A month ago we briefly examined the contents of chapter 3 in Leland Ryken’s 2015 publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway). As we move into chapter 4, Ryken comes to what may be called the central chapter of his book. Here he examines the greatest classic of literature, the Bible.
We say this is the central chapter not only because, using the principles of what makes a work a classic, Ryken demonstrates that the Bible is indeed the greatest classic; but also because he takes the viewpoint that the Bible is the lens through which we view all other classics of literature. As he says, his book is a Christian guide to the classics, not a secular one.
This is how he explains that point:
First, the Bible is the central authority for Christians. Christianity is a revealed religion, meaning that it derives its beliefs from a book that is regarded as a divine revelation. In the remaining chapters of this book I will discuss how I think Christians should read the classics. One of the points I will make is that Christians need to weigh the truth claims of literary classics by the standard of biblical truth. This is a central function of the Bible in the study of the classics (p.41).
Those who know Ryken also know that he has high praise for the King James Version of the Bible, and in this chapter he also continues that praise. In the opening section where he speaks of the Bible as the classic of all classics, and quotes a variety of sources to prove that, Ryken includes these qualifications about the translation being referred to:
…I need to clarify that these statements have the King James Version in view.
Those of my readers who are accustomed to using a dynamic equivalent or colloquial Bible [such as the NIV] might well be perplexed by the quotations that I will shortly share. Only some English translations result in a Bible that merits the praise that the experts shower on the King James Bible. …Other modern translations, while useful in their particular spheres, do not retain the stylistic excellence of the King James tradition. Instead, they make the Bible read like the daily newspaper and the chatter at the corner coffeeshop. No classic sounds like those things.
And here are a couple of those quotes concerning the KJV Bible as a classic:
The Authorized Version is a miracle and a landmark….. There is no corner of English life, no conversation ribald or reverent that it has not adorned (J.Isaac, an essay in The Bible in Its Ancient and English Versions), p.36.
The King James Bible retains its place as a literary and religious classic, by which all others continue to be judged (Alister McGrath, In the Beginning), p.37.