Celebrating King James Bible

Some others may have read the August Ensign, and noted the pages dedicated to celebrating 400 years of King James Bible. I was sort of inspired to put my 2 cents about the Bible in ordered bits as if someone else were interested in my thoughts. Feel free to criticise/correct me; but my hope is that people would study history, so we could learn from past mistakes.

As all, who hail from a somewhat Westernised country where Christianity is prominent, should know, for a thousand years the Catholic Church held a monopoly on the Bible text, practically hiding it behind a facade of Priestly rituals. Not that rituals in themselves are wrong, I don’t mean that. But since Jerome translated the Bible in the 4th century CE, the “Vulgata”–officially called “Sacrada Biblia Vulgata” or “Sacred Bible in Vernacular” or something like that. Not that Biblical Latin was actually the “vernacular” of many Christians.

What I’m trying to say is that for centuries, the people were told what they should believe in by a class that held a close monopoly on the Bible. But the Catholic Church actually encouraged the study of sciences, as long as science wasn’t challenging the Church monopoly on mythos.

Critics of Christian history have made much hay about the treatment of Galileo, but his studies and publications were originally sanctioned by the Pope. At the same time, though, a Protestant Reformation was driving political climate, and the Pope in a new political situation was forced to punish Galileo to house arrest and silence by the Inquisition.

There seem to be two major themes in the Reformation era. One is, that the monopoly of the Priests and Monks had created a will in educated people to let people actually read the Bible, not just hear others teaching them the supposed teachings of the Bible.

I don’t know how much this has to do with what Karen Armstrong calls the “intolerance of modernity”. Galileo talked about absolute certainties, although he was perfectly willing to let the Bible dictate matters of faith, or the “spiritual world” while Science should show what happens in our observable universe.

Until then, mythos and logos had been two distinct disciplines. Mythos was probably there partly because it was obvious that logos didn’t explain everything. And Mythos was obtained by different means than logos. Greek Mystics were seekers, who were willing to explore the world beyond the strictly logical/rational. They both explained a part of the Big Picture to us.

But the absolute certainties that Galileo talked about were not  so much about the exegetical strivings of theology (mythos); he meant mathematically provable hypotheses. If one could not produce logical proof, one’s opinions were just opinions.

However, both the Catholic Church and the Protestant reformation were starting to build rigid dogmatic structures, which became the “absolute certainties” for many people. The Protestant rejection of a thousand years of Christian exegesis created new Creeds, which claimed to be based on “Sola Scriptura” but the millenia of Jewish and Christian Biblical exegesis had proved it was difficult to nail anything down with absolute certainty based on the Bible.

The “absolute certainty” with which some people acted, and their vehemence in condemning others can be seen in Oliver Cromwell’s political career. He was a Puritan, and acted like one, except that he accepted the “Lord Protector” title, which was championed by Monarchists, who could see only anarchy without a strong centralisation of power. Cromwell, the Puritan, became an  absolute power in his sphere. He seems to have been especially influenced by lay interpretations of the Bible.

Now, naturally there is nothing wrong for the layman to read the Scripture and create a private idea of what the teachings mean in her or his life. I actually think we should know Scriptures well enough to call bs when we hear false pronunciations of what they teach, at least as far as misquoting Scripture goes, at least.

Because I am not going to write a novel, let’s let that be enough of an exhortation to study history enough to know that Galileo didn’t die at the stake, as I’ve often heard claimed. That was Giordano Bruno. I’m referring to Cromwell, because he is one of the best-known examples of where absolutism can lead.

I have much respect for people like William Tyndale, who was executed for Heresy (publishing an English translation of the Bible) as more or less as a victim of the English Civil Wars, which actually started at Thomas Wolsey‘s death in 1530, so before Henry VIII died in 1547, a struggle that only ended in the Glorious Revolution, which limited a Monarch’s powers, unlike the Divine Right of Kings. [last link edited to correct a spelling error] We have the “Bloody Mary‘s” bloody restoration of Catholicism (AKA “Marian persecutions”) and then just as bloody Elizabethan Protestantism [original states these in wrong order, sorry]. They were power struggles, in which religion was unabashedly used as a cudgel against anyone one did not like. Henry declared himself as the “Supreme Head” of the English Church, which strongly challenged both Papal authority and the feelings of the more pious people, who thought that only God could be the “Supreme Head” of anything.

Note the timeline:l 1534, Henry VIII declares himself the “Supreme Head”; 1535 Tyndale publishes his English Bible (which many of the wealthier merchants were able to read and share–yikes, that’d probably be called “copyright infringement” these days); in 1536 Tyndale’s first strangled, then burned. The Tyndale Bible was undoubtedly considered a strong challenge of Priestly authority, thus the vehement attack against him. The English Church had yet to experience any formal Reformation, so basically (now formerly) Catholic Cardinals were responsible.

So, yes, many extremist ideas can actually be traced to those times, but a flourishing of Arts and Sciences were aided by Italian Renaissance (although less than traditionally thought).

Anyhow, the “dark ages” were perhaps not as dark as the “modernists” often portrayed them. Science was supported by the Catholic Church, and literacy was advocated by Priests, although only the wealthy had the opportunity. But the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 (a “copyright infringement” on the Sacrada Biblia Vulgata monopoly) had made the Latin text widely available, thus making even more people willing to read it in their own language.

During the latter part of the 15th century there were efforts to bring the text to common people as translations into actual vernacular. It is no wonder that at the same time as there were great political, social and financial calamities, people were thirsty for a Spiritual remedy. More and more the Bible was considered essential for everyone.

Around the same time, a thing called “Natural Theology” was born. One could call it “the God of the Gaps” or in other words God was seen where human observations were quite limited (both micro and macro levels); Copernicus and Kepler both affirmed that the Power of God moved the planets. So the explanation of how gravity works in a sense did away with a need for a God to explain that stuff.

And thus it went after the publishing of King James Bible, Puritans escaping the English Civil Wars by going to America and other such notable events. What had been the field of the Mystics, now became the field of “Rationalists”–although the “Natural” or “Rational Theology” was based on a dogm of Biblical Inerrancy. No human influence was supposed to be detectable in the Bible according to Puritans and their ideological heirs, Fundamentalists, while critical examination of the Bible exposed its inconsistency if taken literally at all points. I find it interesting, in a way, that people, who most vehemently cling to Biblical Inerrancy, know the least about the text itself, let alone its history.

So, yes, new Scripture was called for, and the Restorationist movement had a will and ability to challenge Biblical inerrancy, especially the notion that the Bible, composed in the early 4th century CE, was the Last Word that God had for humanity.

Whatever one thinks of Joseph Smith, one must realise that he did answer a “hunger for the word of God” as famously predicted by Amos, in Ch. 8, v. 11.

New revelation and new Scripture gave new hope, that humanity hasn’t been completely abandoned, and that there was Grand Strategy, even if God wasn’t seen as a micro-manager. God works through weak people through the power of his Spirit.

If you haven’t felt Holiness, or Spirit, or Mystis, or whatever you’d call it, chances are you’ve mistaken it for something else, because of false expectations of miracles etc.. Remember, Faith is as much a conscious decision as a “gift” poured down upon us. We do get the inspiration from time to time, but we decide where we take it.

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Posted in History, Language, Mormonism, Religion, Sociology
One comment on “Celebrating King James Bible
  1. […] I mentioned King James Bible in an earlier post, I deliberately left out the turmoil of Continental Europe. The 17th century brought on wars that […]

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