of worms, I’m going to share a quote from C.S.Lewis on the King James Bible (or Authorised Version if you are in the UK).  The point he makes could lead us off into endless discussions on Bible versions, and maybe sometime I’ll go there in the blog.

For now, though, my point is to round up a week of posts about how we preach the text of the Bible.  It is relatively easy to half-cook a sermon out of a Bible text. But when the Bible is really preached, listeners feel the impact of the text as it is proclaimed.  You’ve experienced that sometimes, right?  That sense of the text hitting home more profoundly, more personally, more powerfully than you expected?  That is the goal.

So, Clive Staples (I came across this quote without good citation, if you have it, please let us know), over to you:

We must sometimes get away from the Authorized Version, if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear, but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity, the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed, and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame, or struck dumb with terror, or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations.

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Next week – Delivery Matters

7 thoughts on “Saturday Short Thought – C.S.Lewis on the KJV

  1. It comes from Lewis’ introductory essay to J.B. Phillips paraphrase: ‘The Letter to Young Churches.’ It was published by Collins in their Fontana Books series. The quote occurs on p8 of my 1958 reprint.

    Many thanks for your most helpful blog.

    • It comes from Lewis’ introductory essay to J.B. Phillips paraphrase: ‘The Letter to Young Churches.’ It was published by Collins in their Fontana Books series. The quote occurs on p8 of my 1958 reprint.

      Many thanks for your most helpful blog.

      Correction: title should read ‘Letters to Young Churches’

  2. Full disclosure: I love and preach from the KJV, so I just might be biased. 🙂

    Comment: It’s a pity Isaiah and the human writers of the Psalms didn’t read C.S. Lewis on this before writing. Unfortunately, they (in particular) produced literary masterpieces that are “beautiful and solemn,” creating a risk that we might “sigh with tranquil veneration.”

    To state it more seriously, if God gave us a literary masterpiece, it’s not a bad thing to have the translation be a literary masterpiece as well. “Tranquil veneration” includes respect, and a lot of translations do not really evoke in their readers respect for the Word or the God who gave it. Lewis had a real point, but there’s a flip side to that point.

    Ultimately, what he’s calling for is the work of the Holy Spirit to drive home the truths of the Word to our hearts, and I’m not sure I buy the argument that the literary excellence of the KJV is a significant barrier to that work of the Spirit. There are other reasons to question whether it is the best translation for our day, but I don’t think this one holds much weight.

    • It does seem to me that ALL translations I’ve seen fall into the trap of using a fairly uniform tone throughout the Bible. There don’t seem to be variations in the tenor of the English that reflect that I am told are the very different feel of the texts in their original languages. It seems reasonable to me that (say) Isaiah should read as more literary than (say) Mark — but you’d struggle to spot that in the NIV or NASB.

      • I suppose it is a balancing act in that there needs to be the ability to spot the consistency between writers as well as the differences between them. Actually, I do like the NET Bible for the freshness, yet accuracy it offers. I was really impressed with their free online platform last night – well worth a look.

      • Bible translation is very, very difficult. How do you respect verbal inspiration? Formal equivalence. How do you respect things like connotations and figures of speech? Dynamic equivalence. Which is best?

        How do you (or should you?) convey significant differences in language structure? Is the translation that conveys structural differences right or wrong? Which is best?

        I remember, as a first year Greek student, boldly proclaiming in a sermon how a verse “should have been translated.” What an idiot I was.

        I have a lot of sympathy for translators who don’t try to also convey writing style. You can see hints of it in the translation, anyway. I had a teacher in high school who told us he could identify the writer based on us reading him a single verse from anywhere in the Bible, just because the styles were different. He got 10 of 10. We were all using the KJV at the time, but I’d guess you could do pretty well with any reasonable translation.

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