"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
January 30, 2013
Fires of Faith: Written Word on God's Word Glows
by Laurie Williams Sowby

The eighth Article of Faith states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Those seven words suddenly sank in for me a year or so ago as I perused a special exhibit at the Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on the history behind the widely-used King James Version of the Bible. I had memorized the Articles of Faith in Primary, yet decades later, it was this exhibit that made me appreciate the truth of that simple phrase “as far as it is translated correctly.”

That experience was brought back to me as I read Fires of Faith, The Inspiring Story Behind the King James Bible. This excellent book from Covenant (2012) is a companion to the BYUTV documentary directed by Lee Groberg ($29.99 for 115 pages in hardcover. A DVD with BYUTV's three-part series, Fires of Faith: Coming Forth of the King James Bible, has also been released). The documentary, shown widely on PBS stations in December, was made to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of the Bible's English translation and publication (1604-1611) during the reign of King James I.

The text by Brock Brower is the outstanding feature of this oversized book. (It is a bit unwieldy for just holding and reading, yet the visuals and layout require the larger format.)

Despite the author’s impressive credentials – Rhodes Scholar, professor of journalism at Dartmouth College, writer-in-residence at Princeton University, writer-producer of TV’s 3-2-1- Contact! and 20/20 and author of eight published books and numerous articles in nationally-recognized magazines – this is no erudite treatise. As with the best writing, Brower’s explains the facts clearly and accurately, in a conversational tone that engages rather than puts the reader off, and he helps the reader understand what those facts mean. His prose is a pleasure to read.

For instance, William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for secretly translating and publishing an English-language Bible when even possessing one was against the law in England. Brower goes beyond those facts, though, in helping the reader understand Tyndale’s legacy to the English language: Familiar phrases such as “the powers that be,” “eat, drink, and be merry,” and “Give us this day our daily bread” appeared first in his English translation from Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. (He was writing near the same time Shakespeare was.) Although the King James Version of the Bible was created by a committee of 47 translating from other translations and versions, “the agreed estimate of the debt in words owed to William Tyndale by those who ‘translated’ the New Testament for the King James Version is 83 percent.”

The history’s all here, and in an inviting package. Through Brower’s delightful words and descriptions, we meet the central figures in the European reformation era and learn of their commitment, contribution, and sacrifice in seeing the word of God disseminated in the English language. We are also treated to copies of historic art and portraits, along with still reenactment photos by Steven Porter.

For the reader, “as far as it is translated correctly” gains more meaning with the following words, quoted from a member of another, later committee called in to revise the KJV in 1689: “The translators in King James’s time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was the most excellent in such a tongue . . . and then they met together, and one read the translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish.” As the author says, “They spent seven years reading aloud . . . They wanted to hear how each and every passage would sound in English. This practice added a deeper dimension to their collective judgments on the ultimate worth of their proposed translations.”

Brower’s final chapter enlarges the “big picture” with examples of the KJV Bible’s influence in politics, history, culture, and literature. Additional comments by international scholars and leaders from various religions appear as separate quotations in attractive calligraphic text, adding another dimension to the historical account of how the Bible, translated into English during King James’s time, has influenced and impacted the word for more than four centuries.

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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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