October 2011


This weekend Houston Baptist University hosted a conference on the King James Version: KJV@400: A Story of Biblical Proportions.  HBU through the Dunham Bible Museum hosted this conference because the museum has an extensive collection of Bibles from around the world.  (For instance, I was shown a couple of gospels today from Russia with silver plated covers that were the Csars’ and also an original printing of Erasmus’ Greek text.)  Friday was focused primarily on the origins of the KJV, and Saturday was focused on the effects of the KJV on British and American culture.  It had a variety of speakers and included two panel discussions that allowed a variety of questions to be raised.

I was surprised by the strong opinion by some promoting a return to the KJV.  I know the KJV still holds sway in several US groups, but they tend not to be people attending and speaking at academic conferences.  The primary basis of the argument here was not something related to the majority text or biblical accuracy but more the literary, poetic, and cultural standard that it represents.  Another issue that was raised was the correlation between the current lack of biblical literacy and the decline of the use of the KJV.  I would place the common source of both of these changes as the advent of postmodernism and that they are not really directly related to one another.  However, a couple of people wanted to hold the loss of the KJV as causal in that relationship not just correlated.  It was interesting though how several of the proponents mentioned how much modern translations helped them get beyond the admitted archaisms at times.

In the end the desire to hold onto the KJV appears to me to miss the point of one of the central tenets of the reformation–that of the ability of lay people to read the Bible for themselves in a vernacular translation they can understand.  This is even more important now that they don’t have the cultural biblical literacy that helped the KJV remain effective well after its language became difficult for the general population.  From this line of argumentation, it appears to me that they are raising tradition to a position that many protestants wouldn’t be comfortable with in principle.  But it just goes to show that none of us escape tradition as we read and interpret scripture, as our good friend Gadamer emphasized a generation ago.

That debate/promotion wasn’t a large part of the conference, but it was the surprising bit for me.  On the whole, the conference with its direct focus on the KJV highlighted interesting aspects of its occurrence and influence.  As a comparison, in the UK there is a movement — Biblefresh — in celebration of the 400th anniversary which focuses just on getting people to read the Bible.  The focus is not the KJV per se but the anniversary was used as a springboard for greater engagement with the Bible not just the KJV.  I think it was very good to have a conference to look back at the influence of the KJV like ours, but the emphasis to look forward is necessary since we can’t live in the past.

As a side note, the revised version of The Voice New Testament has just been released, and I just happened to get my copies on Friday.   I did some editing work on the revisions to remove some added language, and other structural changes from the first edition were made.  I think these will all be welcome.  In particular, they have changed the translation of christos from ‘Liberating King’ to the ‘Anointed One’.  It’s not ‘the’ solution for a KJV replacement or ‘the’ best translation around, but it stands in the tradition of always considering the vernacular so that people can return again to the story of God’s work and hear it afresh.

I enjoyed two excellent papers last week, as the NT Research Seminar started up again here in Durham. There has been an attempt to include more research students this year, and the first papers were by two of them: Lionel Windsor and Wesley Hill, both third-years supervised by Prof. Francis Watson. Both papers looked at aspects of Romans. Lionel’s project focuses on Paul’s identity through the perspective of his vocation as a Jew. In this light, Paul’s missionary activity, for example, can be seen as a fulfilment of his Jewish calling: ‘providing God’s revelation to non-Jews’. Lionel offered a reading of Romans 2:17-29 from this viewpoint, raising issues about the Law and making the interesting suggestion, among others, that the setting imagined by the text was the synagogue. Wes’ thesis is equally ambitious, seeking to ground Paul’s Christology in the ‘matrix of trinitarian relationships’. In other words, the ‘place’ of Christ cannot be understood apart from the relationships with Father and Spirit. He sought to demonstrate this by reference to Romans 4, and in particular, that Paul is reading the example of Abraham through the relationship between God and Jesus, and that God raised Jesus provides a hermeneutic for reading the Abraham story.

For those who are interested, the rest of the term’s seminars are below.

17 October                  Dr Benjamin Schliesser (University of Zurich), “The Dialectics of Faith and Doubt in Paul and James”

24 October                  Prof René Bloch (University of Bern), “Who was Philo of Alexandria? Tracing autobiographic passages in Philo”

31 October                  Dr Simon Gathercole (University of Cambridge), “The Religious Outlook of the Gospel of Thomas

7 November                Prof John Barclay, Paul and the Gift  (book preview)

14 November              Dorothee Bertschmann, “The Good, the Bad, and the State: What is the meaning of to agathon in Romans 13.1-7?”

Leonard Wee: “Features in Paul’s Summaries of OT Historical Narratives”

28 November              Prof Lewis Ayres, “Grammar, Polemic and the Development of Patristic Exegesis 150-250”

5 December                 Dr Eddie Adams (King’s College London), “Were the Pauline Churches House Churches?”

12 December               Prof Francis Watson, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (book preview)

This week a host of people will be posting their thoughts about Bruce Fisk’s book A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus at hitchhikersblogtour.wordpress.com. I read the book this summer for a review for Expository Times, and I echo what others have said about it. It is a really creative and engaging presentation of the quest for the historical Jesus.

The book recounts the journey’s of Norm, a recent college graduate, across the Holy Land in pursuit of both Jesus and faith. Along the way he enounters some of the leading questers (Dunn, Crossan, Meyer and others), meets other students and many locals. The book is filled with quotes from the primary sources, the secondary sources and, of course the most important, Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’. The book, however, is not just a literary study. Each episode centres around a key place in the life of Jesus. The leading question throughout the book is whether one can study Jesus and believe in him.

The book is ideal for students, particularly upper-level ones who have had some exposure to the complexities of the quest for the historical Jesus. It shows that scholarship can be enjoyable and life-changing. I think it can also be useful for pastors or educated laypersons who have had encountered critical scholarship but have written off scholarship because of the negative outcomes. This book can remind them of the difficulties of doing historical research, while at the same time it can show them that not all scholarship leads to a complete rejection of the Gospels or Jesus.

For other’s thoughts about the book see:

Mike Bird at Euangelion (who will also be posting as part of the tour)

Benjamin Reyonlds at Divinity United

Ben Witherington at Bible and Culture

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