The King James Bible in America: An Orthographic Historical and Textual Investigation. By Bryan C. Ross
I have just received my copy of Pastor Bryan C. Ross’s book, The King James Bible in America: An Orthographic Historical and Textual Investigation. Ross is responding to the relatively new contention within the King James Bible community that only one edition or text of the King James Bible is truly accurate, and that the various orthographical and word substitutions found in variant texts is harmful. Ross disagrees with that contention. Ross is not contending that anyone can change words willy-nilly. He merely contends that switching words such as “throughly” and “thoroughly” or “alway” or “always” is not a corruption of the text nor harmful to the reader.
I have not read the entire book. In fact, I am only up to the section where he deals with “alway” and “always”. As is my wont when reviewing a book, I am responding to it in sections. It may well be that I will learn from this man. Already in these first few pages, I have admired his explanation of the over usage (in our eyes) of capitalizations in the 1611 printing of the King James Bible. On page 13 he has an excellent little chart showing selected capitalizations. He explains that since the first printing was in a Gothic (German) font and that English is a Germanic tongue, Barker used German rules wherein nouns are capitalized.
If these first pages that I have looked at are any gauge of the whole, this book does not suffer from a lack of scholarship and yet his conclusions are often wrong. Ross has already explained an often misunderstood truth about the usage of capitalizations, spelling and punctuation (orthography) in the 1611 printing. He correctly informs his readers that there was no fixed form of orthography in 1611. Printers and editors of the King James Bible adapted it as the forms of English orthography became standardized. What I find lacking is Ross’s explanation of the variant words as they shift from 1611 to 1769.
Ross cannot be faulted for a lack of research or scholarship. He has consulted 7 works on English words and definitions from the 1600s, 2 from the 1700s, 5 from the 1800s which include Noah Webster’s work and he has consulted the 1989 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He has carefully read the claims of Matthew Verschuur who publishes a web site called The Bible Protector along with at least one of Verschuur’s booklets, Glistering Truths: Distinctions in Bible Words. Ross has patiently watched a 12 part YouTube presentation by Keith R. Blades titled, A Brief Introduction to the Excellency of Older English.
Ross found much of what Blades had to say helpful, but he was not persuaded that the substitution of words that Blades decried was any real problem. He states’ “I am not convinced that modern printings of the KJB which utilize the updated spellings of these words are “perversions”. This is due in large part to the fact English language dictionaries and reference works do not bear out these words mean what Bother Blades and other Bible teachers have said that they mean.” (Page 21 of Ross’s book).
I myself, have a preference whether Genesis 8:1 uses the spelling “asswaged” or “assuaged”. I like the older spelling. It is not a game changer to me if it is spelled differently because I do not see them as two different words. Ross carries it further than I would go. He sees “alway” and “always” as the same word. He is backed up in that by the many dictionaries and reference material he studied. Ross followed Blades’s use of the OED to back up his contention that “alway” has a distinctly different definition than “always” and he found Blades wanting. There was a time when they did have distinctly separate meanings, but what Blades failed to mention was that the OED specifically said that the word “always” has superseded the word “alway”.
This underlines one of the great problems with OED and time pieces such as 17th century etymologies and dictionaries. They are useful tools to get brief snapshots of what a word has been, but as in the case of “alway” in the OED, they either give a highly localized definition that skews the meaning or they give many shifting meanings. I advocate the OED or the LEME (Lexicon of Early Modern English) that can be found on line through the University of Toronto, but I also know that they are not final proof. The final proof for every definition of every word in the King James Bible must conform to the context in which it is used regardless of the source of that definition.
We can all agree that the English Language was in flux in 1611. It is in flux today and probably always will be. What was settled in 1611 was that the King James Translators produced a distinct form of English that had never been fully formed prior, was not spoken at the time, and has never been the speech of any English-Speaking people. Speaking of the bible, Clarence Larkin in his 1918 book on Dispensational Truth noted that, "it was not written in a superhuman or celestial language. If it were we could not understand it. Its superhuman origin however is seen in the fact that it can be translated into any language and not lose it virility or spiritual life giving power, and when translated into any language it fixes that language in its purest form." (emphasis mine).
What is lacking in any dictionary or etymology (including the 1828 Webster) that Pastor Ross used is a dictionary or etymology that assumes that the King James Bible has fixed the English Tongue in its purest form. It is only in the last half century that any serious scholars have begun to broach the previously unthinkable; the King James Bible is the word of God in its own right. The King James Bible functions much as the Hebrew Bible did during the Babylonian captivity and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout Asia and Europe that preceded the coming of Jesus Christ. As their individual dialects of Hebrew grew more distant one from another, the Hebrew Bible remained the touchstone on which they could all converge. The King James Bible has done that for English-Speaking people worldwide.
From all over the English-Speaking world, men and women are publishing research on the King James Bible that hitherto fore would have seemed impossible. I delight in the many articles, blogs and books that are coming out. The King James position is no longer confined to “Ruckmanites”. It can only be expected that some of the published works will err at least in part. My first book, Further Thoughts on the Word of God has a blunder in chapter 6. I ascribe the differences in the Oxford and Cambridge Texts to one being Blayney’s work, the other being Paris’s work. That seems pretty silly to me today. I have held Paris’s work in my hands and it is not Cambridge’s current text. I have held Blayney’s work in my hand and it is not Oxford’s text.
What Bryan Ross has done is to examine both Keith Blades’s and Matthew Verschuur’s work and found that they contradicted one another in definition while trying to defend the concept that “alway” is a word in its own right. He found their proofs lacking. One thing that Ross does is to produce charts to show that words such as thoroughly and throughly which both Blades and Verschuur find to be two different words are in actuality swapped back and forth between 1611 and 1769 as if there was no difference. He also found enough etymological evidence to make him declare that “alleged differences in meanings between words like “throughly” and “thoroughly” have been completely fabricated”. (Page 23).
Ross has missed the boat here. He has not missed it for lack of research. He has found much evidence to show that type setters in 1611 could not tell the difference, and he has found evidence that prior to 1611 there was no difference. He has found evidence that later etymologists saw no difference. What is lacking is a verse by verse comparison of the two words in context to see if when the King James Translators used them in “fixing the language in its purest form” they actually conceived of a difference regardless of how subtil that difference is, and if they used that difference to convey slightly different understandings of the underlying Greek or Hebrew that they understood so perfectly. He does however use Genesis 11:3 very effectively to obliterate Blades’s errant definition of “throughly” (page 30). Warning! Any definition of a word which does not fit that word’s every usage is suspect.
We are only now beginning to fully understand the extent to which the King James Translators gave us the truth of God. Just as DNA has been around since Genesis 1 but we are only now beginning to understand it, the King James Bible has been around for over 400 years, but we are just now beginning to unlock some of its secrets.
One of Bryan Ross’s great errors in this book is his acceptance of Professor David Norton’s conclusions based on the research he outlines in A Textual History of the King James Bible. In tomorrow’s post I’ll go into my criticism of David Norton’s work in more detail. For tonight, just remember that Norton was trying to sell people a New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. He and Cambridge are undoubtedly making a lot of money of that work and it is no surprise that all of Norton’s conclusions suggest that such a work is needed.
We will also take the word “alway” and examine it in every context to see if Paul Scott’s post from February 2016 can stand up to scrutiny.