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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 25th October 2020.

‘Bible Sunday’

Today, the last Sunday of the season of the Church’s year known as Trinity, is celebrated by many churches as Bible Sunday. So I thought that today I would use my ‘Thought for the Day’ to say something about the Bible.

The French 18th century philosopher and author Voltaire once said, ‘A hundred years from my death the Bible will be a museum piece.’ A hundred years after his death the French Bible Society set up its headquarters in Voltaire’s old house in Paris. Today, 242 years after the death of Voltaire, churches throughout the world will be celebrating what is perhaps the most-owned and least-read book (at any rate in the West).

The Bible, as we know, is not one single book, but a collection of books, divided into two main groups: one written before the birth of Jesus Christ (the Old Testament), and the written after the death of Jesus (the New Testament). The Old Testament books were originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament books were written in Greek. The Old Testament books are often described as being in three groups: the Law (as revealed through Moses, such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, etc.) and the Writings (such as Proverbs and Song of Solomon).

As in early Christian times the Christian faith began to be more centred in Rome, the Bible became translated into many Latin versions. In 382AD the person whom we historically refer to as St. Jerome (real name Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, born around 342AD) was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the old Latin Gospels then in use by the Roman Church. Jerome, on his own initiative, extended this work of revision and translation to include most of the Books of the Bible and, once published, the new version was widely adopted. During the 16th century, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible became the Roman Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible.

During the 7th to 11th centuries translations of parts of the Bible into Old English were carried out by a some abbeys. The first Bibles published in English appeared in the 1390s. Some of the early translators of Bibles into English were charged with heresy, and imprisoned or put to death.

In the 16th century, William Tyndale, a scholar and leading figure in the English Reformation, produced a translation of the Bible, which was the first Bible to be translated directly from Hebrew and Greek texts. It was also the first English translation to be produced on a printing press. But as a law at the time made it a capital offence for anyone to be found in unlicensed possession of a copy of the scriptures in English, Tyndale found it necessary to flee to Europe. But he was eventually caught in Brussels and burnt at the stake.

The Great Bible was the first authorized edition of the Bible in English, and Henry VIII directed it to be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England.

The next Bible to appear was the Geneva Bible which was printed in 1579. One edition of it is called the ‘Breeches Bible’, because Genesis Chapter 3 , verse 7 reads (original spelling): “Then the eies of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.” In the King James Version of 1611, “breeches” was changed to “aprons”.

In 1604, King James commissioned a new English translation, which was completed and published in 1611, and which is naturally known as the King James Version, or simply “KJV”. It is also known as the Authorised Version and (with some revisions in 1769) it remained the only English translation in common use for over 300 years.

A reprint of the King James Version in 1631, printed by a printer called Robert Barker, contained a serious error, and it became known as the ‘Wicked Bible’. In the Ten Commandments, as set out in Exodus, Chapter 20, the word “not” was omitted from the sentence “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. As a result of this error, all the copies that could be found were confiscated and burned. Barker was fined £300 (about £50,000 in today’s money) and had his printing licence taken away. Existing copies of the Wicked Bible are very rare. There are at least two copies in the USA and a copy in the British Library and one in the Cambridge University Library.

In the late 19th century, it was felt that the changing nature of the English language called for a revised version, and so in 1885 the English Revised Version appeared. Owing to differences in the English spoken on both sides of the Atlantic, the revisions in the English Revised Version did not suit American scholars, and so in 1901 the American Standard Version appeared.

Since then there have been many other versions of the Bible printed, too numerous for me to mention here. The New International Version (NIV) appeared in the 1970s – the New Testament in 1973, and the whole Bible in 1978. The idea behind this version was to provide a standard replacement for the King James Version. It is thought to be very suitable for study and for reading out aloud. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is an English-language translation released in 1989. It is an updated revision of the Revised Standard Version, which was itself an update of the American Standard Version. The NIV and the NRSV are currently the two most commonly used Bibles in Church of England churches.

I hope you have found this brief canter through the history of the Bible interesting. Next Sunday I will return to ‘thoughts’, rather than history!

Fr. Ray