Posted by: stpowen | July 15, 2011

Melvin Bragg and the Word of God

Job 28:28, A.V. ‘And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.’

Jer 9:23-24, A.V.  ‘Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:  but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he undertsandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD…..’

Melvin Bragg (aka Lord Bragg of Wigton) is probably too well known in Britain to need an introduction, but for the benefit of readers  from the U.S.A. and elsewhere, he is a well known intellectual and T.V. personality who for many years hosted an arts programme, the South Bank Show and currently presents a historical and philosophical programme on the radio called In Our Time which looks each week at ideas, events and personalities of the past as diverse as Genghis Khan, Dadaism and the discovery of penicillin.  He is also Chancellor of Leeds University

More recently, Bragg has written a book on the Authorised Version of the Bible (1) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its publication.  This is not a review of that book.  On principle, I would sooner read something written on the subject by a believer.   I will only say that it is clear to the reader that Bragg has a respect and affection for the A.V. Bible that is both surprising and endearing.  He has also presented two television programmes and given a number of talks on the subject.

My reason for writing is an article that Bragg wrote in the Daily Telegraph last month (2).  The title, which I presume he chose himself, is ‘My First Steps back on the Road to Faith.’  That sounds very hopeful, but Bragg makes it clear that he is by no means yet a Christian.  He writes that he had some sort of Christian faith at school, but soon lost it at University.  He continues, ‘In the years during which I have written my recent book about the impact of the King James Bible, I find that I have come to respect again the best of that faith.  I am still unable to cross the River of Jordan which would lead me to the crucial belief in a godly eternity.  But that early faith, powerfully held, is no more capable of being erased than the memory of the first real love affair and it is part of me still.’  A little later he writes, ‘I respect those who have no faith or little faith or are indifferent to it, but the current notion that atheistic reason marks the apotheosis of human intelligence, strikes me as very doubtful.  I’m as certain as I can be that there’s more to come.’  The last sentence is most intriguing.  Does Bragg mean that there’s more to come in the way of human intelligence, or more to come after death?  ‘….It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement’ (Heb 9:27, A.V.).  Let human intelligence look after itself; what Bragg needs is a Saviour.

Bragg’s respect for the King James Bible appears to come partly from its splendid language and partly from the beneficial effects which he sees coming from it.  He mentions the abolition of slavery, the ‘seeding of modern democracy’ (3) and the great philanthropic works of 19th Century Christians.   Throughout the article he never credits the Bible, but always the ‘King James Bible.’  Herein, I believe lies his problem; it is bibliolatry.  Let us suppose for a moment that the K.J.B. had never been written.  Does Bragg believe that if Britain had had to slum it with the Geneva Bible, the slaves would not have been freed, democracy would have languished and Lord Shaftsbury, Bernardo, Booth and Muller would have let the poor go hang?

Many non-Christians have expressed their admiration for the Authorised Version.   George Bernard Shaw is frequently quoted as an admirer and I seem to recall that even Richard Dawkins has had something kind to say about it recently.  They can do so, you see, because the A.V. is the work of men- learned, pious men, to be sure, but men nonetheless.  It is no more significant to praise the A.V. than to praise the Acropolis or the works of Picasso.  The Bible however is the word of God. 

The translators of the A.V. had no delusion that they were writing the definitive version of the Bible.  In their address ‘The Translators to the Reader,’  they wrote; ‘….we do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession…..containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.’

When a man praises a Bible version, he is praising the work of men.  When he praises the Bible, however, he is not praising the aesthetics, but the content.  Has Bragg lifted his eyes beyond the majesty and beauty of the translation to the mighty truths contained within it?

‘A man who looks on glass,

On it may stay his eye;

Or, if he pleases, through it pass,

And then the heaven espy.’

In the most unlikely event that Lord Bragg ever reads this, I have two words of advice for him.  Firstly, reading the Bible as a literary or intellectual pursuit can save no one.  Our Lord told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39, NKJV).  It is not the Bible which saves, and certainly not one particular version of it.  It is Christ who saves and unless you find Him in the pages of the Bible, and receive Him as Lord and Saviour, you might as well be reading from the works of Shakespeare or any other secular, man-made book.

Secondly, one must come to Christ in a spirit of humility and child-like faith.  “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).  Worldly wisdom will keep a man out of the kingdom.  Paul told the Corinthians,  ‘….Not many wise according to the flesh. Not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the mighty;  and the base things of the world and the things that are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to shame the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence’ (1Cor 1:26-29).  Bragg’s undoubtedly mighty intellect, his great learning and his academic regard for the King James Bible will avail him nothing in the eyes of God, for He tells us, “But on this one I will look:  on him who is poor and on a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word’ (Isaiah 66:2). 


(1) ‘The Book of Books:  The radical impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011).

(2) Daily Telegraph, June 11th, 2011.


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