Thursday 8 December 2011

John D. Woodbridge on the King James Bible

An essay by John Woodbridge, available here, was given as an address at the King James Version Festival, hosted by the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University, in September 2011 It will also appear, along with other papers from the event, in Ray Van Neste (ed.), KJV400: Legacy and Impact (Borderstone Press, forthcoming 2012).

Woodbridge sets something of the historical background to the translation, noting that ‘it was created in a context of genuine turmoil for many Europeans’.

But in line with a number of his own published concerns, he focuses particularly on the specific beliefs of the translators regarding biblical authority, arguing that ‘their understanding of Scriptural authority remained within the central Augustinian tradition of the Western Christian churches’.

The struggle over biblical authority between Roman Catholics and Protestants, he avers, is revealed in the writings of the William Whitaker (1547-95), master of St. John’s College, Cambridge University, who was an Anglican and a Reformed theologian.

In his A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1958), Whitaker identified certain significant traits as constituent elements of his doctrine of Scriptural authority: (1) that Scripture is completely truthful (in line with what Whitaker believed was the central teaching of the western churches); (2) that Scripture’s principal author is God, the Holy Spirit; (3) that Scripture is an infallible rule of faith and practice (in that it contains sufficiently all we need to know about salvation); (4) that Scripture’s original texts were inspired of God (the Greek and Hebrew originals as opposed to, say, the Latin Vulgate); (5) that vernacular translations of the Bible are authoritative to the extent they faithfully reflect the Hebrew and Greek originals inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Woodbridge maintains that ‘the translators shared many of the same perspectives as those of William Whitaker’, showing that they too affirmed the full truthfulness of Scripture, that its principal author was the Holy Spirit, etc.

He ends the essay with a personal note:

‘Personally, one of the great joys in having pursued this study of the translators’ views of biblical authority was to encounter their closing counsel to their readers regarding their love of the Word of God. Their preface ends in an exposition of their heartfelt desire that readers of their translation would love the Word of God. Their comments are genuinely inspirational. Hopefully, they will lead us to treasure God’s Word even more than we may presently do.’

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