Continuing Home

The ongoing saga of a Continuing Anglican church home, as seen by a member of the laity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The making of the King James Bible

A couple of weeks ago during our retreat Fr. McGrath had a little gift for each of the Lay Readers, a copy of Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. I had some time for reading while traveling, and more this weekend, and only just finished it.

Now Nicolson is not without biases, that and his slightly different uses of terminology sometimes led me to misunderstand statements earlier on, but once I understood these it was a fascinating read or so many levels. Far more than simply retelling the sequence of events he visits many of the characters, explores the issues and events of the time, and not only looks at the society of that time but provides something of a look at our own society by comparison (we do not always come out the better).

Doubly fascinating to me, since I work a lot with committees these days (with whom a not-insignificant part of their work product is published as books). The care that went into the structure of the committee, the inter-relations between groups, the selection of those who would participate in the various groups, and the dynamics designed to produce unity (or consensus) on the final product. It is only a shame that little record of the Translators' actual work remains.

But Nicholson makes the case for this Bible having been most carefully constructed, every ambiguity or definitiveness carefully selected, and with a majestic voice that reflected neither the English tongue then, before or now. And the consideration of earlier translations -- the Tyndale, the Coverdale, the Geneva...

Although as the book and others have noted, the manuscripts from which this Bible was drawn are no longer the best available, I had already sensed this about the time I read, "The churches and biblical scholarship have, by and large, abandoned the frame of mind which created this translation." Having seen the damage well-meaning but ill-advised committees can wreak upon prior texts, my inclination is to leave it alone.

Thank you, Fr. McGrath! I never had such appreciation before for the KJV.


  • At 11:46 AM, Blogger Anglican Parish Priest said…

    Very thoughtful review.

    Sometimes I think it would be nice to live in Jacobean times, when conformity and cooperation were valued by society, and when "doing something new" or individualistic with Holy Scripture was considered ill-advised and even dangerous. In order to have a society capable of producing the King James Bible,however, there had to at least be a basic sense of shared values. [Of course, there was also a fundamental unity of State and Church, of King and Archbishop.] How times have changed!

    The best feature of the King James Bible is the way it sounds when read aloud in public. If more liturgical Protestant Churches were to rediscover this fact, their worship would be greatly enriched.

    With our multiplicity of Bible versions, is post-modern society actually more biblically literate? I think not. Critical scholarship and the discovery of older manuscripts have done nothing to help biblical literacy.

    The multiplication of scripture version has also had the practical effect of separating Christians - Christians who once shared a powerful and monumental biblical heritage in common. The alphabet soup of versions not-withstanding, I think that the King James Bible will remain as a powerful force for unity amongst Christians, and a pillar of Christian Culture in the English-speaking West.


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