Divers Diseases: Or why I don’t lament the passing of the KJV

As this past Sunday was the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we read, as we do every year, Psalm 23. At the 10:00 service, the choir sang a setting of it. At 8:00, we read the BCP version. It stuck in my craw, as it did for most of those in the congregation, our average age being well over 50. We wanted to recite the version we had memorized: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

This is the 400th anniversary of the KJV, something I have already mentioned more than once on this blog, and an anniversary deserving of attention. There’s a great site here, with profound essays by the likes of Robert Alter. I agree with those who praise the beauty of the translation, the power of the words. But the Bible is also meant to be understood. And I, for one, am grateful for modern translations that bring the language and ideas of 2000 or 3000 years ago to life for people in the 21st century.

For all of the power and beauty of the KJV, what I remember most as a child is listening to people trying to read it out loud and make sense of it for themselves and convey that meaning to a congregation. More often than not, it came across as a foreign language. The words I remember best after forty years are hearing farmers struggle to read Paul to a congregation. I puzzled then, and I’m sure everyone else did, over Paul’s list of afflictions that included “divers diseases.” I wondered what they were, and how he acquired them by diving into the Mediterranean.

The KJV, for all of its beauty is as alien a language to the twenty-first century, as Latin was to the people of England in the 16th.

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