God’s Secretaries ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
England’s Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, after a reign of forty-four years. She failed to produce an heir, a successor, during her lifetime, so James I of Scotland succeeded her to the English throne. He was the son of Elizabeth’s cousin and political rival, Mary Queen of Scots. The twenty-two years that he sat on the throne of England is called the “Jacobean Age” because “Jacobus” is Latin for James.
Hundreds of years ago in England, religion was of the utmost importance, much more important than it is today. People were willing to fight and to die for their religion. There was much in-fighting between Catholics and Protestants and between other sects and splinter groups. It was about this time that a small group of religious dissenters who weren’t happy with the way they were treated in their own country came to the “New World” for a fresh start in a new place where they could decide the dictates of their own religion. They were what we today might call the “lunatic fringe.”
Early in his reign (which turned out to be fairly disastrous for the country), King James I commissioned a new translation of the Bible. There were existing translations of the Bible, of course, including the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible, but they were considered inadequate (for whatever reason) and there was a perceived need for a uniform Bible. The King James translation of the Bible was to be a Bible for all the people, not just for the elite and educated. It was to be written in elegant, yet accessible to everyone, Jacobean English.
The translation was a huge undertaking, involving some fifty Translators and taking about eight years. The Translators were not writers or journalists but high-level churchmen, bishops and ministers. They used as their source material existing versions of the Bible, principally that of William Tyndale. King James, who had taken a personal interest in the translation, kept a close watch on the project through to its completion in 1611.
The King James translation of the Bible was not an immediate success. For many years, people still preferred other translations. However, it still remains the “standard” Bible translation hundreds of years later. There are more modern translations but, for millions of people, the stately, soaring language of the King James Bible is the voice of Christianity.
God’s Secretaries by Adam Nicholson is not only about the King James Bible but about the times in which it was written, the king who brought the translation about, and the political climate of the times. It was a time in which the government was in charge of religion; church attendance was mandatory; religion played a central role in everyday life. Churchmen were some of the most powerful people in the country. People lived and breathed the Scriptures. If you were not of the proper faith, you just mind find yourself dead. How different the times are in which we live today!
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp