King James Bible
Dr. Herbert Samworth
of the King James Bible was a compromise solution to a situation
where two translations of the Bible were in competition. This took
place in the following manner.
William Tyndale was the primary translator of the English Bible,
the work was carried on after his death by a number of people. Miles
Coverdale printed the first complete Bible in English in 1535 while
John Rogers was responsible for the Matthew's Bible of 1537. A revision
of the Matthew's Bible was printed in 1539 and called the Great
reign of Queen Mary Tudor in the 1550's, a number of Protestants
fled England to avoid religious persecution. Several of them, including
William Wittingham, Thomas Sampson, and Anthony Gilby, settled in
Geneva. While there, they determined to do a revision of Tyndale's
New Testament. They were fortunate in having access to the third
edition of Robert Stephanus' Greek New Testament and the help of
Theodore Beza, a friend of John Calvin and a noted Biblical scholar.
In 1557, William Wittingham printed what came to be called the Geneva
New Testament. The Geneva New Testament was the first printing of
the English Bible that included verse divisions.
Mary died in 1558, Wittingham, Sampson and Gilby remained in Geneva
to complete a revision of the Old Testament. Their work on the Old
Testament, along with a revision of the Geneva New Testament, was
printed in 1560 by Rouland Hall and entitled the Geneva Bible. Although
the scholarship and purity of English found in this Bible were of
the highest quality, the editors added marginal notes that disputed
the claim of English monarch to rule by divine right.
I, who became Queen of England after the death of her half-sister
in 1558, was a staunch advocate of the right of divine rule. Thoroughly
dissatisfied with the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible, she refused
to allow it to be used in the churches. At this time the approved
Bible for ecclesiastical use was the Great Bible of 1539. Elizabeth
ordered her Bishops to do a revision of the Great Bible that was
completed in 1568. This revision was known as the Bishops' Bible
because eight of the Queen's Bishops participated in the work. The
Bishops' Bible received the royal sanction as the official bible
of the English Church.
Page from The Bishops' Bible
this new edition failed to achieve popular acceptance. The Bishops'
Bible was inferior to the Geneva Bible both in scholarship and linguistic
eloquence. This difference in excellence was reflected by its lack
of popularity. Within a few years, the Geneva Bible had gone through
eighty editions while the Bishops' Bible struggled to attain to
the situation in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became the King
of England. The
Puritan Party in the English Church saw an opportunity to win the
favor of the new monarch. They asked for a conference to be held
with the king to discuss the ecclesiastical situation. It took place
in 1604 at Hampton Court Palace in London.
James I of England
Court Conference proved to be disastrous to the Puritans. All but
one of their requests was rejected. The one petition of the Puritans
that James granted was that a new translation of the English Bible
be undertaken to settle the differences between the Geneva and the
three rules to govern the work of translation. No marginal notes
were permitted except to explain the meaning of the Greek words.
Ecclesiastical words such as church and priest were to be used to
translate their Greek counterparts. Tyndale had never used the word
church in his editions of the Bible because the word at that time
only applied to those who had taken vows to the religious establishment.
Tyndale used the word congregation to translate the word in the
original language, thus underscoring the biblical teaching that
the church includes all who have personal faith in Christ, not just
those who have taken holy orders. James' third rule was that the
Bishops' Bible was to be the basis of the translation and it was
to be corrected only to bring it into greater conformity to the
meaning of the original languages.
were formed to undertake the work of revision: one at Westminster
in London, one at Cambridge University and the third worked at Oxford
University. The committees labored on the task for nearly seven
years. A committee from each of the three groups met together to
revise the translation. The committee approach to the work of translation
assured that the new version was accurate. In 1611, Robert Baker
printed the new revision.
page from the 1611 King James Bible
and is, much to admire about the King James Version. Many of the
scholars who worked on the translation were among the finest in
Europe. The omission of marginal notes allowed the reader to concentrate
on the biblical text itself. The translators gave special attention
to the English thus assuring that the Bible read well when used
in church services. Although printed nearly four hundred years ago,
the English still reads with a diction and stateliness that has
not been equaled. While the King James Version contains some obsolete
words, when read aloud by a skilled reader, its beauty of expression
is unequaled. The beauty of language was due to the work of William
Tyndale. Eighty-five percent of the words in the New Testament portion
of the King James Bible were the work of William Tyndale.
It may seem
surprising that the King James Version did not win immediate approval.
The Puritans retained their allegiance to the Geneva Bible. The
scholarly community also continued to use the Geneva Bible. It was
reported that one Archbishop of Canterbury preferred to use the
Geneva Bible for his personal study and devotions!
what finally decided the issue in favor of the King James Bible
had little to do with the relative merits of the two translations.
After the death of King James, his son Charles I ascended to the
throne. Charles appointed William Laud, who had been Bishop of London,
to the see of Canterbury. One of Laud's first orders was to forbid
the printing of the Geneva Bible in England to assure uniformity
of Bibles. At first, this did not cause any difficulty because it
was easy to procure copies from overseas. However, Laud issued an
edict forbidding the importation of the Geneva Bible because it
would cause economic hardship to British printers. The last printing
of the Geneva Bible was done in Amsterdam in 1644.
It is an
irony of history that the popularity of the King James Bible was
due to political and economic reasons as much as to the quality
of the translation. However, there is one further irony that exists.
Another name given to the King James Bible is the Authorized Version
or "A.V." However, there is no record that any official
authorization was ever given to the King James Version.
formal and ecclesiastical recommendations lose their significance
before the court of public opinion. With the inaccessibility of
the Geneva Bible, the English-speaking people embraced the King
when there is an abundance of English translations of the Scriptures,
the King James Version continues to hold the loyalty and affection
of a large segment of the English-speaking people.