There’s been a lot in the press about the Bible, as it’s 400 years since the King James Version was first published. You may believe that the Bible is full of fairy tales, legends and nonsense and is only for the misguided; or you may believe it’s the inspired word of God. Or you may think that the King James version is just wonderful literature. Whatever one’s opinion, most would agree that it’s had a massive influence on the literature, culture and law of our country.
Whenever we talk about something being a labour of love, or a friend being a man after my own heart, or we moan about a thorn in the flesh, which will soon pass: or we find out that someone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or demand crossly if we are our brother’s keeper, or watch the TV programme Ashes to Ashes, or say that we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die – we are quoting from the King James Bible. The phrases have entered so deeply into our language that we don’t even notice them.
What was so great about it? Well, there had been other English translations before. But this was the first time that the King had taken the initiative, and got together the best scholars, and asked them to produce an English translation, which was then officially authorised for use in all the churches. Also for the first time, everyone in the country began to hear the Bible in a language they could understand – previously it had all been in Latin. Add to that Cranmer’s prayer book in English, and people began understanding the services, too.
I strongly suspect that this led to ordinary people being able to think for themselves about religion, in a way that had only been accessible to scholars before. If the Bible had not become available in everyday language, I wonder if even our reformation would have been so widely spread? Once people started comparing the teaching of the Bible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, which at that stage of our history had become very corrupt, they realised that they didn’t have to believe what they had been told by the church, because the original teaching in the Bible was somewhat different.
Provided they could read, of course … that’s why there is such a lot of Bible reading in services, and why the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer are still written up in big letters in so many old churches – because people were taught by constant repetition, until education and literacy caught up.
It caused lots of arguments, of course, and Bible versions still occasion disagreements to this day. I myself grew up with King James, but happen to believe that the Bible is there to be understood, and therefore an accurate modern translation is more accessible and useful.
The Bible (which after all is not a western invention but was slowly and painstakingly put together by scholars in the middle east) is still being translated into languages all over the world, so that people can hear it in their own tongue, the language of the heart. We have various friends involved in this very exacting work, and heard a funny story recently from one who has spent her life painstakingly translating into the Mixtec language of a Mexican tribe. Carol says
“After we revise a book, we check it with other Mixtecs to make sure it speaks clearly and correctly. One checker who often gives valuable input is a market stall lady. Recently I was going over 1 and 2 Thessalonians with her in the market. It was not an ideal place to do this, because of loud music blaring from only two stalls away. But she seemed amazingly adept at tuning it out, to concentrate on my reading, so I persevered. At one point in order to be heard above the din, I found myself literally yelling MAY GOD THE FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST GIVE YOU GRACE AND PEACE! (from 2 Thessalonians 1:2)
It was odd to shout a blessing of Gods peace at the top of ones lungs. But in another way, its so very appropriate – because thats how we often experience it: not just in the quiet, but in the middle of the stresses and noisy busy-ness of our lives.”
“So thats my 2011 blessing prayer for each of you: in the midst of whatever happens, and wherever you may be, MAY GOD THE FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST GIVE YOU GRACE AND PEACE! ”