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The Question Mark

What we have here is a photocopy of a replica 1611 Bible published by Zondervan for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It is a good replica and conforms to an actual complete photocopy of a 1612 King James Bible that I have on my shelves. I want to look at verses 21-23 from Romans chapter 2.

Notice the old Gothic font. It is difficult to read. As was said in earlier posts on orthography, the use of the Roman font that began in the mid 1700s was a welcome upgrade of the King James Bible. When Cambridge first published their 1762 Bible, it forced The Clarendon Press in Oxford to upgrade their font and punctuation as well.

Punctuation acts like a traffic cop in busy traffic. With whistles and hand gestures, it orders us to stop or slow down as well as forcing us to change lanes or take detours. A period forces us to stop. A colon forces us to stop and look before we go again. A semicolon forces us to slow down for a lane change.

In the picture above, we see the equivalent of a question mark in 1611. Look at the punctuation mark at the end of verse 21. It looks like an upside down semicolon. There are two of them in verse 22, one after the word "adultery" and another at the end of the verse. Likewise, verse 23 ends with one. The use of the modern question mark is a blessing. Without the upgrade to modern orthography in the mid 1700s we would be struggling with those more obscure, less discernable markings.

Perhaps my readers can enlighten me, but I cannot recall the use of internal question marks in a sentence in any literature that I have read. It seems to be either an old practice, or one unique to the King James Bible. I am more inclined to think that it is a practice that has fallen into disuse. As long as we are opening the floor to our readers, we could use a little input on semicolons.

Brother Paul Scott and I have been looking at the use of semicolons in the King James Bible. There are no semicolons in any printings during the 1600s. It is not until Cambridge and Oxford upgraded the orthography that they appear. For my own part, I would fear to change or question them. I have no doubt that the guiding hand of God put them there as soon as written English attained the maturity necessary to use them. That maturity did not exist in 1611.

If any of my readers would like to submit thoughts on how they see them used, please submit them either in the comments or by email. The modern rules for semicolons do not always apply. I will copy a quote from a recent email from Paul Scott.

"For semi colons, typically they separate main clauses. These clauses may differ by subject or verb, but they are somehow related and the relation is shown by semicolon instead of period. I have seen, in the KJV, other uses as well. It is these 'other uses' that I'm especially interested in. For example, Job 31:5, 6. Semi colon separates 5 and 6. Vs 5 is active voice "I have walked"— and vs 6 is passive voice "be weighed" and so on. Those are little items I gather as I read on. I'm looking for more, so we can build a better English book, and teach this to our peers - for we ought to be teachers."

As you can see, we don't pretend to have all of the answers. Brother Paul Scott and I may come across as sterling men of the cloth, but don't let that deceive you. We spent our formative years in high school English as stoners and delinquents. God has given us a desire to see an authoritative text book to guide 21st century students of the Word of God in the nuances of Early Modern English. What we have seen is such a blessing to us and we trust it is to our readers.

Let us know if you have any thoughts on the punctuation.

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