Sunday, July 10, 2011

The KJV at 400

Yesterday, the American Bible Society in New York City hosted "On Eagles' Wings," a symposium commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Four academic lecturers spoke at length on different aspects of the subject, from the political machinations that helped inspire the King James Version of the Holy Bible to contemporary efforts in the Caribbean to standardize Christian worship. After the lectures, producer-director Norman Stone screened his new film KJB: The Book That Changed the World. The daylong celebration complements the exhibition that opened Friday at the Museum of Biblical Art titled "On Eagles' Wings: The King James Bible Turns Four Hundred," which runs through September 18. The two institutions are located at 1865 Broadway (at 61st Street).

It actually requires at least one day of lectures, Q&A, film, and display of Bibles to broach the topic of the KJV and its global significance. What began as one item on a lengthy list of grievances submitted to King James I of England by a council of Puritan elders seeking religious liberty culminated in the production of a sacred text on which diverse religious and political factions could agree. Fifty scholars -- linguists, theologians, classicists, and more -- collectively dubbed God's Secretaries, labored for seven years to produce a Bible for not only England, but for the Americas also.

Dr. David Norton
David Norton is Professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His first book, A History of the Bible as Literature, won the Conference on Christian Literature Book of the Year Award in 1994. He edited the text of the King James Bible for Cambridge University Press. Dr. Norton is a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities. His latest book is The King James Bible: a Short History from Tyndale to Today published by Cambridge University Press.

Being first to speak, he had the biggest job of explaining history, theology, publishing, and related contexts, beginning with the evolution of Christian holy texts in the centuries previous to the coronation of Scotland's King James VI as England's King James I. Parts of the story are deceptively simple. For instance, 83 percent of the KJV text is the language of William Tyndale's Bibles of the 1520s and '30s. Tyndale (1494?-1536) was an early translator of Bibles for English readers, which made him a man wanted by authorities of both church and state. To avoid arrest, he fled to Europe where the publishing took place, however a reprinting of his revised New Testament was run in 1535 under the patronage of Anne Boleyn, and is the first volume of Holy Scripture printed in England. A skilled translator of Greek with a gift for language, Tyndale produced reliable texts that established a standard for Reformation thinking. He was arrested by Catholic authorities in Antwerp in 1535, and was tried, executed, and burned.

The major Bibles used in England that followed in Tynedale's path include the Coverdale and Matthew versions of the 1530s and, more significantly to this story, the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishops' Bible (1568) -- both Reformation favorites -- and the Rheims New Testament (1582), a standard text in Roman Catholic churches. It was the Bishops' Bible's 1602 edition that was the Church of England's standard text at the time James commissioned a new version; Norton used Powerpoint to illustrate some telling differences between the two.

Frontispiece of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible.

The frontispiece of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible is a busy piece of printing. To decode some of it: At top, the Tetragrammaton. Left side, representations of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Right, the Twelve Apostles. Beneath the text, a lamb, slaughtered and seemingly ready for the spit. The Four Evangelists are at the corners outside the text area.

Frontispiece of the first edition of the King James Bible, 1611.

The frontispiece of the first edition of the King James Bible retains some of the same imagery. The Tetragrammaton (cut off in this photo) is at top. The Apostles underneath, with the Agnus Dei. The Evangelists remain at the cardinal corners of the text box. What's new is Moses and Aaron flanking the text, and in the text itself is the conspicuous credit: "by His Majesty's special commandment," a controversial hint at giving James almost godly authority, a phraseology that would be abandoned in 1629.

The title pages of the 1602 Bishops' Bible and the first King James Bible.

A comparison of the two title pages reveals a few differences, like the promise of a new text based on translations of the original tongues, which isn't exactly the case. Hebrew and Aramaic of course would be the original languages for the books of the Hebrew Bible on which the Old Testament is based; and Greek would have been the mother tongue from which to translate original New Testament books. As stated above, based on what several of the lecturers said yesterday, 83 percent of the KJV comes from Tynedale's Bible. So what are the differences?

Let me start with language. Four hundred years on, we reflect on the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras as the birth of modern English and the golden age of English prose and poetry. Shakespeare, Milton, and their remembered contemporaries are, to most, the fathers of our language. At their time however, things were different. The people of the English-speaking world c. 1600 would have laughed at the notion that their mother tongue could in any way comprise an art form. The term "English literature" would have been considered an oxymoron, Norton said, and the KJV revolutionized nothing on its advent in 1611; it would be decades later, years even after the death of its patron king, when the KJV began to be accepted widely (the Geneva, for one, was an enduring favorite), and it wouldn't be until the 18th century that it became the Bible of the English-speaking Christian world. This Bible, Norton added, holds a unique status. There were other Bibles, but the KJV from 1660 on was the Scriptural text that served as a book of both truth and language, and over the next century and a half, when people eventually caught up to it in the mid 18th century, it became the English-speaking Protestants' word of God. This must be appreciated for the feat that it is, considering that dialects were many and varied in England itself, never mind the diversity found in the Americas and elsewhere.

There were folio-size editions for the clergy's use in church, and there were quartos for sale to individuals and families for use at home, but that's largely just commerce. To be clear, the King James Bible was crafted specifically for being read aloud in church.

The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

It is one of the most famous verses in English letters, theology notwithstanding.

Words, phrases, and understanding are the crux of translation, and when revising a text already in the same language, the decision to not change something is equally potent as the act of changing a word, phrase, or understanding.

William Tyndale's New Testament c. 1530, Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"That which was from the beginning declare we unto you, which we have heard which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life. For the life appeared, and we have seen, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the father, and appeared unto us. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you that ye may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the father, and his son Jesus Christ. And this write we unto you, that our joy may be full. And this is the tidings which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

The Bishops' Bible of 1568, Gospel of John, Chapter 1, 1-5:

"In the begynnyng was the worde, & the worde was with God: and that worde was God. The same was in the begynnyng with God. All thynges were made by it: and without it, was made nothyng that was made. In it was lyfe, and the lyfe was the lyght of men, And the lyght shyneth in darkenesse: and the darknesse comprehended it not."

What also distinguishes the KJV from previous Bibles is the absence of marginal notes. These brief doctrinal notes next to the Scriptural verses existed to offer context and clarity, but to King James, some of them were intolerable. The Geneva Bible is the Bible of the Reformation, of the Puritans, and the Pilgrims; it was the first Bible brought to America and was the standard text for Christian worship in America until the KJV came to dominate. In the Geneva Bible's John 1 there were notes opining opposition to monarchial rule. To James, as editor-in-chief (he was highly knowledgeable in matters of theology and church) the doctrinal notes generally were undesirable, but those introducing ideas of disobedience to kings especially had to go.

But philosophically, the justification of a new Bible for the Church of England -- James never did succeed at introducing a revised Scripture for his native Church of Scotland -- was stated in the colorful prose of the preface. (The American Bible Society published in 1997 a book containing this introductory message in three formats: 1) a facsimile of the original 1611 pages, 2) the original wording, but in an orthography to accommodate modern American readers, and 3) an entirely modern format, with all Greek and Latin quotations, and all archaic English words and idioms rendered in modern standard English. This book, titled The Translators to the Reader: The Original Preface of the King James Version of 1611 Revisited is available through Amazon and other vendors.) Excerpted: "Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good ... but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavour, that our mark. To that purpose there were many chosen that were greater in other men's eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise."

Dr. Scot McKnight
Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, in Chicago. Dr. McKnight has given radio interviews across the country, has appeared on television and regularly speaks at local churches, conferences, colleges and seminaries in the United States and abroad. Dr. McKnight earned his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham.

McKnight complemented Norton's talk by sharing additional information on the KJV's place in England, explaining there were two main rival texts, the Catholic version of the Holy Bible and the Protestants' Geneva Bible. The latter was very popular, thanks to its quarto size, Roman font, and accessible notes. The Catholic Church's Bible, called the Rheims New Testament, was the first English language Catholic Bible. First published in 1582 in France, it is interesting how the Church did not complete and authorize its own version of the Old Testament until 1610. Both Testaments are based on Jerome's Vulgate, the Latin translation from the fourth century, making them inaccurate and scorned by non-Catholics. At stake was more than who had the best translations of the Hebrew and Greek source materials; the King James Bible was to satisfy both Anglican and Puritan alike, and carry on the Protestant tradition at a time when Roman Catholicism vied for both ecclesiastical supremacy and control of the state.

There were times where choice of specific words had significant implications: church versus congregation; priest versus minister; and baptize versus wash, to cite three examples. The accord of Greek original text with desired context made for the winning formula, and so in devising a New Testament in the best obtainable language based on the original Greek, James I was said to have freed five from prison: the Four Evangelists and Paul the Apostle. In the latter's case, Romans Chapter 5 was cited as an illustrative instance of bearing toward the Greek by replacing "sin" with "offense."

Dr. Euan Cameron
Euan Cameron attended Eton and Oxford Universities, where he graduated with a BA in History and received a D.Phil. He taught History at the University of Newcastle upon Tynein, became the first Henry Luce III Professor of Reformation Church History, at Union Theological Seminary in New York; and held a concurrent appointment in the Department of Religion in Columbia University. From 2004 to 2010, he also served as Academic Vice-President in the seminary.

Dr. Cameron added more context to the story, explaining, among other things, that the King James Version was the right Bible for the right time. Reformation's "heroic confrontational phase" was embodied by William Tynedale early in the previous century, but by the time James had commissioned his Bible, it was time for "a more measured quality" to the voice of the Church of England. It was time for Anglican ascendancy.

However the success of the KJV is not due to its establishment within the Church of England alone. It is because it is the embodiment of the Reform-minded Christian message that all the faithful can embrace.

Mr. Norman Stone, director and producer of KJB: The Book That Changed the World.

After the lectures, it was time for the film premiere and discussion with the director of KJB: The Book that Changed the World. Produced and directed by Norman Stone, this 90-minute film documents the creation and significance of the King James Bible. Created for the translation's 400th anniversary, it features acclaimed British actor John Rhys-Davies as chief storyteller and guide.

Stone was youngest television producer/director at the BBC. He wrote and produced the highly acclaimed A Different Drummer about the blind and deaf Cornish poet Jack Clemo in 1980. Four years later, his career was established with the international success of Shadowlands, a drama on the love and grief of C.S. Lewis.

The movie tells of the turbulent politics (e.g. the Fawkes plot) of the Jacobean era and the intrigues in both state and church that were behind the creation of this holy text that changed the world. Click here to view the trailer of KJB: The Book that Changed the World.

As always, any errors or omissions in the reporting here are mine, and not the speakers'.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for this, Mr. Magpie.

In the Geneva Bible's John 1 there were notes opining opposition to monarchial rule.

This is the part that jumped out at me, and most germane to our discussions of Calvinist resistance theory! Anyone? Bueller?

Phil Johnson said...

Nice paper, Magpie.
I'd give you an A - .


Tom Van Dyke said...

Several times The Anglicans themselves burned Copies of the King James Version, a example of this was the 1631 printing somtimes know as the "Wicked Bible" because of a error made by the Printer Robert Barker. The word "not" was left out of the 7th commandment say it said "Thou shalt commit adultery".

Heh heh. More here.

There's much more to all these stories. Tyndale had made himself an enemy of Henry VIII for opposing his divorce. Tyndale was executed by the civil authority of the [German] Holy Roman Empire, which is reputed to have been neither Holy, Roman, or an empire.

He was indeed found guilty by Catholic authorities for heresy. Among his heresies:

St. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. Tyndale translated the term baptism into "washing;" Scripture into "writing;" Holy Ghost into "Holy Wind," Bishop into "Overseer," Priest into "Elder," Deacon into "Minister;" heresy into "choice;" martyr into "witness;" evangelist into "bearer of good news;" etc., etc. Many of his footnotes were vicious. For instance, Tyndale referred to the occupant of the Chair of Peter, as "that great idol, the whore of Babylon, the anti-Christ of Rome."

Even King Henry VIII in 1531 condemned the Tyndale Bible as a corruption of Scripture. In the words of King Henry's advisors: "the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people, and not be suffered to go abroad among his subjects." Protestant Bishop Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's Bible.

[Henry VIII had already quit the Roman church by this time.]

It's quite true that all involved did not taking messing with the Holy Scriptures lightly. The linked Catholic apologetic above chronicles also the many such fights among Protestants on translating the scriptures.

The facile notion that Tyndale was executed by Roman Catholic Church for daring to translate the Bible into English isn't exactly how it all went down. As with most of these things, it's more complicated than that.

Daniel said...

Tom, some of those "errors" that you cite are legitimate choices of a translator. Certainly "martyr" means witness and "evangelist" means bearer of good news, and "heresy" means to choose for oneself. Words like bishop, overseer, priest, deacon, are highly contextual. And the same Greek word does mean spirit, wind, and breath, although the context within the writing should make the meaning obvious in most cases.

I would say that Thomas Moore's complaints about translation errors are more about ideology than exact translation. That said, your larger point that we tend to get an over-simplified version of events is very true. Tyndale was a bit more than just a translator.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that's all I was saying, Daniel. For example the Roman Church's rule in heresy trials---which were conducted under civil authority, not ecclesiastical authority---was to determine that the person actually was guilty of heresy and not just railroaded by the civil authorities for political reasons.

This was actually the case in the Spanish Inquisition, where King Ferdinand was seizing the property of the conversos [converted Jews]. In fact, "inquisitions" had operated for centuries, with the Church responsible for seeing they were carried out fairly. It's difficult to imagine that the Church's role in the Spanish Inquisition was to moderate it, but recent studies indicate just that.

According to this source

"In Britain, 30,000 went to the stake for witchcraft; in Protestant Germany, the figure was 100,000"

I don't believe the numbers under Catholicism nearly approach that. The 1994 BBC special "Myth of the Spanish inquisition" says that

As the program documents, the 3,000 to 5,000 documented executions of the Inquisition pale in comparison to the 150,000 documented witch burnings elsewhere in Europe over the same centuries.

It's difficult to imagine "The Inquisition" as a good thing. But there were worse things, like the civil authorities using religion as a political weapon, or civil authority being unable to constrain mass hysteria [which is the modern reading of the Salem Witch Trials].

As for trying to get into their heads back then, Catholics and battling sects of Protestantism alike all believed that the Bible was the Word of God, and that messing with it was more than exercise of religious conscience or a difference of opinion; it was messing with God and His Word itself.

And since society itself was based on Christianity being true---Catholic France or Protestant Geneva [and certainly the Church of England!]---heresy was also an offense against society and/or the state, very serious business and why the civil authorities were involved as well.

I don't fight your reading of Thomas More, but as we see, Henry VIII and his C of E staff didn't like the Tyndale either. I would think there's more to the charge of "2000 errors" than lightly touched on here.

[Sorry I got off on a tangent, but I hit the books after reading the throwaway line on Tyndale, and it brought back the entire "Black Legend" bit. And since the readers of this blog tend to buy into it, I thought a more fleshed-out objection here was a propos, the Tyndale story being typical of such "common knowledge" about the sins of the Roman Church.]

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

This is fascinating [at least to me]. The Roman Church commissioned Thomas More to write rebuttals to Tyndale in English [the "vulgate"], very rare indeed.

And Tyndale replied in kind. The battle wasn't just over translating the Bible, but of Catholicism vs. Protestantism itself, Tyndale defending sola scriptura, More saying [and quoting the Bible itself] to allege it's impossible.

As the author says,

At any rate, both Tyndale and More were scholarly apologists for their respective beliefs and finally martyrs for these beliefs, so it is hard to imagine two better candidates for a Protestant-Catholic theological disputation.

The stakes were much higher than mere translation!

Daniel said...

Very interesting link, Tom.

Anonymous said...

A somewhat secondary point within Magpie's fine report, but this struck me as wrong:

The people of the English-speaking world c. 1600 would have laughed at the notion that their mother tongue could in any way comprise an art form. The term "English literature" would have been considered an oxymoron, Norton said....

Certainly many Elizabethans were fiercely insistent that their language could produce literature as great as that of the Continent, or of the classical world. For example, Francis Meres wrote "Wits Treasury" in 1598 as "A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets, with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." (It's most famous for being the earliest reference to many of Shakespeare's plays, and Shakespeare himself is compared to Ovid, Seneca and Plautus.)

Jeffrey Kramer

Anonymous said...

Adam Nicolson's book -- God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible -- stresses how much the translation project began as a way of protecting the established church and keeping the Puritans in their place. For example, in the More vs Tyndale list discussed above by Tom and Daniel, it seems the KJB almost always took More's side and used the "Catholic" term (e.g., "priest" rather than "presbyter").

Jeffrey Kramer

Phil Johnson said...

Hey, Jeff!
Are you familiar with a guy named Luwdig Wittgenstein?

Anonymous said...

Phil: is that a roundabout way of suggesting that I cannot speak thereof and thus must be silent? :-)

Jeffrey Kramer

Phil Johnson said...

I cannot speak thereof and thus must be silent?
heh heh
Not at all.
It's just that Wittgenstein is seen as somewhat of the twentieth century standout on language and its usage.
I'm wondering what Ludwig would have to say.

Magpie Mason said...

To address Mr. Kramer's two comments:

1. I don't doubt what you say about the status of Elizabethan English in the eyes of many at the time, but I took Dr. Norton to mean the Man In The Street, and not authors and other elites who would have had a wider perspective.

2. You are right on as regard Thomas More. That actually was said by one of the lecturers, and it's in my illegible notes. I omitted it from my post because I failed to recognize its significance.

Interestingly, it was the film that was screened that suggested perhaps James I would have omitted Presbyter to avoid the appearance of favoring his Scottish background.

But thank you all for the encouragement, and all the comments.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil, I'll give the Wittgenstein some thought. But thse tall weeds are unnecessary.

I've often heard the classic Protestant argument that "Peter" as rock doesn't mean "rock" as in the papacy, "the chair of St. Peter."

Didn't know it originated with Tyndale! No wonder he was such a big deal and enemy of the church. The core Protestantism vs. the papacy argument is here:

The issue is whether or not those verses indicate that Christ instituted the church as authority rather than scripture, and this point More’s argument succeeds in making. Next, More quotes a pronouncement of the Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15:28: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . ." Here, More argues, is scriptural evidence that the church in apostolic times understood the Holy Spirit as guiding it in an unwritten way. Again, Tyndale does not respond.

Finally, More refers to Matt. 16:18: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." More cites this verse as scriptural evidence that Christ’s church was founded upon a person rather than a text, and that that person was the first of the papal succession.

Tyndale interprets the rock to mean Peter’s faith (Tyndale 31), but this interpretation is strained since the Greek word for Peter and rock are the same. Tyndale also contests that several early fathers did not interpret Matt. 16 in terms of the papacy (Tyndale 132), but More replies reasonably that the Greek church did not officially and collectively recognize the primacy of the Roman see for several centuries (More 8:132).

When More claimed in his Dialogue that Protestants ought to accept the unwritten word as well as the written word from the Church, Tyndale replies that "when I have read the scripture, and find not their doctrine there, nor depend thereof, I do not give so great credence unto their other doctrine, as unto scripture" (Tyndale 137). However, More demonstrates that scripture does contain the Catholic doctrine of church authority, and does indicate that there are unwritten matters outside scripture which are necessary to believe."

There it is, sola scriptura vs. the "magisterium."

secularsquare said...

The catholic-protestant quarrel continues in certain fundamentalist circles. Most modern bibles are based upon Nestle's critical text. In preparing this text, he used among others the Vaticanus B manuscript. Therefore, some fundies claim all nonKJV bibles are really Roman Catholic bibles in disguise. They prefer the the Greek critical text of Erasmus as revised by Beza. (nevermind that Erasmus was Catholic.) Also, some fundies use the KJV translation as the standard to assess the newer translations as here:

Phil Johnson said...

The Devil wrote this thing.

..There ya go....

secularsquare said...

And don't forget the self attesting evidence of numerology in the KJV. Nine is the numerical symbol of fruitfulness: Abraham was ninety and nine when he received the promise of the covenant child Isaac. There are nine fruits of the holy spirit, listed in Galatians, the ninth book of the New Test.
And how many letters are there in "holy bible?"--nine. How many letters are there in "KIng James?"--nine. When did the KJV makes its debute? 1611. 1+6+1+1=9. So if you want spiritual fruit in your lives, use the true Word of God--the kKJV

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh heh, SS. Indeed, one can dispense with critical biblical scholarship and exegesis just by claiming the KJV itself is inspired by the Holy Spirit. [And some do.]

What a labor-saving device! Who needs learning all that boring Greek and Hebrew? God wrote the Bible in English, the way it's supposed to be.

Phil Johnson said...

God wrote the Bible in English, the way it's supposed to be.
You mean that you just recently discovered that?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I thought He wrote it in Latin.