The Back Page – Translating the King James

“OK. I can buy the need to translate Wycliffe. But not the King James Bible.” Really? Let’s see.

How easily does this read?

Today’s fonts and spellings are so different from those used in 1611 that the KJV many Christians
read now is not identical with the original 1611 edition. But that is OK, since languages change.

The Back Page – Translating Wycliffe

“Translating Wycliffe? I thought he himself was a translator! Isn’t a mission agency that translates
the Bible named after him?”
True. Wycliffe would not need translation were we living in the late fourteenth century. But this is
the early twenty-first. English has changed since his days. Try reading him:

Shapes of letters, spelling, grammar, definitions of words, etc., all have changed. Technology also
has evolved—this text was hand-written, neither printed (à la Gutenberg) nor digitized. What remains the
same? The truth of what is said.

The Back Page – I Can Plod

An impoverished 18th-century English shoemaker with an illiterate wife. What could such a man do for world missions?
Much, if the man is William Carey. It wasn’t easy; obstacles abounded. Many of the Baptist Dissenters among whom he worked did not even believe in missions. When he urged that they should, an elder minister rebuffed, “Young man, sit down. When it pleases Almighty God to convert the heathen, he will do so without your help or mine.” The shoemaker would not be deterred. He penned An Enquirey Into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, a manifesto that molded the Protestant church’s missionary vision for decades to come. His motto: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
Carey himself sailed for India in June 1793. After a terrifying passage around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, he arrived in November. India, entrenched in pluralistic Hinduism, did not welcome western missionaries. It took seven years before Carey could baptize his first Hindu convert, Krishna Pal, in the polluted Ganges River. Both Carey’s deranged wife, and his partner John Thomas, raved in the background as the baptism took place.
What did Carey accomplish during four decades in the subcontinent? He learned and translated the Bible into three languages, and the New Testament into several more. He founded Serampore College for the training of local leaders, and served as Professor of Oriental Languages at Calcutta’s Fort William College. He evangelized many, and encouraged communicating the gospel in culturally appropriate ways. He is known as the “Father of Modern Missions.” This impoverished shoemaker from England.
To what did Carey attribute his success? “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” Not brilliance or exceptional training—simply the ability to plod.
Perseverance is an unsung Christian virtue. But it is often the key to success. The seed in the good soil bears fruit with perseverance. In due season we shall reap if we faint not. If we hope for what we don’t see, with perseverance we wait patiently for it.
What vision or ministry has the Lord entrusted to you? Plod.

The Back Page – It’s English to You

A sleepy saying roused from dreamy slumber when people encounter an idea either arcane or abstruse is, “It’s all Greek to me!” Implication—Greek is foreign and incomprehensible. Perhaps that impression persists because some of its letters look different from ours. But other languages and ways of
thinking are farther removed from our own than is Greek. Believe me.
English is a mongrel. The language of the land of Elláda is among its ancestors. Every time Americans speak we display— consciously or not—our language’s Greek genes. Our alphabets (from alpha and bēta, the first two Greek letters) contain several similar letters: α = a, β = b, ε = e, ι = i, κ = k, ο = o, τ = t, υ = u. Similarities are more striking in uppercase: Α, Β, Ε, Ζ, Ι, Κ, Μ, Ν, Ο, Τ are all Greek letters.
Not just letters, but many of our words are Greek. Bible, photograph, Philip, democracy, dinosaur, phobia, planet, ethnic, sophomore, philosophy, hypodermic, diameter, sympathy, anarchy, and thousands of other English words all derive from that language.
There is—we can be glad!—no need to know Greek to understand the New Testament. We are blessed with an excess of English editions both accurate and understandable. But occasionally a speaker might call attention to a Greek word or grammatical point. When she or he does, there is no need for our eyes to glaze over as if we were about to debate the physics of sub-atomic particles. Usually a good reason underlies invoking Greek—a nuance that eludes translation, a connection with other words that would be invisible in English, a different concept of time, etc. So, when that happens, sit back and relax. Since our language is so Greek, it’s all English to you anyway.