Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Geneva Bible

                                                   The Argument
After that the Thessalonians had been well instructed in the faith, persecution, which perpetually followeth the preaching of the Gospel, arose, against the which although they did constantly stand, yet Paul (as most careful for them) sent Timothy to strengthen them, who sown after admonishing him of their estate, gave occasion to the Apostle to confirm them by divers arguments to be constant in faith, and to suffer whatsoever God calleth them unto for the testimony of the Gospel, exhorting them to declare by their godly living the purity of their religion. And as the Church can never be so purged, that some cockle remain not among the wheat, so there were among them wicked men, which by moving vain and curious questions to overthrow their faith, taught falsely, as touching the point of the resurrection from the dead; whereof he briefly instructeth them what to think, earnestly forbidding them to seek curiously to know the times, willing them rather to watch lest the sudden coming of Christ come upon them at unawares; and so after certain exhortations, and his commendations to the brethren, he endeth.

This is the introduction to Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians in the Geneva Bible. It came up as I was commenting about changes in language.  I noted that Shakespeare and the King James Bible remained somewhat understandable mostly because the phrases in them had dominated English afterward.  Contemporary writing which did not bequeath so many phrases to us is less understandable.  The Geneva Bible is a good example.  Though it came into being fifty years earlier, it used more modern phrasing of the time - even then, the KJV gravitated toward the slightly archaic in order to be poetic.

Nonetheless, even with more modern language, the unfamiliar passage from the Geneva is harder to understand, and we see why it begins to creep beyond being merely a different dialect of English, on into being considered a separate language.  We know most of the words, but some are unfamiliar or seem to have different meanings or frequency than we are used to.  The word-order is significantly different, as is the phrasing. 

We get the sense of it, especially if we are familiar with the New Testament in any translation, so that the concepts are more easily grasped.  But stand in the shoes of a highschooler with no Christian training - this is nearly a foreign language.


W Baker said...

Most kids who've had a few years of Latin and/or Greek or have had a good five years of high school French (and can handle Rabelais) can easily follow the string of conditional or parenthetical phrases and certainly have no problem with the word order. The wouldn't fully get the full gist of it without Christian education, but neither would they get the full meaning of the Faire Queen without some instruction.

Languages (aside from Spanish) have been yanked from schools at an alarming rate. It's rare in the South to find a public school teaching Latin, let alone French, and certainly not Greek (although there are a few). Our schools were historically academies until WWII when the country was finally homogenized and the Dewey/Germanic lecture model destroyed our tutorial schools.

That said, it's rare to find a Christian priest or minister who has an ancient language (or is conversant in a modern one - English included, sometimes). Seminaries are bastions of psycho-babble and "ministering" malarky. I had to attend a Southern Baptist church for my son's baccalaureate service. We watched clips for the movie, Toy Story, while a jolly fat man known as Dr. So and So, gave us life-lesson pointers in between the clips.

I'm sure it's only nostalgic wishful thinking to think that most of the country had some deeper reading ability 75 years ago. But I'm sure they had a much greater appreciation for the spoken/heard word than now.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

WB - You touch on a few things we've talked about here in the last month or two. I encourage you to browse through the May and June pages.

W Baker said...

Okay, I've dabbled in the past threads and see some tangential posts/comments. Maybe I missed a specific one re: youth language study/comprehension.

I generally follow your line of thinking that the good ol' days of of a well-read populace never existed - outside of some late 19th-century European countries. (Bismark's Germany comes to mind.)

I have always contended that the reason most Englishmen and a few Irishmen have traditionally been socially set on a pedestal in this country is not because of their accent but because of their vocabulary and general clarity of language. (This is generally not the case anymore outside of the public school set. Chav culture has overtaken most of Britain's youth. See Little Britain, etc.) I don't think genetics have a whole lot to do with it; I think it's the culture of the spoken word. BBC Radio 4 has slipped drastically since the Blair years, but you will still not find an equivalent radio broadcast of plays, exposes, word games, quizzes, comedy, etc. on any American radio station. Especially on deadpan, dreary NPR.

Add a foreign language to that mix. Preferably a highly inflected one. And you've got a communicator without par here.

This type of culture is where words, complex syntax, different word order, etc. - and ultimately complex ideas get passed along. I have never understood the singular push for maths and sciences in this country without the necessary concurrent push for foreign languages. How can one be agile with extremely complex notions and not have the equal dexterity of communicating them efficiently?

Texan99 said...

I find almost all of Paul's writing extremely difficult to follow. It's such an abstract style, and so full of jargon. I always feel I'm trying to follow an obscure argument in which most of the assumptions are unstated -- with very rare exceptions, when his prose takes wing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

WB - an older post.

Thanks for dabbling.

I don't disagree, not enough to matter deeply. There may be pockets and exceptions to my "it's always been thus" sentiment, and I would put your nominations up at the top. I am mostly reacting against my fellow postliberals dichotomising and using selective data.

james said...

I gather that Paul had to dictate some of his letters ("see with what large letters I write" to go with a sample of his own handwriting). Try to imagine Paul in full preaching mode and the scribe desperately trying to keep up. ("Hold on a moment please!") Have you been at translation services, where the guest preaches for a minute and then the translator takes over, back and forth? Some passages read as though they were interrupted the same way.

Some sections of Ecclesiastes seem to read more smoothly if I mentally insert pauses for the preacher to gesture at well-known places or people in the crowd.