THE GREATEST BIBLE OF THEM ALL
Since the King James Version of the Bible appeared in 1611 there have been all kinds of new translations that were intended to be an improvement of the ancient and beloved King James Version. Most recently there appeared the New English Bible, a fresh translation of the New Testament by British scholars who have already worked on the project thirteen years, and who will need at least another year to complete the Old Testament. A first-year sale of over one million copies is anticipated in the United States alone. But this translation is only the latest of a long list of other translations that have appeared throughout the years.
In 1729 a Presbyterian minister published a New Testament translation which changed Paul’s “tempestuous wind” to “a hard gale at northeast.” In 1786 an English scholar translated the Bible changing the petition in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation” to “suffer no temptation to assault us too powerful for the frailty of our natures and the imperfections of our virtues.” In the nineteenth century five different translations appeared, one of which was by Noah Webster of dictionary fame. These Bibles were used a short time but soon passed into oblivion. In 1870 there also appeared a Revised Version of the Bible, backed by many denominations, the fruit of an interdenominational committee of 65 translators appointed by the Church of England. This Bible took 26 years to prepare and the translators made use of manuscripts and archeological findings unknown to the translators of the King James Version. It was a sensation at its appearance. It sold up to two million copies in the first four days of sale. Two Chicago newspapers had the full text of 181,258 words cabled from London for publication in special supplements. This translation, while still in use here and there, has failed also to win people away from the King James Version throughout the years. Since this publication there have also appeared the American Standard Version published in 1901, the Revised Standard Version which appeared in 1952 and the latest New English Bible. Especially the Revised Standard Version has enjoyed wide sales. Through expensive promotional campaigns and heavy advertising, the public was persuaded to buy over nine million copies. But at its peak the King James Version has still outsold this version by four to one. The King James Version remains the best-loved of them all.
In a recent Reader’s Digest article, from which these figures are taken, a brief history of the King James Version is given. “How it came into being, supplanted other English Bibles, outlasted every other translation, and continues to this day to outsell the newer and more scholarly versions is a story researchers have unearthed in bits and pieces.”
It seems that Ring James who ordered the translation was not himself a Christian King. There were, seventy years after the Reformation in England, strong conflicts and tensions between the “high church” people or the Anglicans and the Puritans who were pressing strongly for drastic reform in the church. James had invited representatives from both branches of the church to a conference in the thousand room Hampton Court Palace. When the meeting turned to angry wranglings and mutual incriminations, James ordered the two branches of the Reformation Church to cooperate in a Bible translation.
Various motives have been ascribed to James. Some think that he merely wanted the fighting factions of the church to cooperate in one venture; others think that he was moved by some scholarly interest since he was himself a very brilliant student and had translated the Psalms into meter earlier in life; still others speculate that he was angry with the Genevan Bible then in use because it contained marginal notes questioning the divine right of kings.
The king showed very little interest in the work of the translators, never spending a farthing of his own money and in fact living to the full the soul-destroying life of the court. While the translators struggled with their work, he enjoyed the horse racing, cockfights, plays performed by Shakespearean actors and obscene masques that were so common to the nobility.
A strange group of men cooperated in this venture. There were fifty-four chosen including college professors, preachers, deans, bishops. Most were in their forties or fifties although the oldest was 73 and the youngest 27. Most were unmarried, but one had 11 children and very little to feed them. Several were independently wealthy; others could barely survive on the stipend they received. One was provost of Eton and had tutored Queen Elizabeth in Greek. Another had been chaplain to the Queen. He was a learned man of skill and dignity who had mastered 15 languages. One of the Cambridge scholars wrote notes in Latin, another in Greek. One was ill of tuberculosis, but worked from his bed to the very end. Another was a poet. Another a drunkard.
These men were divided into six panels two of which worked in Oxford, two in Cambridge and two in Westminster. Each panel was assigned a portion of the Bible, and each member of each panel a smaller section to translate. The men used translations in Chaldean, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch besides the earlier English translations of which there were perhaps six—one of them being the famous first English translation of William Tyndale. They translated however directly from the Hebrew and Greek, making use of the best manuscripts then available.
The final product of the individual translators was read to their panel while the rest of the members would criticize and suggest changes as they followed the original manuscripts and the other translations. If there was sharp disagreement on any word or phrase, the matter was settled by vote.
When the panels were finished with their work—after four years—the copy was reviewed by a board of six men selected from each of the panels. These men met daily for nine months while they hammered out one translation of equal accuracy, similar style and one flowing beauty. Before the translation went to press, a final editing was made by a certain Miles Smith. People have often wondered how so many panels and boards and individuals could produce a uniform, smooth, scholarly and stately literary masterpiece such as the King James Bible is. It seems as if Miles Smith was the one man who was, to a great extent, responsible for this. Smith was the son of a Hereford butcher, a distinguished classical scholar who had graduated from Oxford when he was nineteen years old and was also a member and the supervisor of the Oxford’s Old Testament panel. He favored the use of short and concise English words which have made the King James Version so outstanding. He was the one who left an indelible stamp of his own genius upon the whole.
The first printing came off the presses in 1611 with other editions rapidly following. These contained many typographical errors as e.g., when the name “Judas” was used in one place instead of “Jesus” the word “not” was left out of the seventh commandment. For this latter error the printer was fined 300 pounds, the money used to buy Greek type.
And so down the centuries, the King James Version has marched on. No translation has ever begun to compare with it as the beloved Bible of the Church. Even those who hate its truths have admitted its literary beauty. Even H.L. Mencken, the atheist of our country, once wrote that it was “probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.”
And yet its beauty lies especially in the fact that it is a translation which sets the Bible apart from all other books. Many have tried to give the Bible a “modern suit of clothes,” but in doing so they have only succeeded in robbing the Bible of its distinctiveness and its mark as standing in a class by itself. It is no doubt for this reason that the people of God who cherish the Bible as God’s inspired Word have clung to the King James Version, memorizing its lofty passages, reading its inspired lines over and over, living by its power, dying with its promises and comfort in their hearts and on their lips.
THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES—NEW DELHI
It was called by some the most important meeting of Protestant Christendom. Others, still more enthusiastic, spoke of it as the second great Protestant Reformation.
It all referred to the recently completed meeting of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, India.
There, in a hall built in 1956 for a meeting of UNESCO, 1200 delegates, observers, staff members and special guests besides 275 newsmen met in the Third Assembly to discuss the problems of the Council. With the Dutchman William Adolph Visser ‘t Hooft as president and with delegates literally from all over the world, the council came to some important decisions that will affect the Protestant Churches for years to come.
1) The WCC decided to accept the application for membership made by the Russian Orthodox Church. This decision was reached by a vote of 142 for, 3 against, 4 abstaining. Although this was an impressive majority, there was considerable opposition to and doubt about both the vote and the decision. In the first place, no discussion was allowed which would in any way dispute the application. Also there was the strange phenomenon, apparent to most delegates, that privately few favored the question. This peculiar twist to the decision could partially be explained by the surprise of some delegates to learn that each church was entitled to only one vote. One top representative was totally unfamiliar with the man voting his church bloc in favor of the action and could not even find out whether or not the delegates from his denomination had caucused to determine how this delegate should vote as a representative of all of them. It seemed to be a bit of power politics. Although the higher officials were obviously pushing hard for a favorable vote on the resolution, many feared that the Russian Orthodox Church was a tool of the Communist state and that the result would be that the World Council of Churches would become a propaganda forum for Communist ideology. Two reasons however were advanced in support of the entrance of the Russian Church: “1) it would buttress the claim of the World Council that it encompasses all Christendom except Rome, and 2) it would bolster the morale and mettle of the church in Russia.” But many veterans had serious qualms.
2) The Council also decided to merge with the International Missionary Council. This organization was created some time ago for the purpose of bringing various denominations and smaller Church organizations into concerted and unified action in the field of missions. This decision resulted in bringing about 31 per cent of all missionaries under the control of the WCC. This was greeted with considerable dismay by evangelicals.
3) A new creed was adopted. This creed was formulated by Visser ‘t Hooft in Russia last year on the menu of a restaurant where he was meeting with several officials of the Russian Church. It reads: “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Holy Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
4) There were reports from important and powerful committees which defined the stand of the WCC on social problems. Attempting to translate the reports from the jargon used by the committees, the following seems to be the positions in brief which the council reached:
a) On the question of unity the WCC conceded that church union would mean the death of many forms and practices in use today in the Church. This seems to refer not only to questions of liturgy and liturgical forms, but also to confessional bases,
b) On the question of missions the council stressed the fact that “straight preaching” was no doubt obsolete and would soon have to become a thing of the past. To take its place the council emphasized that “dialogues” or conversations and discussions would be a more effective way of spreading the gospel. This would also imply that laymen would have a bigger share in this work.
c) The council emphasized the need for racial equality and urged the churches to identify themselves with “oppressed races.”
d) The adopted reports spoke also of the need for government with limited powers, but made way for nonviolent changes in government while pressing for freedom of choice and conscience.
5) The Fourth Assembly will meet in six years probably in some African country.
How far a cry this all is from the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers led the Church back to Scripture, emphasized the need for the preaching of the gospel and ushered in a very glorious period, unequaled in all history, in which the beautiful confessions and creeds of the true Church of Christ were written. All this is being destroyed by the WCC. It is an enemy of the Church of Christ.