The making of the King James Bible, part I: Glimpses from Adam Nicolson


Cover of "God's Secretaries: The Making o...

Mr. Nicolson's fine book

These are the first of a few goodies I’ll be posting from Adam Nicolson’s book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, of which I posted a brief review (really just a few observations) here.

“James himself would be quite open to an examination of the theological basis of the Church of England. It was one of his areas of expertise and he was relaxed and even intrigued by the idea of discussing doctrine and the form of church ceremonial. He had been brawling with the Scottish Presbyterians on these subjects for years.” (38)

“But now in the summer and autumn of 1603, the existence of a Protestant state church made the Puritans’ task extremely tender. Precisely because the head of the church was also the head of state, it was critical for their cause to separate theological questions from political. They had to establish themselves as politically loyal even while asking for changes to the state religion and the form of the state church. . . . The Puritans were teetering along a narrow rock ledge and they wrapped their suggestions in swathes of submissive cotton wool.” (38 – 9)

“[N]othing was more loathsome to the seventeenth-century mind than the idea of innovation; ‘novelist’ was a term of abuse, ‘primitivist’ of the highest praise.” (39)

“Old John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . had been the great manager of the Elizabethan church, the queen’s ‘husbandman’, who had pursued with equal ruthlessness the papists who wished to return England to the dominion of the pope; Presbyterians; who would be rid of all bishops and archbishops, replacing their authority with local committees; and those Puritan Separatists who believed in no overarching structure for the church beyond their own, naturally fissive local gatherings. Now, with the ecclesiastical magnates of England gathered around his frail and shrinking presence, he was facing the last challenge from a new king, son of a Catholic queen, brought up by Presbyterian divines: an uncertain quantity.” (42-3)

“[At the Hampton Court Conference], [t]o the bishops’ horror, James began to lecture them, ‘playing the puritan’ as Andrewes later described it. They were not to pursue Nonconformists with the violence they were accustomed to (this was aimed at both Whitgift and Bancroft for their stamping out the English Presbyterians under Elizabeth) but were to treat them ‘more gently than euer they had don before’. These statements were politically canny – the bishops were still unsure where James stood – and were a means of establishing him as the holder of the ring, the Solomon-like judge and arbiter who belonged to no one side. Anyway, the questions implied, why did these bishops think that their church, unlike any other human institution, was not corrupt and in need of repair? . . . The atmosphere of the conference had suddenly sharpened.” (50)

James finished that first day, having put his bishops off-balance, by saying how much he was not looking forward to his date with the Puritan party on Monday morning: “‘howsoeuer he lived among Puritans, and was kept for the most part, as a Ward under them, yet, since hee was the age of his Sonne, 10. years old, he euer disliked their opinions; as the Sauiour of the world said, Though he liued among them, he was not of them.’ With that breathtaking comparison between his own position and Christ’s walking among the heathen, James dismissed the bishops and deans. It was a confession that, in effect, he had been playing with them. He may have appeared to be taunting them with the very charges the Puritans were laying against them, but, when it came to the point, James wanted to buttress the established church. Nevertheless, Solomon-like to the end, he was anxious that the established church itself should be cleansed of impurities. It is the classic Jamesian position: self-congratulatory, vain, and perhaps, in the end, surprisingly, and against the odds, rather wise.” (52)

“On Monday, the tactics were exactly and intelligently handled by James to put the burden of proof on the Puritans. Unless they could show that there was something in scripture explicitly condemning the bishops’ administration of confirmation, or the use of the cross in baptism, or of the ring in a wedding service, or kneeling to receive communion, or the wearing of the surplice, or about the institution of episcopacy itself, he would not interfere with the accustomed ceremony or government of the church.” (53)

“James may have been rude, challenging and clever with the bishops. Now, he was even worse with the Puritans.” (53)

“It lasted five hours and the Puritans were humiliated. James sniped at them and pursued them into awkward corners. . . . Poor, dignified, generous Reynolds and Chaderton stood as if in the stocks, the royal squibs falling around them.” (54)

“These were moderate and distinguished men, suggesting moderate changes. But James . . . was treating them like extreme schismatics from the outer reaches of Anabaptist lunacy.” (55)

“Into this fierce, overheated atmosphere, where the mild divisions in the Church of England were being whipped into extremity by the quick, intellectual, joky, combative, slightly unsocialised banter, argument and bullying of the king . . . the first suggestion, the seed of the King James bible, dropped. It came from John Reynolds, at the end of a long list of suggestions. The petitioning ministers he represented would like ‘one only translation of ye bible to be authenticall and read in ye church’.” (57)

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One response to “The making of the King James Bible, part I: Glimpses from Adam Nicolson

  1. Pingback: …some church history – Jacob Arminius « agnus dei

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