Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2001)
2001 saw a trio of books on the market telling the story of the AV. I have already addressed two of them, and in this post I hope to address the third. Alister McGrath is no stranger to modern readers, Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, he is one of very few Calvinists teaching within the British establishment. His writing style is excellent, and even more importantly, he is a meticulous researcher. This book does not disappoint.
In form it is more like Bobrick than Nicolson, tracing the history of the English Bible back to before the days of Wycliffe, and even tracing the rise of English as a literary language and the relationship between English and Englishness. He traces the major movements in English religion and relates them to Bible versions, King James only appears on the scene on P. 135! This is a rich book that explains how the King James Bible came to be the way it is, with factors including politics as well as religion - and of course religious politics! The fact that all of the translators came from the southeast of England also had an effect on the final product - if it had been translated in the Province of York it would have sounded very different!
McGrath gives us an excellent chapter dealing with the challenges of transaltion, and discusses such questions as why the AV's language was antiquated when it came out. The answer is that it was never intended as a brand-new translation from scratch, and was a revision of the Bishops' Bible, which was itself a revision of Coverdale, which incorporated Tyndale - who wrote in the 1540s, and in the language of the 1540s.
It may come as a shock to some that the AV was not instantly accepted, but there were good reasons. Firstly, the Geneva Bible was actually cheaper and usually of a better quality (the first edition of the AV was riddled with errors), and secondly people are always wary of a new Bible version. Also the AV was produced by a committee that included some of the worst persecutors of the Puritans. It was an Anglican Bible, and the Puritans were not prepared to buy it. But decades of promotion in the Church of England (and laws attempting to ban the Geneva Bible), followed by the restoration of the monarchy and the fall of the Puritans, led to the AV finally achieving its place as the English Bible.
Finally he deals with the influence the AV has had, and continues to have, on the English language, how Hebraisms and Grecianisms have become part of how we speak English because of the AV.
This is a different book again from the last two reviewed, and all three could be read with profit by anyone wanting to know more about the AV and how we got it. Only McGrath really deals with events after the Publication of the AV, while Nicolson tells us the most about the translators. I enjoyed all three books greatly.