17th Century Colony English Literature

Defines: scorn | mock | sarcasm

My last page contained a (fictional) dinner conversation in the latter 1600's. It was written by an art historian, so I take it that the style of dinner speech was accurately portrayed, but for sake of comparison I'm posting quotations from my own library of material of 17th Century Colony English. It isn't dinner conversation, more along the lines of literature from poetry to religious statements, and in one case the speech of someone in a religious order, so I can't call it typical--as was the dinner conversation--but I thought it would add balance to the subject.

Oh, who will give me a voice that I may cry aloud to the whole world that God, the all highest, is in the deepest abyss within us and is waiting for us to return to Him. Oh, my God, how does it happen in this poor old world, that Thou art so great and yet nobody finds Thee, that Thou callest so loudly and nobody hears Thee, that Thou givest Thyself to everybody and nobody knows Thy name! Men flee from Thee and say they cannot find Thee; they turn their backs and say they cannot see Thee; they stop their ears and say they cannot hear Thee!
--Hans Denck, 1495-1527. German mystic, spiritual reformer. On the Law of God.341

Leave Me, O Love342
            Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust,
     And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
     Grow rich in that which never taketh rust.
     Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings.

     Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might
     To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be,
     Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light
     That doth both shine and give us sight to see.

     O take fast hold, let that light be thy guide
     In this small course which birth draws out to death;
     And think how evil becometh him to slide,
     Who seeketh heaven and comes of heavenly breath.

     Then farewell, world, thy uttermost I see;
     Eternal love, maintain thy life in me.

                                          Sir Philip Sidney
dust (1) : See Genesis ii:7. rust (3) : see Matthew vi:19,20. yoke (6) : see Matthew xi:29,30. evil becometh (11) : evilly it suits. slide (11) : do wrong. breath (12) : see Genesis ii:7.

Affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.
--John Donne, 1573-1631. English poet, divine. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions343

The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth on 16 September 1620, ... hop[ing] to make landfall in Virginia, but thanks to poor navigation, they landed at cape Cod. In one of the finest examples of prose written in America, William Bradford, the Mayflower's historian and the first governor of the Massachusetts colony, described their situation:344
     Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles
     ... they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns
     to entertaine or refresh their weather-beaten bodys,
     no houses or much less townes to repaire to ... it
     was muttered by some that if they got not a place in
     time they would turn them and their goods ashore [and
     return] ... But may not and ought not the children
     of these fathers rightly say -- Our fathers were
     Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were
     ready to perish in the wilderness, but they cried unto
     the Lord, and he heard their voice and looked on their

    That the fiercely devout New England colonists regarded the singing of psalms as an integral part of life is suggested by a comment346 of one of the little group of Pilgrims that sailed from Delftshaven, Holland, in 1620:
     They that stayed at Leyton feasted with us that were
     to go at our pastor's house, [it] being large; where
     we refreshed ourselves, after tears, with singing of
     Psalms, making joyful melody in our hearts as well
     as with the voice, there being many of our congregation
     very expert in music; and indeed it was the sweetest
     melody that ever mine ears heard.


Dwelling in the Light, there is no occasion at all for stumbling, for all things are discovered with the Light. Thou that lovest it herewith is Thy Teacher. When thou art walking abroad it is present with thee in thy bosom. Thou needest not to say, lo, here, or lo, there; and as thou liest in thy bed it is present to teach thee and judge thy wandering mind which wanders abroad and thy high thoughts and imaginations and makes them subject. For following thy thoughts thou art quickly lost. By dwelling in this Light it will discover to thee the body of sin and thy corruptions and fallen estate where thou art. In that Light which shows thee all this, stand; neither to the right nor to the left.
--George Fox, 1624-1691
English, founder of the Society of Friends


The Fame of our Writers is usually confined to these two Islands, and it is hard it should be limited in Time, as much as Place, by the perpetual Variations of our Speech ... if it were not for the Bible and Common Prayer Book in the vulgar Tongue, we should hardly be able to understand any Thing that was written among us an hundred Years ago: Which is certainly true: For those Books being perpetually read in Churches, have proved a kind of Standard for Language, especially to the common People.
--Jonathan Swift, b. in Dublin, 1667

I think the quotes above serve to illustrate:

Revision inexpedient at the present time.349

The dialect of the English Bible is also the dialect of devotion and of religious instruction wherever the English language is spoken, and all denominations substantially agree in their sacred phraseology, with whatever difference in interpretation. There are always possibilities of reconciliation, sympathies even, between men who, in matters of high concernment, habitually use the same words, and appeal to the same formulas; whereas a difference of language and of symbols creates an almost impassable gulf between man and man.

And in the case of the last quote, from Jonathan Swift:

Lecture XII


§ 2. Permanence of words: conservative influence of the authorized version of the Bible, of Shakespeare, and Milton.

I alluded on a former occasion to the conservative influence of our great writers, and especially of the standard translation of the Bible. The dialect of that translation belongs to an earlier phase of the language, and it far more resembles the English of the century preceding than of its own contemporary literature. Nevertheless, of the somewhat fewer than six thousand words it contains, scarcely two hundred are now in any sense obsolete, or substantially altered in meaning, whereas most of the new or unfamiliar words which it sanctioned have fairly established themselves in our general vocabulary, in spite of the attacks which have been so often made and repeated against them. It would, however, not be fair to compare the language of the English Bible with the dialect of the present day by the individual words alone. The real difference is not wholly in single words, not even in the meaning of them separately considered, but also in combinations of words, phraseological, idioms, or rather idiotisms. The translators of 1611 borrowed many of these from older versions, whose dialect was going out of use, and they now constitute the portion of the authorized Bible which must be regarded as obsolescent. Take, for instance, the expression, "much people." This was once grammatically correct, for the following reasons: People and folk (as well as the Saxon equivalent of the latter, folc), in the singular form, usually meant, in Old English, a political state, or an ethnologically related body of men, considered as a unit, in short a nation, and both people and folk took the plural form when used in a plural sense, just as nation now does. Nation is indeed found in the Wycliffite versions, but it rarely occurs, and Puple or folk in the singular, puplis and folkis in the plural, are generally used where we now employ nations. In Tyndale's time, nation had come into more general use, while people was losing its older signification, and was seldom employed in a plural sense, still more rarely in a plural form. In the translation of 1611, I believe the plural is found but twice. Many is essentially plural, and there is a syntactical solecism in applying it to a noun which itself does not admit of a plural. While therefore the word was hovering between the sense of nation, which may be multiplied, and that of an aggregation of persons, which may be divided, it was natural, and at the same time syntactically right, to say much, rather than many, people. King James's translators, in this, as in many other points, employed the language of the preceding century, not of their own, for in the secular literature of their time people had settled down into its present signification, and conformed to modern grammatical usage.
    An examination of the vocabulary of Shakespeare will show that out of the fifteen thousand words which compose it, not more than about five or six hundred have gone out of currency, or changed their meaning; and of these, some, no doubt, are misprints; some, borrowed from obscure provincial dialects; and some, words for which there is no other authority, and which probably never were recognized as English.
    In the poetical works of Milton, who employs about eight thousand words, there are not more than one hundred which are not as familiar at this day as in that of the poet himself. In fact, scarcely any thing of Milton's poetic diction has become obsolete, except some un-English words and phrases of his own coinage, and which failed to gain admittance at all. On the other hand, the less celebrated authors of the same period, including Milton himself as a prose writer, employ, not hundreds, but thousands of words, utterly unknown to all save the few who occupy themselves with the study of the earlier literature of England. One might almost say that the little volume of Bacon's Essays alone contains as large a number of words and phrases no longer employed in our language, as the whole of Milton's poetical works.
    English, composed as it is of inharmonious and jarring elements, is, more than any other important tongue, exposed to perpetual change from the fermentation of its yet unassimilated ingredients, and it therefore has always needed, and still needs, more powerful securities and bulwarks against incessant revolution than other languages of less heterogeneous composition. The three great literary monuments, the English Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton, fixed the syntax of the sacred and the secular dialects in the forms which they had already taken, and perpetuated so much of the vocabulary as entered into their composition. It is true there are Continental authors of the seventeenth [17th!] century, Pascal for instance, whose style and diction are as far from being antiquated as those of the English classics I have mentioned. Doubtless the great literary merits of Pascal, and the profound interest of the subjects he discusses, did much to give fixedness and stability to the dialect which serves as the vehicle of his keen satire and powerful reasoning, but we cannot ascribe to him so great a conservative influence as to the masterpieces of English literature, because, though French shares in the general causes of linguistic change which are common to all Christendom, it has not the same special tendencies to fluctuation as our more composite speech. Such, in fact, was the unstable character of English during the century which preceded Shakespeare, that, but for the influence of the Reformation and of the three great lodestars we have been considering, it would probably have become, before our time, rather Romance than Gothic in its vocabulary, as well as much less Saxon in its syntax.

In my last page I compared (Romans 8:13) "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die," to the NIV which has it, "according to the sinful nature," instead of "after the flesh," which is not a simpler expression. It doesn't speak to the issue directly as does the King James Version. Don't we have enough troubles explaining salvation to people without muddying the waters?


... Like the Enlightenment thinkers, Romantic poets and philosophers, taking their cue from Rousseau, believed that people are born pure and good and remain so until society corrupts them. They rejected the Judeo-Christian view of nature that had once prevailed, that of the natural world as spoiled by the Fall. For them, nature became instead a symbol of innocence, a contrast to the corruption of society.

"According to the sinful nature," can more easily accommodate romanticism where the nature has been corrupted by society, than can "after the flesh," which doesn't allow "that people are born pure and good." This "after the flesh" being evil is a concept that "new" revelations don't particularly like.

A day in the life of a desert rider352

Better than most Arabs, Abd Umar appreciated how much of the Koran had come to Muhammad through the teachings of Jewish sages, and he approved when the Prophet, hoping to bind the old and the new into one force, made generous efforts to win the Jews to his side. Muhammad had nominated Jerusalem, the city from which he had ascended to heaven, as the locality toward which his followers must turn when they prayed; he had reassured his Jewish neighbors repeatedly that he, like them, was descended from Abraham--through Ishmael in his case; and he had incorporated into his religion all matters which the Jews held most precious: the concept of one God, the visions of Moses, the rectitude of Joseph, the glory of Saul and David and Solomon, and the practical wisdom of Job. To any intelligent mind the religion of Muhammad must be the logical step in the growth of Judaism, and the Prophet waited for the Jews to join him. It was symbolic, perhaps, that when he fled from Mecca to Medina, it was the hospitable Jew Ben Hadad who first welcomed him coming through the Medina gate, and one of the first gestures Muhammad made in his new home was to invite Ben Hadad's people to join him.
    Why had the Jews refused? Why? Abd Umar often wondered, for he could recall the derisive manner in which his father, Ben Hadad, had laughed when Muhammad suggested that he lay aside the Old Book and accept the Koran. When pressed, Ben Hadad said, "I agree with you that there is only one God, but prophecy has ceased." Argument had followed, and Muhammad was as persuasive a logician as any who had ever crossed Arabia, but the Jew had repulsed him with his rocklike faith: "The Torah is all we need."
    Abd Umar could recall the morning on which he said good-bye to Ben Hadad for the last time: he was twenty years old and about to start his caravan on a trip to Damascus when Muhammad and some followers launched a discussion under a nearby tree, and as he heard the inspired message that came from the Prophet's lips he delayed the departure of his camels and listened, realizing for the first time that he--the dark slave of a Jew--was being summoned to a lifelong mission, hearing with awe the revelations of the man from Mecca:
     "When the sun is overthrown,
     And when the stars fall,
     And when the hills are moved,
     And when the camels big with young
     Are left by the wayside,
     And when the wild beasts are herded together,
     And when the seas rise,
     And when souls are reunited,
     And when the girl-child that was buried alive is asked
     For what sin she was slain,
     And when the pages are laid open
     And when the sky is torn away,
     And when hell is lighted,
     And when Paradise comes near,
     Then every soul will know what it has done! 
    At the conclusion of this apocalyptic vision he had prostrated himself before the seer, crying, "I am your servant."
    "Not mine, but Allah's," the Prophet had replied, and at that moment Abd Umar entered into the covenant which had subsequently guided his life, transforming him from a slave into a captain of the faithful.
    In his new-found exaltation he had gone to Ben Hadad, saying, "Father, I've surrendered to the Prophet."
    At first the red-haired Jew had scowled, but then had said generously, "I hope you find comfort."
    "Will you join me?"
    "No, there's one God and for Jews He speaks through the Torah."
    The conviction of Ben Hadad's reply caught his son off guard, but finally the slave understood. "You're a leader, so you have to remain a Jew. But the others ..."
    "Will they join Muhammad?" The merchant laughed. "Son, we're Jews because we believe certain things. None of the others will join."
    The Jew's reply disturbed Abd Umar and he felt obliged to say, "Then this may be the last time I'll take your caravan to Damascus."
    "Son," Ben Hadad replied with humor, "I brought you up to be a man of God. In Damascus the Christians are men of God, too. So is Muhammad. We'll all work together somehow."

The New International Version seems the next step in Christianity just as, "To any intelligent mind the religion of Muhammad must be the logical step in the growth of Judaism." This new book incorporates so very much of the Bible we've come to know, just as Muhammad "had incorporated into his religion all matters which the Jews held most precious: the concept of one God, the visions of Moses, the rectitude of Joseph, the glory of Saul and David and Solomon, and the practical wisdom of Job." But for me, "The [King James Version] is all we need."

What I find curious about Islam is that it fails to admit to the utter hopelessness of salvation by our own works in the flesh as if something good could be found there if we looked hard enough. This is intimated: "when the girl-child that was buried alive is asked/For what sin she was slain," not that the infant could be held accountable but that there had been no birth of sinless human flesh save One. In the NIV it's, "according to the sinful nature," which finds no answer represented, "when the girl-child that was buried alive is asked/For what sin she was slain," if in fact that nature is derived from the influence of society.

Let's compare Ben Hadad's replies with Paul's sermon in Acts 17. "Abd Umar ... could recall the derisive manner in which his father, Ben Hadad, had laughed when Muhammad suggested that he lay aside the Old Book and accept the Koran. When pressed, Ben Hadad said, 'I agree with you that there is only one God, but prophecy has ceased.' Argument had followed." But Paul also addressed the Athenians who liked to debate: (Acts 17:22) "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." "There is only one God." Paul went on to declare Him. "But prophecy has ceased." Well, "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." [to believe in more prophecy, in more gods] The two line up well enough in the KJV, two peas in a pod.

Let's compare the other with the NIV. "There's one God and for Jews He speaks through the Torah." Paul went on to proclaim Him to the Athenians. "Son, we're Jews because we believe certain things. ... In Damascus the Christians are men of God, too. So is Muhammad. We'll all work together somehow." "I see that in every way you are very religious"--NIV. Here his answers line up well enough with Paul's in the NIV.

I'm not saying Ben Hadad is taking after Paul's ministry, only that his answers to Muhammad and to his son line up somewhat with Paul's in the KJV and NIV respectively. Let's see what the differences are. Well, "the derisive manner in which his father, Ben Hadad, had laughed when Muhammad suggested ..." compares to the taunt Paul gives in the KJV saying the Athenians are too superstitious. What happened to the taunt in the NIV?

Why, it moved--in a sermon I heard at least--to (I Kings 18:27) "At noon, Elijah began to taunt them. ..." Taunting displaces the mockery of the KJV, (I Kings 18:27a) "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, ...." So where does the mockery go from I Kings?

Why it goes to wisdom's despairing question which I went into on my last page. (Proverbs 1:22) "Scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge." Or by our New International Version, "mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge." The only difference is between the words scorn and mock.

Mock displaces scorn in this verse. So where then does scorn go? Why, back to Acts 17, where else? To displace the KJV taunt with a scorning statement, "At first the red-haired Jew had
scowled, but then had said generously, 'I hope you find comfort.'"

Paul's opening statement à la NIV that they are oh so religious, is interpretable as high sarcasm as he goes on to pretty much negate all the focus of their religion as the sermon so aptly made clear. God, THE UNKNOWN GOD, is different from their idols. To compliment them on their religiosity and then take away all the foundation of it can be seen as scorn.

The NIV twists it all around.

I have a friend whom I correspond with who at one point (rightly) criticized me for my sarcasm regarding his very religious approach-- combining Islam, Judaism, and Xtianity [sic]. I had to change my tone to even keep my audience. Oh, I can taunt him about it, as he himself taunts me for not being scientific enough or for disregarding the theory of evolution. Saying something like he's too superstitious is honest criticism which doesn't drive him away. But to tell him that he's very religious and then turn around and degrade his religion is interpreted as sarcasm which he will not abide.

I'm not trying to rework a sermon here, just showing that the two books, KJV & NIV, can easily yield different, albeit related, results and I feel safer sticking with the familiar.

Corporate Worship353

Central as is the relation between the separate individual and God, each man needs an experience of life in the great family of God if he is to grow to understand the real nature of that love and the real character of his response to that love, to say nothing of growing to understand and to live creatively with his fellows.
    ... Only in vital action, whether it be symbolic or direct, does thought ripen into truth, and the modern mind would do well not to confuse religion with a state of consciousness. "Thou art man," The Imitation of Christ gently reminds us, "and not God; Thou art flesh and no angel." And Pascal saw that this flesh must be disciplined not alone by thoughts but by acts of love and by corporate acts of worship. "For we must not misunderstand ourselves; we are as much automatic as intellectual; and hence it comes that the instrument by which conviction is attained is not [rationally] demonstrated alone." We become what we do.
    ... We need corporate encouragement to recall and be rededicated to that deep citizenship to which our lives stand pledged. ... This corporate ceremonial communion in any Christian group that is more than occasional in its character carries a sense of historical continuity with a great spiritual tradition. You do not begin this quest nor will it end with you. It has been lived in the world of space and time by others who have gone before. Their lives have irrefutably proved and tested it and lifted it above the realm of speculative ideals and theories. In such corporate worship you become a working member of that great community and you enter the vast company of souls whose lives are opened God-ward. Your life takes on a new perspective in this great communion of the church invisible.

This "historical continuity with a great spiritual tradition" should at the very least employ the well proven King James Version in the traditional service. It's not enough that I merely think King James thoughts about my witnessing--or whatever else the sermon material happens to be on--, but I should habitually hear it preached, not some lame brain NIV which who knows what good it'll do ya?


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403

Contact: feedbackatbibles.n7nz.org

Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

Permission is hereby granted to use the portions original to this paper--with credit given, of course--in intellectually honest non-profit educational material. The material I myself have quoted has its own copyright in most cases, which I cannot speak for but have used here under the fair use doctrine.

I have used material from a number of sources for teaching, comment and illustration in this nonprofit teaching endeavor. The sources are included in a notes file. Such uses must be judged on individual merit, of course, so I cannot say how other uses of the same material might fare.

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Scripture quotations marked NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION or NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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