Friday, October 27, 2006

Who killed THE BIBLE?

Reflections arising from comment of Bp Duncan and a book by professor Robinson

From both sides of the Atlantic I now hear cries for One Prayer Book and One Bible for the Anglican Way—like it used to be before we were swamped from the late 1960s with the ever expanding variety of liturgies and versions of the English Bible.

A little choice can be confusing to the sensitive, but much choice can be harmful. And experience of unstable variety in religion is bad for all souls whether they say so or not. Where is the Bible memorization these days? Where are those in hospital beds or elsewhere in pain who can recall portions of Scripture from a stable version or profound Collects from a stable Prayer Book?

Here is what the Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh (who uses in his diocese as his norm a book of alterative services called the BCP and who also allows all kinds of variations from it) said on October 25 in Nashotah House Seminary:

I want to be so bold as to suggest the following: that Anglicanism’s practical magisterium – its reliable teaching authority — has been its Book of Common Prayer, and that without a restored Book of Common Prayer, reasserting the theological propositions of medieval Catholicism as reshaped by the English Reformation, best represented in the prayer book of 1662, Anglicanism will continue its theological disintegration apace. For that Western Church whose popular and practical believing was more nearly lex orandi, lex credendi than any other tradition — for that Western Church whose practical magisterium was its Prayerbook — a fixed prayer book is essential. For a tradition that has a separate magisterium, Vatican II-style liturgy is a possibility. For us as Anglicans, it is, quite demonstrably, not. Forty years of alternative texts and expansive language have produced an undisciplined people and a theological wasteland. We have become a Church that actually does believe, in the words of one eucharistic canon, that we are “worthy to stand before [Him].”(10) How staggeringly un-Scriptural and un-Anglican!

What I would also add to this is that the need for an “Authorized Version” of the Bible, at least parish by parish, or diocese by diocese, re-emerges alongside the need for a Book of Common Prayer. How shall we ever learn Scripture again except that we always hear it in the same way? The matter of formation needs to dominate our liturgical and ascetical thinking, rather than our desires for education, variety, correctness or newness. And since I have already given quite enough offense, I shall leave off here without arguing for hymnody that is static enough to produce texts that are known by heart…

All I want to note here at this time is the cry for One English Bible and One Prayer Book. The Prayer Book is named—the classic Book of Common Prayer in the edition of 1662, which has been translated into over 150 languages.

Let us now cross the ocean and go to the ancient city of Hereford in England, travel from there down the old Roman road until we come to a small village called Bishopstone, and to an ancient cottage at the side of this road. Inside live the Robinson family and at the back are various birds and animals including one or two horses. Ian Robinson is a distinguished literary critic, a retired university professor of English, the author of books published by Cambridge University Press and others publishers, and a man who has a profound respect for both The Book of Common Prayer and The English Bible in its King James Version of 1611. Very recently he has prepared a new edition of The Homilies for publication (visit for he sees an intimate relation between the English Prayer Book, Bible and Homilies both in terms of the development of the English language and also doctrine and devotion.

His latest book on the One Bible is entitled, Who killed the Bible? (Edgeways, 2006). In this he shows himself very aware of the reasons why Bp Duncan calls for One Bible, and, further, he also shows in some detail where the intellectual thrust came to develop the long list of (dynamic equivalency based) versions of the English Bible that we have seen since the 1970s. As a scholar who wrote for Cambridge University Press critically about the theories of Noam Chomsky (which theories have deeply influenced Bible translations since the 1960s), he is intellectually well placed to see and to evaluate the whole ethos of modern Bible translation in the West, and especially in America. His verdict is that we have, as it were, killed the Bible in our zeal to render it into so many and varied (and usually poor) translations.

Who killed the Bible? may be ordered directly and safely from and I do commend it to the serious minded amongst us. His edition of The Homilies may also be ordered there or from

One version of the Prayer Book is easier than One version of the Bible. The 1662 is so widely used amongst the 80 million Anglicans that it has no competitor in real terms. Certainly Ian Robinson would vote for the KJV of 1611 to go with the BCP 1662, but Bp Duncan may prefer the RSV or the newer ESV—I do not know. In the rendering (for the AMiA) of the texts of BCP 1662 into a modern form of English which addresses God as “You” (texts now in trial use) the recommended text is the ESV, but since it does not have the Apocrypha it has to be joined by the RSV or Common Bible for the Daily Lectionary readings on some days.

We look forward to hearing from Bp Duncan which version he recommends; but I for one hope that both he and his advisers read Ian Robinson’s important work (which has no USA publisher as of now) first before they issue the name of the version.

ISBN of Who Killed… is 0 907839 49 5

The Revd Dr Peter Toon October 27 2006

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