Do Anglicans have an ‘official’ bible for family, pew, and pulpit use? This was a question posed a while ago with no quick answer. The term “Authorized” involves a number of particulars. First, ‘authorized’ refers to the 1604 Hampton Court Conference whereupon King James wished there be a CofE text to rival the Geneva Bible. The Geneva bible could be obtained cheaply and was portable, having both footnotes and cross references which promoted presbyterian doctrine, bound together with Calvin’s catechism. It thus found its way quickly into English households. The intent of King James, so to speak, was to purge England of such non-Anglican domestic ‘study bibles’ (including the 1582 Douay-Rheims). King James also recognized the incompleteness of the Elizabeth’s translation under AB Parker.
Secondly, ‘authorized’ indicates liberty to print. The King reserved a monopoly on publishing, the seal of England allowing privileged material to be legally printed and circulated. Eventually, the KJV supplanted earlier pulpit use translations, namely the Bishop’s Bible, because universities ceased publication of the older black letter books.
The KJV is based upon the 1568 Bishop’s Bible. The Bishop’s Bible, in turn, is a kind of compilation of the 1560 Geneva and 1538 Great Bibles. The Geneva Bible was the design of Marian exiles in Switzerland (Wittingham and Gilby with Coverdale helping) while the Great Bible was borne from collated work of William Tyndale. Tyndale wrote a vernacular of the New and Old Testament in English (and was burnt for it). Coverdale then inserted a Psalter while smoothing over differences Tyndayle vs. the Vulgate, thereby somewhat securing a continuity of text between medieval Catholicism to reformed Anglicanism.
Otherwise known as “the Chained Bible”, the Great Bible, not unlike other reformation bibles of the time, was bound with the 1536 Ten Articles and a Preface written by Cranmer. The Great Bible is the first of a series of ‘authorized’ bibles appointed for pulpit readings. The Henrican Injunctions required the Book to be accessible in a ‘convenient place within the church’, i.e., outside the chancel, for the people. Articles were included inside and read periodically during worship. When Elizabeth commissioned the 1568 Bishop’s book, the Ten Articles briefly continued but then was soon replaced by the Queen’s Eleven. In 1563 the Act of Uniformity finally incorporated the Thirty-Nine. Inclusions of Articles into the appointed Bibles of both Henry and Elizabeth served to catechize England, and was not unlike Geneva or Wittenburg types which included confessions and/or catechisms. Also interesting was the BCP calendar published at the beginning of the KJ, demonstrating the interlocking nature of the Bible, Prayer Book, and Articles.
Curiously enough, until the restoration, the only bible version officially appointed in public worship was the Bishop’s Bible. The 1604 Convocation regularized the Bishop’s Book as sole translation not only for pulpit readings and lectern display but BCP text as well. Meanwhile, through all BCP revisions, the Coverdale’s Psalter persisted (as it was well-suited for chanting). Upon the Restoration, the 1662 Act of Uniformity replaced the Bishop’s Book with the 1611 KJV by way of the new BCP, and King James has remained the official text for church-use ever since. Meanwhile, the Bishop’s Bible, a.k.a. the “the voluminous book” as called by Laudian disciplinarians, gradually fell to disuse given cessation of publishing prevented replacement. Geneva declined as well– in part to the KJV’s excellency of prose, scholarly foundations, as well as example in church usage– the KJV becoming the domestic book of English-speaking Christians.
Over the last four-hundred years several KJV revisions (the safest and most sound being the 1769) have come and gone, leaving the notion of an ‘authorized’ text more a set of criteria than a single, absolute manuscript. The ‘rules’ or guidelines defining what is potentially ‘authorized’ were established by King James and are posted below (quoted directly from the 1611):
The Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the Bible
1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.
7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.
15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.
The conservatism of KJ is apparent. Extracting from the ‘rule’ above, the foundation of all ‘authorized’ translations is, first, the Bishop’s Bible (#1, “as little altered as the Truth of the original permit”). Added to this intrinsic conservatism, the KJ translation aimed for catholic sensibility– favoring episcopacy (#3 ‘the old ecclesiastical words to be kept’) and the consensus fidelum (#4). As a consequence of the KJV’s catholicity, forty-seven learned ministers (high churchman like Bp. Andrewes amongst) were summoned from all quarters of the Realm, representing the Church, King, and University (#8-#13). The KJV is thus the most conservative example of an Erastian polity backing a catholic reformation, which indeed was the Protestant project. These rules, therefore, illustrate the essence of catholic protestantism.
Do modern versions, i.e., the ESV, NIV, NJB, or N/RSV, fall within this same criteria as Canterbury claims? When bible revisions are proposed, often more is at stake than fidelity to style. Sadly, the translations of the last hundred years (or so) have proven footholds for Marxist-modernist ideology, introducing not only goofy democratic worldviews (by pronoun and dubious textual revisions) but muting the manner we engage in formal discourse. A friend recently noted how liturgy shapes both public and ecclesisal thought:
“If we want to be orthodox Christians, it’s not enough that we have the right ideas about the harder concepts of Christianity (the Trinity, Incarnation). We have to talk about them in the right way. We see this more clearly in our political debates (“pro-life” v. “anti-choice”), but it’s true in our ecclesiology as well. This is largely a matter of obedience to our spiritual masters and teachers. They’ve wrestled long and hard to develop our Christian terminology. Who are we to blot it out and remake it to fit our convenience or unformed intellects? There’s a practical aspect to this, too. Because the old terms have been wrestled with for so long, their meanings in the theological context are very rich. Day-to-day we don’t think much, for example, about any difference between “distinction” and “difference,” but the difference in formal theology is between sublime truth and damnable error.”
Cambridge will celebrate the KJV’s quatrocentenary April 27th 2011. For Churchmen who lament the passing of Anglican identity, let’s keep this one on our calendar. Maybe hold an outside prayer meeting with placards reading “king james only”, “happy birthday King james”, etc..?