Reading the Bible through a Glass Darkly

By Fulford, Robert | Queen's Quarterly, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Reading the Bible through a Glass Darkly


Fulford, Robert, Queen's Quarterly


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When I take a few moments to read in the King James Version the stirring, poetic and sweetly reasonable wisdom of Ecclesiastes, or the often disagreeable but brilliantly pronounced theology of St Paul, I feel, for a moment, both awkward and self-conscious. I'm sure I'm not alone. Every unbeliever who spends time reading the seventeenth-century English version of the Bible, the one we familiarly call the KJV, must at times feel like a kind of intruder. There's something slightly perverse in the private, impious and altogether worldly way we adopt, as if it were our own possession, a book for which millions of people fought and died and which many more embraced as their lifelong guide to existence. Those who set down the text of the KJV, and those who spent generations carefully spreading it through the English-speaking world, did not intend it for such as we.

The KJV harbours a multitude of qualities that turn writing into art. Its hundreds of pages are filled with metaphors, symbols, analogies, rhetorical speech, and tribal sagas, braided into a long and rewarding series of mythologies. But what right have we to call it literature when it was first of all something quite different--and, in a sense, more serious? When new editions of the Bible appear, usually for the purpose of clarifying scripture and sorting out mistakes made in the KJV, what right have we to demean these earnest projects by comparing them with the KJV?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Why did Christopher Hitchens (that eminent atheist) feel entitled to brush aside "the flat banality of the so-called New English Bible"? In 2003, reviewing God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson, he said that in revising the Bible these "committees of English and American Protestantism came together and threw a pearl away richer than all their tribe," the KJV. He was taking his stand as a friend of literature, grateful to organized Christianity for giving him the KJV and prepared to defend its virtues against any inferior replacement.

Literary people have often protested against offences committed by biblical scholars in the interests of religious understanding. Consider a famous passage from 1 Corinthians: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly." In 1961 the New English Bible put it this way: "When I was a child, my speech, my outlook, and my thoughts were childish. When I grew up, I had finished with childish things. Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Dwight Macdonald, a sharp-eyed American essayist and a KJV partisan, said that coming upon those words was like finding a parking lot where a great church once stood. In the seventeenth century the KJV translators seem to have decided that St Paul's Greek meant we all, even as adults, can see life (this life or the next one) at best partially. But they may have had other meanings in mind. When they were doing their work, from 1604 to 1611, "darkly" could be a synonym for secretly, sombrely, mysteriously, dimly--or gloomy. Like many KJV passages, that brief translation has enjoyed a spectacular secondary career on the farther shores of modern culture. Perhaps because it seems to our minds both attractive and ambiguous, "Through a Glass Darkly" has become the title of at least two rock albums, at least four TV episodes, a chamber symphony, a mystery story by Donna Leon, an American priest's book on US policy in Guatemala, a report on alcohol from the British Methodist Church, an Ingmar Bergman film--and a poem by General George Patton. Perhaps St Paul was in fact referring to the relatively primitive mirrors of his time; perhaps the 1961 scholars felt they were putting things right, but in the last fifty years "puzzling reflections in a mirror" has made no similar impact on anyone's imagination. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reading the Bible through a Glass Darkly
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.