How We Got Our Bible (12): Recommended Reading

The story of how we got our English Bible is a fascinating one. In this series of articles we have been able only to trace the outstanding incidents and the most renowned individuals in this history. These articles will have succeeded in their purpose if they have caused us to value more highly the Word of God and to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made by faithful servants of God in order that we might have Scripture freely available in our own language. Hopefully, in addition to this, they will have piqued the interest of some readers to know more of this story. This final article acknowledges the sources used throughout this series. The list is not comprehensive, and doesn’t begin to exhaust the wealth of scholarly and popular books on the history of the Bible. However, these books are accessible and useful introductions to the subject.

While our articles have looked back to the origins of Scripture and traced their path through Greek and Latin, we have concentrated especially on the Bible in English. Obviously, this is only a part of the story. An excellent overview of the wider history of the transmission and translation of Scripture can be found in Christopher De Hamel’s The Book: A History of the Bible. This book is particularly valuable for its illustrations – it provides beautiful photographs of some of the most important versions of Scripture. For the story of the English Bible, David Daniell’s The Bible in English: History and Influence is essential reading. At precisely 900 pages long it is not a small book, but it is both comprehensive and outstandingly readable. Daniell begins with the earliest manuscript versions in English, and closes by discussing the twentieth-century translations. En route he discusses a fascinating range of material. His work is deeply scholarly and highly enjoyable. F. F. Bruce’s History of the Bible in English covers the same ground, more briefly and, it must be said, less entertainingly than Daniell. At a more popular level, Ken Connolly’s The Indestructible Book is a much briefer account of the history of the English Bible. At a more scholarly level, Alfred Pollard’s Records of the English Bible: The Documents relating to the Translation and Publication of the Bible in English, 1525-1611 is a very valuable collection. Originally published in 1911, it has recently been made available in an affordable modern printing.

At the beginning of this series, we looked at the inspiration and transmission of Scripture in Greek and Latin. The Text of the New Testament by Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman provides, in its earlier chapters, an excellent discussion of the production and transmission of the earliest copies of Scripture. Its later chapters, which discuss textual criticism, provide a clear account of the history and practice of the discipline. Some of the widely-accepted conclusions of textual criticism have been challenged by Eta Linnemann in Biblical Criticism on Trial. Her argument is complex, and heavily statistical and not, perhaps, for the faint of heart. Also valuable are F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? and The Books and the Parchments. The latter book provides an especially useful discussion of the formation of the Old Testament and New Testament canons.

The name of William Tyndale must loom large in any account of the history of the English Bible. The story of his life makes fascinating reading, and numerous writers have essayed their version. The definitive biography, though, is David Daniell’s William Tyndale: A Biography. As with The Bible in English, this book demonstrates Daniell’s ability to couch scholarly discussion in clear, readable, and often humorous prose. His deep admiration for Tyndale is clear, and gives this book a warmth and charm unusual in scholarly biographies. We also have Daniell to thank for his editions of Tyndale’s writings, including his translations of the Old and New Testaments. These are not merely historical oddities – to read Tyndale’s translation is to be struck by the magnitude of his achievement as a translator of Scripture.

The Geneva Bible has been strangely neglected by scholars and, while it has recently been the object of increased study, there is still a lack of material on its translation and influence. However, note should be taken of The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, recently published by Hendrickson. This is of interest both for the quality of the translation and for the additional material provided. In addition to the famous – or infamous – marginalia, this edition of the Geneva Bible is illustrated by detailed woodcuts. Those depicting the construction and furnishings of the tabernacle are of great value.

As we have seen, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is of enormous importance in the history of the English Bible. Oddly enough, given the status it was to achieve, the poor record keeping of the translators means that we have only a partial insight into the history of its translation. A useful primary source is Miles Smith’s preface The Translators to the Reader. This is omitted from most modern printings of the KJV, but is available online. Two reliable popular accounts of the translation of the KJV are available: Alistair McGrath’s In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture and Adam Nicholson’s Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible (published in the USA as God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible).

As we appreciate something of the infinite grace of God in speaking to humanity, and of His wisdom and providence in inspiring and preserving the text of Holy Scripture we must, of necessity, value more highly the content of that revelation. And, as we recall with gratitude the dedicated scholarship and devoted sacrifices of the godly men who gave themselves to the cause of bringing the light of divine revelation to successive generations, may God give us help to profit by their example and to match their commitment to the Word of God and its truth. In the words of John Purvey, “God grant to us all grace to know well and to keep well holy writ, and to suffer joyfully some pain for it at the last.”