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The Story of the King James Version

Gordon Campbell

The 3rd review is simply titled ‘Bible’ with the subtitle, ‘The story of the King James Version 1611-2011’. The author, Gordon Campbell is Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester. The book has been published by Oxford University Press.

The first chapter relates the history of the translation of the Bible into the English Language, mentioning Bede, the Vulgate, Wyclif (Wycliffe) and then on to Tyndale etc. It is a delightful and quick retelling of a sweep of history that does not neglect pointing out the derivation of so many of the phrases that we now treat as part of our heritage. It was Tyndale who first penned ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you’, along with phrases like ‘fight the good fight’ and ‘the powers that be’, it was also his choice of words like congregation rather than Church, senior rather than priest, and repent instead of do penance that got him on the wrong side of Sir Thomas More and ultimately the executioners axe. Coverdale, translating out of Dutch (actually German – and the reference is a corruption of the word Deutsch) that gave us phrases like ‘loving kindnesses’ and ‘tender mercies’ when bringing the Psalms into English. Coverdale also gave us the sentences like, ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is nigh’ (altered in the AV with an additional ye and a near). Coverdale altered Tyndale’s ‘go into your master’s joy’ to the lovely ‘enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’. As he moves through the history and gets to the Geneva Bible we are given an ever so short précis of the Frankfurt disputations that led to Knox, Whittingham etc. being in Geneva.

The second chapter takes us through the commissioning of the King James Version arising out of the Hampton Court Conference with the returning Puritans bringing their demands to the King. It shows a little of the debate around the Apocrypha, including Hugh Broughton’s comment that ‘all who make the Apocrypha part of the Holy Bible make God the author of lying fables and vain speech’.

The third chapter takes the reader through the process of translation. It comments that while previous translations had been the work of a small number of individuals, the KJV was a carefully meditated enterprise in which panels of translators worked collaboratively. Nothing comparable had been attempted since antiquity, when the elders of Israel gathered in Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Chapter four looks at the translation itself showing where they made a range of choices, such as, ’to be’ being consistently translated literally as ‘and it came to pass’.

The fifth chapter looks at the printing and different early versions (with He Bible’s and She Bible’s). Chapter Six continues this comparison of editions, including the ‘wicked Bible’ so called for its omission of the word NOT from the 7th commandment. It then moves into the rise of the standard Oxford and Cambridge editions.

The book continues right down to the present. It looks at a range of topics including the Bibles used on the inauguration of American President’s (the Washington Bible – used by Bush and the Lincoln Bible – used by Obama), interestingly it notes that the Washington Bible is lent to the US State by the Free Masons for this purpose. It looks at the rise of modern versions and he simply charts the rise of this different texts. Campbell goes on to note the emergence of the Scofield Bible with its notes and comments but gets right up to modern times with the emergence of the KJV on Kindle machines, in MP3 formats and even on the Nintendo DS.

Sadly we do live in an era when so many people do not read the Bible. As a teacher it is quite common for me to come across young people who do not even know basic Bible stories as stories. Lets hope and pray that in the midst of a pandemic we might once more be picking up the AV and reading it.

August 2020

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