Sunday, November 11, 2007

McGrath's "In the Beginning"

The present author recently had the pleasure of reading Alister McGrath's "In the Beginning," subtitled, "The Story of the KING JAMES BIBLE and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture." (capitalization as on dust jacket)

The subtitle conveys the gist of the book well. The book presents many interesting nuggets of historical trivia about the KJV, and especially about its origins.

One particularly interesting point is that McGrath points out that "its" was just becoming used in English speech at the time the KJV was translated, (previously "his" served as the neuter singular possessive pronoun).

McGrath noted that the KJV translators found ways to avoid using "his" where "its" should be, but often did so with awkward constructions like "thereof." This suggests that a good new edition of the KJV could find some semantic improvement by the use of "its" in suitable places.

The one place "its" is found in the KJV is:

Leviticus 25:5 That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.

Those opposed to interaction between church and state in America will have their noses tweaked by the closing portion of the book's historical account, which notes that the Continental Congress authorized the KJV after review by the two chaplains thereof.

Another interesting nugget of information was the fact that the KJV translators themselves used quotations from the Geneva Bible in the preface to the original printing of the KJV!

In general, the book is written in a popular style, and it is consequently sometimes difficult to discern well-documented historical fact from weakly-documented historical view from mere opinion or speculation. The few footnotes included are clustered in a short section where McGrath feels it necessary to explain the meaning of certain archaic or at least unfamiliar words.

Because McGrath is a popular historian, it would be worthwhile for any KJVO advocate to read the book, simply to see the perspective from the other side. McGrath is plainly not particularly fond of the KJV, but he is not a rabid anti-KJV critic.

On the whole, however, despite a lengthy appendix of works consulted (for the whole book, not divided even by chapter), the book is not particularly useful to a scholar attempting to verify McGrath's claims.



Anonymous said...


I am not sure if you are shaping my way of living or thinking but recently I have found myself stopping by in anticipation of what's going to be next in here!


I just got done talking with the Lord, dully on my part perhaps, because of these verses of ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF SURENESS:

1Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1Pe 1:5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

These sorts of constructs of Scripture do indeed anchor my soul to looking forward to dying and leaving this filthy fleshly world.

It is debatable.

This issue of KJVO's has been brought to my attention of late by a man who is one and so is a lot of folks he crosses paths with in his immediate circles of influence.

I went to the trouble of reading several books he recommended, of which I will not mention to discover that this matter of constructs of Scripture from which manuscripts and when and why can become way to troubling for a weak soul. Won't you agree with that assertion?

In light of the certainty of Peter and his assertion that I have quoted with this response and what I believe was a good time of fellowship with Our Lord Jesus before coming in here this morning, won't it be more profitable for some to stay far away from here and this debate?

A very distant personal friend, a bright mind to say the least gave a talk at a church fellowship in Fort Worth, Tx. recently showing a perspective on the Geneva Bible and why it was not inclined to be on King James' best selling list nor the other potentates of his day simply because the footnotes and certain word changes gave to much liberal mindset for the followers and subjects of those kingdoms. He pointed out that God is moving mankind to a more democratic form of governance and not a "kingdom" form.

It is confusing seeing I was just praying to and listening to My King!

In any event, thanks again for this opportunity to put something into this mindset and look forward to how you side with my friend. I kinda believe he and McGrath might be thinking a lot of similar ways? Or not?

A kingdom form of Bible as opposed to a purality of governance, Eph. 4 type is what King James wants?

The earliest settlers were well versed in the Geneva, yes and by that influences the foundation of the Federalist Republic we seem to be moving away from in these current turbulent days, yes?

Anonymous said...

I like the word "thereof." I'd love to use it in modern speech and writhing. Its is a travesty, really. It's vs its. Which one is possesive? You'd think that it's is possessive, but then maybe it's is the contraction. You've got two apostrophe rules fighting each other in your head and you end up constantly forgetting which one rules the day. And the confusion thereof makes thereof seem altogether better.

Turretinfan said...

Dear Natamllc,

Thanks for the compliments and comments.

Yes, I think the person you heard would be of one mind with McGrath. Both think that some of the "prelatical" language in the KJV (such as the use of the term "bishop") was specifically designed to strengthen the monarchy and to strengthen the rule of the monarchic over the church.

Yes, there certainly were marginal notes in the Geneva Bible that King James strongly disapproved of, and McGrath seems to think that it was mostly to avoid those marginal notes that King James authorized the new translation!

Ah well.


Turretinfan said...


"Thereof" is certainly a mouthful, and not a very intuitive way of making "it" possessive.

"Its" versus "it's" can also be hard to remember (its is possessive, it's is a contraction of "it is").

Another option is simply "of it" but this does not flow well either.

McGrath provides an example of some places in the description of the dimensions of the various pieces of the tabernacle, in which the use of "its" in the RSV makes the verses flow much more easily to the 21st century mind.