400th anniversary of the Authorised Version, playwright David Egdar in today's Guardian reminds us of the thorough-going theological conservatism behind the KJV, particularly when contrasted with the Puritans' Geneva Bible:Amidst the deluge of articles marking the
Despite Puritan support, the impetus of the translation was and remained deeply conservative, its aim to declare the English reformation complete. The Bishops' Bible was the default text, there were to be no marginal notes, and the translators were instructed to defer to "the ancient fathers", "the analogy of the faith" and the "old ecclesiastical words". Thus, as Thomas More had insisted in the 1520s, Tyndale's "elder", "congregation" and "love" were to be rendered as "priest", "church" and "charity". The Bible's divine authority was implied by an imposed uniformity of format and literary style (so poems such as the psalms and Mary's Magnificat in Luke are rendered in prose). For the 1611 reader, the Bible was overlaid with an antique patina: the increasingly outmoded "thou" as the singular of "you", the "-eth" ending to verbs as opposed to the current move to "s" ("hath" for "has", "doeth" for "does"), "thereof" for the contemporary "its". The consistent – you could say persistent – use of conjunctive phrases such as "And it came to pass" (on which Tyndale rings the changes) gives the work a ritualised, almost plainsong feel. Following Bishops', colloquialisms were frowned on: Tyndale's serpent tells Mary "Tush, ye shall not die"; King James's insists "Ye shall not surely die". As contemporary critics pointed out, the Bible is surprisingly indebted to the Catholic Douai-Rheims version, both stylistically and doctrinally: so, the Protestant "acknowledge" becomes the Catholic "confess", "ordinance" is rendered as "tradition", and, in John's gospel, Tyndale's "flock" (a congregation of sheep) becomes Douai-Rheims's "fold" (a means of containing them).
It is a remarkably persuasive account, indicating the extent to which the KJV incarnated central values of the Anglican settlement. The absence of the Geneva Bible's footnotes is, of course, particularly significant. Such absence ensures that the KJV reflects Anglicanism's communitarian - rather than individualistic - ethic of reading. It reminds us that it is the Church as the reading community, rather than the individual believer reading, which determines the interpretation of Scripture.
Edgar's description of the "ritualised, almost plainsong feel" of the KJV also points to Hooker's insistence on the near sacramental quality of the Church's reading of Scripture against the Puritan insistence that it is the sermon only that God's voice is heard:
St Augustine speakinge of devoute men noteth how they daylie frequented the Church, how attentive eare they gave unto the lessons and chapters readd, how carefull they were to remember the same and to muse thereupon by them selves. St Cyprian observeth that readinge was not without effect in the hartes of men. Theyre joye and alacritie was to him an argument, that there is in this ordinance a blessinge, such as ordinarilie doth accompanie the administration of the worde of life (LEP Fifth Book, 22.13).
Hooker contrasts this with the Puritan view that "the profit of readinge [Scripture] is singular, in that is serveth for a preparative unto sermons" (22.7). This view he holds to be "poore ... cold ... hungrie" alongside the Church's tradition of the ordered reading of Scripture:
It hath bene a commendable order, a custome verie expedient, or an ordinance most profitable ... to reade the word of God at large in the Church (22.18).
Much as it may come as a surprise to some, in celebrating the 400th anniversary of the KJV, we are celebrating the conservatism of the Anglican settlement. We are celebrating the similarities between the theological mindsets of the KJV and Douai-Rheims. We are celebrating the Church as the reading community over the individualism of the Geneva Bible.