“Habitually thought in Latin”

Reading the preface to my NKJV this morning:

The scholars [who translated the original KJV] were almost as familiar with the original languages of the Bible as with their native English (Preface, iv).

I used to take that as hyperbole, hagiography, etc, part of a desperate attempt to hang on to the traditional English translation in the face of so many modern translations done under the banner of “scholarship,” and I didn’t buy it. I believe in real advances in scholarship, including the biblical languages. I’m still not sure about this idea of some “golden era” in the 17th century which has never since been matched. To avoid the ditch of “chronological snobbery” does not mean that you must veer off to some particular point in the other ditch and plant your flag there instead. I think this way about translations, creeds, confessions, and theologians.

However, to original point above, I was also reading the preface to Calvin’s Institutes this week, and was amazed to find this:

The first [French edition] of which we have knowledge is the celebrated edition of 1541, Calvin’s own translation from the Latin of 1539… It is undeniably the earliest work in which the French language is used as a medium for the expression of sustained and serious thought. It is remarkable that a book so creative in giving character to the language of the French nation should have been itself a translation made by an author who had from his boyhood habitually thought in Latin. (Introduction, xxxv, xxxvi).

It may be do the smallness of my own circle, but I don’t know of anyone of whom that is true. Perhaps there was something special about those earlier men after all.

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