Eight of us met and discussed Derek Wilson's The People's Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Bible.
The book took us on a journey which started in the Middle Ages when services were in Latin and religious ideas were mediated mainly through visual imagery such as stained glass windows, carvings, altar pieces or friezes. Old Testament stories and parables were confused with stories of Saints and folk lore and the parish clergy were astonishingly ill informed on the Bible's content. Believing the Church to be corrupted, John Wycliffe and his followers turned to The Bible for the basis of their religious ideas and were so energized by it they began a campaign for its translation into English for the benefit of all.
The Catholic Church however believed that the content of the Bible was dangerous to the untrained mind and resisted all efforts to have it translated. The story twists and turns with the arrival of the printing press, Protestantism, the Counter Reformation and Calvinism. It shows clearly that the translators' perspective on matters of Faith were as important as the original Hebrew and Greek texts.
Most of us thought the book was a very good read because it was succinct and clear and it brought together the history, politics and cultural aspects of an English translation of the Bible. It told of the heroism and dedication of men like William Tyndale who was executed by the authorities and exposed the intolerance of the Church, the spin of religious groups such as the Puritans and the commercial interests of the publishers.
Derek Wilson brought home to us how much our culture shapes our interpretations of the Bible and the implications this has for all translations into the vernacular: Do South Korean worshippers and those in the African Churches that are growing, for instance, hear a different message to the one we hear? He makes very clear that translations are used to control people, (a notorious example from the US is the Housewives Bible) and this was the reason James I ordered the translation. He hated the Presbyterians and wanted to restrict their influence on people.
Today many people no longer read the Bible but there is a new generation of young people who want to know what it is all about and they go to Churches such as Vineyard to find out. Both the young and old question the Bible more which some Ministers are happy with and some are not. Traditionally the Methodist Church has attracted a high number of thinking people who like to question the relationship between the word of Bible and Faith but many people feel they do not need either a Bible or a Church unless something goes terribly wrong with life and they come unstuck. When this happens people often want certainty and are attracted to the Fundamentalist Churches who provide it with a literal interpretation of the Bible. The important point Wilson makes here is that its meaning can be changed in translation and "if the Bible is a divine revelation, it is infinitely greater than the human words which convey it".
The next book is The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong and the next meeting is at 2:00 p.m. on 17th November in room 2.
Michele Challenger — September 2012