King James Bible

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:17 am on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Culture and Tourism) 11:17 am, 9th December 2009

I, too, welcome this debate. I congratulate David Simpson on securing the slot, and I also appreciate the passionate and heartfelt way in which both he and Dr. McCrea spoke about the matter. Although I do not share their belief, I share their view about the importance of the Bible as a vital part of our history. I hope that I can allay some of their concerns during my contribution.

I have just finished reading "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel, which won the Booker prize this year. The story is set in the time of Henry VIII. There is quite a lot in the book about the story of the first printed English translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale. That version was seen as complete heresy by the Church, particularly because Tyndale acted unilaterally and had not sought the permission of the Church authorities. I commend the book to hon. Members. People were burned at the stake for that particular version. Tyndale was burned at the stake and others were beheaded. People were burned and lost their lives simply for possessing the book. There have been a number of versions of the English Bible: the great Bible of 1539, which Henry VIII commissioned; the more controversial Geneva Bible, which was largely based on Tyndale's version but had many marginal notes that interpreted the text from a strict post-Reformation standpoint; the bishops' Bible of 1568; and the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1582. Therefore, we have quite a history in the evolution of the Bible that we have today.

It is worth remembering how that Bible was produced. There were 54 translators-a lot of people-who were divided into groups that took consecutive books. They were instructed to consult one another closely, to ensure that there would be the consistency of style that we now appreciate. They were also instructed not to take too much from the Geneva version, which was seen as more controversial. They were told not to be opinionated in the notes that they made. All that they were to do was purely to clarify the meanings of the Greek and Hebrew terms. Hon. Members have quoted many comments on the King James Bible today. The one that I like is the description of it as

"the noblest monument of English prose".

I think that anyone who reads it feels that it is so. Biblical phrases that might occur to politicians reflecting on the expenses scandal might include

"the fat of the land", or

"how are the mighty fallen!"

However, I prefer to think that "all things must pass". Now, at Christmas, let us

"eat, drink, and be merry."

There is something we can all take from the Bible.

It is hugely important to make the most of celebrations and commemorations of our history, whether of the Bible or other things, so I am slightly bemused by the impression that the hon. Member for Upper Bann gained of the Government's attitude. Such occasions are fantastically important in gaining a shared understanding of the past, which helps us to build a stronger common purpose for the present and the future, and therefore helps to sustain community cohesion, which is important in the hon. Gentleman's community and throughout Great Britain. In my time in my present post I have sought out such dates of commemoration and celebration, because they become important hooks for shared understanding of the past and our history; they are important for building the shared values that we want and that make Britain such an open and tolerant society.

Perhaps I can draw to hon. Members' attention several occasions on which we have worked hard to use celebrations and commemorations in that way. A couple of years ago, the Government put a lot of effort into events on the abolition of the slave trade. We had to think about some quite difficult issues in our past, but that helped to open up an understanding that tackled some of the discrimination in society today and helped us to build values for the future. Before my year off on compassionate leave, I was involved in working towards the Darwin bicentenary celebrations. I do not know how the hon. Gentlemen feel about that, but it was an important occasion and was fantastically successful. Darwin has been everywhere this year.