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The People’s Bible
The Remarkable History of the King James Version
by Derek Wilson
Published:21 October 2011
Still available as a hardback ISBN 978-0-745-95351-9 £14.99 29/9/11 Editor
Not surprisingly, there has been a rash of books to mark the 400th Anniversary, in 2011, of the King James Version of the Bible; what popular historian Derek Wilson calls ‘the most influential book in world history’. It is an extraordinary story, and this wide ranging book should do much to bring it alive for you, as it takes us back to the centuries before there was a King James Version and then updates the story with the proliferation of Bible translations in recent years. Wilson starts by taking us back to a time when it was ‘heresy’ to translate the Bible into English at all. To do so cost Wycliffe and Tyndale, both of whom are profiled at some length in this book, their lives. The only approved edition was the Latin Vulgate, dating from c. 404, and it was the middle of the 16th century before English editions did finally appear, most notably the Geneva Bible and the Great Bible.
The central part of the book analyses the KJV itself, and its formation through the work of 6 teams, each of between 7 and 10 men, meeting in Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster over the years following the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, and working under strict guidelines set out by King James. There are some very interesting pen portraits of a few of the leading team members.
Derek Wilson is quite candid about the shortcomings of the KJV. For all its beauty, ‘It was very much a book of its time – a magnificent achievement but not without its faults.’ Its makers opted for language that would be ‘respectable, uncontroversial, “safe”’ that was ‘dated before the book hit the marketplace’. The layout of its pages was ‘obstinately and deliberately archaic’. There was ‘mounting concern’ about the inaccuracies of the KJV as early as the 17th century, as more and more accurate manuscripts have come to light. You can’t imagine Wilson siding with those who view the KJV as ‘God’s final and perfect word to the English-speaking world.’ To do so is ‘to lapse into idolatry’.
An extraordinary story, yes, told with verve. But let’s be sure it is God we revere, the God who speaks and whose Word became flesh, and not any one version of the Bible.
Reviewer: Barry Vendy (29/09/11)