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In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture [Kindle Edition]

Alister Mcgrath
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.95
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC


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Book Description

In the sixteenth century, to attempt to translate the Bible into a common tongue wasn't just difficult, it was dangerous. A Bible in English threatened the power of the monarch and the Church. Early translators like Tyndale, whose work greatly influenced the King James, were hunted down and executed, but the demand for English Bibles continued to grow. Indeed it was the popularity of the Geneva Bible, with its anti-royalist content, that eventually forced James I to sanction his own, pro-monarchy, translation. Errors in early editions--one declared that "thou shalt commit adultery"--and Puritan preferences for the Geneva Bible initially hampered acceptance of the King James, but it went on to become the definitive English-language Bible.

This fascinating history of a literary and religious masterpiece explores the forces that led to the decision to create an authorized translation, the method of translation and printing, and the central role this version of the Bible played in the development of modern English. McGrath's history of the King James Bible’s creation and influence is a worthy tribute to a great work and a joy to read.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

In the Beginning is Alister McGrath's history of the King James Bible, and as the subtitle explains, his explanation of "How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture." McGrath's story begins with the development of the printing press, describes the forces (before, during, and after the Reformation) fueling the demand for English vernacular translations of the Bible, and considers the impact of the King James Version on Western worship and politics. McGrath deftly blends an arch and charming, donnish argot with breezy, tough, brass-tacks directness. Of the ongoing process of creating new biblical translations, he writes, "It has yet to end; indeed, it will not end, until either history is brought to a close or English ceases to be a living language." Elsewhere, describing the cultural influence of the Authorized Version, he explains, "Without the King James Bible, there would have been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim's Progress, no Handel's Messiah, no Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg address.") A professor of historical theology at the University of Oxford, McGrath has written a number of popular books about Christianity (including Theology for Amateurs). In The Beginning continues his work of making complex matters of theological thought and history accessible to a wider audience. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

The peculiar history of the King James Bible highlights the power of marginal notations to destabilize a nation and command the anxious attention of a monarch. McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford University, recounts the production of this translation, the forces that allowed for its genesis and its influence on modern English, the history of England and the faith of millions since its 1604 publication. Although his "great men" emphasis on "doing" history offers few new insights and is embedded in a narrative that scans in overly broad strokes the intriguing circumstances of the Bible's production, this remains an engaging chronicle. McGrath frames the context for the KJV in phenomena such as the English church during and after Henry VIII's reign, the incendiary creativity of the translation process, the explosive force for change unleashed by the technological breakthrough of the printing press and the rise of nationalism. McGrath also situates the KJV as more immediately provoked by the English-language Geneva Bible, produced by self-exiled "radical" English Protestants in that republican city, during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor. As McGrath explains, prefaces to each book of Scripture and extensive interpretive notes offered in "plain English" account largely for the popularity the Bible enjoyed among laypersons hungry to read the word of God. This is a tale ripe for the telling; one wishes the execution were more satisfying. (Apr.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1667 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 10, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001NJMB68
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,502 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Focuses on language and doctrine May 17, 2001
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book on the origin of the Authorised Version or "King James" Bible contrasts well with another recent book on the same subject, Benson Bobrick's -Wide as the Waters-.

The Bobrick book focuses on history and personalities, and since it must cover a lot of ground, covering virtually the whole period of the English Reformation from the standpoint of its effects on Bible translations, any given sketch must necessarily be superficial. Bobrick's brief chapter on the period of the English Civil War and its resonance through later English and American history is particularly sketchy, though it would be informative to the too many people who may be exposed to this bit of history for the first time.

McGrath, by contrast, is a professional theologian. His book focuses only slightly on personalities, but he digs into the texts. Particularly enlightening is his discussion of the text and annotations of the Geneva Bible; he explains exactly why some of these inoffensive seeming notes actually gave annoyance to high churchmen and royal absolutists. He also extensively discusses the conservatism of the King James Bible in both language and translation, and contrasts even its grammar with that used by contemporary writers like Shakespeare.

Those who are unfamiliar with the English Reformation may find the Bobrick book more enlightening. People who have some familiarity with the period, and are interested in the doctrines and language of these Bibles will find McGrath more interesting.
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72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
"In the Beginning" starts out slowly, giving a potted history of the beginnings of the Reformation. It picks up quickly however once the author gains his familiar territory of the Bible in English. The narrative then clips along at an interesting rate as it describes the history of the Bible both before the King James Version, the great work on the KJV translation itself, and the global impact of the KJV to this day.
Fascinating bits of detail are scattered throughout the text. Eight sheets of Tyndale's original 1525 Cologne printing were discovered in 1834 and show Tyndale's heavy dependence on Luther's German Bible in his first translation attempts. "In the Beginning" does an outstanding job of exploring the creation and influence of the Geneva Bible - the market leader that the King James Version had to overtake. Ever wonder why the Apocrypha was dropped from most Protestant English Bibles? "In the Beginning" explains this post-KJV phenomenon in terms both religious and economic.
A minor annoyance in the book is its tendency to repeat turns of phrase. A statement or quote in one paragraph can be immediately followed by the same statement or quote in a following paragraph. The text could stand a good scrubbing to rationalize these redundant references. Also missing were any biographies on the lesser known contributors to the KJV translation teams. The paucity of our historic knowledge about these translators may explain this omission.
The best part of "In the Beginning" is its exploration of the KJV's impact on our language. Tyndale & the KJV translators did much to preserve the Hebrew phraseology and linguistic cadence of the Old Testament.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, informative and important August 26, 2001
Although it's the most widely-read and best-selling book in history, surprisingly little is known about the King James Version of the bible by most of those who read it on a daily basis. As it turns out, millions of people who consider it to be the very word of God don't even realize that it's a translation rather than an original.
Many of those who are familiar with its origins, and who heap praise on it as a peerless literary gem, are not aware that the original bible was written in the everyday language of the common working man, and that the elegance of the prose in the KJV was essentially a fortuitous accident rather than the intent of its translators. The translation was carried out at a crucial turning point in the English language, and the committees established by James I struggled continuously with which words they should use: those of the current day, even though they knew those words would soon be passé and possibly unintelligible to future generations, or the newer usages, which they couldn't be sure would last? As an example, the early 17th century word for the neuter possessive we know as "its" was "his." This has led not only to a number of puzzling passages but also to many that are tortured attempts to get around the problem: Rather than "Its height was twenty cubits," we get "The height was twenty cubits thereof," which we may think is elegant but not when that awkward construction appears three times in a single sentence describing the proper construction of an ark.
IN THE BEGINNING, a splendidly readable account of how the KJV came to be, is filled with such fascinating tidbits, as well as more substantive and disturbing ones.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars History of King James Bible.
Well researched and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves history. Also, anyone interested in the KJV only controversy shouls have this book.
Published 1 month ago by Roger Bates
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
The real version of how we got the english version of the Bible. It is a must for every student of the Bible
Published 3 months ago by vk blow
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a mystery novel!
Who knew there was an "Evil Version" of the KJBible!? Mr. McGrath's handling of this subject matter is thoroughly researched and expertly delivered. Read more
Published 5 months ago by William Kendall
3.0 out of 5 stars Good material marred by an un-engaging, meandering style
There is a compelling, great story behind the translation of the King James' Bible that would be a rip-roaring, eye-opening read for the general reader. This book is not it. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Subir Grewal
1.0 out of 5 stars Ecumenical sectarian garbage.
I bought this book used and it was filled with highlightings on numerous pages where the author casts doubt on the King James Bible. Read more
Published 9 months ago by 4WordMarch
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite a fascinating book!
This book is the story of the King James Version of the Bible. Beginning with the origin of printing in the Fifteenth Century with Johannes Gutenberg, the author then launches into... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Kurt A. Johnson
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
My expectation was to read in depth story of how KJV was translated and this book hardly mentioned about it . One can find it on the internet rather free of charge! Read more
Published 14 months ago by saved by HIS grace
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it you'll learn something
Very informative, plus doesn't make you bored to death! It starts with complete scratch where the bible left off. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Greg Irwin
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing history!!
Very well written and pulled together. One of my all time favorite books! If you like history and seeing how things tie together to change the world you will love this book. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jen Mo
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Have completed, and backtracked to several sections for additonal study. Excellent material, well organized, and written at a level for any high school level reader. Read more
Published 23 months ago by NoOffenceIntended
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More About the Author

Alister E. McGrath is a historian, biochemist, and Christian theologian born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A longtime professor at Oxford University, he now holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. He is the author of several books on theology and history, including Christianity's Dangerous Idea, In the Beginning, and The Twilight of Atheism. He lives in Oxford, England, and lectures regularly in the United States.

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