Paperback, 222 pages; Published by Lion Hudson plc, Jordan Hill Rd. Oxford, OX2 8DR. Available from Amazon, also in Kindle, epub and PDF formats. ISBN 978-0-7459-5559-9 ISBN: 978-1-909789-31-9
Derek Wilson is an acclaimed author and historian who transports the reader back to the fourteenth century when the vast majority of people were illiterate, and scripture was exclusively in the hands of the priesthood. At that time, it was only written and transcribed in Latin, with a threat of death for any who dared to try and translate any portion of scripture into the vernacular. It was a time when the population was held in thrall to relics and ritual; their only access to what the scriptures contained was engraved in stained glass windows and carved altar screens.
The vital contribution of John Wycliffe (1330-1384) is detailed, together with the important work done by the Lollards, much of it in secret, in making portions of scripture available in tract form. The author traces the developing awareness across Europe for the need of a wider accessibility to scripture, achieved largely through the work of the Dutch academic Erasmus (1466-1536), the monk and professor of theology, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the English scholar William Tyndale (1494-1536). The invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century opened the door for the production of a number of Bibles of varying quality, often with notes and commentary reflecting the theological bias of the translators.
The labours of William Tyndale are given due prominence as his translation work formed the basis of much which followed. Miles Coverdale and Thomas Matthew carried the work forward during the turbulent Tudor years, providing two versions of scripture in the English vernacular. Aided by the efforts of Thomas Cromwell, secretary to Henry VIII, the ‘Great Bible’ became more accessible and was, in effect, the first ‘Authorized’ English Bible in 1539. The Reformation years saw the production of the ‘Geneva Bible’, the ‘Bishops’ Bible’ and the Catholic ‘Douai-Rheims’ version, each with their own doctrinal predisposition which added to the confusion surrounding a reliable interpretation of ‘the Word of God’.
When James I ascended the throne of England in 1603 to commence the Stuart dynasty, he had already been king of Scotland, at least in name, for thirty-six years. A man of dubious morality, he nevertheless promoted the Protestant cause. At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 the seeds were sown for a complete revision and a ‘root and branch’ examination of the sources and translations in circulation. Although the King James Version bears the monarch’s name and received his official authorization, his interest and input was only peripheral. Derek Wilson gives details and qualifications, both ecclesiastical and academic, of the translators engaged in the work duly published in 1611; he then considers the developments and revisions which followed, down to the present day. He readily acknowledges the part played in extending the influence of the KJV both in the colonization of America and by the expanding British Empire.
In all, a book that will appeal both to lovers of history and to those who wish to know more of the background to a translation of the word of God which has become precious to so many for its doctrinal purity and its majestic and memorable style.