Book Review: The Bible In English

The Bible In English, by F.F. Bruce

Though I have had positive thoughts of previous material from this author I have read [1], this book is not nearly as congenial a read as that one, for although both books show a sparkling and entertaining and eccentric style that clearly comes from an author with his own particular approach to writing, this particular book comes from a perspective that is greatly antithetical to a proper understanding of the Bible, and one that makes his generally authoritative tone all the more grating and discordant. In terms of its design as a book, Bruce looks at the Bible in English from a chronological approach, looking at the first tentative steps in Old English through the Wycliffite versions through the Tyndale-related translations going through Geneva and the King James Version (here popularly, and somewhat inaccurately, considered the Authorized Version, or AV for short). Much of the book contains an examination of various personal and idiosyncratic efforts, some of which, like the Revised Standard Version and New English Bible demand an entire chapter full of material, including selections of the text and discussions on its critical apparatus and textual approach, and others of which only take up a short paragraph in description. The book then closes with a look at the various Bibles released in the 1970’s, showing how the criticisms of early reviewers of Bible versions is accurate in that the amount of translations has proliferated beyond all reasonable bounds.

With rare exceptions, such as the closing pondering of the author on whether our society has come full circle into post-literacy in our contemporary times as opposed to the illiteracy of previous centuries, the author shows a relentless presentist bias. Over and over again the author makes pointed comments at those he deems to be old fashioned, showing an immense hostility to the Majority text and praising either an eclectic approach or the efforts of many contemporary translators to use the inferior Alexandrian variant texts on the basis of their age due to the accidents of Egyptian geography. This combined bias between older texts, regardless of their provenance and the biases of different regions, and newer researchers, leads to some strange conclusions, such as the way that researchers can debate with each other about their very different translations based on the same principles through different subjective efforts. As a result, while this book praises the majesty of the early Reformation translation efforts, the book itself espouses a focus on contemporary language and ecumenical efforts that have harmed the majesty of the biblical text in the mind of the reading audience, and encouraged an eclectic and subjective approach to what is in the Bible, while also encouraging doubts about the meaning and reliability of biblical texts. The author’s attempts to encourage both higher criticism and a high view of scripture are at odds with each other, leaving this book full of tension and even contradiction.

Nevertheless, despite these serious flaws, there is a way that this book can be readily enjoyed and understood. For one, if one is reading this book to gain a grasp of the narrative of biblical revision, and the way in which contemporary biblical revisions have proliferated in an attempt to follow our civilization’s decadent course, and appeal to the many divisive subaltern identities in our contemporary world, even among those who are generally part of the English-speaking world, this book has a lot to offer, even if one’s conclusions may very well differ from the author’s. Additionally, even if this is not an author whose viewpoint of the Bible can be trusted, especially because of his lack of firm knowledge of biblical law and the essentially Hebraic nature of the early church, and his total lack of interest in recovering the faith once delivered by Jesus Christ through the apostles to the early church, the author is nevertheless the sort of person who would be a witty and entertaining conversation partner. This is essentially the sort of book that represents a long series of witty monologues filled with put-downs, favorable treatment to the blundering efforts of those the author supports, and generally cannot be taken as authoritative in any meaningful sense, even if the narrative is at times entertaining, and the tone often condescending when it comes to British appreciation of some American translation efforts that manage to avoid vulgarisms, as if American English was itself automatically suspect when compared with the Queen’s English across the pond spoken by our former imperial overlords.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: The Bible In English

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