It seems that when we choose the plainest and most pointed words to express a thought, our options for rhythms are so limited that they prevent us from using voices that sound majestic. If we look at the King James Bible, the New Testament writings in particular, we see that each book has a distinct voice, which is highly poetic because it is expressed through beautiful rhythms. The thing that I fail to understand is, I would assume that the King James Bible employs techniques that hinder clarity, but in most cases it follows many of the rules we have today. I wonder if it is possible to invent a derivation of one of the biblical voices, and to write in modern English a clear piece that uses it.

We can always make arguments related to the use of stylistic devices, such as those that pertain to parallelism, but the use of parallelism and other devices is not a sufficient explanation for the fluidity we find in the text. There is something about the sound of the words themselves. These sounds would not be present if others words were chosen, and would not be available if the author wanted to express different thoughts. For instance, taking the grammatical structure of any passage in the Bible, and substituting words that pertain to different thoughts, one will produce prose that does not sound like it was written by the biblical authors.

It remains then, as a last possibility, that choosing different grammatical structures, we can emulate the biblical voices, but we cannot do so without violating rules about clarity. There is some thoughts which are most clearly expressed in only a certain way, and revising a clear passage numerous times to achieve one of those voice will end up bringing nominalizations, passive constructions, and awkward prepositional phrases into the text, which will ultimately fail to sound like the biblical authors.

Therefore the English language seems to favor the majesty of thought conveyed in the King James Bible. If the English language would yield itself to an emulation of its voices, or even allow the use of a derivation, by what means could those voices be used, seeing the words in our English language are not naturally bent toward these voices for every thought?

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    FWIW, while this is quite lovely, my eyes glazed over several times while reading it. Brevity and clarity aid in readability. Scripture has room and time for poetry. Most workaday writing does not. Aug 19, 2014 at 15:55
  • Related, on the English site: Is it ever effective to use modern and archaic grammar together? Aug 19, 2014 at 19:02
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    I love the Bible, and I like the KJV, but I don't understand your question. Are you just complaining that the NIV, NASB, RSV, etc. are inferior translations? If so, you are on the wrong site. Please clarify your question.
    – dmm
    Aug 19, 2014 at 20:49
  • @dmm, I think it's about archaic vs. modern diction more so than it's about translations. Modern diction is more concerned about clarity and straightforwardness while archaic (or semi-archaic) is more about style and rhythm. Aug 21, 2014 at 15:07
  • Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur "Anything in Latin sounds profound" - this applies to most foreign languages. In particular, archaic English sounds much more poetic to us nowadays, than it did to its contemporaries. Moreover, crappy writings of archaic English were swallowed by obscurity of ages, forgotten; generally only the good texts survived through unending popularity, so comparing core of their texts to ours, the average quality is higher due to the amount of new crap that didn't have time to die out.
    – SF.
    Aug 21, 2014 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


It might be worthwhile to read different styles of contemporary poetry, looking for examples that are clear but have a sense of rhythm that appeals to you.

Leaving aside the KJV Bible, it's worth remembering that Edward Bulwer-Lytton was an very popular and successful author in his day, with a style people loved, but now his prose style is a joke, with an award for horrible writing named after him.

Our literary education is quite different as well. The writing style and complexity of the McGuffey Readers seems to be at a much higher level, even for very young readers. If contemporary readers had grown up with that style, they'd probably be more willing to tackle it as adults.

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