1611 | & The 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible



SO IF ITS NOT HERE – DO CHECK BACK LATER -MEANWHILE :My final destination of this 66 Day 66 City Tour is Westminster Abbeyand this short clip is the final 6 minutes of my 3,300 mile, 95,040 minute journey!
If you want to walk the last 6 minutes to my final destination – then come along!


“The scholars who produced this masterpiece are mostly unknown and unremembered. But they forged an enduring link, literary and religious, etween the English-speaking people of the world.”
Winston Churchill

Today is the 16th of November, or the 16th of the 11th, or better still, 1611, a number combination to mark the very when the King James Bible was first published and this the very specific day has been chosen to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible.

It is now 12 noon on 1611 and I am sat in ‘Poets Corner’ within Westminster Abbey looking at the staring eyes of that most unusual of British Prophetic Poets, William Blake. This place in the Abbey is a always a good place to be.

Even so, in the great East West layout of these giant cross shaped buildings scattered over the face of the United Kingdom, I am sat in the south transept area, the alter of proceedings hidden from my view, the choir barely visible along the Northern wall. Never the less, I am surrounded by the great and the good and though I cannot see her, less than 30 metres from me, Her Majesty the Queen is sat with her back facing toward me, and possibly maybe another 2,000 people are also seated along with her. This event has been long in the planning by the King James Bible Trust and it goes off swimmingly.
The Lord Mayor of Westminster is received at the great West Door by the Dean and chapter. The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales are all then received and as we all stand, a Royal fanfare is sounded.

The Marquis of Salisbury reads out some opening verses from the Holy Bible:

“And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” Exodus 3:4-5 KJV

and with these we are now plunged into Geoffrey Rowell’s new six verse Hymn written for this special occasion

“Words to the Word still pointing, Word in those words expressed, Words of prophetic longing, Of mercy, hope and rest, Words that can speak in silence Your presence, dearest Lord, In prayer and praise and worship Eternally adored.”

The Bidding followed on, and while the Choir sang, “THE PROCESSION OF THE BIBLES” brought the books to the fore and the Dean then says

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hop of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Polly Frame then performs a lively extract from “THE CROSSING IN RESPONSE TO EXODUS by Anne Michaels (b 1958) whilst the choir follows on with Psalm 119-89-93

The most majestic words of 2 Corinthians 4:1-13 are then read out (are not these the most magnificent words ever written?) and we then all stand to sing ‘Lord they Word Abideth’

After this the Archbishop of York reads out John 1:1-14 (adding a few of his own interpretation on a few words just for good measure) in preparation for the Arch Bishop of Canterbury’s Address ( which if you don’t know it is ‘The Other Palace, just across the Bridge, London SW1A 1AA) followed by The Anthem composed for this event, the haunting and wonderful ‘Out of the South Cometh The Whirlwind’ by Zachary Wadsworth, which were then followed by prayers, the reading of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20, closing hymn, the blessing, the national anthem and then as the great and the good paraded out the way they came in, it was all over.

It was good to be there. However, what was I doing there? I was alone. I knew no one there. No one knew me. No one greeted me. No one asked who I was or where I had come from or what I had been doing? I was a nobody set in an Abbey full of some bodies; Royalty, Dukes, Princes, Bishops, Trustees, Directors, all representing Kingdoms, Diocese, Parishes, Businesses, Charities and the Performing arts. Who was I representing? Me? 66 Cities? WhisperingWord? No. Not at all.

As I walked out of the Abbey, the tomb of the unknown soldier was still bedecked by poppies. The church is still awash with unknown soldiers. It always has been. And yes, I am convinced that those places at the right and left hand of Jesus in the majesty on High shall be occupied by a man and a woman, both whose names none shall have heard of on earth, but who will have been long feared by hell and already greatly honoured amongst all the watching angelic host.

My preaching from the closing books of the New Testament highlight to me the seemingly hidden presence what must have been a vast army of unknown and ever roving ministers of the Gospel. Peter we know and Paul as well, and then from the rest of the New Testament a few dozen more prominent folk besides and lastly from church history, maybe a few hundred more on top. But really, the church has spread and continues to spread by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of unknown soldiers.

It is DR. J Vernon McGee who maybe suggests that as a representative of these unknown folk we might choose a one verse wonder. The Apostle John, while castigating that malicious prat called Diotrophes makes mention of both his name and character. Listen:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but* he who does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.” 3 John 9-12 NKJV

It’s gone mid-day in Westminster Abbey and I believe I am here unknown, unseen, unrecognised,  to maybe thus be representing the millions of other unseen workers and proclaimers of the Everlasting Gospel. I do not possess his apostolic affirmation of character that’s for sure, but if anyone asks me today who I am, I shall shake their hand and say

“ I am Demetrius! Who the heck are you?”


“Those first preachers who took the Gospel and most that take it still, are mostly unknown and unremembered. But all along the front line of conflict, they continue to be the link between earth and heaven, proclaiming the only hope for a lost and hurting world”

Rev. Victor Robert Farrell


After the service my good friend Phil gave me a call. He happened to be in London attending a Seminar and wanted to speak to me about the naming of our new Subscription based APPs. We met outside the Abbey and wandered across the road to The Methodist Hall where he bought me lunch. Phil always buys me lunch! It was lovely.

Not long after, I met with an old friend called Ian, who kindly gave man an interview and then bought me a Cappuccino and a mince pie ( well it is Christmas) in the staff Canteen of the Houses of Parliament. Now, not many people get THAT opportunity. Not bad at all.

I got home not long after 5pm and had Pizza with Bridget, snuggled up in front of the tele with the cat and a couple of hot water bottles and a blanket. Lovely Jubbly.


Zachary Wadsworth ‘Out of The South Cometh The Whirlwind’

A copy of the Order of Service Can be Found here

The Arch Bishops Sermon

The Arch Bishops Address to LISTEN TO

The text of Bishop Rowell’s New Hymn

The Arch Bishops Sermon| 16 November 2011 at Noon

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan

What is a good translation? Not one that just allows me to say, when I pick it up, ‘Now I understand’. Of course, if I’m faced with a text in a strange language, I need to be able simply to read it; but a good translation will be an invitation to read again, and to probe, and reflect, and imagine with the text. Rather than letting me say, ‘Now I understand’, it prompts the response, ‘Now the work begins.’
One of the most striking things in the wonderful Preface to the King James Bible composed by Miles Smith is the clear conviction that there is never an ideal or a final translation. To translate any work of significance is to reveal a certain range of meanings in the original; but there will always be, as the 1611 translators fully recognized, another range that hasn’t yet been captured and will need another round of engagement with the text. If this is true of any important text, how much more true is it of Scripture, where the meanings are the self-communications of an infinite mind and love? The invitation that Scripture offers is an invitation to a pilgrimage further and further into the mysteries of that mind and love; and a good translation of the Bible must therefore be one that opens out on wider and wider horizons.
We have all suffered from a mindset in the last couple of centuries that has assumed there is an end to translating and understanding and thus that there is something wrong with any version of a text that fails to settle disputes and to provide an account of the truth that no-one could disagree with. But what the 1611 translators grasped was that hearing the Word of God was a lifelong calling that had to be undertaken in the company of other readers and was never something that left us where we started. Of course they believed, and said so robustly in that same Preface, that the essential lines of Christian belief were clearly laid out – belief in God the Creator, God who makes covenant with his people, God who becomes flesh and creates a new and universal community of believers by the death and rising again of the Word made flesh and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God who justifies us in freedom, not as a reward for good works. But this is not so much the revelation of a series of self-contained truths as an inundation of vision, a flooding of human language that can be strange and extreme and bewildering; it is a vision whose presence makes the sacred writers stumble and search for words at least as much as it makes them fluent and persuasive. Doesn’t St Paul say just that in I Corinthians 2? ‘My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’ That ‘demonstration’ may be most powerful when it is most inarticulate by normal standards, and Paul himself illustrates this again and again. ‘What shall we say then to these things?’ he asks, as he lets himself be swept along lyrically by the joyful mysteries of Romans 8; and ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ he exclaims as he lays out the sorrowful mysteries of Romans 11, his agonised meditation on choice and rejection in the history of Israel and humanity and each human soul. His tortuous path towards the celebration of grace is no easy argument but a wrestling with the shattering implications of the events of Jesus’ life and death. And a good translation is one that leads us through Paul’s wrestling in all its clumsiness and passion.

And think too of how the Old Testament prophets cope with this shattering of their world; of Ezekiel trying to evoke the vision of the chariot of the Almighty filling the sky, awkwardly qualifying everything he says with ‘as it were’, and ‘the likeness of’, or ‘the appearance of’. ‘Above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it…This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake’ (Ezek.1.26, 28b). What makes the translation a good translation is that there is no attempt to smooth over the stumbling of the original: it was if it were like the impression of something, as it were…This is the precision of revelation because it is language showing the weight it bears, the weight of a Word from outside ordinary categories. And the 1611 translators never let us down in this, never seek to make it easy. It is one of the things that gives this version its abiding importance. It remains an invitation to work, to open up our own language to this weight of presence and gift.
‘In the beginning was the Word’. Before anything, God is a God whose life pours out in the intelligence of love, necessarily and always. Every created word, even the words we use to speak of this eternal truth, will be struggling breathlessly to keep up with the Word itself, himself. The English Reformation often made use of the phrase ‘God’s Word written’ to describe Scripture. And we should not take this to mean a mechanical dictation; rather it says that when human language writes what God does and says in all his acts throughout history, the Bible is what it looks like. Wax bearing the imprint of what I called just now the weight of the Word. To read or rather to hear that Word in our reading and hearing of Scripture is not to thumb through a volume of records and commands but to absorb Scripture’s language in such a way, at such a depth, that we sense that weight and accept the burden and the joy of labouring at a lifelong response to it.
I’ve mentioned hearing as well as reading. It’s easy to forget that when the 1611 Bible was first published it was not yet a volume that everyone could be expected to own. Like its Reformed predecessors, Tyndale’s Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible—and unlike its Catholic parallel, the Rheims/Douai version—it was meant to be read aloud. And that means that it was meant to be part of an event, a shared experience. Gathered as a Christian community, the parish would listen, in the context of praise, reflection and instruction, to Scripture being read: it provided the picture of a whole renewed universe within which all the other activities made sense. It would not be immediately intelligible by any means, but it marked out the territory of God’s work of grace. It affirmed, with St Paul in II Corinthians, that the landscape of the world was illuminated by the new and radical act of God in Jesus Christ, so that the standards of this world and society were shown to be under judgement; yet it also affirmed that this illumination was something it took time to get used to, time to find words for, and that the clay pots of custom and ritual were both necessary and problematic – and that this was simply how human beings heard and echoed the Word. ‘How can man preach Thy eternal Word?’ asked George Herbert a couple of decades after 1611; ‘he is a brittle, crazy glass.’ But, as that great poem of Herbert’s goes on to claim, even in fragile material God’s story can be sealed and printed, and the light come through.So to celebrate the Bible of 1611 is not to genuflect before a timeless masterpiece, to salute a perfect translation; the translators would have been both baffled and embarrassed by any such idea. It is to recognize the absolute seriousness with which they sought to find in our language words that would pass on to us hearers and readers in the English tongue the almost unbearable weight of divine intelligence and love pressing down on those who first encountered it and tried to embody it in writing; those who like Moses and Ezekiel found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer ‘density’ of divine presence, those who like St Paul found themselves dizzy with the number of connections and interrelations between God’s acts over the ages and unable to put it all into a theory, only into a hymn. The temptation is always there for the modern translator to look for strategies that make the text more accessible; and when that temptation comes, it doesn’t hurt to turn for a moment—for some long moments indeed—to this extraordinary text, with its continuing capacity to surprise us into seriousness, to acquaint us again with the weight of glory – and, we hope and pray, to send us back to the unending work of letting ourselves be changed so that we can bear just a little more of the light of the new world, full of grace and truth.
Christopher Southgate wrote a poem for the meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature here in London last July which captures much of this, and I end with its opening words:

‘To begin on the Bible
To be caught by the rise of a huge wave breaking
To know all the conflict and chaos to be faced
If their book could not command
The nation, the language, in a foment of becoming.
They heard Scripture’s ancient voices, remote,
Tasting of the desert,
Its longing, in a strange land.

Their task they called
A paradise of trees of life. Long hard years
They walked in this forest.’

So we listen in turn; and we walk into that forest, among the trees of life.

© Rowan Williams 2011


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About vrfarrell

Biblical activist
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