Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Culture of the King James Bible

While on vacation, I'm reading In the World But Not of It: One Family's Militant Faith and the History of Fundamentalism in America, by Brett Grainger. It's a blend of memoir and religious history.

Grainger's well-written memories don't exactly match my own. He grew up in a family who were staunch members of the Plymouth Brethren. (These were F. F. Bruce's people. Their eschatology is dispensational premillennialist. Is this why Bruce, a first-rate New Testament scholar and prolific writer, never did a commentary on the Book of Revelation?) Anyway, here's a taste from one of the more memorable passages in Grainger's book:

However lowly they might be in the eyes of the world, the Brethren had one critical advantage: the King James Bible. When believers gathered to share the Word, they left behind the tedium and disappointment of daily life and became heirs of a great cultural legacy. Their imagination was immersed in Scripture. The hero epics of Genesis, the wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the promises of Revelation, the psychology of the Psalms--by turns, hopeful and embittered, imprecatory and magnanimous--lent their hardscrabble lives a beauty and grace they might otherwise have lacked. The Bible compensated for their unpolished manners. It was more important to them than their cheap suits and unfashionable dresses.

When believers spoke with one another, the King James was their lingua franca. They used words long vanished from common speech: yea and nay and verily and whosoever, thee and thou and thine. They called one another brother and sister, as Paul had done in his epistles. Outside in the world, such antiquated habits would have sounded silly or affected. But on Sunday morning, when the plumber with a harelip stood and prayed over bread and wine in seventeenth-century English, it seemed as though he had found his mother tongue.


Bob Bliss said...

In one sense I would have to applaud the Plymouth Brethren for holding on to their legacy. In another sense I have to cringe that their legacy isn't upon the God-breathed Scriptures but upon a particular translation of the Scriptures. And one that is stuck in a particular historical setting.

Paul (and the other writers) wrote (and spoke) in the everyday language of the first century. He transformed that language more by the new meanings he (and the Holy Spirit) gave to the words. The Scripture's language became a holy language not because it sounded different when spoken by Christians, but rather because the Christians who spoke this language new the real meaning behind the words. We should rejoice that our names are written in the book of life rather than that we sound different than all those around us (Luke 10:20).

Still would that we rejoice in speaking God's language in our assemblies in such a way as to show outsiders just how much we love the God who has given us grace in Jesus Christ.

Leland V said...

This brings back memories for me of the 1950s and 60s in the Church of Christ.

Do you think this reverence for the Bible contributed to what I remember at times as almost a worship of the Book instead of the Author? I still have my father's Bible and it is completely clean of markings. He probably used the same KJV Bible for 40 years, but never wrote in it other than putting his name inside the front cover. There are many slips of paper and bookmarks, but no underlines. However, my father-in-law was the opposite. You could barely see the text for all the comments and underlines. Both men had a great love for the Word, so maybe that negates my hypothesis.

Hope your are enjoying CT.

Royce Ogle said...


I once had a conversation with a "King James only" Baptist preacher. I let him make his position statement and then asked, "Do you understand that when you translate the Bible into another language such as Chinese you no longer have a King James Bible?" His jaw dropped and he admitted he had never considered the languages.

Great post. And, thanks for your kindness toward me in my time of loss.

His peace,
Royce Ogle

Dee Andrews said...

Hi, Frank -

Sorry I'm so behind in commenting, but I spent all last week in the hospital and just got out over the weekend.

Hope y'all have having a great spring break in Connecticut. Sounds like you're having fun and enjoying the visits, once you got there. Plane travel sure isn't what it USED to be.

Drop by when you have time!

Much love,


Central Bible Chapel said...

For the record, what I've read and what you've mentioned from Bret Grainger's book does NOT reflect the views and practices of the vast majority of those identified as "plymouth brethren". I think he may have "punched up" his memories to sell books. Many, many brethren use translations other than the King James, or at least recognize the validity of the one that are literal translations. Grainger also writes that his family was greatly disappointed when Christ didn't return in 1988; that was primarily the expectation of some pentecostal groups, not the "plymouth brethren".

Frank Bellizzi said...

Dear Central Bible Chapel,

Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear from you.

Grainger did most of his growing up in the 1980s, evidently in Ontario. Could he, perhaps, have grown up in a group that was significantly different from "mainstream" brethren?

In the book, he explains that his grandfather--the one who took the 1988 view--was considered way out-of-step by his fellow brethren, and that he was ostracized.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Oh, and Central, I'd be espcially happy to hear back from you, or from others who have connections to or knowledge of the Plymouth Brethren. Other reactions to the Grainger book are also welcome.

Bill said...

May God's richest blessings be yours as you reflect on the extent of His love demonstrated through the death His Son on the cross and the awesomeness of His power exhibited through the resurrection.

To God be the glory!

a spiritual oasis

preacherman said...

Great post brother.
I believe God wants us to find a translation that we understand. We can KNOW HIM.
Most of the King James Only Churches that I have been to have been close minded and very legalistic in nature. Is it right for us to boast over having what we think is the "RIGHT" or "ONLY" authorized translation? Paul says he boasts in Christ. I do as well. Christianity for me is about KNOWING GOD and growing in that relationship with Him. It is about living the abundant life in the Kingdom. Enjoying the Kingdom now!
Do we miss enjoying God and life in the kingdom by our pride or own self-righteousness?
I pray that we will be a people that KNOWS GOD and enjoy the Kingdom.
I pray that we would not get fussy or fight over stupid things such as having the "RIGHT" translation, whether we should have one cup or many, fellowship halls, etc. I pray that God will break us of our self-righteousness in order to KNOW HIM MORE!
Great post brother.
Keep it up!
In Him,
Kinney Mabry