Monday, December 13, 2010

Westminster Conference Report #3

David Gregson on 'The 1611 English Bible: An Unlikely Masterpiece'

 1. A 1000 years of the Bible in Latin in England.

Pre-Tyndale there was no complete Bible in England. According to John Wycliffe the main problem facing the English Church of his day was lack of faith in the Bible. He translated portions of Scripture from the Latin Vulgate into English. Even that was regarded as an act of sedition.  

The Constitustions of Oxford 1409, made reading the Bible in English a crime punishable by death.

The ad fontes emphasis of the Renaissance saw a renewed interest in the original Bible languages, Hebrew and Greek.

The invention of Caxton's printing press in 1476 would enable the easy dissemination of the Bible in English.

The Reformation, beginning 1517, with the posting of Luther's 95 Theses, stimulated Bible translation, giving the Word of God back to the people of God.

2. Revolution brought about by Tyndale's translation of Bible into English

William Tyndale was persecuted by the authorities for wanting to translate the Bible into English. He fled to Europe, where he was  translated the New Testament and a large part of the Old Testament into English before his arrest and execution in 1536.  

Today we have a plethora of translations. We should be grateful that we live after 1611.

3. Other English translations of the Bible into English

Miles Coverdale completed Tyndale's work, finishing the translation of the Old Testament into English. The Matthew's Bible incorporated the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. As Tyndale died he prayed, "Lord open the king of England's eyes". His prayers were answered when Henry VIII proclaimed that a copy  of The Great Bible, largely based on Tyndale's translation should be placed in every parish church in England.

 The Geneva Bible was produced by English Protestants taking refuge in Geneva  during the reign of Queen Mary. It was a study Bible, containing diagrams, maps and a commentary on the text of Scripture. It became the Bible of the Puritans. The Bishop' s Bible, an Anglican translation was a failure.

4. Hampton Court conference that led to 1611 translation of the Bible

The Puritans lobbied King James I for Church reform. The king chaired conference. Bishops were against further reform. It seemed that there were to be no gains for the Puritans. Then John Reynolds suggested a new translation of the Bible. The king agreed. The best Hebrew and Greek scholars in the land were tasked with making a fresh translation.

5. The six companies of translators and the rules they had to follow

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge supplied two companies each.  Another two were based in London.

The translators had to work in accordance with the King's rules - 15 instructions, including:

The Bishop's Bible was to be followed unless Hebrew or Greek demanded revision.

No marginal notes. James  disliked the Geneva Bible because its notes seemed to legitimise the overthrow of kings.

Old ecclesiastica words like 'church'  rather than 'congregation' and 'bishop' rather than 'overseer' were to be retained from the Bishop's Bible.

6. Some of the translators

Lancelot Andrews was a learned man, but a poor pastor. The Seperatist Henry Barrow was executed after being  interrogated by Andrews.

 Lawrence Cheriton was president of Emmanuel College, Oxford. He was a powerful preacher. Once, after speaking for almost two hours, he proposed to stop, but was urged, 'for God's sake, go on'.

7. Final touches to 1611 English Bible

The translation was carefully checked. According to Miles Smith's preface, the aim was to 'Make a good translation better.' His Bible quotes were from the Geneva Bible, not 1611 translation.

8. Use of the Received Text

Based on Erasmus' Greek New Testament.

9. The English used by translators on 1611 Bible

The translators were experts in Classical Greek, hence the elegance and excellence of the 1611 Bible. But the New Testament was in the more common koine Greek. The translators' literary style included many Latinisms. The words 'church' and 'charity', were used rather than 'congregation' and 'love'. The use of 'thee' and 'thou' was declining by 1575, but the translators retained these archaic forms over 'you'.

10. How 1611 replaced Geneva Bible.

James I banned the printing of the Geneva Bible. Archbishop William Laud suppressed the Geneva translation. By the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the 1611 Bible had surged ahead of the Geneva Bible.  USA settlers took the 1611 version with them to the New World.

11. 1611 Never authorised

The word 'authorised' was  not used in relation to the 1611 Bible until 1824.

12. An unlikely masterpiece

Despite its origins in the failed (from the Puritan point of view) Hampton Court Conference, and the doubtful character of some of the translators, the 1611 Bible was a masterpiece that had a massive impact on the religious life of the English speaking peoples of the world and  English language. It's phrases are now part of everyday speech,  'Am I my brother's keeper?',  'sown the wind, reap the whirlwind', 'signs of times', 'looking unto Jesus'. Interestingly, most of these examples derive from Tyndale.

With next year marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of the 1611 Bible, we should certainly thank God for this landmark translation of his Word into English.

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