The Bible in English: Its History and Influence

The question “Is the Bible true?” may not be the most important or most interesting question about the Bible. After all, for the Bible’s first millennium and a half as canonical, the question likely would have elicited the response, “What a silly question. Of course it’s true; it’s the word of God.” And to demonstrate that the Bible is indeed the word of God, your respondents probably would not try to illustrate how accurately the Bible narrative corresponds with history. Rather, they would remind you of what the Bible has done and what it can do for you, your family, your community, and your culture; the question they would ask is, “What hath God wrought?” Rather than a correspondence test of truth, they would presuppose a more direct, pragmatic test of truth. The tactic is sound; the practical efficacy of God’s word as the demonstration of its truth was recommended by the Savior himself (John 7:17 and 8:31–32). The point of the Bible is not to describe the world; it is to change it.

David Daniell’s The Bible in English is an engaging, readable, and argumentatively forthright survey of what the Bible has done in the English- speaking world. He discusses 190 complete or partial translations of the Bible from seventh-century Anglo-Saxon England through late twentieth-century America, but he also argues, sometimes by inference and sometimes quantitatively, for the overwhelming transformative impact of this book on our culture. As Yeats said, “That is no country for young men”: the erudition required to survey all of English-speaking culture for a millennium and more can only be the product of a lifetime of devoted scholarship. The stunning contribution here is not only to survey the history of how and how many Bibles were made, but to dare map their routes through the literature, culture, and thought of Anglo-American societies—not just how we got the Bible, but what it did to us once we had it.

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