Ode to a Masterpiece

     On July 22, 1604, King James I of England wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft, requesting the undertaking of translating a new English version of the Bible.  Two bibles had already been authorized, the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible.  These had not been well received by “commoners” and there were some concerns among scholars and heads of state about both versions.  While fifty-four translators had been approved to take part in this new English version of the Bible, only forty-seven actually did.  Consulting the two earlier versions and the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, these forty-seven scholars completed their task in 1611.
     It is fair to say that for the last four hundred years the King James Version has been the most popular version of English bibles.  This month, December 2011, National Geographic’s cover story is The King James Bible: Making a Masterpiece.  The article showcases the 400th anniversary of the Authorized King James Version Bible and its influence on the English-speaking world.  And just as Greek was the language of commerce and trade during the time of Christ, English is the language of commerce and trade today.  This fact means the King James Version of the Bible has had an influence much broader than just the English-speaking world; its impact has been global.    
     Because the KJV, as it is known affectionately by believers, is a religious book and often printed to be given away, it is not given consideration as a best-selling book.  But it is by far the most printed book with an estimated 6 billion copies in circulation; the book estimated to be in second place is 4 billion copies behind it.    
     The number one best-selling book of all time is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens with 200 million copies sold.  It is a novel about London and Paris in the historical context before and during the French Revolution.  Though the accounts and characters contained it are fictional its comparison to historical accounts is compelling.  Let me give you a synopsis of this best-selling book.    
     Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay are in love.  Charles was born and raised in France, but they both live in London now and are wed.  Dr. Manette, Lucie’s father, is thought to have died during the revolution, but it is discovered he is alive and in prison in France awaiting execution.  Though innocent of any crime, Dr. Manette’s profession had brought him into association with the French aristocracy and in the blood-letting of the French Revolution he is condemned to death for that association.  Lucie is beside herself with fear for her father’s welfare.  Charles travels to France in the hope of securing Dr. Manette’s release.  He is successful, but because he is the nephew of a condemned aristocrat, he is imprisoned and sentenced to die on the guillotine.    
     The improbable hero of this novel is Sydney Carton, an English barrister who has fallen into disrepute because he is an inveterate drunk.  Carton has loved Lucie Manette, now Lucie Darney, for many years, but has done so from afar thinking his addiction to drink makes him an unsuitable candidate for her affections.  Learning of Charles Darnay’s imprisonment and pending execution, and because of his love for Lucie, he travels to France to attempt Charles’ release.    
     Carton bribes Charles’ jailers to meet with him.  Knowing Charles would never agree with his plan, Carton drugs Darnay, and trades clothing with him.  Carton gives his letters of identification to his accomplices who take Charles back to London.  Carton now takes Charles place.    
     On the fateful day as Sydney Carton stands in the line awaiting his turn to die, the young lady next to him almost faints at the prospect of her soon execution.  Her only fault is she is the daughter of an aristocrat, but she marvels at Carton’s seeming placid state of mind in the deadly march to the guillotine.  He shares with her the words of Christ, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, thought he were dead, yet shall he live (John 11:25 KJV).”  Carton’s calm composure was his faith in the sure hope of the resurrection.    
     The KJV is a masterpiece because it is the message of the Master, a message of redemption and resurrection.  Yes, Sydney Carton is a fictional character in a romantic novel, but the theme is a reflection of reality; many a Christian has faced death and martyrdom with a hope anchored in the promise of the resurrection.  It is no accident that this message is the theme of the best-selling book of all time.

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