2011 and the Gift of Translation

This year brings us to a great anniversary, which will have special significance for St Edwards, the church I serve in Cambridge. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible, and two members of the team who made this great translation were members of St Edwards. But our connection goes deeper, for it was at St Edwards, three generations earlier, that people like Bilney, Barnes and Latimer, our three Martyrs, had grasped that the gospel needed translating in the deepest sense, not simply translating out of one language into another, but translating out of paper, and out of ritual, out of the past, translating into people’s lives in the here and now.

Indeed I believe that the very process of Translation goes to the heart  of the Chrsitian Faith, because for Christians the Word of God has already made the greatest translation of all, the translation we have just celebrated at Christmas! The eternal Word, whom we could never have known or even apprehended, has translated Himself into our flesh and blood, translated eternity into time, and translated Love into action. For Christ’s followers the sayings of Jesus, the stories of His life enshrined in the scripture, only have their meaning when they are translated into the realities of everyday life, into ordinary conversation and action.

This perpetual and self-renewing translation has always been part of the life and work of St Edwards, and it has always been controversial! F D Maurice, for example, was pilloried for translating the gospel into social action, inclusion of women, education for the poor, and for moving away from the punitive and judgemental mindset that infected the church of his day, but in St Edwards he found a place where he could flourish and a community that would support his work. So, even as we celebrate a great treasure from the past and think of all the good that has come from 400 years of the KJV, we will be looking ahead to the future and seeing how to continue St Edwards historic mission to be a place where an ancient faith gives rise to new understandings and fresh expressions.

So during the course of this year I shall be posting to these pages some reflections on passages in the KJV whose language and phrasing I have found especially helpful but I will also be posting some more general reflections on translation itself, the translation and re-translation of secular as well as sacred texts. I will post some of my own translations of   other people’s poetry  and also some comments on the translations that have been made of my poems and other writings into different languages. To read what you have written when it is translated into a new language can sometimes be a very enlightening experience. Indeed the poet John Donne believed our own transition from earth to Heaven will be, thanks to Jesus Christ, a kind of translation. I’ll leave the last words of this post with him:

‘All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.’ (John Donne Meditation 17)


Filed under christianity, literature, St. Edward's

10 responses to “2011 and the Gift of Translation

  1. Hello. It’s amazing that, while I refer to the KJV exclusively, it hadn’t occurred to me that this year marks the 400th anniversary of its coming into being. While many will debate whether or not it’s the best translation, I truly believe it to be inspired. There are passages which are written so beautifully that no other translation does them justice.
    I’ll be looking forward to future postings here.
    Blessings always in Jesus name.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for your comment Timothy. It was an inspired translation, god used many different, and differently gifted people to bring it into being, and I think the beauty of the writing is an important part of it’s meaning.

  2. Malcolm, I’m so looking forward to your reflections on this topic. I grew up on the King James, much of which I found hard to understand as a child – many passages became clearer for me in the NIV which I began using in my mid-20’s. But I still love the beauty of the KJV’s language, especially in the Psalms and Isaiah, and return there for deep comfort in times of distress.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Rebekah, we are so fortunate that any of us can now turn to a number of different translations and get the different insights each one offers. I also use NIV and also the RSV but like you I turn again and again to the KJV for a certain kind of beauty, depth and resonance. I am also publishing five articles over the year in a magazine called Roots, about preaching from the KJV, the first one is already out, I’ll see if I can find a link and send it to you

  3. janis bonner

    The Epitaph of Young Benjamin Franklin

    The body of
    B. Franklin, Printer
    (Like the Cover of an Old Book
    Its Contents torn Out
    And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
    Lies Here, Food for Worms.
    But the Work shall not be Lost;
    For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More
    In a New and More Elegant Edition
    Revised and Corrected
    By the Author.

    Perhaps you’ve already seen this. Even so, it is pertinent and always a pleasure to read. Being post Donne, perhaps I now see his inspiration. Thanks.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Janis,I hadnt seen that, its excellent. Franklin ay well have seen the original donne Meditation since it forms part of the same meditation which has the more famous passage , ‘do not send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, it tolls for everyman’ But this epitaph develops donnes idea in a fresh way. I especially like ‘revised and corrected by the author’.

  4. Thank you, Malcolm, for the pure delicious, bracing beauty of this post! Translated is such an illuminating way to describe it. Very comforting.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Lancia I hope to write a little more about that in future posts, including something about the way Jack approached translation and used it as a metaphor for The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives

  5. Pingback: The Daily Miracle | Malcolm Guite

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