Melvyn, David and Willie

06b27c0f9f2824fcb5d1d7e5d1431b8aa6e958fdI’m enjoying reading Lord Melvyn Bragg’s book on the King James Version of the Bible, The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011.

In the opening chapter he says that two of the greatest speeches in the House of Commons were by Christians and rifted with the King James Bible. Those were by Winston Churchill in 1940 just after the outbreak of the Second World War, and by William Wilberforce when he made his first speech  for the ending of the slave trade in 1789.

But significantly Lord Bragg goes on to report that this parliamentary tradition is not dead, by quoting the contribution of two Northern Ireland MPs. He says that on 9 December 2009, my local MP, David Simpson, demanded a debate, calling on the government to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible. Mr Simpson said,

“The great Winston Churchill noted that the scholars who produced it had forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world. It is not only our literature and language that has been influenced by the King James Bible. It has had an extraordinary beneficial influence upon political and constitutional affairs. It was the Bible of Milton and the Protectorate, later it was the Bible of the Glorious Revolution, which gave us constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. It was the Bible of Whitefield and the Wesleys, that saved the realm from the brutality and blood of the French Revolution. It was the Bible carried by the founding fathers of the United States that helped to force that land and give the world that great democratic powerhouse ….

Hospitals were built and charities created as a result of its influence. The hungry were fed, the sick nursed, the poor given shelter … lives that lay in ruins were made whole and souls that were held in bondage were set at liberty.”

Bragg says that the anthem was taken up by other speakers, most notably Dr William McCrea, MP for South Antrim, who quoted from John Wesley:

“Oh, give me that Book! At any price give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book.”

Dr McCrea continued,

“It has been burned but there is not the smell of fire about it. It has been buried but no man has ever kept it in the grave …This book sets men free…”

One wouldn’t have expected Lord Bragg to be quoting David Simpson and William McCrea, or even for those three gentlemen to be in agreement on many matters. But that in itself proves the worth of the Book which they all admire and commend.

One Reply to “Melvyn, David and Willie”

  1. Thanks for this link, Stafford. Really interesting.

    I hope you know I deeply value Scripture. In the interests of truthfulness, though, it’s only fair to acknowledge the balancing view of how parts of the Bible were (and are) used to oppress and diminish people, to take away their culture and identity… as someone from India was describing to me recently how she was encouraged by missionaries only to speak English, and to have no connection with the Dalit people whom she ought, as a Christian, to have loved. The intention might have been good but it was misguided by an over-association with English and goodness (and the Bible was English of course, for many missionaries). There are better ways of understanding the Good News we find in Scripture.

    So the high praise for the King James Version’s contribution needs to be tempered with its limitations, and the abuses perpetrated in the name of God. I have occasionally come across people who think the KJV is THE inspired version of the Bible, and it’s a view that can lead to some weird cul-de-sacs. There was interpretation and politics involved in that translation, as in any human enterprise. So, for example, the KJV apparently doesn’t use the word “tyrant”, which appears over 400 times in the Geneva Bible… and you have to ask why… But the power of Scripture, even despite fallible human interference, is that its story can still empower broken people to stand up in the face of oppression and injustice, and sense themselves valued and created in God’s image, and redeemed and remade in the image of Christ.

    I’m looking forward to reading Bragg’s book. Sounds fascinating.

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