David Cameron writes like the KJV

David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron in effect writes “Like the KJV”, but he also writes like the KJV. Not that he uses old-fashioned language, thee’s and thou’s etc (see what David Ker wrote about how these are misunderstood today), but that like KJV (in most editions), the written record of his words, from his speech in Oxford yesterday about that Bible version, is chopped up into short lines, often only part sentences, typeset as separate paragraphs.

I thank Eddie Arthur and Archdruid Eileen for pointing me to the full text of Cameron’s speech, which meant that they were able to comment more fully and intelligently than I did last night. As I already wrote in a comment on that post, I agree with Eddie’s conclusion, in line with my earlier post, that the PM has missed the main point of the Bible. Perhaps, as leader of a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, he was politically obliged to skirt around it. But his self-description as a “vaguely practising” Christian suggests that there is more to this than political expediency.

Nevertheless, there are some parts of Cameron’s speech which I greatly appreciate, such as this:

I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics.

To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.
So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this.

I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics.
Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn’t agree with something he’s right to say so.

But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn’t be surprised when I respond.
Also it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.

I have copied this extract from the official website without reformatting (unlike the extracts I quoted yesterday from the BBC report) to show something of how it is divided into very short paragraphs. Indeed in some places they are even shorter, as here:

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong.

And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people…

…what we stand for…

…and the kind of society we want to build.
First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths…

…simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

Why is the text divided up like this? Is it so that each phrase can fit on to a teleprompter screen? Is it to help Cameron with phrasing and intonation as he speaks? In any case, it is a reminder to us that Cameron’s text, like the KJV in his own words, was “intended to be read aloud”. He makes a good point in criticising other versions (he mentions NIV and the Good News Bible):

They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don’t quite have the same magic and meaning.

As Eddie points out, understanding of the Bible text has to be primary, and so it should not be presented in mysterious or obscure language, as over the centuries much of KJV has become to many English speakers. A translation should be as clear to its readers as the original text was to its intended audience. But just as the Bible was written primarily to be read aloud, and to sound good as such, it is right for translators to produce versions which when read aloud sound good, warm and meaningful.

2 thoughts on “David Cameron writes like the KJV

  1. Peter,

    Will you give an example of a Bible translation that is in clear English, but also majestic and well-read from the pulpit? I would be most thankful for the help!

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