The "Authorized" Bible
The struggle for Religious Authority
November 20, 2010 - Audio, 9.25 MIN
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This is Paul Billington bringing you another edition of the Bible in the News.
In a few weeks time we will enter the year 2011, and that will mean that 400 years will have passed since the publication of the King James Authorized version. That version was the result of a fierce controversy - one which set Church authority against the authority of the Bible. The Church and the Bible were not on the same page, so to speak.
We must appreciate the historical position of the Church in society - the authority and power of the Catholic Church was formidable over many centuries. From AD 312, when Constantine made Christianity the State Church of Rome until the mid 16th Century, the Church reigned supreme in the religious world. As centuries past the power and authority of the pope dominated a world which was full of ignorance, superstition, ritual and idolatry. This period of history has rightly been called the Dark Ages.
Bibles were scarce in those days of course. They were hand written and for the most part in Latin (which few people could read). When, eventually, it was translated into English and printed - it was banned! 460 years ago it was a punishable offence to own an English Bible.
Even after it had become lawful for the Bible to be read in English, it was still strictly controlled. Bibles were often kept chained to church pulpits - not in case they should be stolen as apologists for the church now claim - but so that only suitably "qualified" people could be permitted to read or interpret it. This fact is borne out by cases on record where "unqualified" people were imprisoned and cruelly treated for reading the Bible in Church!
But what was the reason behind this suppression of Bible reading? This question is fundamental in understanding the whole issue.
The experience of the Church over many centuries had shown that independent Bible reading caused people to question and even challenge the authority of the Church. Many teachings of the Church were found to be contradicted by Scripture so that thinking people would disregard the teaching authority claimed by the Church and its pope.
The translation and printing of the Bible in the earlier part of the Sixteenth Century magnified the issue to such a degree that it gave rise to the Reformation and the many Protestant sects that emerged in its wake. The issues were often doctrinal, but underlying this there was the more fundamental one of authority. It was a question of the authority of the Church versus that of the Bible. The resistance of the Church to the growing influence of Scripture was seen in the famous Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) which condemned the proposition that: "The Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation."
The King of England (James I) was faced with further religious controversy. The Anglican Church was in competition with the Puritans and each had their own version (the 'Bishops' Bible and the 'Geneva' Bible). King James sought to unite his realm by producing a new translation which he then "authorized."
The phenomenal growth of the Protestant movement during the 17th and 18th Centuries obviously presented the Roman Church authorities with a serious challenge. For centuries Rome had kept people under the authority of a world-wide super Church. Those who refused to submit to her faced serious penalties and often death. Rome had enjoyed incredible power over the kings of the earth, she possessed untold wealth and property; her prelates, priests and monks were the privileged and respected leaders of society. Now Bible reading Protestants had overthrown her power and prestige in several countries - and threatened her interests in many others. Clearly, the first step in bringing people back under the authority of the Roman Church would have to be one which turned them away from the influence of the Bible. It was the influence of the Scriptures upon society which had given rise to the Protestant defections from the Church; that influence must therefore be overcome. Such was the issue that confronted those churchmen who spearheaded what has been called the Counter-Reformation.
The first moves made to counter the influence of the open Bible were somewhat frantic. Whilst maintaining that the Holy Scriptures did not contain all things necessary for salvation and that they could only be correctly understood when interpreted by the Church, it was nonetheless thought expedient that the Church issue its own "authorized" translation of it. Thus the Rheims New Testament appeared in 1582 and completed Douay version one year before King James published his. This allowed the Church to offer people its own version of Scripture with different readings in some texts, as well as branding other versions as heretical. One can see how this move complicated the issue, making it less clear-cut.
Despite these counter-moves, the influence of the King James Bible upon society was unstoppable. The authority of the Church was in retreat. The Church however, stuck fast to its position - in 1720, Cardinal Bellarmine wrote (De Controv. pg. 10): -
"We maintain that the Scripture ought not to be read publicly in the vulgar tongue, nor allowed to be read indifferently by everybody."
Even today, the same basic position is held. In 1963 the 'Knights of Columbus' in North America advertised widely a booklet entitled "God's News for Man." It said:
"The Bible is not everyman's Bible; it is the Church's Bible... The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, leading it to all truth. Hence, if some passage of Scripture seems to say to you something that is contrary to the teaching of the Church, you will know that you have misunderstood it."
As we consider these things it becomes clear that the Roman Church has sought to suppress the influence of the Bible in society in order to maintain her own spiritual authority.
One way of countering the influence of the Bible is to retranslate it so that people get a different Bible! Many of these pseudo-Bibles are available today. Instead of translating the true sense of God's word the text is frequently paraphrased - in other words these "translators" interpret the text by what they think it ought to say! Many people are influenced by these "translations" or "versions" and do not appreciate that they are on sale today as a countermeasure against what the Church calls "the Protestant Bible." That is, the 1611 King James Bible.
And so we have seen a development of many "translations."
In 1952 the National Council of Churches (USA) published the RSV.
The NEB was published in 1970.
The NIV in 1978
The "New" King James version in 1982
And now the flavour of the month is the ESV.
In 2011 it is worth considering again the 1611 King James version - the most influential Book ever printed in the English language.
To focus on this, the January issue of the Bible Magazine will be a special issue pointing out the amazing impact that this Bible has had over the past 400 years.
Don't miss it.
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