December 16, 2013

Lessons and Carols at St. Andrew’s

Cover of bulletin
I read the third lesson at A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols yesterday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Highland Park. I read Isaiah 9:2, 6–7 from the Authorized Version.

The passage is very familiar (“For unto us a child is born,” etc.). I had trouble with verse 7, however. In the Authorized Version, the verse reads as follows:
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The first sentence is clearly a run-on sentence. It took a friend to point out that it is a sentence with one too few verbs. Until I realized that, I spent untold time trying to figure out the grammatical structure of the sentence in order to figure out how to read it.

More modern translations render the verse much more sensibly. For example, the New Revised Standard Version offers this version of verse 7:
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The New International Version translates the verse this way:
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
My solution to the reading problem was simply to read verse 7 as if it actually made sense. This seems to have work just fine.

The service, by the way, was glorious. The St. Andrew’s choirs performed to their usual high standards. Yesterday was the first time I had attended a service in the church with its newly installed floor, and I was impressed. Aisles are quarry tile, and hardwood is below the pews. (The center aisle has smaller tiles in two colors bordering the central tiles—a nice touch.) The result is a sound that envelops the listener.


  1. The KJV version makes sense to me. It's a long sentence with subordinate clauses, true, but this is the era of Shakespeare, after all! Perhaps you were thrown by the word "government" which we tend to hear as "the institution" but in the text means "action of governing." Also, "upon" sounds to us like a physical term, but if you think "Blessings and peace be upon you," I think that captures the meaning.

    The modern versions both create two independent clauses rather than the subordination of the original.

    Sounds like it was a lovely event, in any case!

    1. Sorry, Tobias, but I don’t buy it. I don’t have problems with either “government” or “upon.” I think the sentence runs off the rails when it gets “to order it.” There doesn’t seem to be a way to hang this on the text that comes before it. Therefore, one expects to find a following verb and perhaps even a noun that is the subject of the verb. The reader is disappointed on both counts.

  2. Try adding a mental 'so as' in front of 'to order'. Those of us who have performed Shakespeare would know to keep an upper inflection just before and a tiny pause. It makes perfect sense that way.

    1. I think I’ll just try to avoid this reading in the future.

  3. I thought you did a great job with this reading, Lionel--and thank you for participating in the service. Certainly one of the characteristics of Early Modern English is the elision of assumed constructions. We hear a nice remnant of that in the classic Pittsburghese, "my car needs fixed." In any event, the conversation reminds me of one of my favorite little songs:


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