“Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising anything ourselves, or revising that which hath been laboured by others, deserveth certainly much respect and esteem, but yet findeth but cold entertainment in the world.”
–The Translators of the Authorized (King James) Version; “The Translators to the Reader”
With the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (NCPB), David Norton presents a fresh edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible that corrects two imperfections found in other settings of the KJV: 1) The NCPB repairs “numerous deliberate and some accidental changes to the text” that deviate from the original intent of the KJV translators. 2) The NCPB seeks to modernise “the presentation of the text – spelling, punctuation and formatting.”
While the NCPB has been around for a few years, Cambridge has recently released a portable, “personal size” edition, and I have been graced with a copy to review. So, then, do Norton’s efforts deserve “much respect and esteem” or “a cold reception?” Given the unique nature of the project, I plan to review this fine Bible in two posts, one dealing with the content with a subsequent review dealing with the execution and construction of the Bible.
So, what’s different?
Norton’s two goals mentioned above aren’t exactly contradictory, but they do seem to run in two different directions. On the one hand, Norton pushes the KJV back towards the 17th Century by eliminating 18th Century alterations to the text and restoring the wording intended by the 1611 translators. On the other hand, Norton pulls the KJV into the 21st Century by updating its presentation. Yet, by consistently and rigorously carrying forward these two different goals, Norton produces a true renovation–this Bible manages to preserve and even restore the 1611 KJV while simultaneously producing a KJV that is more accessible to the modern reader than other editions. Due in large part to the restoration of the original translation, Norton’s version should (and likely will) become the standard critical edition of the KJV used by scholars. Due in large part to the updated presentation–with modern punctuation and spelling and a single column paragraph format–the NCPB should also become the go-to edition for the layperson who wants an edition of the KJV that can be read rather easily and naturally.
Now, Norton’s spelling changes are not meant to alter the words in the text in any way; rather, noting that 1) English spelling was still in something of a state of flux when the original KJV was printed, and 2) spelling has often changed where pronunciation and meaning has not, Norton seeks to update the spelling without changing the words or grammar at all. I am not a scholar of 17th Century English, so I am not qualified to comment on Norton’s decisions; yet I will note that I have questions/reservations about one change that Norton has introduced. The word (or, perhaps more accurately, the spelling of the word) “spake” has been changed to “spoke,” evidently because a 17th Century English speaker would have pronounced “spake” in the same way that a 21st Century English speaker pronounces the word “spoke.” If it is true that the word itself has not changed, while its spelling has changed, then Norton’s update makes perfect sense. Yet, if not, then it seems to me that Norton’s edition has gone beyond its stated aims by updating the grammar.
This is, admittedly, minute quibbling on a detail about which I am not qualified to speak. On the whole, Norton’s changes in presentation are to be much appreciated; as the blurb from the Baptist Times found on the slip-case says, “Like a conservationist bringing back to life the colours of a faded and damaged painting, Norton has shed new light on an old treasure.”
The most striking element of Norton’s new presentation is the single column, paragraph setting. If you are unwaveringly committed to the double-column, verse by verse presentation of the KJV, then this is not the Bible for you. If, however, you find a single column, paragraph format better for reading, as I do, then this Bible will offer a refreshing and rare alternative to the standard KJV. All around, the text is comparable to that of Cambridge’s Clarion, although the number of words per line does seem to run a bit long. The font is clear and readable, large enough to read comfortably yet small enough to keep the Bible from becoming a massive volume that you can never take out of your study, as its 2005 predecessor was.
Norton’s attitude towards the original translators of the KJV is one of complete deference and high respect; his entire enterprise is dedicated to restoring the translation to reflect what they intended in a way that is accessible to today’s reader. It is ironic, then, that the end result challenges the facile assumptions of KJV Onlyism that I have often encountered. In the first place, this particular edition contains the Apocrypha, books which are anathema to the Fundamental KJVO Baptists I’ve known. Then, the text differs substantially from the 1769 text setting found in most modern printings of the KJV. Further, Norton’s introduction briefly details how the KJV text evolved through various settings over the course of more than 150 years, noting that none of these text settings perfectly preserves the translation as the original committee intended it to be. Perhaps the biggest challenge to KJV Onlyism, however, comes from the words of the translators themselves; the opening address entitled “The Translators to the Reader,” which has been included in this volume, makes it clear that the KJV is neither perfect nor inspired, and that it was never intended to provide the final word on English Bible translation. As J. Mark Bertrand has written in another context, “It’s a tragedy that every edition of the KJV isn’t required to include this document [‘The Translators to the Reader’], because in addition to offering a very interesting portrait of the translators’ work, it is an antidote to some of the extreme ideas that have been championed in their name over the past hundred years.”
I generally prefer to avoid getting into the heated translation debates that seem so hard to sidestep whenever discussions of the good ol’ Authorized Version come up. In this case, though, I would be negligent to ignore the ways in which the KJV under consideration here is incompatible with KJVO beliefs.
All in all, then, the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible is a labor of love and a work of art. To come back to the metaphor used both by Norton himself and Baptist Times, The NCPB is truly a renovation, and those who appreciate the Authorized Version of 1611 would do well to have a copy in their library.
As noted above, I plan to supplement this post with a review of the construction of this particular calfskin copy of the NCPB in the coming days. Also, I have received a review copy of the new ESV Pitt Minion (black imitation leather), and I am very excited to get to that one soon. For now, I leave you with a photo of this beautiful little volume.