A Symbol of Western Culture
By Reed Benson
Around the globe, one will encounter a variety of primitive and semi-civilized cultures. Throughout recorded history, however, there have been relatively few high cultures. Only a handful of cultures develop the sophisticated systems of religion, art, law, and social infrastructure that characterize a high culture. These high cultures are quite unique and have played the central roles in the unfolding of empires and civilizations upon the stage of history. As each high culture gives way, it leaves a legacy that symbolizes the heart and soul of that culture. We can identify some of the symbols of past high cultures, for they have had a significant impact on our own present. For example, the ancient high culture of Egypt is probably best symbolized by the Great Pyramid. Most experts agree that we cannot duplicate, even with our technology, this massive wonder of skill, precision, and organization. The Classical Greco-Roman high culture has left certain symbols and images that reveal its soul. Perhaps the unique office of the philosopher best symbolizes this high culture. These contemplative seekers of truth and knowledge such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, and Pliny characterize the legacy the Classical culture has left behind.
Our present Western Culture, of which you are a part if you are reading this article, has also been moving forward under the providence of God toward its final fulfillment and destiny. At this point it is important to note that our Western Culture is often referred to as the Western Christian Culture. This is significant, for the Christian faith has always been the central theme of the Western Culture. Over fifteen hundred years ago it was suckled and nourished by the vibrant and burgeoning Christian faith. As our Western culture moved toward its maturity in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, it was Christian themes that dominated all aspects of the culture. A detailed examination of the entire span of Western Culture reveals this inescapable fact: Christianity is at the core its soul. What, then, as we stand at the inauguration of the third millennium after Christ, is a fitting symbol of our waning culture? What best encapsulates the soul of Western culture? What will be the lasting legacy we give to generations yet unborn that will still retain significance in a thousand years? Will it be the Beatles? Will it be the Super Bowl? Will it be the Space Shuttle? Will any of these reveal the soul of the Western Culture, or are they just passing fancies, historically speaking?
The single item that bets captures the core of the soul of the Western Culture is the King James Bible. Of all possible candidates for an appropriate symbol of our culture, none meets the criteria better than the Authorized King James Bible. Why? How does it best reflect all that is good and noteworthy about our culture? In what ways is it the single best item that will retain lasting significance to distant generations?
The first reason is linguistic. The King James Bible was produced just as the English language reached full maturity in its historic development within the Western Culture. The parent tongue of English is the Germanic form spoken by the Saxons when they invaded the island of Britain in the fifth through seventh centuries. But they had to contend with the prior Celtic inhabitants who had been somewhat Latinized by virtue of being part of the Roman Empire for several hundred years. Thus, the dominant Saxon tongue soon acquired both a Latin and Celtic flavor. In the eighth and ninth centuries came the Danish and Norwegian Vikings, who established a region of influence known as the Danelaw. The many permanent colonies they settled in England brought the Scandinavian tongue. Next came the Norman invasion of 1066 and with it the French language. The aristocracy they established forced the English speaking masses to eventually incorporate elements of the French language into everyday speech. Finally, the Northern Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries revived Greek classic literature of ancient times and injected many Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes into the English tongue. Thus, the English language of King James’ era was a synthesis of German, Latin, Celtic, Scandinavian, French, and Greek. It was the richest of all European tongues, for it incorporated innumerable synonyms with varying shades of meanings that no other modern language could incorporate in a written form.
The moment in time that the King James Bible was produced was the apex of the English language. All of the previously mentioned languages that contributed to English were a part of the Western culture. Recent influences of the past two hundred years have all been culturally negative, and not enriching at all, for they are tongues that are not a part of the same cultural heritage of the Western culture. They therefore detract from rather then enhance the ability to communicate within a cultural context. Thus, the language used in the King James Bible is the fullest and most expressive of all tongues spoken in the Western culture. The most well-known and widely used literary product of this period of linguistic development is the King James Bible. From a linguistic perspective, it is the obvious choice as a lasting symbol of the Western Culture.
From a purely literary viewpoint, the same is true. The King James Version is superior to all other Bible versions and other major literary works in its poetic qualities of rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration. Rhyme is the correspondence of end sounds in sentences, verses, or sections of a passage. Rhythm is the flow or apparent movement within a literary work through patterns in timing, spacing, repetition, and accenting. Alliteration is the repetition of a sound in a phrase. As an example, let us look at Revelation 3:18 to illustrate all three of these literary tools in a single verse: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness does not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." The rhyming is easy to find: "I counsel thee . . . to buy of me . . . thou mayest be . . . that thou mayest see." The rhythm is found in the same words; observe them now with the accent marks, noting the accents fall on every other syllable: "I coun’sel thee’ . . . to buy’ of me’ . . . thou may’est be’ . . . thou may’est see’." Alliteration is also found in this verse. Observe these pairs of works with the same first sound: appear, anoint; counsel, clothed; rich, raiment. Now note the words that have the long ‘i’ sound: I, buy, tried, white, thy, eye, eyes. The long ‘a’ sound is also repetitiously used: raiment, shame, nakedness, mayest. These various poetic elements enhance the beauty and meaning of the passage. Of all Bible versions, only the King James Bible utilizes these tools. It thus is a singular standout as the perfect literary symbol of all that is best of Western culture.
From a historical and political standpoint, the tenure of the King James Bible has paralleled precisely the rise and now the eclipse of the English speaking peoples. It was exactly when the King James Bible surpassed all other rivals as the single, indispensable book that the small country of England burst forth in the seventeenth century as a world power. Colonies sprouted on every continent, and England took its greatest treasure, the King James Bible, to practically every corner of the planet. As the next two centuries passed, the King James Bible reigned as the undisputed moral authority in the spreading British Empire. Meanwhile, nineteenth century America was building an empire (of sorts) all its own, taking the King James Bible with it in every prairie schooner and saddlebag. After all, for all practical purposes, there was no other Bible in the English-speaking world. However, as the twentieth century approached, the King James Bible was first challenged, then dethroned. And look what happened! The calamity of the First World Was shook the mighty British Empire and brought it to its knees. A tremendous depression, followed by the tragedy of The Second World War, then shattered it into tiny fragments. The English-speaking world has seen its political influence shrivel to a fraction of its former glory. From all quarters of the earth, an English speaker is now cursed and hated. And while our political inheritance is being steadily squandered, what are we doing with our King James Bible, the standard of our forefathers? We are busily throwing it aside, pursuing other translations. The abandonment of the King James Bible parallels exactly the political decline of the English-speaking world. Is it possible that this is more than a coincidence? It may well be! From a historical perspective, the King James Bible seems very fitting as the single best symbol of the English speaking world and the Western culture.
More important than politics, the tenure of the King James Bible also parallels the rise, and now the eclipse, of our cultural standards. It was at the apex of the Western Culture that the great masters were producing the best music—Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven. The great masters in art were simultaneously giving a rich heritage to posterity—Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelanelo, Durer, Cranach, Holbein, Bruegel, Rembrant, Vermeer, and van Ruisdael. Biblical scholarship was coming to a peak as well through the labors of men such as Collet, Reuchlin, Lefevre d’Etaples, Erasmus, and Tyndale. At the same time, the English Renaissance was reaping a full bounty through the works of men such as Foxe, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and Bunyan. Riding the tide of this cultural climax was the production of the King James Bible. The language, standards, and teachings of the King James Bible became imbedded into the institutions and structure of English speaking society. Law, higher education, the professions, and political discourse all took their cues from the King James Bible and none other. Western civilization flowered during the tenure of the King James Bible. In contrast, all of the major ideologies and trends that now are undermining our culture became popular after we began to discard the King James Bible: Marxism, Darwinism, Muckrakers, Fabians, Feminism, Jazz, Rock & Roll, Impressionist art, Abstract art, free love, homosexuality, the drug culture, and the list could go on! Culturally, the King James Bible is an appropriate choice as the symbol of what is best in our society.
More than any other item, the King James Bible best embodies what is wholesome and true within our Western culture. It is the single best vehicle for expressing the true soul of our culture. It goes to the core of our values and strengths, providing a lasting legacy of what we were to those who will view us a thousand years hence. Born at the apex of our cultural development, its decline parallels our culture’s degeneration. It is thus a highly fitting symbol of Western Culture.