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Worshipping Words

Yesterday was a strange and eerie anniversary.  Six hundred years ago, on May 4, 1415 the body of Bible translator and Christian dissident John Wycliffe was exhumed from his grave in England, burned and his ashes were thrown into the river. And if that wasn’t weird enough, this was done over thirty years after his death.

It sounds like something from a Dirty Harry movie.

“You think this is over punk? Thirty years after you’re dead, I am going to dig up your body, burn it and throw your ashes in the river!”

There is no statute of limitations on anger.

Wycliffe had made himself a major pain to the Christian establishment and they hated him for it. But his true sin worthy of being dug up and burned was he led the process of translating of the Bible into English, with work done by “unlicensed laity” and was declared a heretic three decades after his death.

Over one hundred years later, William Tyndale translated the Bible into English for the first time and was arrested, hung and then burned at the stake.

I am not sure, but maybe from these two instances is where we get the concept of “overkill.”

More than seventy-five years following Tyndale’s death, the King James Version of the Bible was published (1611), which drew heavily on the translation work from Tyndale (some estimates set it at 75-80%), proving that time does heal some hurts.

Quite a number of years ago, I was working for a company involved with fund-raising for various non-profits. On one occasion, I took a phone call from a gentleman who wanted some information about a certain Bible ministry before he made a substantial donation in support of their work. (If I recall, it was $10,000)

Before sending his donation, he wanted to confirm the Bibles being printed and distributed were using the King James Version and not some other edition.  Did I mention that the ministry was sending Bibles to Russia? (Kind of a key point here)

Me: “No sir. We are sending Russian language Bibles to Russia”

Him: “Are they King James Russian-language Bibles?”

Me: (Trying not to laugh) “No sir, the King James Bible is an English translation and we are sending Russian-language Bibles to Russia.”

Him: “So, they are not the authorized version. Thank you for your help”. (Hang-up)

He did not make the donation. Evidently he expected Russian believers to first learn English, then learn 17th century English, and then, and only then, would they get a Bible.

I am not a Bible translation expert, but the King James Version is not an original source document of the Scriptures. Moses did not speak the king’s English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek and Aramaic. Maybe English was one of the many tongues at the tower of Babel, but I am only guessing.

Sometimes we worship words rather than The Word and sometimes worshiping words takes interesting forms.

I have to think one reason that most movies depicting Biblical events employ British actors speaking the king’s English is because the language is somehow more “spiritual” in most viewers’ minds because of the popularity of the KJV.

Every Christian has been in a prayer meeting when a regular person from the church has transformed themselves into a member of King James court when praying. Maybe they are worshipping the words rather than The Word or maybe it is simply habit.

When Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ released over a decade ago, a controversial element was the various characters speaking Latin, Aramaic or Hebrew with English subtitles. Gibson did that because the people in the original story spoke Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew. He dared to be accurate.

To conclude, we all have a choice of two options when communicating, and you need to choose one or the other, so choose wisely.

The first option is to have a lovely combination of words crafted by you and delightful in every way in your mind, saying exactly what you want to say without input or changes from anyone.

The second option is to communicate a message clearly with the help of a team of people who are thinking about how it will be understood.

The first choice focuses on you and your words. The second focuses on the reader and the goal. Deciding what is most important to you could mean all the difference to your writing career.

Worshipping words is a hollow religion anyway.

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