A Visual History of the English Bible
by Donald L. Brake
Hardback, 349 pages
I spent several happy hours perusing A Visual History of the English Bible. The author, dean of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, is an addicted rare books collector, so his love of the story of the English Bible comes from caressing the books in his own collection. I especially enjoyed reading the sidebars highlighting his collecting exploits.
The book begins with John Wycliffe (ca. 1325-1384) and his desire to translate the Bible into English – at this point only available in Latin to the clergy. Wycliffe was vehemently opposed by the Church. To put the Bible in the hands of the common man would be to reduce the power and monopoly the Church had on dispensing truth as it pleased them. As we see in our own day in places such as China, the presence of truth available to all is a serious threat to tyrants.
Wycliffe was finally burned at the stake in 1384 as was William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536), who translated the Bible into English a century and a half later – when the printing press made wide distribution possible. When Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1535, the rise of the Puritans changed the religious climate and made way for reformation. By 1537 Henry VIII had granted approval for two “authorized” Bibles, Matthew’s Bible and the Coverdale Bible.
One interesting section is Brake’s account of the translation, printing, and various versions of the King James Version (1611). I learned that the King James Version was revised twice – in 1638 and 1762. He outlines some famous editions of the Bible, named after their mistranslations:
- “Wife-beater’s Bible” (1549) A note on 1 Peter 3:2 says, “And yf she be not obedient and helpful unto hym, endeavoreth to beate the feare of God into her heade.”
- “Judas Bible” (1611) includes a misprint where “Judas” is substituted for “Jesus” in Matthew 26:36.
- “Wicked Bible” (1631) in Exodus 20:14 reads: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oops.
- “Unrighteous Bible” (1653) renders 1 Corinthians 6:9 as: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?”
The book has weaknesses, however. Brake’s accounts of the history of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries seemed weak and sometimes repetitious. His treatment of translations since the Revised Version of 1887 is merely cursory. His comparison and evaluation of modern versions is flawed, relying too much on others’ opinions and not enough on his own research. He tags the NIV as “sometimes inaccurate,” while the RSV is “considered liberal, often wooden,” and the NRSV is accused of “liberal bias.” In my own study of the original languages, I’ve found every translation inaccurate or biased here and there. But overall the NIV, RSV, and NRSV are excellent, trustworthy, faithful translations.
The book is abundantly illustrated with photographs of various editions of the Bible, which adds greatly to the book’s appeal. If you want to learn the fascinating and courageous story of how the Bible was translated into English, this book is an excellent and entertaining source. Recommended.