Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 045:1 (NA 2013)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Derek Wilson. The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version. Oxford: Lion, 2010. 222 pp. Cloth. $24.95

In 2011 the English speaking world celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James, or, Authorized, Version of the Bible. One result of these celebrations was the publication of numerous books and articles on the heritage of the King James Bible. Wilson’s work is among these projects. Written as a popular history, the book will be attractive to non professional readers. However, its brevity and popular style at times obscures, or portrays inaccurately, some of the complexities surrounding the origins and heritage of what has arguably been the most enduring translation of the Bible into English.

Wilson begins with an overview of the background of the English Bible from Wycliffe through the Bishops Bible and Douai-Rheims Bible. This context demonstrates that the King James Bible was not created ex nihilo, but was part of a process. The slow reception of the King James Bible is also noted, for at the time of its issuing the Geneva Bible was more popular. Unlike the Geneva Bible, however, the King James Bible was intended as a political document, that would contribute to the unification of both church and state. In this regard, the translation failed, for during the Civil War of 1642–51, both sides were able to find theological support for their positions from the King James Bible.

The printing history of the King James Bible is also interesting. Readers may be surprised to discover the abundance of typographical and other errors that crept into the King James Bible during the first century and a half of its existence. It was only with the revision of 1769 that a standard version of the King James Bible, the one known today, emerged. Yet, despite these difficulties, by the nineteenth century, the King James Version became “the” Bible of the English speaking world. This fact was true especially in the United States, because “nineteenth-century American English was closer to the language spoken in Britain two hundred years earlier than the English then being spoken in the old mother country” (p. 148), as evidenced in the political speeches of Abraham Lincoln and others.

Yet, the King James Bible was neither perfect, nor immune from improvement, as noted in the last two chapters (pp. 159–202). Rather, with the forces of secularization, the “church language” of the King James became unfamiliar to the common person. Also, with the manuscript discoveries of the nineteenth century, the inadequacies of its base text became more apparent. Thus, new translations became necessary. Wilson noted that the King James translators...

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