The Bible In British and American History
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When King James of England commissioned the translation of the Bible into English from its original languages, the massive undertaking was accomplished by a large committee of scholars representing the best interpretative skills then available. For almost 400 years this monumental work, completed in 1611, has been recognized as one of the premier translations ever undertaken. Although the Bible has been translated into almost every language, this English version remains the most influential of all.
Why is it that the Bible has been so predominant in Britain and the United States?
The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy notes that the Bible is "the most widely known book in the English-speaking world...No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible" (Hirsch, Kett and Trefil, 1988, p. 1). In Britain it was rated as one of the top 50 most-interesting books. In the United States it is perennially a best seller and the single book that Americans say has most influenced their lives.
The Bible is quoted by people of all walks of life including statesmen, politicians, philosophers, poets and even astronauts. Here are a few comments from some respected leaders:
• "It has been my custom for many years to read the Bible in its entirety once a year" (John Quincy Adams).
• "A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education" (Theodore Roosevelt).
• "If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible, our country will go on prospering" (Daniel Webster).
• "I believe the Bible is the best gift that God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this Book. I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go" (Abraham Lincoln).
• "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" (George Washington).
• "The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests" (Andrew Jackson).
• "We reject with scorn all these learned and labored myths that Moses was but a legendary figure. We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally" (Winston Churchill).
Is it possible that the Bible so influenced the people of Britain and the United States because this book is their history book? Significantly, it tells not only the story of their distant ancestors but also their future.