Monday, April 10, 2006

Identity Gospel

In Adam Nicolson's "God's Secretaries - The Making of the King James Bible" Nicolson portrays the decision by King James I to sponsor a new translation of the Bible as part of his hope to heal the schism within the English Church between conservative Bishops and reforming Puritans. Nicolson suggests that, more than anything else, James Stuart wanted his new reign to be undisturbed by the sort of religious strife that characterized his Scottish upbringing (as evidence his motto 'Blessed are the Peacemakers").

The hope was that a new "authorized version" of the Bible would serve as a middle-ground between the Protestant Geneva Bible (1560) and the established Church of England Bishop's Bible (1568), and thereby settle the many biblical controversies that divided the two camps.

James drafted a set of instructions to the committee of Translators tasked with creating the new version. To one instruction in particular Nicolson assigns particular importance:

No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text.

Marginal annotations had been extensively used in the Geneva Bible in order to allow its translators to offer their interpretation and clarification of particular points in the main text (i.e. they profiled the main text). Problem was, King James found most of these clarifications, Calvinistic and Puritan in nature as they were, offensive. Consequently, he instructed that the marginal notes mechanism should be used only sparingly in the new Bible.

Nicolson interprets this instruction to mean that James deliberately sought to ensure that the main text of the new Bible could be, where appropriate, intentionally vague (i.e. underspecified) and unclarified by any marginal notes. For James, such ambiguity in the text would mean that both sides of the dispute, established Church of England Bishops and the reforming Puritans, could find an acceptable interpretation within the new Bible.Where clear direct text had been the goal of the Geneva Bible, the King James Bible would be known for its rich, grand and (importantly) subtle phrasings. Where the Geneva Bible had left no room for any interpretation other than that of its translators and subsequent annotators, the new Bible would provide a rich "platform" on which the different Christian faith systems could build. Bishops and Puritans, while disagreeing on specific interpretations, could agree on the fundamentals as expressed through the text. A meta-bible if you will.

We already have our identity Seven Commandments and evangelists abound. Maybe it's time to consider the Gideon's marketing model in spreading the gospel. I know I spend too much time in hotel rooms.

No comments: