Why is the New Testement written in Old English?

It has been translated into so many languages, so why bother keeping it in Old English? What is the significance of that? Why not change it to plain Ol’ everyday English so people can understand it easier? True, it will lose some of the effect. (It sounds better in Old English…more mystical. I think that if people read and don’t understand it, then they will just assume that it’s too mystical, when in actuality it was just a language barrier) So when all is said and done…why not change the standard format of the New Testement to regulaur English?
(Note: I’m in a rush, I apologize for all of the spelling mistakes)

There are a number of translations into more modern English.

The popularity of the KJV version (the King James Version version? Yes. And yes) has a few factors to it. One is inertia–that’s the version many people brought up within Christianity have always been preached at, heard sermons and readings from, etc., and tradition is a very powerful force wherever it pops up.

I also gather that people who believe in the literal inerrancy of the Bible have the notion that the KJV translation was divinely inspired so as to maintain that literal inerrancy, and is thus trustworthy in a way that the less archaic-englished, and merely humanly-translated versions are not.

OK, in that case lets go backwards for a second. You said that it was always preached that way. I can understand not going against tradition, but why was it done that way in the first place? Because it was “divinely inspired?” By who? (whom? meh))

Also in old English it just sounds so much more epic!

You are joking, right? Have you also wondered why Shakespeare wrote that way?

It’s not in Old English (I presume there may have been an old English partial translation, but I would presume that during the Anglo Saxon period most Xtian texts/bibles were in the Latin as vulgate translations are largely a matter of a much later period, to my understanding).

It’s in Elizabethan form of English, that is Modern English. Look at Chaucer and Beowulf for Middle and Old English specifically and then comment.

As to the KJV, it seems popular…

Remember that when the King James Version was written, it was pretty accessible. It was written in the kind of language that people were used to speaking and reading. But English has changed in the last few hundred years.

Some people still prefer the old version, either because they think it is beautiful to read, or because they believe that God prefers the King James translation. That’s fine, because the KJV isn’t so archaic that it’s actually unreadable, and it is indeed a beautiful translation.

Other people prefer more modern translations. I like the New Revised Standard Version, myself, and my sister likes the New International Version, but if you’re looking for an extremely accessible New Testament in clear, readable English, you might try The Living Bible or The Simple English Bible.

Your question makes me think that you have only been exposed the the King James, but in fact, there are hundreds of translations in English, and many of them are very modern indeed. Just check out your Friendly Neighborhood Barnes and Noble’s religion section for a pretty wide selection.

One of the most popular English translations, currently, is the New International Version, (NIV), translated to modern English. In addition, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New American Bible (NAB), the New English Bible (NEB), and the Jerusalem Bible (JB), along with “updated” versions of the KJV such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and New King James Version (NKJV) all are written with an eye toward modern English usage.

Among the reasons for the tenacity of the KJV (more properly known as the Authorized Version (AV)), are

  • the belief (as noted by Drastic) that its translation was, itself, divinely inspired (see Jack Chick for this view in the extreme*)
  • and the fact that it was translated into magnificent Englsh.

The latter point should not be overlooked. In the tradition of the era, the translators, revering the work, used the richest language they could to honor it. This had the effect of turning some passages that were written in the original Hebrew and Greek in very plain language into beautiful, soaring prose. A person who grows up hearing this richer language who encounters the simpler or earthier version of the more accurate (and more modern) translations is liable to be put off by the plainness of the language and feel that something has been lost in the translation.

  • The translators of the KJV did not believe that they were divinely inspired. Instead, there was a period of a couple of hundred years in which the two English translations were limited to the KVJ and the Catholic counter-translation, the Douai-Reims and “of course” the Protestant edition was better. (And, in fact, it was.) In the 19th century, literary criticism began to be applied to the Bible, and archaeological projects and people such as Tischendorff turned up older manuscripts of the bible. Comparisons of the various texts showed minor discrepancies. (None so great as to change the meaning of the works, but small, niggling changes that bothered people.) Between the newly found texts and the textual criticism of the work as it was known, a number of people championed the idea of re-translating the bible from the “original sources.” (Several sections of the KJV were translated from the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation held by the Catholic church to be the “official” version–this, of course, makes Jack Chick look like a fool, but what can you do?) At the same time as the movement to retranslate the bible, the related, but not identical, movement to challenge the Divine Inspiration of the Bible arose. Certain segments of the Christian community conflated those movements as one large attack on “their scripture” and responded by closing ranks around the KJV and declaring that it had to be the best translation (and how better to guarantee that than to have God, himself, inspire the translation?).

It was done that way in the first place, since the KJV was the first major English translation. There was a strong market for it, since consumers enjoyed actually understanding the words their preachers were intoning, and being able to read it themselves instead of that only being in the hands of the educated clergy. And first product of its type to hit a hungry market is just bound to have good penetration.

As for the inspired bits…well. I’m definitely not the person to give a fair shake to believers in literal inerrancy (they’ve never struck me as having particularly high wattage, if you catch my drift). But I presume that it was divinely inspired by God Himself. You’ll need to find and ask them how it is they know God inspired and directed the KJV translation and not, for instance, the NIV translation.

Collounsbury is right on the money.

Is an excample of Old English from here.

Middle English is probably most familiar to those of us that learned Chaucer’s opening lines that way:

Modern English of the Elizabethan era, I think, is the best way to refer to the KJV Bible’s prose.

Which means I’m basically echoing Collounsbury’s post. :slight_smile:

  • Rick

C’mon people. Old English was directly derived from Anglo-Saxon and was spoken c. 450-1066. If you heard Old English spoken or saw it in print, you would find it largely unintelligible. The KJV was written in a ‘classical’ or ‘archaic’ style that still falls under the heading of Modern English.

Obviously, he simply meant “old” as in “way back then”.

And in some cases, it’s the KJV English quotation that’s known by the general public, and quoted in literature, and not a more modern, and more correct version.

For example, KJV has the familiar (Exodus 20:3):

“Though shalt have no other gods before me.”

While the very up-to-date NAB has:

“You shall not have other gods besides me.”

The KJV translation is certainly well-known.

However the second translation is clearer – perhaps making it clearer there shouldn’t be any other gods whatsoever. And it’s easy to read.


Actually, the KJV was not the first major English translation. (Yes, I am aware that it drew heavily on the earlier translations.) No, the KJV’s unique selling point was that its printers had a legal monopoly on the printing of Bibles and the only Bibles they printed were editions of the KJV.


Libertarian…thank you for explaining my intentions. (Sounds sacrcastic but it’s not meant to be) What I meant before about why it was originally done in Old English (Middle English, Anglo-Saxon…whatever) is why didn’t it change with the times? As language evolved, the way it was preached should have changed as well, though it obviously didn’t. Thats what I meant.

But it did. That’s what we’ve been explaining in some detail. :slight_smile:

Here, click this link.

Wouldn’t that be “old fashion english” ?

(as others have been trying to say, it did change (or rather many subsequent translations/revisions were made using more modern language).

Are you asking why some people still use the KJV in spite of more modern versions being available?

The first translation of the whole of The Bible into English was made under the auspices of John Wyclif ( 1320 - 84): in fact there were two of them, both translations of St Jerome’s Vulgate. The first was made with the assistance of Nicholas Hereford and the ( superior) second with John Purvey ( both doubtless also received the help of other unknown translators). An important feature of Wyclif’s translations is that they were intended for the use of the general public.

The first printed version was William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament and parts of the Old. This was very influential on later versions, such as William Coverdale’s translation of the whole Bible, and The Bishops Bible, translated under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Bishops Bible was a huge book, designed to be read in churches. At the time there was a huge increase in the number of people wanting to have a Bible at home. This was one reason for the popularity of the Geneva Bible ( of course ideological reasons also existed in many cases). This was a translation made by a group of exiled Puritan scholars. It was in octavo form and could be carried in a pocket. Further it was printed in Roman type, easier to read than the older Gothic. Most controversial, it had notes to aid in the interpretation of certain difficult passages.

Translating The Bible was a highly political task. Sir Thomas More was greatly opposed to Tyndale’s translation because ( among other things) he had translated the Latin ecclesia as ‘congregation’ rather than the more usual ‘church’. The Geneva Bible’s notes included I Chronicles 16:22, ‘Touch not mine own anointed’. The note said this applied to all God’s children, the whole church. The Church of Egland had alway insisted that the verse supported the divine right of kings. This disagreement was never likely to go down well with James I.

As to why it is the translation that has survived best, I have to agree with Tomndebb: it is simply because ( judged on purely literary grounds) it is the best.

Hm. Why is this is Great Debates?