Updated: Oct 6
McGrath, Alister. In the Beginning - The Story of the King James Bible, Great Britain. Hodder and Soughton. 2001.
The author describes on pages 1-3 the simple and straightforward purpose of his book. He seeks to explain the complex history behind the development of the King James Bible, which he calls “a powerful social, economic, and political text.” He thus describes both the Byzantine politics of Tudor and Jacobean England, the hopes and fears of English Monarchs (and would be archbishops), as well as the surge of confidence and pride in England in its national language, all of which contributed to the development of the King James Bible.
As far as the detailed analysis of the history behind the development of the King James Bible is concerned, this book, by an atheist turned Christian, is above par. The authors grasp of the data is both impressive, as well as comprehensive (yet selectively comprehensive - choosing his material judiciously). His ability to grasp the political, economic, social, and cultural factors which propelled the development of the King James Version gives a much needed overview to the issue which, historically, for many people of faith, has been treated rather superficially.
It is highly interesting to discover that the concept of individualism, which permeates American Society, actually came to the forefront during the Protestant Reformation. As a corollary to this, on Page 39 there is a description of what could be characterized as a nascent form of the modern contemporary church movement which includes a de-emphasis on “external aspects” of the faith (like church attendance) and yet also demanding a form of Christianity that was “relevant to their personal experience and private worlds.”
Several ideas of criticism could be offered in relation to this text:
First, it would be wise to change the synopsis on the back of the book. It is stated, “Yet more than a literary influence and even more than a religious influence, it was seen as a social, economic, and political text.” This statement tends to minimize and does not adequately / accurately describe the King James Bible’s primary impact (religious). Nor does it seem in congruence with the authors sentiments on pp 1-3, where he acknowledges all of these impacts, but merely states that the Bible’s impact goes “far beyond personal religious devotion and faith.”
Secondly, It would be good to have a postscript (to encourage further study) that shows the continuance, strength, and viability of the KJV in relation to the 500 versions (900 if you include parapharases) since the KJV. This would probably not be an option based on the man’s personal beliefs (as clarified next).
Thirdly, McGrath (a man trained in historical theology) wades into deep textual waters when he begins to discuss the differences in translations based on various manuscripts. He is obviously inclined toward the Alexandrian text type (245) and uses this as a means to promote a revision of the KJV since it was translated from “slightly less reliable” manuscripts. He would do better to stick with his historical approach and leave the above discussions to others more qualified.
Fourthly, On pages 302, 309, McGrath hints at an idea that could be more fully elucidated, rather than just opinionated, that of updating the language of the King James Version, which McGrath states is a "necessity.". The following phrase is mockingly used to minimize those who "insist that we retain the King James version as the only English translation of the Bible" for English speaking people: He states, “ 'If the King James Bible was good enough for St. Paul, then it is good enough for me.' The idea of inspiration, which was originally applied to biblical texts in their original languages, now came to be applied to the English translation of the King James Bible itself.”
Finally, It would be an interesting addition to this book to more fully approach the various modern viewpoints in relation to the KJV (Faith-based, Scientific / Naturalistic, and Extremist). The idea of revision of the KJV is perfectly acceptable to McGrath and many others (309-310), but is anathema to other segments of the religious community. Would revision be acceptable to a Faith based perspective? It is obviously not acceptable to the extremist viewpoint, but it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, by the naturalistic / scientific scholars.