Cover image for In the beginning : the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language, and a culture
In the beginning : the story of the King James Bible and how it changed a nation, a language, and a culture
McGrath, Alister E., 1953-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 340 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Format :


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BS186 .M33 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The King James Bible is the most familiar and widely read Bible translation in the world, recognized for centuries as both a religious and literary classic. But the origins of this masterpiece are far from what one might expect, and its beginnings lie in murder, deceit, bitter political feuds, and religious conflicts so intense they threatened the unity of England. The struggle to translate the Bible into English was a passionate cause, in the name of which crusaders fought, were imprisoned, and were sometimes even executed_like William Tyndale, whose efforts to translate the New Testament into English led him to a gruesome death. Now, Alister McGrath explores the origins of this monumental work and delves into the forces that brought it into being, illuminating a particularly volatile and culturally rich period in European history. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, he was setting into motion an intellectual and cultural revolution that would have implications far beyond the literary world. The first book printed on this remarkable invention was the most important book in Christendom, the Bible, which was published in its Latin translation. Until Gutenberg, ordinary Christians had to go through an elite clergy to get access to the Scriptures that were the foundation of their faith. But this watershed event lit the spark of the Protestant Refomation, whose advocates ultimately demanded, among other things, that the Scriptures be translated into the vernacular languages of the people so that they might experience the Word of God for themselves. Named for the Scottish king who ascended the English throne in 1603, the King James Bible wouldn't be published until 1611, and it was not, in fact, the first Bible to be published in English; but its impact has been profound. Its language has been an inspiration for virtually every great writer since the seventeenth century, and has also provided the style and vocabulary for such different forms of expression as Negro spirituals and the Gettysburg address. For the lover of history, literature, or language,In the Beginningis a book that shouldn't be missed. In bringing the story of the King James Bible to light, it captures a vanished period of history in vivid, compelling detail, and will more than prove Roberth Lowth's famous assertion that the King James translation is the "noblest monument of English prose."

Author Notes

Alister McGrath is currently professor of theology at Oxford and principal of Wycliffe Hall. He is a consulting editor, general editor and author of several books. He lives in Oxford, England.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The peculiar history of the King James Bible highlights the power of marginal notations to destabilize a nation and command the anxious attention of a monarch. McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford University, recounts the production of this translation, the forces that allowed for its genesis and its influence on modern English, the history of England and the faith of millions since its 1604 publication. Although his "great men" emphasis on "doing" history offers few new insights and is embedded in a narrative that scans in overly broad strokes the intriguing circumstances of the Bible's production, this remains an engaging chronicle. McGrath frames the context for the KJV in phenomena such as the English church during and after Henry VIII's reign, the incendiary creativity of the translation process, the explosive force for change unleashed by the technological breakthrough of the printing press and the rise of nationalism. McGrath also situates the KJV as more immediately provoked by the English-language Geneva Bible, produced by self-exiled "radical" English Protestants in that republican city, during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor. As McGrath explains, prefaces to each book of Scripture and extensive interpretive notes offered in "plain English" account largely for the popularity the Bible enjoyed among laypersons hungry to read the word of God. This is a tale ripe for the telling; one wishes the execution were more satisfying. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Many today tend to take the Bible for granted and fail to recognize its permanent influence upon politics, literature, and law. During the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the availability of the scriptures in the vernacular inspired a revolution of free thought culminating in concepts of constitutional government and democracy whose impact upon the world continues to the present day. The far-reaching implications of the printing press, the rise of English as a national language, and the Reformation all closely bound to the history of the vernacular Bible figure prominently in the narrative of both of these new histories of the King James Bible. Wide as the Water (beginning with the early development of Christianity in Britain and ending with the period of the American Revolution) details the unique stamp of the English people upon Bible translation through the lives of early reformers such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. Although the history of the English Bible is covered in a concise and informative way, In the Beginning primarily focuses upon the translation of the King James Bible and is richly illustrated. Each work supplies a chronology and a comparison of major English translations of the most well known passages. McGrath's book contains informative appendixes which are unique to his work: "The Evolution of the English Bible," "King James Translators, by Company and Assignment," and "Richard Bancroft's Rules to be Observed in the Translation of the Bible." Both books are a pleasure to read. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Wide as the Waters was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.] Michael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

McGrath, one of the UK's leading Christian theologians (Oxford Univ.), turns his attention from issues of science and theology and Christian doctrine to tell a story of the production of the King James Bible. He begins with the invention of the printing press and the social and theological dynamics of the Continental Reformation. McGrath discusses early English translations but focuses on the social, theological, and political contests in the British Reformation that led to the new translation. The bulk of his study examines the decision to commission the translation, its administrative and material production, and its nature as a biblical translation. The book ends with shorter sections on the translation's reception, in which McGrath emphasizes its role within British history and culture, with only brief attention to North America. This work is at its strongest when placing the movement toward the King James Bible within the political and theological dynamics of the English Reformation, though one gets the impression that the English Puritans are McGrath's real heroes. McGrath's anecdotal, popular style and the lack of technical academic discussion target a general market for the work. Recommended for library collections of all types. J. W. Wright Point Loma Nazarene University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 Unknown to the Ancients: The New Technologyp. 5
2 The Rise of English as a National Languagep. 24
3 The Great Tumult: The Reformationp. 37
4 The First Printed English Biblesp. 67
5 Explaining the "Hard Places": The Geneva Biblep. 99
6 A Puritan King? The Accession of King Jamesp. 130
7 The Decision to Translate: The Hampton Court Conferencep. 149
8 Translation: The Englishing of the Biblep. 172
9 Production: The Early Printings of the King James Biblep. 197
10 Translators and Traitors: The Problems of Bible Translationp. 217
11 The Bible and the Shaping of Modern Englishp. 253
12 Triumph: The Final Acclamation of the King James Biblep. 277
Afterwordp. 301
A Comparison of Historic English Translations: Psalm 23p. 311
A Biblical Timelinep. 314
List of Works Consultedp. 317
Illustration Creditsp. 329
Indexp. 331