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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 Paperback – February 19, 2002


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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 + God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (P.S.) + Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1ST edition (February 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385722168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385722162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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.

Customer Reviews

The book was very good and organized well.
Jeffrey A. Thompson
The author provides a great overview of the cultural, political, and religious changes that were sweeping Europe at the time.
Suzanne
I came away from the book with a deeper appreciation of the King James Bible and bible translation in general.
Shayne Riley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 82 people found the following review helpful By S. Gustafson on 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 By Mark Howells on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"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 By Lee Gruenfeld on August 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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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