Published May 5, 2011
HAZLEHURST – Like many Southern Baptists, Joe McGee has a high regard for the Bible. But unlike most, his dates back several hundred years – when translators were being burned at the stake for simply printing what has become the world’s most popular book.
McGee has collected old Bible pages – not actually full manuscripts – for the past three years, a hobby that fits well with his love of Bible history. Today he has about two dozen original pages, ranging from the oldest – the Coverdale Bible of 1535 – to the most popular, the King James Bible of 1611.
He would like to have a page from the John Wycliffe Bible, which were all hand-written by the famous translator, but they sell for up to $10,000 each. Or from the Gutenberg Bible of 1450 – the first book ever printed – but those pages can sell for up to $200,000 each if they contain a significant verse of Scripture.
But those are a little above his pay grade as director of missions for Consolation Baptist Association.
Georgia Baptists who want to view part of his collection can gaze on slightly more than 400 years of Bible history now on display through late summer at the Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth. McGee has loaned the historic documents to share his appreciation for the Bible with others who enjoy such antiquities.
Only about 25 percent of his collection is on display at the Duluth headquarters building of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Later this summer they will move to the library of Luther Rice Seminary for a month or two for display before returning to the Baptist Center, McGee said.
Perhaps the most popular version being viewed these days is the King James pages as that document celebrates its 400th anniversary. McGee is very familiar with its role in Bible history and how King James, seeking to bolster his political standing in England, sought to commission a new translation that could be dedicated to him.
“Between 1611 and 1638 there were more than 2,000 corrections to the King James because it was sub-contracted to so many different printers and the proof-reading of every version varied tremendously. Since the type for each version was painstakingly set by hand, backwards, there would be common misspellings of words or even entire words were left out,” McGee explained.
To be precise, the printer of the 1631 version – Robert Barker – was fined 300 pounds and lost his printing license because his version left out “not” in Exodus 20:14 and read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Nearly every copy was destroyed and only eleven are known to exist today.
Included in the collection now on display is a page from the Geneva Bible that was the most accurate translation of its time – and formed the basis of 80 percent of the King James Bible.
“The KJV was not an instant hit but grew in popularity through the next century,” McGee maintains. Conservatives felt it was too liberal and the Church of England clergy felt it was too Protestant because it watered down the role of the Anglican Church.
“In addition, the King James Version was not the Bible that the colonists brought to America at its founding; that translation was the Geneva Bible. When the colonists quoted scripture, they – like Shakespeare – were quoting from the Geneva Bible.”
Today McGee has settled on the New King James Version as his favorite for three reasons; the Baby Boomers who left the church and now returned have become familiar with a variety of translations and want something less formal and easier to understand than the KJV; the younger generation has rarely read from the KJV; and senior adults largely trust no other version and the New KJV maintains the poetry while being easier to understand.
Individuals wanting to view McGee’s collection are invited to see the display in the Baptist Center’s first floor museum and second floor archives room. The King James pages are located in the archives room, which will require a guest signing in to get a magnetic key card to access the elevator.
The building is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. For information call the Baptist Center at (770) 455-0404 or toll free (800) 746-4422.
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