IN THE BEGINNING The Story of the King James Bible and how it changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath Doubleday 340 pages, $37.95 Paperback edition, $23.00
GOD'S SECRETARIES The Making of the King James Bible By Adam Nicolson Harper Collins 281 pages, $38.95
AFTER READING two books on the creation of the King James Bible, the influence of which has followed English speaking peoples around the world, I had an overwhelming feeling of that sentiment expressed in older baptismal liturgies, "conceived in sin and born in iniquity." Equally strong was a sense of the breadth of God's redemption. In retrospect there can be no question that the king, and the bishops, scholars and courtiers who surrounded him, were all people of deep convictions, entrenched prejudices, flagrant ambitions, and committed to political 'hard ball.'
James I (VI of Scotland) feared for any diminution of the inherent power and authority vested in the monarchy which was threatened by the republicanism accompanying the reforming instincts of the Puritans, influenced as they were by European reformers. The Church of England bishops feared for their own survival should the Puritans gain ascendancy and impose Presbyterianism as the model for the English church. The Puritans were unyielding in their opposition to what they saw as privilege and corruption in the status quo and in their fear of any signs of 'popery.'
It all came together at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 which James convened in an attempt to resolve the situation. Generally the conference resolved little, but in order to save it from complete disaster he responded to a late request of John Reynolds, leader of the Puritan delegation, for "one only translation of the Bible" which was to be "declared authentical, and read in the church." It is very doubtful that what Mr. Reynolds had in mind, perhaps authentication of the Geneva Bible with its Protestant marginal notes, and what James saw as an opportunity had much in common, but a decision was made and the project launched was completed in 1611.
The directions for the translation were dictated by James himself and the work allotted to six companies of translators: two companies drawn together in Westminster, and two in each of Oxford and Cambridge universities. Membership in these companies brought together leading scholars of the day, some 47 to 51 (number uncertain) of them with power to coopt scholars from farther afield, representing varying religious and political convictions--although heavily weighted towards the King's favour. …