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Saturday, 30 April 2011

John Harding - A quiet achiever

John Harding was an English churchman and academic. We know little relating to his character or personal history. He was born c.1562 and married Isabel (her second marriage, first married under the name Clarke). They had three sons and four daughters.

Academic Background

Magdelene College, Oxford.
John Harding was a demy (1) of Magdalen College. He graduated in Classics 1578 and postgraduated (M.A.) in 1581. He became proctor in 1589. His Divinity studies for a further three years led to a B.D. He held the chair as Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford from 1591 for seven years, and his doctoral position was recognised in 1597. In this same year he accepted the rectory of Great Haseley, Oxfordshire. Seven years passed and he became a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, in 1604 Finally, he was made president of Magdalen College, in 1607–8.

By the time he was appointed as a translator of the Bible in 1604, Harding had been Royal Professor of Hebrew in the University for thirteen years. Says Alex McClure,

His occupancy of that chair, at a time when the study of sacred literature was pursued by thousands with a zeal amounting to a passion, is a fair intimation that Dr. Harding was the man for the post he occupied.

His professorial chair in Oxford made him the leader of the First Oxford Company of translators after the death of John Rainolds in 1607. The company translated the Major and Minor Old Testament prophets (Isaiah to MalachI).

He was also a member of the twelve-man revision team, whose task it was to study the recommendations of other appointed translators. The latter had already scrutinised the work of the original team appointed to make a first translation of one particular part of the Scriptures. This added third stage was a final revision to appraise the suggested amendments and/or alterations already put forward. This last stage was, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of the translation-work and demanded the experience and skill of the senior men of the translators - the Regius professors of Oxford and Cambridge - plus the Dean of Westminster representing the London teams. This team of twelve gave the work finality.

Given two languages, how may the nearest approximation be made in the second language to the expression of ideas already conveyed in the first? The skill and beauty with which the KJV translators accomplished it are a fair testimony to the consummate skill and extreme care they took with the sacred deposit, to make every word exceedingly well crafted.

John Harding died in 1610, within one year of publication.

(1) A "demy" describes a foundation scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford: so called because such a scholar originally received half the allowance of a fellow.

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Saturday, 23 April 2011

John Overall - Thinking in Latin

John Overall was born in 1559 in Hadleigh, a cloth-making village in Essex, fifty miles from London. He was the son of George Overall , but became an orphan in his first year.

Academic background

He attended Hadleigh Grammar School as a poor student and survived by being in service to the master of the school. He and John Bois were pupils together at Hadleigh. Both received the patronage of John Still, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge who enabled them to become students at St John's College Cambridge in 1575. When John Still became Master of Trinity Cambridge, Overall followed him there in 1578. He graduated in 1579 and postgraduated in 1582 (MA). Overall was appointed as Greek lecturer in 1586

Known as a serious minded and handsome man, Overall's first church post was in 1592 as Vicar at Epping, beyond Epping Forest in Essex.

University Career

Overall became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1596, receiving his doctorate the same year, aged 37. He was popular with his pupils. There was some conflict about this appointment caused by the fact that younger University men had elected him because he opposed the Calvinistic teaching of his predecessor William Whitaker. Archbishop John Whitgift had recently adopted the Calvinistic Lambeth articles, and this raised tension between the learn-ed men, complicating their relationships. Overall supported the theologian Peter Baron and attacked the Lambeth articles in the pulpit. He believed no man could presume to say he was saved, unless he lived in a spirit of repentance. Thus, in his eyes final assurance depended on a spirit of daily repentance, not on a fixed decree of God. (1)

Overall was then made Master of Catherine Hall in 1598. This was a very rapid rise for someone born into poverty, and he was reluctant to accept the appointment (McClure). Just three or four years later in 1601/2 the Queen made him Dean of St. Paul's (Lancelot Andrewes was a Prebendary there at the time); all the while he maintained his academic post at Cambridge! He was promoted to a plum position as Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1614. Thereafter he became Bishop of Norwich in 1618. On the one hand he developed a good friendship with Lancelot Andrewes; on the other he was hated by George Abbot. Overall became a member of the court of High Commission.

'Unlucky' in marriage

John Overall must be a good example of those referred to by Francis Dillingham in his sermons as "unwise luckless men [who] have gone on wooing and wiving foolish females to this day." This emerged in 1604, the same year as work on the KJV began. Overall married Anne Orwell; he was 44 years old, and dean of St Paul's. Anne was reputed by John Aubrey to be 'the greatest Beautie of her time in England.' (1). Had Overall believed in predestination he may have felt like Hosea in the Old Testament who was commanded to marry a faithless woman, then to take her back again after wooing her a second time. Anne's beauty was but skin-deep, and she committed adultery with the notorious womaniser Richard Sackville, third earl of Dorset, and later ran away with one John Selby. At Overall's behest some chased after the couple and they brought Anne back to the deanery. He received her back again, but no word survives of what became of this 'holy deadlock.'

His Translation work

Overall was placed in the Westminster group led by Lancelot Andrewes, translating Genesis to II Chronicles. Perhaps he was chosen as a translator of these early Old Testament books because he was aligned with Andrewes' theological opinions rather than for his linguistic skills. He was not noted for his knowledge of Hebrew, but was a Classical specialist, and like Andrewes opposed to Puritanism. However, his knowledge of Latin was deep, having lectured in Latin to his scholars over many years (from 1592 to 1604).

His Greek lectures were also given in Latin! Discussion between the translators preparing for publication was later immersed in Latin, which facilitates a very precise and concise word usage. The Hampton Court conference also used Latin heavily. This was not a problem for King James as he had learned Latin before he had learned Scots, and by the age of eight could translate any Bible passage chosen at random from Latin into French, then from French into English 'as well as few men could.' (2) Thomas Fuller reported that Overall had said to his father that, when being asked to preach in English before the Queen Elizabeth Overall found it difficult to "speak English in a continued oration" as he had spoken Latin for so long in public discourse.

Overall had a first-hand knowledge of the Greek and Latin 'church fathers,'

It is noted by Bishop Hacket that it was his custom to ground his sermons in the schools on two or three texts of Scripture showing what latitude of opinion or interpretation was admissible . . . . He was celebrated for the appropriateness of his quotations from the Fathers.
The exactness of Overall's literary scholarship is reflected by his addiction to the scholastic writers of the middle ages. The schoolmen refined analysis of language to a fine art involving the definition of nicer shades of thought as well as cultivating precise word-definition. (McClure) Linguistic analysts of our own day are hardly treading new ground here. Overall's skills would have served the Westminster company well, whilst they would have looked more to Geoffrey King (Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge) and William Bedwell, ('father of Arabic studies in England') for their opinions on the finer points of Hebrew syntax and idiomatic usage.

Nevertheless all Andrewes' group were Hebrew scholars to a greater or lesser degree.

Further guarantee of the highest standards of translation scholarship were secured by the 'rules of engagement' set by the King. Each group had to submit its work to every other group for evaluation, with review and suggestion by each member of the group. Each translator was thereby seen as responsible to check the entire Translation as best he could (given time constraints) and so work for the highest accuracy. All suggestions for improvement were submitted to a final revision committee of twelve senior men for analysis and application. The three directors of the company were all Hebraists: Edward Lively, Regius professor of Hebrew at Cambridge; John Harding, Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford, and Lancelot Andrewes, whose knowledge of ancient languages was celebrated and well known.

Never has a translated work of literature been subjected to such a thorough and rigorous scrutiny by so many scholars at one time. "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Pro. 11:14

Jerusalem chamber, Westminster Abbey
Altogether the first Westminster Company was rich in talent, sensibility and experience --well fit (as one writer put it) to' sit down in a cold stone room by the fire and discuss in capable fashion' the legendary, historical, and biographical narratives, short stories, and lyric poetry in the books of Genesis through 2 Kings entrusted to their care.
(2) However, it is gratuitous to believe that any one of the translators relegated an Old Testament story to the status of mere legend."! Their minds had not yet been poisoned by the anti-supernatural scepticism of the eighteenth century 'enlightenment.' Their work is thus much more relevant to the creation of sound contemporary biblical faith than it has been for 400 years..

Within a year of beng made Bishop of Norwich, Overall died.

(1) Cranfield, Nicholas (2008) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(2) Bobrick, Benson. (2001) The Making of the English Bible Lon: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 210

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Andrew Bing – not quite anonymous.

Doctor Andrew Bing (Byng) was born in 1574, and lived seventy-eight years.

Academic credentials

Andrew Bing was a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in Trinity College Cambridge in 1608. His predecessors were Edward Liveley (Director, First Cambridge company), Robert Spaulding (First Cambridge company) and Geoffrey King (First Westminster company).

Like its sister college, Christ Church, Oxford, Trinity takes pride in its aristocratic connections — it has generally been the academic institution of choice of the Royal Family (King Edward VII, King George VI, Prince Henry of Gloucester, Prince William of Gloucester and Edinburgh and Prince Charles were all undergraduates). Like Christ Church, the college has also been associated with Westminster School. The Master remains to this day an ex officio member of the school's governing body.

Trinity has educated six British prime ministers and several heads of other nations. Among the alumni are Isaac Newton and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Its members have won 32 Nobel Prizes. Though Andrew Bing’s life and career is not quite anonymous, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the highest academic standards were present when Henry VIII first founded the College in 1546. Another alumnus of Trinity is John Stott, who as a student was a gifted student in French and Theology.

Dr. John Stott.(1921 - 2011)

There was a lot more emphasis on the importance of language study in depth, in an age when the physical sciences had not yet developed their alluring claim on students’ time and energies.

Appointed to translate

Andrew Bing was a tall, smiling young man, and merely 30 years of age when King James I of England chose him to work on the Bible. (1) He served on the "First Cambridge Company" charged with translating parts of the Old Testament for the King James Version of the Bible. The chairman of this group was Edward Lively, father of thirteen children. Others in the same group as Andrew Bing were Laurence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Thomas Harrison, Roger Andrewes, (brother of Lancelot Andrewes), and Robert Spaulding. The books they translated were I and II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

Not a great deal is known about this scholar, as is true of several of the names in a list of over 52 men who worked on the Translation. A study of these men’s careers enables the reader to build up a picture of their life-style and relationships:

[T]hey were bound together in a complex web of shared experience at both school and university and in a set of mutually reliant networks of clientship and patronage, by which leading members of the church promoted their favourites into well-rewarded positions of influence.” (2)

Other responsibilities

Dr. Bing was Sub-dean (deputy to the Dean) of York in 1606, responsible for running the York Minster Cathedral. Twelve years later, he was made Archdeacon of Norwich in 1618. “An archdeacon is often responsible for administration within an archdeaconry, which is the principal subdivision of the diocese. The office has often been described metaphorically as that of oculus episcopi, the bishop's eye.”

Andrew Bing outlived nearly all his fellow workers and died in 1652. By this time Oliver Cromwell was about to take the title of “Lord Protector” in running the Commonwealth after the execution of King Charles I.

(1) Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker.
(2) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 251.

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Monday, 11 April 2011

The world needs more than starlight

The apostle Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2 to avoid grumbling and complaining when we get into difficult circumstances . . .

KJV Philippians 2:15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
The NIV has a different thought here, when it likens our influence in the world to the stars of the physical universe . . .
NIV Philippians 2:15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

The NIV translation I believe is misleading. It makes two gratuitous assumptions when translating the phrase as like stars in the universe.

First, this rendering assumes that Paul had stars in mind when he used the word phoster (‘lightbearer) in verse 15. But, this is reading into Paul’s use of the word more than is there. If he had meant “stars,” he had a perfectly good Greek word to hand, which would indicate that: aster (as in astral, asteroid, astrology). However, phoster may refer to any luminary body which bears light, for example, the moon or the sun itself.

The second gratuitous assumption is made by translating kosmos as “the universe.” There is no suggestion from the context of the passage (Phil 2: 14 - 16) that Paul had the physical universe in mind. Only the context in which a word or phrase is used can help the translator choose the correct English meaning, where there are different ways of explaining what was in the writer’s mind. Ignore the context and you can make an author say what you want him to say, not what he actually said. Where two or more meanings are possible, a translator should not make up the reader’s mind for him as to the Holy Spirit’s intention, but should leave the same apparent ambiguity in the English rendering as that which characterised the Greek words originally written, lest he misrepresent the writer’s intended meaning.

How should phoster (light bearer) be translated?

All stars bear light, but not all light bearers are stars. Jesus describes Himself as a star in Rev 22:16. I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star (aster). Peter describes the risen Lord as “the day star arising in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19) Balaam described the coming Messiah Jesus in the words “There shall come a Star out of Jacob”, Num. 24:17. On the other hand Paul the apostle never described believers as “stars,” probably because Jesus never did either. For example, Jesus commanded his disciples:

KJV Matthew 5:16 Let your light (phos) so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Jesus uses phos five times in Matthew 4-6, referring to his disciples, just as he does when referring to himself as “the light of the world,” in John 8:12. Did he intend us to read Matthew 5:14 as “Ye are the starlight (phos) of the world”? On that basis, perhaps we should sign up for a career in Hollywood!

In the Genesis account of creation, Gen 1:14 and 16 describe God’s act of creating the greater light (sun) and the lesser light (moon). The stars are distinguished from these ‘lights’ with the words: “and he made the stars also.” The Hebrew word for “light” here is me’or.

In the OT this refers to the sun and the moon, and of the sum-total of the seven lights of the golden candlestick in the Temple.

It was in the Temple context (John 8:2) that Jesus, in John 8:12, described Himself as “the light (phos>) of the world." No room for stars here.

When the five books of Moses were translated into Greek (called the Septuagint – translated from Hebrew before the time of Jesus), the translators used Paul’s word phosteres, when translating ‘lights’ and ‘great lights’ in Gen 1:14, 16. This also harmonises with how the word is used in the OT Apocrypha. The moon is phoster in Ecclus. 43:7. The phrase “luminaries of heaven” (phosteres ouranou) in Wisdom 13:2 refers to the material world, not the ethical world, and is “exactly equivalent to phosteres en kosmou” (1) which is Paul’s expression in Phi. 2: 15 (“lights in the world”). Paul has, moreover, already indicated in verse 15 that the ethical world is in his mind, when he says in the same verse that believers shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” Thus, the light he has in mind harks back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus exhorts us to light up the darkness around us, as the sun chases away the night’s darkness.

Jesus does not compare the believer’s enlightening influence specifically to the sun, so neither would Paul expect us to understand his reference in Phi 2:15 to the sun in such a specific way. However, the believer “walking in the light” sheds a whole lot more light in this dark world than does a bunch of remote stars, which are light-years away in the vast depths of empty space.

How should kosmos be translated in Phil. 2:15?

There are seven possible ways of understanding the word cosmos in the New Testament. Its primary meaning is “order, arrangement, ornament, adornment.” It can also refer to the earth Acts 17:24, or the “earth” in contrast with Heaven, 1 John 3:17. Another usage is figurative - by metonymy, it can refer to the “human race, mankind,” e.g., Matt. 5:14; John 1:9. It is also applied specifically to the Gentile world, in contrast to the Jewish, Rom. 11:12, 15. Again, Paul may have had in mind the “present condition of human affairs,” mankind in alienation from and in opposition to God, as in 8:23 (notice Jesus had just described Himself as the “light (phos) of the world” (kosmos), in 8:12. Jesus uses kosmos quite differently in Matt. 16:26 where he is speaking of “the sum of temporal possessions,” Lastly, a seventh usage of kosmos is metaphorical, where James says the “tongue” is “a world (of iniquity).”


So, which if these seven uses of the word kosmos does Paul have in his mind in Phi. 2:15, and how does the Holy Spirit want us to understand this verse? The NIV has made up its mind for us - an approach which makes everything depend on the translator getting it right. Rather ambitious, don’t you think? Some would even say, arrogant, as if the reader is not competent to be able to work out for himself whether a literal or metaphorical meaning is intended by the Spirit (on whom we should depend!) in verse 15.

“World” is defined in the same verse as meaning the ethical world, and it is most probable that Paul is saying the believers’ interaction with his pagan surroundings is designed to shed a needed light in a society so described in Eph 4: 18 “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”

Not surprising then, that RC Trench says of the KJV rendering of Phil 2:15, “. . . among whom you shine as lights in the world” that, although it “fails to mark with entire precision what St. Paul intends,” yet, “it would be difficult to improve on this.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Allow some room for the Holy Spirit to teach us what the words mean. Sometimes, less is more.

(1) RC Trench (1880/1985) Synonyms of the New Testament, MI:Eerdmans, p. 164

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Hadrian Saravia – the continental influence

Birth and early days

Hadrian Saravia was born 1530/31 in Hesden, Artois, Belgium. He had a Spanish father and a Flemish mother. We know little of his early life. He was trained for a clerical career in the Low Countries (1). His training specialised broadly in languages. Saravia was responsible for drawing up the Walloon Confession and he founded the Walloon church in Brussels.

Approaching maturity

In 1566 Saravia became minister at Ghent, and experienced conflict there with some of his colleagues. He ‘escaped’ to England. There the Privy Council sent him to Guernsey in the Channel Islands to found Elisabeth College, and to pastor a church there.

Elisabeth College

In 1577 he was recalled to Belgium from Guernsey. In 1582 he became Prof. of Divinity at Leiden, aged 51/52, and awarded a D.D. Leiden University is well-known for its long-held standard of superlative scholarship:

The presence within half a century of the date of its foundation of [various famous] scholars . . at once raised Leiden university to the highest European fame, a position which the learning and reputation of . . others enabled it to maintain,
University of Leiden

At the same time Saravia was appointed preacher of the French Reformed Church in Leiden.

Advocate of the high church position

In 1588 Saravia moved to England to teach at Southampton Grammar school In 1590 he was awarded a D.D. from Oxford University aged 55 – 60. He also became Vicar of Lewisham in Kent. Engaged in writing, Saravia published that same year the Degrees of Christian Priesthood, which advocated apostolic succession as an essential basis of ecclesiastical authority. He was the most strict of the high churchmen (1), publishing treatises in Latin against the views of the Presbyterian Theodore Beza and against the Jesuitical approach of Jacob Gretser, “considered one of the best controversialists of the time”

However, Saravia was no contentious academic. According to one contemporary, he was “most anxious and earnest in seeking for general peace and concord in the church of God.” (2)

Puritan persecution of the 1580’s

Puritan separatists were persecuted by Richard Bancroft as they met in private houses (3). Bancroft had an effective spy network reporting on the freedom and ’priestlessness’ exercised by separatists in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Whilst two hundred or so Puritans fled to Holland, fifty-two were put in jail. They were then interviewed by Lancelot Andrewes, whose duty it was to visit ‘the separatist’s hell.’ (3) Hadrian Saravia was a soul-mate of Lancelot Andrewes, deeply conservative, authoritarian and inclusivist, who opposed reform and controversy. His principal work was to defend episcopacy. Whilst he held firmly to the supremacy of Scripture, he so valued the writings of the early church fathers that he opposed any change to doctrine that could not be supported from their writings. (4)

Saravia interviewed Daniel Studley in the Fleet.

[They] were held for long periods in the string of hideous London gaols: the Clink, the Gatehouse, the Fleet, Newgate, the Counter Woodstreet, the Counter Poultry, Bridewell and the White Lion, some of the prisoners being shut in the ‘most noisome and vile dungeons’, without ‘bedds, or so much as strawe to lye upon . . . and all this, without once producing them, to anie Christian trial where they might have place given them to defend themselves.’(2)

In 1595 Saravia became prebender of Gloucester. Also of Canterbury, Worcester and Westminster, according to Paine. He became at this time a good friend of Richard Hooker, the writer of Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

In 1601 he became Prebender of Westminster aged 73. This was while Lancelot Andrewes was Dean of the chapter there.

Translating the Bible

Saravia was a member of the first Westminster group appointed by Lancelot Andrewes (e.g. John Overall, and William Bedwell), a Hebrew scholar among Hebrew scholars, translating Genesis to II Kings. They made a balanced team where all shades of opinion on ecclesiastical issues were represented. (1) However, by this time Saravia was an old man, “a royal favourite, perhaps rather exhausted at 73.” In 1609 he became Rector of Great Chart in Kent.

We do not know just how much work he applied to the task of translation, though his love of languages must have persuaded Andrewes he was a worthy addition to his Westminster team. This was regardless of the identity of the views they shared, as to the direction in which they believed the church should go. Saravia imbibed his Calvinistic views on the Continent, but these were modified by his friendships with Hooker and Andrewes.

In the same year the KJV was published, Saravia collected a folio of his own works. The next year, 1612, he died in Canterbury, aged 82.

1, Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, pp. 30, 34-35, 41.47, 52, 59.
2. Wilson, Derek (2010) The People’s Bible: The remarkable history of the King James Version, OX: Lion, p. 95
3. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 29, 88, 95, 99, 193.
4. Douglas, J.D. (1974) Dictionary of the Christian Church Exeter: Paternoster.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

Thomas Ravis - a scourge of the Puritans.

Thomas Ravis was one of the six deans who attended the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. As a result, he was appointed director of the Second Oxford company involved in the creation of the King James Bible. This group translated the Gospels, the Acts and the book of Revelation. Sir Henry Savile and John Peryn were included in this group. Ravis later supplied notes for William Barlow's account, the Sum and Substance of the Conference.

Early days

Ravis was born in 1560 at Malden, in the county of Surrey, and died 1609. His education began at the famous Westminster School. Its list of old pupils display a galaxy of talent: Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Nick Clegg, John Locke, Charles Wesley, JN Darby, Sir Peter Ustinov, and winners of six VCs! – to name only a few. Later Ravis was to show great favour to students from his old school, encouraging and advising them in their studies (1)

Westminster School

In 1575 Ravis became a student of Christ’s Church, one of the Oxford Colleges, and founded by Cardinal Wolsey. The dean and chapter of Christ Church were reluctant to make a place for him, until a strong letter from William Cecil (Lord Burghley) overcame it. Over the next twenty years he pursued courses in both Arts (MA 1581), and Divinity (DD 1595).

Says McClure, “It is enough to record, that [the King James translators] nearly all attained to the highest literary honours of their respective universities.”

An influential cleric

He ‘took holy orders’ in 1582, and preached around Oxford for some time. From 1591 he was vicar of Allhallows Barking, in London for seven years. Then followed an appointment as Canon of Westminster, and two years after that he was made Dean of Christ’s Church College, Oxford. In 1596 he was elected Vice-Chancellor of the University. In 1598, he exchanged his All- hallows Church for the rectory of Islip. He also held the Abbey Church, in Wittenham Berkshire. These appointments took him into the inner circle of influential churchmen, where he rose fast in its elite social network, and he exercised a strong personal resistance to the Puritan influence of John Rainolds and his group.

In October 1604 Ravis was appointed Bishop of Gloucester, whilst still remaining dean of Christ Church, and holding his Westminster prebend, as well as the parsonages of Islip and Wittenham.

The Old Bishop's Palace, Gloucester
His holding a plurality of churches for the sake of their revenues, in neither of which he could perform the duties of the pastoral office [justified complaint] . . . The pernicious custom of pluralities, whereby a man receives tithes for the care of souls of which he takes no care, fleecing the flock he neither watches nor feeds, is one of those abuses still continued in the Church of England . . . [but not practised now]” McClure

A persecutor of Puritans

Thomas Ravis’s persecuting spirit towards the Puritans makes it difficult for biographers to commend him as a translator. Increasing conflict within the higher offices of the clergy made it certain that the list of translators would be staunch representatives of the then established order, where the authority of the bishop was ever more appealed to, in order to resolve the pain caused by conflicting viewpoints. Lancelot Andrewes appealed to episcopal authority at the Hampton Court conference with the words:

The occasion which caused the apostles to appoint bishops seemeth to be schisms . . . . The whole ministry of the New Testament was at the first invested in Christ alone. He is termed . . . bishop, 1 Peter 2: 25.”
No appeal was made to the Bible to justify the diocesan tradition where many congregations are ruled by one bishop. Edwin Hatch’s lectures tended to show that the earliest Biblical order was quite different,
For although it is indisputable that our Lord founded a church, it is an unproved assumption that the church is an aggregation of visible and organised societies. . . . The theory upon which the public worship of the primitive churches proceeded was that each community was complete in itself, and that in every act of public worship every element of the community was present.”(2)

Part of the New Testament evidence for the congregational view (assuming the authority of biblical precedent) is seen in Acts 20. There we read Paul gathered together at Miletus the elders (presbuteroi) of Ephesus. These same men are at the same time denoted “overseers” (episopoi: bishops) by the writer Luke, in Acts 20:17, 28. This shows that in the earliest times, instead of one bishop ruling many churches, it was the reverse, wherein several bishops (episcopoi: overseers) ruled one church, that is, one local congregation.

Paine says Ravis was “haughty and harsh” speaking against the Puritans at some length at the Hampton Court Conference. (1)

Ravis’ appointment as Bishop of London brought on a strong persecuting spirit in line with his predecessor, Richard Bancroft. He showed a severe exacting intolerance of all nonconformity. His determination to bring uniformity of outlook to his diocese made him blind to the virtues of those he opposed. For example, he interviewed, says McClure:

the holy and blessed man, Richard Rogers, [who was] for nearly fifty years the faithful minister of Weathersfield, than whom, it is said, “the Lord honoured none more in the conversion of souls.” In the presence of this venerable man, who, for his close walking with God, was styled the Enoch of his day, Bishop Ravis protested,--”By the help of Jesus, I will not leave one preacher in my diocese, who doth not subscribe and conform.”
The writer reposts:
The poor prelate was doomed to be disappointed; as he died, before his task was well begun . . . . So true is the remark, that “bishops and books are seldom the better for being translated.”

The term “bishop” was finally prominent in translating the pastoral epistles of Paul, being conspicuously used five times, where “overseer” would have allowed for the Puritan conviction that pastoral care is best exercised by someone present and directly involved in ruling a local congregation. It is hardly surprising that a company of translators, which included many bishops among them, would result in the final translation-product reflecting what was then the established order. The overall director, Lancelot Andrewes, with his high church leanings, had the final word, and he ensured it would be so!

A man of social affairs

In 1604, soon after Dr. Ravis was commissioned as a translator, he also became bishop of Gloucester. There

he spent lavishly on social affairs, and it was said that he ‘in so short a time had gained the good liking of all sorts that some who could not brook the name of bishop were content to give (or rather to pay) him a good report. He also constructed conduits to bring water into his bishop’s palace, built much of it anew, and improved the paving.(1)

His appointment was ostensibly for “his great learning, gravity, and prudence” and he seems to have been well accepted: “[Though] his diocese “was pretty well stocked with those who could not bear the name of a bishop, yet, by his episcopal living among them, he obtained their love, and a good report from them.” Paine calls him “stringent but sociable.” (1)

“Known as a ‘grave and good man,’ Ravis was able at getting work done and considered a model for lesser folk to revere, but clearly not a man without choler. In retrospect we may think him an odd choice for chairman of the group to work on the writing that contains the heart of Christian teaching.” (1)

His competence as a translator

Thomas Ravis would have learned Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic as part of the curriculum of the upper school at Westminster in early days. Whether he excelled in these disciplines we are not told. There is no record of a particular aptitude for languages. Neither do we hear whether he immersed himself in the writings of the early Christian ‘fathers,’ whose work is so important in offering a critique of modern text-critical methods. Doubtless he would have kept in touch with classical languages during the twenty years which led up to his receiving a doctorate. However, his specialty seems to have been more to do with practical ecclesiastical affairs, and a doctrinal preoccupation with defeating the Puritan influence in church life.

“While he worked on the Bible, he was highly active as a hated scourge.” (1)

Notwithstanding, McClure gives Ravis the benefit of the doubt, saying:

Though too much carried away by a zeal for the forms of his Church, which was neither according to knowledge nor charity, he lived and died in deserved respect, and hath a fair monument still standing in his cathedral of St. Paul’s.

Ravis died on 14 December 1609, and was buried in the north aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral.

(1) Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, pp. 50-51, 93, 98, 104.
(2) Lang, G.H. (1959) The Churches of God Lon: Paternoster. P.15
(3) Wilson, Derek (2010) The People’s Bible: The remarkable history of the King James Version, OX: Lion, p. 100

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