Everything is Political, Including the Bible You Read

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Like so many other Americans raised in Protestant homes, I learned and memorized scripture using one of the most popular versions of the Holy Bible — the King James Version, along with the modernized New King James Version.

The most treasured item in my possession is a thick, leather-bound King James Bible, a gift from my paternal grandmother on Christmas Day in 1987. In her beautiful cursive script, she wrote, “Keep memorizing the scripture!” I took this admonishment to heart. What really marks this gift as especially precious is the first inscription, which shows this volume of the Holy Bible was originally gifted to my grandmother by my grandfather on Christmas Day in 1950, the year they were betrothed. Throughout the 66 books of the Bible, Grandmother’s handwriting and underlined verses give insight into her spiritual focus and understanding. Truly an irreplaceable heirloom.

What I was never taught as a child concerned the origination of the King James Bible, and I am not alone. The vast majority of Americans are not only unaware of the translation’s origination, they are also completely ignorant of the political significance, which plays a key role in America’s founding.

The King James Bible was first published in 1611, at the commission of King James I of England, who believed the Geneva Bible was seditious. The Geneva Bible was very popular and widely read by the English people, but the king considered marginal notes on key political texts to threaten his rule, as it questioned the divine right of kings, as well as holding the theological stance that the Almighty designed both the State and the Church to hold jurisdictional authority, intertwined yet distinctly separate.

One must understand the Reformation, both its prominence and upheaval to the societal structure during the 1500s, to fully grasp the importance and political power wielded by the different factions.

The Geneva Bible was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts by those who fled the reprisals of Mary Tudor, who came to the throne in 1553, and was determined to reverse the Reformation and reinstate Roman Catholicism. History has labeled her Bloody Mary for the reprisals carried out during her reign against the Protestant populations.

Geneva became a sanctuary for Protestants such as Miles Coverdale, John Foxe, Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham, the latter of which was the primary transcriber for the Geneva Bible. The Church of Geneva, where John Calvin was a principle leader, set out to produce an English Bible that could be easily read and comprehended by the masses in their common language.

The first completely revised English Bible was produced in 1560. Known as the Geneva Bible, it was the first translation of the Holy Scriptures to use chapters and numbered verses. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, they carried with them the Geneva Bible, despite the ruling monarch’s King James translation being pushed as a replacement.

America’s founders shared the theological stance that dominated the Geneva Bible, which gave the individual agency over their own life and property, while governed by separate, but intertwined, Church and State authority — the Biblical structure of civil governance, with the family unit at the center.

King George, III, who signed the Treaty of Paris giving the 13 American colonies their birth as independent and sovereign states, called the War for Independence, “a Presbyterian Revolt.” A prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister. The Geneva Bible was the version used by the Presbyterian Church, which was co-founded by John Knox, the Scottish reformation leader who wrote many of the translation’s marginal notes.

The 1599 Geneva Bible, an edition that updated the text to Modern English, is widely considered the world’s first study Bible. Complete with extensive marginal notes, cross-reference verse citations, maps, tables, indexes, and illustrations, the 1599 Geneva Bible shaped the theological understanding of James Madison, who studied under John Witherspoon, and is known as “the Father of the Constitution.” It’s notable to remember the works of William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and Oliver Cromwell quoted the Geneva translation.

Religion in politics, politics in religion — a truism that will last until the end of days. The key to a peaceful and functioning societal structure is to maintain the balance between the State’s and the Church’s jurisdictional authority, while acknowledging the Almighty as the author and creator of all things. The case could be made that the Geneva Bible affirms this balance with more clarity than the King James Bible.

Today, too many Americans replace the Church with the State. Known as Statism, it is the belief that the State is the ultimate authority, and exists to not only guide and train, but to provide for and sustain the people. Statism is its own religion, with significant dangers to the natural order and the unalienable rights of man.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Preamble to the Declaration of Independence – adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776

Had Americans held true to their roots, the Geneva Bible would be the prominent translation today. We have fallen far from the tree of liberty, which was dearly won, and earned us the distinction and privileges of citizens, instead of subjects to the Crown.

In my home, a leather bound edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible, published in 2006 by Tolle Lege Press, rests alongside Grandmother’s heirloom King James Bible, published in 1947 by Book Productions Industries, Inc. When the Holy Scriptures are quoted in Kootenai Journal publications, the translation will always be denoted.