The Textual History of the King James Bible

This is is the beginning of a series that I’m going to do on the history of the English Bible. While I’m sort of starting backwards from King James Version of 1611, this overview puts everything into overall perspective in terms of the progress of the Bible in English.  I’m going to do one article on each of the main English Bibles from 1523 to 1611 and then an article on versions since 1769 (the last major official revision of the KJV, generally if you have a KJV you are reading the 1769 edition) and then a discussion on the history and phenomena of “Study Bibles.”



In 1611 the King James Version of the Bible was first printed and made available by Robert Barker, the King’s Printer. This was the culmination of a translation committee that first began in 1604. 2011 was the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the single most printed and widely distributed book in the world and in the English language.  Although the first press run by Barker had a typographical error in Ruth 3:15 where a letter was left out and the text reads, “and she went into the city.”  This was corrected in a subsequent printing later in the year.  The result was the “She” and “He” Bibles.  The “She” Bible became a great item for collectors as a first rate “She” Bible can fetch in excess of $250k.  We’ll discuss typographical errors more in subsequent posts.


From the time of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation there were various initiatives to produce the Bible in the vernacular languages of the different people groups in Europe. The most notable was the German translation by Martin Luther (1534). While initially opposed to the Reformation, Henry VIII, the King of England, began to slowly break with the Catholic Church and in 1534 declared himself to be the supreme head of the Church in England[1]. Slowly in his reign, the Church in England would become the Church of England.

To advance his nationalistic vision of an English Church he was promoted the Bible being translated into English. He would authorize the completion of an English version of the Bible (The Great Bible) and when that project took longer than his patience would allow for, he permitted the use of another English version that was already available (The Matthews Bible).

Prior to this there had been efforts to translate the Bible into the English language. The most notable had been John Wycliffe (produced ca. 1382–95). Wycliffe’s work is notable, but really does not impact the subsequent translations into English leading up to the production of the King James Bible. The single most important individual in the work of creating a Bible in the English language was William Tyndale.

From 1523 to 1611 no fewer than eight different English versions of the Bible would be produced (seven Protestant and One Catholic), culminating in the production of the King James Bible. After 1611, it would be nearly 250 years before another significant English version would be produced. While this can be attributed both to the changed political and ecclesiastical situation in England; it was also because of the quality of the final product of the King James Bible. It would become the Bible of the English-speaking world (The British Empire and the emerging United States) and the Bible of the evangelical and missionary movements that would stretch from 1648 to 1929.

English Translations Prior to the King James

The Tyndale Bible (ca 1523). The work of William Tyndale (1494–1536). Tyndale produced an English version that, for the first time, translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, although he also made use of the Latin Vulgate. It was widely opposed by the church and by Henry VIII.[2] Tyndale made some notable changes at variance with traditional church teaching. Four words in particular in the New Testament translation were noted:

  • Church to “congregation.”
  • Priest to “elder” (although in the first edition he used the word “senior”).
  • Do Penance to “repent.” (this was the most controversial change).
  • Charity to “love.”

Tyndale was persecuted and was forced to move from place to place to avoid arrest. Tyndale had also written, “The Practyse of Prelates” (1538) which was pointed in its attack on Henry’s divorces. Henry VIII sent agents to locate him and arrest him. He was finally captured in Antwerp in 1535 and executed by strangulation and burning at the stake. His famous dying expression was “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.” Henry VIII was actually infuriated by Tyndale’s execution, as he had specifically given instructions that he was to be arrested and brought to him personally.

Coverdale Bible (1535 Produced by Myles Coverdale (1488–1569), this is plays a minor role in the concatenation to the King James Bible. This was largely Tyndale’s work (the NT and the Pentateuch and possibly Jonah) with Coverdale completing the Old Testament not done by Tyndale. However, Coverdale did not have facility in Hebrew and the remainder of the OT was largely from Luther’s German Bible, Zwingli’s Swiss Bible, and the Vulgate. The most notable feature of this Bible is that it was the first complete Bible in English.

Matthew’s Bible (1537). Actually completed by John Rodgers[3] (1500–55) who used the pseudonym of Thomas Matthews to hide his identity. This version was a revision of Tyndale and an updating of the portions of the Old Testament that Coverdale had done, this time using Hebrew sources. This Bible was the first “approved” Bible, having secured the blessing of Henry VIII who desired an English Bible for his “reformation” and was annoyed by the slow process of the completion of the Great Bible.

The Great Bible (1539). This is the first “authorized” version of the Bible in English. Also completed by Myles Coverdale, this Bible was called “Great” because of its size. It was also known as the “Whitchurch Bible” after the first publisher, the “Chained Bible” because of its being attached to the stands in the churches, and the “Cromwell Bible” after Thomas Cromwell (1485–1550)[4], who oversaw the work at the direction of the king.

Although authorized by the Henry VIII, he soon began to put restrictions on its use and possession. He was irritated that phrases in the Bible were being used in “popular” songs of the day.

  1. By the end of his reign he had decree that the Bible could only be read in church, owned by upper class families, and all marginal notations were blacked out. Shortly before his death he also outlawed the use of any Bible except the Great Bible, which led to many of the copies pf the previous versions being destroyed.
  2. The Geneva Bible (1560). This was the most significant English Bible and would remain the Bible of choice for English Protestants for the next 100 years. Compiled by William Whittingham (1524–79), who was John Calvin’s brother-in-law. There are several notable features of this version:
  3. It was so superior to the Great Bible in terms of English usage that it was said to “have driven the Great Bible from the field by the sheer force of its brilliance.
  4. It was the first English Bible to use the modern chapter and verse divisions.
  5. It contained notations, not only on difficult words and phrases, but interpretations (strongly Calvinistic). It was the first “study Bible.”
  6. The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to come to the American Colonies with the Mayflower in 1620 and remained in wide use until the advent of the King James Bible.

The Bishop’s Bible (1568, with a significant revision in 1572). When Queen Elizabeth I (1553–1603) came to the throne after the death of Mary, the Catholic resurgence was ended. The Queen brought her father’s Church of England back into prominence, but it was a “high church” or Anglican in nature. She was not sympathetic to the Calvinists and along with her bishops despised both John Calvin and particularly, John Knox, both of whom were instrumental in the production of the Geneva Bible. However, the bishops were all aware that the Great Bible was significantly flawed and inferior to the English usage in the Geneva. This led to the production of The Bishop’s Bible under the direction of Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker (1504–75). This Bible was notable for several reasons:

  1. It was a significant improvement over the Great Bible and was the second “Authorized Bible” in English.
  2. Although quoted by William Shakespeare (1564–1616), it is not the only English version that he quotes in his works, as some references suggest, he actually more often quotes the Geneva Bible.
  3. One of the main drawbacks of this version was the poor quality of the Old Testament work, which in places was little more than a rough translation of the Vulgate. Daniell stated, “The Hebrew work in the Bishop’s Bible of 1582 was a botch, and was understood to be so.”[5]
  4. The Bishop’s Bible was designated to serve as the official “starting point” for the King James Bible. 40 copies of the 1572 edition were prepared especially for the use of the King James Committee. Only one of those copies is known to still exist and is housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

However, the Bishop’s is a notable contribution, especially in the creation of a “committee” to do the translation. While Parker’s implementation of the committee system was imperfect, it served as a model for the King James.

The King James Bible or Authorized Version (1611). Although the Bishop’s Bible was to be the starting point for this new version, The Bishop’s Bible “was, and is, not loved. Where it reprints Geneva it is acceptable, but most of the original work is incompetent, both in its scholarship and its verbosity.”[6] The King James Bible project was approved by James I (1566–1625) at the Hampton Court Conference (1604).

  1. The Hampton Court Conference was in response to the Puritan ministers petition (The Millenary Petition) to the King James I (who had previously been James VI, King of the Scots) to make Presbyterianism the official practice of the Church of England (along with several other requests).
  2.  While some of the Puritans raised were settled in their favor, clear the most significant outcome obtained was the production of a new English translation of the Bible. This Bible was to be produced by the members of the Church of England and it was to be done by a committee (originally 54, but in the end 40) and overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft (1544–1610). The translators were to be clergy, but mainly scholars who did not hold high ecclesiastical office, but who, because of their work were to be highly considered when vacancies occurred.
  3.  There were six committees:

 First Westminster Company (translating from Genesis to 2 Kings): Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, Hadrian à Saravia, Richard Clarke, John Layfield, Robert Tighe, Francis Burleigh, Geoffrey King, Richard Thomson, William Bedwell.

First Cambridge Company (translated from 1 Chronicles to the Song of Solomon): Edward Lively, John Richardson, Lawrence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Roger Andrewes, Thomas Harrison, Robert Spaulding, Andrew Bing.

First Oxford Company (translated from Isaiah to Malachi): John Harding, John Rainolds (or Reynolds), Thomas Holland, Richard Kilby, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Daniel Fairclough, William Thorne.

Second Oxford Company (translated the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation): Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, Richard Eedes, Giles Tomson, Sir Henry Savile, John Peryn, Ralph Ravens, John Harmar, John Aglionby, Leonard Hutten.

Second Westminster Company (translated the Epistles): William Barlow, John Spenser, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins, Michael Rabbet, Thomas Sanderson (who probably had already become Archdeacon of Rochester).

Second Cambridge Company (translated the Apocrypha): John Duport, William Branthwaite, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Samuel Ward, Andrew Downes, John Bois, Robert Ward, Thomas Bilson, Richard Bancroft.

There were 15 specific rules made by the King and his Archbishop for the translators:

  • The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
  • The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
  • The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
  • When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
  • The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
  • No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot “without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.”
  • Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
  • Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
  • As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
  • If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
  • When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.
  • Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
  • The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
  • These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s[7], Geneva.
  • Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.[8]

The final product would be recognized as one of the finest achievements in the English language. The fascinating feature, among many, is that in the New Testament, the King James Bible is largely identical to the work of William Tyndale (albeit with updated English).[9] While it would take about 50 years for it to gain supremacy in English (the Geneva Bible was still preferred by many of the Puritan party). The last edition of the Geneva Bible was produced in 1644. One interesting note is that an edition of the King James Bible with the Geneva notes was first produced in 1679 (through 1715). But this edition was never particularly popular. The energy of Puritanism had been largely misspent by Oliver Cromwell and radical Calvinism was never again viewed with great favor among the ruling class of England. The King James Bible would go through several revisions, the last one being 1769. It would remain essentially the exclusive English Bible until the late 1800’s and the dominant English version until the 1950’s.While the King James Bible is in the public domain in the United States (and most of the world), In Great Britain, the Crown perpetually retains the exclusive rights to the Bible and grants permission to publish under the Letters Patent.

The Douay-Rheims Version (1609–10): This English version was produced at the University of Douay (Douai) in France, by English Catholic scholars who were not welcome not safe in England. This version is often ignored in the listing of English Bibles of the era because it was both Catholic and largely a translation of the Vulgate and not from the Hebrew and Greek. However, the translators did make use of the available English versions, especially that of Myles Coverdale and, interestingly enough, the Geneva. It contains marginal notations that are as partisan as the Geneva, from a Catholic position. There was a significant revision completed in 1750 by Bishop Richard Challoner (1691–1781). While it retains the original name, it is also occasionally referred to as the Challoner Bible. This version was also long lasting. It would remain the standard English language Bible for Catholics until 1941.

Textual Sources for the King James Bible

  1. Besides the English Bibles already mentioned the main textual sources for the King James Bible were as follows:
  2. The Textus Receptus: Produced by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) who was called, “the crowning glory of the Christian humanists.”[10] He compiled a standard Greek text from about six different manuscripts which contained most of the New Testament. Notably missing were the last six verses of Revelation, which Erasmus translated from Latin back into Greek. While the work of Erasmus was the standard of the day, he mainly consulted Greek text of the Byzantine textual family and largely avoided older texts because he was afraid of what he thought was an “erratic text” in Codex 1.[11] The King James translators utilized the 1550 edition of Stephanus (Robert Estienne, 1503–59).
  3. The Latin Vulgate: Original produced by Jerome (ca 347–420) by the 13th Century had become the official and “inspired” Bible of the Catholic Church and was significant in the Protestant Church as well even beyond the Reformation. Over the centuries the Vulgate went through many revisions and the King James translators were likely using Erasmus’ edition.
  4. Hebrew Rabbinic Bible: Produced in 1524 by Daniel Bomberg, this is the Masoretic Text. While the King James translators would occasionally use the LXX or Vulgate for more preferable “Christian” phrasing of some OT passages, they also were the first to consult Jewish commentators (especially David Kimhi 1160–1235) for insight into difficult Hebrew expressions.
  5. Luther’s German Bible: Martin Luther (1483–1546) produced a German translation of the New Testament in 1522 and then the complete Bible (including the Apocrypha) in 1534. He worked continually on the project and finished a revision the year he died. His Bible was the standard German language Bible into the 20th One oddity of his translation was Romans 3:28 where he adds the word “alone” to the phrase, “justified by faith apart from deeds of the law” to read, “justified alone by faith.” Besides being an important and influential reformer, many scholars of the day (particularly Coverdale) had facility in German.  The influence of Luther’s Bible cannot be underestimated.  It had a longer “useful” life than the King James Bible and was the standard German language Bible well into 20th century.
  6. Other sources: While the translators do not have appeared to consulted available Greek manuscripts, they did consult the Syriac and other vernacular translations (Spanish, French and Italian).

The Impetus for New English Versions in the Victorian Era

By the middle of the 19th Century there was a growing consensus that the King James Bible was beginning to become obsolete in terms of both English usage and the scholarly apparatus. Significant new manuscript discoveries (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, to name the two most notable) demonstrated that the Textus Receptus was problematic in places and that the English translation of the King James Bible was clearly problematic in sections as well.

English Bible commentaries were becoming increasingly adamant in their remarks of the translation in the King James Bible. The movement for a revision or a new version entirely came to fruition during this time. Even a traditionalist such as Charles Spurgeon remarked, “it ought to be done, and must be done. The present version is not to be despised, but no candid person can be blind to its faults. . . I love God’s Word better than I love King James’s pedantic wisdom and foolish kingcraft.”[12]

However, to his student he added a more practical admonition:

Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, mistrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct were correction must be for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your own critical ability.[13]

This movement would see its culmination in 1870 with the release of the Revised Version of 1885.

The Revised Version is the only official revised of King James Bible and was overseen by the Church of England and approved by Queen Victoria (1819–1901). Its purposes were “to adapt King James’ version to the present state of the English language without changing the idiom and vocabulary,” and “to adapt it to the present standard of Biblical scholarship.”

The leading scholars on the revision committee were Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901), Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–92), and J. B. Lightfoot (1828–89). The most vehement critic was John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester (1813–88). But there was also significant infighting, often led by Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener (1813–91), who was also a member the New Testament revision committee.

While the Revised Version was initially a commercial success and was received both by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen, it was a singular disappointment. The scholars involved were all leaders in their language fields, but not known for English prose. Spurgeon summed up the feelings about the Revised Version when he said it was, “strong in Greek but weak in English.”

Quick Bibliography

This small list of works is designed to open the door for additional study; it is certainly not to be considered exhaustive nor even complete.  I’ll add more bibliographic references in future posts.

Bruce, F. F. History of the English Bible, 3rd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Carson, D. A. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979.

Daniell, David. The Bible in English. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Greenslade, S. L. (ed). The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West From the Reformation to the Present Day. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

Metzger, Bruce. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Norton, David. A Textual History of the King James Bible. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.



[1] Henry’s break with Rome is often, rather simplistically, viewed as an issue of his multiple marriages and the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Henry viewed the authority Rome was enjoying in the temporal affairs in England to be intolerable and England was in a position of only having a single cardinal who was not, at that time, allowed to become pope. Interestingly enough, his argument was similar to the American Colonies position some 200 years later of “no taxation without representation.” Henry’s reformation was a political and nationalistic one and only slowly was there actual ecclesiastical and theological alterations. “The Reformation was rather a final assertion by the State of its authority over the Church in England. The breach with the Roman Church, the repudiation of papal influence in English ecclesiastical affairs, was not a spontaneous clerical movement; it was the effect of the subjection of the Church to the national temporal power. The Church in England had hitherto been a semi-independent part of the political community. It was semi-national, semi-universal; it owed one sort of fealty to the universal Pope, and another to the national King. The rising spirit of nationality could brook no divided allegiance; and the universal gave way to the national idea. There was to be no imperium in imperio, but ‘one body politic” (A. F. Pollard, Henry VIII. [Project Gutenberg eBook], 234).

[2] Henry VIII was also a significant scholar in his own right, in 1521 he wrote, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (A Defense of the Seven Sacraments) in response to the Lutheran Reformation. It was a significant work and , in many respects, superior to any defense the Roman hierarchy had produced. In response, Pope Leo X award Henry with the title, “Defender of the Faith” which the British Monarchs retain to this day.

[3] Rodgers was the first Protestant martyr (1555) under the persecutions of Queen Mary (1515–58) and Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500–58) who were attempting to re-establish the Catholic Church in England after the death of Edward VI. Interestingly, both died within hours of each other on Nov 17, 1558.

[4] Who should not be confused with Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) later Lord Protector of the short lived English Republic. Oliver Cromwell was distantly related, through Thomas Cromwell’s sister.

[5] David Daniell. The Bible in English (New Haven Yale University Press, 2003), 435.

[6] David Daniell. Tyndale’s New Testament (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), xii. A parallel to this project can be made to the Constitutional Convention in the United States in 1787, which was originally designed to revise the Articles of the Confederation, but in reality ended up creating an entirely new constitution.

[7] Whitchurch’s is The Great Bible of 1539.

[8] The 15th rule was added slightly after the work had begun and, interestingly enough is often ignored by proponents of the so-called “King James Only” position.

[9] Daniell, The Bible in English, 448.

[10] Kenneth Scott LaTourette. History of Christianity (New York: Harper Brothers, 1953), 661.

[11] Bruce Metzger. The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 102.

[12] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Preface to H. H. C. Connat’s History of the English Bible (New York: Sheldon, 1856), x-xi. As cited in Daniel, The Bible in English, 685.

[13] Charles H. Spurgeon. Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore and Alsbaster, 1976), 31.

THE Best Biography of G. K. Chesterton Available

The quote that leads this little “adventure” as noted is from one of  my favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton. The following review is of what I consider to be the single best biography of Chesterton that has ever been written and delves into his mind and thought perhaps as well as any biographer could.

dmsthumbIan Ker. G. K. Chesterton: A Biography. Oxford University Press: 2012. xxi + 757pp. (cloth), $65.00

“Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere mention of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Bogley Head, 1908), 218–19.

 One of the single most fascinating Christian apologists in the modern era, like C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), was not a trained theologian, but rather a man of letters, or as Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton (1874–1936), often referred to himself, “a journalist.” His chief secular antagonist (and good friend) George Bernard Shaw called him an individual of “colossal genius.” Known as a Roman Catholic apologist (although he did not convert to Catholicism until 1922), his works have been reprinted by several evangelical publishers and perhaps his most influence works, The Everlasting Man (1925), was identified by C. S. Lewis as a significant contribution to his own conversion, and one of the books that shaped his “vocational attitude and philosophy of life” (Christian Century, 79, No. 23 [6 June 1962], 719).

Interest in Chesterton and his works has never really waned since his death in 1936; however, in recent years interest in “GK” has steadily risen. In the last ten years there have been over 50 books produced with Chesterton as the central subject. Of all of these new volumes, the subject of this review stands out as a singular contribution.

Ian Ker is Senior Research Fellow in Theology at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford University. He states in the preface that his goal is to “help establish his [Chesterton’s] rightful position as the successor of the great Victorian ‘sages’, and particularly [John Henry] Newman” (xi). For Ker to seek to place Chesterton alongside Cardinal Newman is no flight of fancy, as he is one of the most noted living authorities on Newman and author of the formidable biography, John Henry Newman (Oxford University Press, 2009).

This volume is “the first full-length intellectual and literary life of Chesterton” (viii, xi) incorporating many heretofore little known or unpublished letters and other materials. The final product is a singular accomplishment, integrating insights into his multiple genres as well as his theological, socio-economic, and philosophic thoughts into a biographic tour de force.

Ker follows chronological style with allowances for the thematic approach he mentions in the preface. Straying from pure chronology was also somewhat forced upon Ker by his subject since Chesterton, “never dated” (viii) letters which he personally wrote. Ker devotes entire chapters to Orthodoxy (195–232) and The Everlasting Man (487–538). There is a listing of plates (xxi) and an abbreviation key to Chesterton’s works (xvii–xx). The index (731–47) is largely a name index, with subjects only being listed in relation to Chesterton himself and his wife Frances (née Blogg) Chesterton (1871–1938). The index is adequate, but only barely so, and although the book runs to nearly 800 pages, one could have wished that the publisher had expended a little more effort towards the exhaustive index which this volume deserves.

In creating this “literary life of Chesterton” (xi), Ker examines the creation of Chesterton’s major polemic and apologetic works, detailing the background and piecing together Chesterton’s personal life at the time of writing. Ker also spends a good deal of time on his major novels, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (127ff) and his most enduring novel, The Man Who Was Thursday (187ff). The Man Who Was Thursday, is the Chesterton novel Ker states, “will continue to be read” (125, 127). Thursday was Chesterton’s reaction against the pessimism of the 1890’s that he viewed, in contrast with the societal pessimism that enveloped England after World War I, as “the sad souls of the nineties lost hope because they had taken to much absinthe; our young men lost hope because a friend died with a bullet in his head” (192). It was a typical contrastive of Chesterton, pessimism caused by dwelling in self-induced unreality as opposed to the pessimism caused by the tragedies of real life. This reviewer would take some issue with the assertion by Ker that only these two novels will continue to be read. Both The Flying Inn (345–47) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (487) are novels we continue to enjoy.

Chesterton’s most “remembered” books are, of course, the Father Brown mysteries. The stories were highly profitable, when his bank account would run low, he was reported to have said, “Oh well, we must write another Father Brown story” (283). Ker’s discussion of the origination and development of Father Brown (282–90) is excellent. The examination and solving of crimes by an otherwise non-descript Roman Catholic priest combines Chesterton’s twin passions of the common man and the singular importance of Christian theology in everyday life.

Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man are Chesterton’s two main theological works and they, perhaps as clearly as anything written, detail his view of Christianity and Catholicism, although, Orthodoxy was actually published 14 years before he entered the Catholic Church. Ker’s analysis of these volumes is worth the price of the entire book. For Chesterton Christianity, and the visible church, was a living and vital reality. He stated, “Plato has told you a truth, but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you any more” (228). “The Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me tomorrow” (ibid). In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton was dealing with a “post-Christian” society. Ker helpfully notes:

By pointing out that in a post-Christian age it is very difficult to see Christianity for what it is: post-Christians ‘still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.’ They are in a state of ‘reaction’: ‘They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians.’ They are not ‘far enough away not to hate’ Christianity, nor are they near enough to love it’ (516).

Ker develops the theme of Chesterton’s humour in greater depth than any other biographical work and makes significant use of Chesterton’s Autobiography (published shortly after his death in 1836). Ker states:

The unfailing humour that was so significant an aspect of Chesterton’s personal life has its parallel in the enormous importance he attached in his writings to humour as a medium for comprehending and interpreting life, regarding comedy as he did as an art form at least as serious as tragedy (xi).

In this approach Ker demonstrates the singular skein that runs through his life and works, the difference from being serious about life, yet approaching it with humour and being solemnly humourless whereby one loses the joy of living life (506–07). Humour was so thoroughly entwined in his writings Chesterton remarked that he feared, “his humorous books were taken seriously and his serious books humorously” (550).

The literary device Chesterton is best known for is the use of paradox. Chesterton himself came to believe when he saw that “the paradoxes of Christianity are true to life” (150). Ker’s discussion of Chesterton and paradox is woven throughout the work, as it was in Chesterton’s life itself. Ker notes that Chesterton explained every aspect of Christianity and the Christian life by means of paradox. He summarizes Chesterton’s view of the pagan and Christian view of self by stating:

The pagans had set out to enjoy themselves but in the end made ‘the great psychological discovery’ that ‘a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else’, and that, ‘whereas it had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to the infinity, the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero’ (151).

Chesterton remains one of the most fascinating Christian apologists/philosophers of the modern era. He straddled the eras between Queen Victorian and the opening curtain of World War II. He wrote significant critiques of poets like Robert Browning and Robert Lewis Stevenson and also warned the world about the horrors that, left unchecked, Hitler and Nazism would certainly unleash on the world. He was a giant in the English literary world when Fleet Street was in its golden age. He saw the introduction of the telephone (which he personally was adverse to using) and in 1932 became a successful radio personality for the BBC. His radio success foreshadows the broadcasts of C. S. Lewis during World War II, from whence Mere Christianity (1945) would derive.

For evangelicals, of whom Chesterton often critical, he is a writer, apologist, and thinker of the first rank who remains vital to interact with today. While one may be disappointed that the final destination in his spiritual journal was the Catholic Church, if one reads Chesterton without profit it is not the fault of the writer. Ker has produced one of those rare biographies that is full of detailed information and personal anecdotes about the subject and never loses the author’s original goal. We cannot recommend this volume too highly.

THE Reference Set for Early Church History: A Review of “Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity”

dmsthumbAngelo Di Beradino (General Editor). Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, Produced by the Institutum Patristricum Augustinianum. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014. Volume One (A–E) xxxviii + 937 pp; Volume Two (F–O) xxxvi + 1020 pp; Volume Three (P–Z) xxxiv + 994 pp (cloth), $450.00 (set).

As a librarian one of the most frequent questions this reviewer receives is for a recommendation as to how a pastor might configure his library. My working principle over the years has been to emphasize “reference” as the core of a library. To find stock a library with sources of excellent articles on particular subjects that have been through a rigorous academic review (as opposed to Wikipedia or other popular online sources) is key for quick research for the busy pastor.

For many years there has been a significant need for a updated Patristic era reference, especially in English has existed. The 1992 English edition Encyclopedia of the Early Church (Oxford Press) was a straight translation of the Italian Dizinario patristico e di antichitá cristiane (Marietti, 1983–88). The Nuovo dizionario was completed in 2010. This edition represents more than a straight translation as the general editor, Angelo Di Beradino has overseen the addition of many new articles to a total of 3,220. All of the articles were revisited and updated. Di Beradino, for many years the director of the Hewitt Library at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA and is currently Professor of Patrology at the Augustinian Patristic Institute in Rome and has served as an editor for several other works including We Believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series (IVP 2012).

The three volumes roughly cover the era of AD 90 to 750. Consulting editor, Thomas Oden, states that the volumes cover, “key topics in early Christian studies with special attention to authors, texts and contexts of the first through eighth centuries” (ix). The articles range in length from a single paragraph to several pages. Owing to Di Bernadino’s skill as a librarian and researcher, this set is a model of reference organization and detail. The articles all have useful bibliographic references to introduce the reader to additional material. The only organizational criticism this reviewer would advance is the lack of “see also” notations to assist the researcher.

It is impossible to highlight all of the articles deserving of mention but a sample of notable articles would include Trapé on “Justification” (2:490–92) is an important read noting that the discussion of justification by faith was a dynamic conversation in the early church. Crouzel and Odrobina’s entry on “Celibacy of the Clergy” (1:478–79) is valuable in sorting out the development and geographic progression of this concept. The treatment of “Kingdom of God” (2:504–507) by dal Covolo and “Millennialism” (2:802–803) by Simonetti are excellent contributions. Filoramo’s “Eschatology” (1:837–40) is particularly helpful in detailing how the works of Origen and Augustine precipitated the shift in early church doctrine from literal to spiritualized concepts in eschatology. The lengthy entry on “Baptism” (1:321–26) has a very stimulating discussion on the “iconography” of baptismal scenes. The discussion of the early baptismal controversies, especially in the cases of the Novatians and Donatists, is quite helpful. Interestingly, there is no discussion on the issue of infant baptism or its development in the early church. Hanson’s “Creeds and Confessions of Faith” (1:630–33) is excellent, especially in the discussion of the evolution of “style” of creedal statements.

One of the longest articles in the set is the important discussion of “Preaching” (3:273–93). Federico Fatti details the homily, “used in reference to sermons in which exegetical interest prevailed” (3:274) and sermon, which “was used in reference to sermons on a theme” (ibid). He details the development of both substance and style in preaching and a fascinating discussion of the introduction of presbyters as preachers (3:284–86). Another fascinating discussion is the role that audience and congregation participation in the sermon in this era. Any studdent of preaching will benefit from this article, especially the extensive bibliography that takes four full columns.

The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity is highly recommended as a front line source for information on all aspects of the early church. The cost ($450 list) will be prohibitive to some individuals, but it is a must have for any seminary, training school, or other educational institution. Those specializing in church history will want to have this reference set within arms reach at their desk.

Review of “Princeton Seminary in American Culture and Religion”

dmsthumbJames H. Moorhead. Princeton Seminary in American Culture and Religion. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012. xxii + 548pp (cloth) $60.00

Begun in 1812, Princeton Theological Seminary is the second oldest seminary in America, its two libraries (the Speer Library and the Henry Luce III Library) represent the largest theological library collection in the United States, and the second largest in the world (only the Vatican Library has more extensive holdings). Under the leadership of four successive “principals;” Archibald Alexander (1772–1851); Charles Hodge (1797–1878); Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823–86); and Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921), the “Princeton Theology” was developed and taught to successive generations of (mainly) Presbyterian and evangelical pastors and educators. While that theology ceased to be the driving force at Princeton after 1929, Princeton, to this day remains a key institution for theological education and discussion.

To commemorate the bi-centennial of Princeton, the author, himself the Mary McIntosh Bridge Professor of Church History at Princeton Theological Seminary, has produced a history that is detailed without being pedantic and immensely readable without falling into a shallow press piece.

This volume has an excellent Person/Subject Index (510–48) and the notations are exceptionally thorough. However, one could wish that a separate bibliography had been included. In such a well-researched work, that David C. Calhoun’s two volumes: Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning, 1812–1868 (Banner of Truth, 1994) and Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, 1869–1929 (Banner of Truth, 1996) go unreferenced and unmentioned is rather inexplicable, especially given the fact that Moorhead spends about ¾ of his work covering the period of 1812 to 1936.

Moorhead details the creation of Princeton and the various dynamics that led to the creation of the school with a board and faculty “separate from the college [The College of New Jersey, later Princeton University]” (26) and with an educational model that would not “follow the divinity school route that Harvard and Yale later pursued” (ibid). The creation of Princeton Seminary under Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller also coincided with major changes at the College of New Jersey (which had experienced both a suspicious fire, student riots, and general unrest from 1802–1807), where Samuel Smith was ousted as president and replaced by Ashbel Green.

The establishment of Princeton sought to provide “learned men” to fill expanding number of churches as the United States was beginning a major westward expansion (27). The Presbyterian Church established a plan for the seminary that sought to balance the often-competing interests of revivalism, piety, theological fidelity, and scholarship. Moorhead states,

Whatever else the Princetonians were, they first and foremost saw themselves as expositors of God’s Word. But there were never simply men of one book, even a sacred book. Scholars of many books and subjects, they hoped to train their students broadly and believed, as [Archibald] Alexander put it, “there is scarcely any branch of knowledge which may not be made subservient to theology” (xix–xx).

Moorhead arranges the chronological history around the key personalities, mainly the seminary principals. After the chapter on Alexander and Miller (28–62), his chapter “Learning and Piety” (63–98) examines the initial growth and success of the seminary “plan.” Some issues in seminary education seemingly do not change from century to century. Moorhead notes the complaint of Samuel Miller, who in the 1830’s lamented that students often came to seminary and discovered,

the miserable scantiness of their literary and scientific acquisitions” and had the sinking realization that they were not prepared to “enter with intelligence on several departments of theological study (89).

Those students, instead of applying themselves to “more and deeper studies” (ibid) simply went back to their public ministries without completing their studies; there were then, as there are today, many churches all to willing to take on under-prepared preachers and pastors.

One of the most informative sections of this work are the chapters dealing with the events that would eventually lead to the events of 1929, the so-called “re-organization of Princeton Seminary.” In “Hints of Change and Missionary Visions” (282–310), “Curriculum, Conflict, and the Seminary’s Mission” (311–39), and “The Fundamentalist Controversy and Reorganization” (340–69) Moorhead deftly presents and explains the multiple issues that were converging in the decades prior to the reorganization. The three streams of leadership at the seminary: faculty governance, organizational leadership by the board, and the Presbyterian Church’s denominational direction; which had been, by and large, in confluence for the first 100 years began to diverge. Additionally, advancing pedagogical philosophy in higher education began to impact Princeton (312–20).

The first significant change was made in 1902. That year, a “president” appointed by the board (322) replaced the seminary “principal” (a senior faculty member chosen by the faculty). This bifurcated the operations, transferring operational and leadership duties away from the faculty to a separate administration (although in the immediate years after the change the president still regularly taught courses). The first president, Frances L. Patton, had been maneuvered out as president of Princeton University in a “palace coup” (321) engineered by Woodrow Wilson, who would be named the new university president, then would be elected governor of New Jersey, and later, President of the United States. With Warfield’s death in 1921 faculty dominance in seminary policy and practice quickly began to erode.

“Student petitions” made directly to the board of directors also served to alter the academic landscape in the new century. In 1903 students successfully petitioned for the addition of “English Bible” courses (323) into the curriculum. In 1909 a rather pointed petition complained about professors, “slovenly, dull, and uninspiring” classroom teaching (327). This second petition coincided with a drop in enrollment and led the board to recommend to the faculty several changes. However, Warfield’s power and influence was such that, “the board backed off, adopting rather modest recommendations” (328). Warfield advocated, defending to the end of his life, a rigidly proscribed curriculum with essentially no electives. If one wanted to study specialized subjects in the elective offerings a student could only do so, “through a fourth year of education after the required work was completed” (321).

The details of the final reorganization of Princeton in 1929 are largely bound up in the lives of Charles R. Erdman (1866–1960) and J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). Erdman’s appointment to the faculty in 1905 was not welcome. Moorhead states in particular, “Warfield acted as if the courses of the new professor affronted the integrity of the seminary program” (326). Until his death in 1921 Warfield refused to approve any student majoring in his department of Systematic Theology to pursue a minor in Eerdman’s courses. Machen, and particularly his seminal book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and his ecclesiological views are thoroughly discussed (350–69). In 1923 Machen was called to preach at the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton in a “supply” or interim roll when the church was without a pastor (362) and after he was then followed by Erdman, who ultimately was called to be regular pastor, serving for the next ten years. The personal animosity between the two would carry on beyond the Westminster-Princeton split to the issue of missionary work (395–97), where Erdman was the chairman of board of foreign missions and Machen was finalizing creation of a new missions board (which syphoned off scarce money to the existing denominational work). It was this action, not theology, which led to Machen’s defrocking and ultimately to the formation of a new Presbyterian denomination (396).

The reorganization of Princeton in 1929 led to Machen and several others leaving (although they were all invited to remain) Princeton and forming Westminster Theological Seminary. It was really not a “conservative” vs “liberal” split, as Moorhead notes, “to a man, they were conservative” (309), although he perhaps is viewing that 1929 spectrum through a 2012 lens. Not all who theologically agreed with Machen joined him in departing. Gerhardus Vos, Caspar Wistar Hodge Jr., and William Park Armstrong, all remained at Princeton.

Given the detail Moorhead dedicates to the years of 1812–1935, the remainder of this work, covering 1935 to 2004 seems a bit skimpy in comparison. However, the final chapters are informative and a fascinating read. As he noted earlier, “at it’s founding the seminary’s leaders perceived themselves as standing between the extremes of radical Enlightenment and unlettered piety” (281). Moorhead’s narrative shows that the fulcrum of that balance perhaps shifted to the left in the last 50 years.

The work is highly recommended at several levels. Evangelicals and conservatives who lament the “loss” of Princeton with the reorganization will be enlightened and perhaps warned about the dynamics of that era. The issues in seminary education that Princeton has dealt with throughout its history are largely unchanged today and anyone interested in seminary or theological education will benefit from this work. Moorhead writes history with a panache that is both interesting and even-handed, undergirded with a model of scholarly research.

Review of “Thy Word is Still Truth”

dmsthumbI wrote this review when the book first came out, but it wasn’t published. So here it is for one and all.

Lillback, Peter A. and Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Editors). Thy Word is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary and Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 2013. xxxi + 1392p (cloth) $59.95.

The most abiding result of the so-called “reorganization” of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1929 was the creation of Westminster Theological Seminary under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen (see MSJ 24:2 [272–75], review of Princeton Seminary in American Culture and Religion by this reviewer for background).

As the editors of this volume write Westminster Seminary was noted by, “a high view of Scripture reflecting the historic Reformed theological and confessional tradition” (xix). This volume, is really a “reading syllabus” or “compendium” was born out of a “theological crisis, which was motivated by differing hermeneutical perspectives and broader understandings of confessional boundaries” (xx) as is related to the doctrine of Scripture. Lillbeck and Gaffin state,

Having resolved this conflict and having begun to articulate again a clear and historic witness to this core value. Westminster now gives the world a theological testimony of the integrity of our views that we believe are grounded in the long and august Reformed tradition on the doctrine of Scripture (ibid).

And further they state as their purpose for this volume to be,

to demonstrate that the conclusions reached in this controversy, whose focal point was at Westminster, are nothing less than the continuing flowering of the reformational views of Luther, Calvin, Bullinger, and the Reformed confessions on the doctrine of Scripture (ibid).

The “controversy” that the preface refers to dealt with the works of former WTS Professor Peter Enns who was suspended from the his professorship (after 14 years) by the Board of Directors, at the urging of Lillback. There had been a series of hearings, internal investigation, and written papers, and the faculty had voted that Enns’ work, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker, 2008), did not violate his faculty oath to uphold the Westminster Confession. He resigned shortly after being suspended (1319–33). However, unless the reader was already familiar with the situation, the entire context of this volume is rather arcane. Even the scant 14 pages dedicated to “The Westminster Controversy” are only copies of the board’s public statements and do little to clarify the opaque treatment of the situation that inspired this volume. An introductory chapter detailing the history of the “controversy” and providing a more thorough context of this book would have added significantly to its overall value.

What the volume does do, rather nicely, is present a compendium or “reader.” In a classroom setting this would have been called a “reading syllabus.” The first major section (3–83) is selected writings from Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin (the later being a section of his Institutes). This is followed by a long section of the “Reformed Confessions” (85–242); followed by “Early Reformed Interpretation” (243–495); “The Doctrine of Scripture in the Scottish and Dutch Legacy” (497–736); “Other Nineteenth Century European Contributions” (737–92); “The Doctrine of Scripture in the Old Princeton Theology” (793–892); “The Theology of Scripture of the Founding Fathers of Westminster” (893–981); “The Birth of Biblical Theology” (983–1108); “The Authority of the Old Testament and New Testament Canon of Scripture” (1121–63); “Challenges to the Reformed Doctrine of Scripture” (1179–1279); “The Westminster Controversy” (1319–33); and a concluding section (1337–48), consisting mainly of Gaffin’s contribution to God’s Word in Servant Form (Reformed Academic Press, 2008).

Except for the brief introductions that precede each major section, the preface and the longer introduction by Lillback in the conclusion, there is nothing that could be called new material. One oddity is the inclusion of a section from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, “Man’s Natural Blindness in the Things of Religion” (478–95) in the larger section containing excerpts from the Reformed confessions. While generally on theme for the totality of the volume, its placement with the confessions really doesn’t fit. The chapter excepting Charles Hodge’ section on Scripture (795–822) from his Systematic Theology retains the extensive use of Latin quotations. The editors could have assisted those who do not have facility in Latin by adding translations of the several long paragraphs in their footnotes.

While publishers have always placed brief endorsements of on the back, dust jackets, and elsewhere; the current practice of a page or two of such endorsements in the front has been gaining ground in recent years, a practice this reviewer finds to be an unnecessary and annoyingly “puffing” of a book. The ten pages given to these endorsements in the front of this volume are really beyond the pale of appropriateness. The subtitle is rather misleading; it is no doubt some of the “Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today” but it is hardly thorough. There is no mention of the work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, which produced the statement, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This is perhaps the single most important declaration on inerrancy in the last century (along with a subsequent statement on hermeneutics) yet it is only mentioned in passing and is entirely absent from the index. The neglect is even more startling considering the leadership of ICBI by the Presbyterian pastor and leader, James Montgomery Boice (albeit he was affiliated with the PCA). In fact, there is essentially no mention of works by those outside the larger Westminster sphere. The underlying notion that there exists a “Reformed” doctrine of Scripture, somehow unique or in some articulation distinct from traditional evangelicalism is a dubious proposition that is assumed rather than argued.

Despite the rather narrow and parochial purposes behind this work, as a compendium or reading syllabus this volume undoubtedly has some value. Its strength is in collating the writings in support Biblical inerrancy, albeit from the particular perspective of Westminster; but with little new or original material the price is rather steep for a collection of otherwise available writings. This is a book that could have been much more than it turned out to be.

I’m Re-Entering the Blogosphere

My personal web page has been in desperate need of updating for some time, but with all of the work I was (now formerly) doing I never had time. I now have the time and enthusiasm to update things and begin to blog again.

I’ve never been a “blogger” in the traditional sense, even when I was blogging some ten years ago, I was always more of an essayist who used a blogging format.

I’m going to write about everything that occurs to me on the adventure going forward. I’ll do some book reviews, some opinion pieces, have some fun, and in general just enjoy the trip. I hope that you’ll come along and comment as you feel inclined.