The King James Bible :
Return

 

The King James Bible:

The Authorized Version, commonly known as the King James Version, King James Bible or KJV, is an English translation of the Christian Bible by the Church of England that began in 1604 and was completed in 1611; it was first printed by the King's Printer Robert Barker; this was the third official translation of the Bible into English; the first having been the Great Bible commissioned by the Church of England in the reign of King Henry VIII and the second was the Bishop's Bible of 1568.

In January 1604, King James I of England convened the Hampton Court Conference where a new English version was conceived in response to the perceived problems of the earlier translations as detected by the Puritans, a faction within the Church of England; James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy.

The translation was done by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England, in common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin; in the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the text of the Authorized Version replaced the text of the Great Bible, for Epistle and Gospel readings, and as such was authorized by Act of Parliament.

By the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version was effectively unchallenged as the English translation used in Anglican and Protestant churches; over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English speaking scholars.

The title of the first edition of the translation was The Holy Bible, which contained both the Old Testament and the new, which had been translated from the Original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties special Commandment.

The King James Bible - In name:

For many years it was common not to give the translation any specific name; in his Leviathan of 1651, Thomas Hobbes referred to it as the English Translation made in the beginning of the Reign of King James; a 1761 "Brief Account of the various Translations of the Bible into English" refers to the 1611 version merely as a new, compleat, and more accurate Translation, despite referring to the Great Bible by that name, and despite using the name "Rhemish Testament" for the Douay–Rheims Bible version; similarly, a "History of England", whose fifth edition was published in 1775, writes merely that a new translation of the Bible, viz., that now in Use, was begun in 1607, and published in 1611.

King James's Bible is used as the name for the 1611 translation, on a par with the "Genevan Bible" or the "Rhemish Testament", in Charles Butler's Horae Biblicae, first published 1797; other works from the early 19th century confirm the widespread use of this name on both sides of the Atlantic: it is found both in a "Historical sketch of the English translations of the Bible" published in Massachusetts in 1815, and in an English publication from 1818, which explicitly states that the 1611 version is "generally known by the name of King James's Bible"; this name was also found as King James' Bible, without the final "s": for example in a book review from 1811; the phrase "King James's Bible" is used as far back as 1715, although in this case it is not clear whether this is a name or merely a description.

The use of Authorized Version or Authorised Version, capitalized and used as a name, is found as early as 1814; for some time before this descriptive phrases such as "our present, and only publicly authorized version" in 1783, "our authorised version" in 1792, and "the authorized version" in 1801, uncapitalized are found; the Oxford English Dictionary records a usage in 1824; in Britain, the 1611 translation is generally known as the "Authorized Version" today.

As early as 1814, we find King James' version, evidently a descriptive phrase, being used; "The King James Version" is found, unequivocally used as a name, in an 1855 letter, the next year King James Bible, with no possessive, appears as a name in a Scottish source; in the United States, the "1611 translation", actually the Standard Text of 1769 is generally known as the King James Version or King James Bible today.

English Translations of the Bible:

The followers of John Wycliffe undertook the first complete English translations of the Christian scriptures in the 15th century; these translations were banned in 1409 due to their association with the Lollards; the Wycliffe Bible pre-dated the printing press but was circulated very widely in manuscript form, often inscribed with a date earlier than 1409 to avoid the legal ban.

As the text translated in the various versions of the Wycliffe Bible was the Latin Vulgate, and as it contained no heterodox readings, there was in practice no way by which the ecclesiastical authorities could distinguish the banned version; consequently many Catholic commentators of the 15th and 16th centuries, such as Thomas More, took these manuscript English Bibles to represent an anonymous earlier orthodox translation.

In 1525, William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther, undertook a translation of the New Testament; his was the first printed Bible in English; over the next ten years, Tyndale revised his New Testament in the light of rapidly advancing biblical scholarship and embarked on a translation of the Old Testament and despite some controversial translation choices, the merits of Tyndale's work and prose style made his translation the ultimate basis for all subsequent renditions into Early Modern English.

With these translations lightly edited and adapted by Myles Coverdale, in 1539, Tyndale's New Testament and his incomplete work on the Old Testament became the basis for the Great Bible; this was the first "authorized version" issued by the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII; when Mary I succeeded to the throne in 1553, she returned the Church of England to the communion of the Roman Catholic faith and many English religious reformers fled the country, some establishing an English speaking colony at Geneva; under the leadership of John Calvin, Geneva became the chief international centre of Reformed Protestantism and Latin biblical scholarship.

These English expatriates undertook a translation that became known as the Geneva Bible; this translation, dating back to 1560, was a revision of Tyndale's Bible and the Great Bible based on the original languages; however, soon after Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, the flaws of both the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible, namely, that of the Geneva Bible, did not "conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy", became painfully apparent.

In 1568, the Church of England responded with the Bishops' Bible, a revision of the Great Bible in the light of the Geneva version; while officially approved, this new version failed to displace the Geneva translation as the most popular English Bible of the age, in part because the full Bible was only printed in lectern editions of prodigious size and at a cost of several pounds.

Accordingly, Elizabethan lay people overwhelmingly read the Bible in the Geneva Version because small editions were largely available at a relatively low cost; at the same time, there was a substantial clandestine importation of the rival Douay-Rheims New Testament of 1582, undertaken by exiled Roman Catholics; this translation, though still derived from Tyndale, claimed to represent the text of the Latin Vulgate.

In May 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Columba's Church in Burntisland, Fife, at which proposals were put forward for a new translation of the Bible into English; two years later, he acceded to the throne of England as King James I of England.

Considerations for a new version of the Bible:

The newly crowned King James convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 and in that gathering was proposed a new English version in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England; three examples of problems the Puritans perceived with the Bishops' and Great Bibles were:

1 - First, Galatians iv. 25, from the Bishops' Bible; the Greek word susoichei is not well translated as now it is, bordereth neither expressing the force of the word, nor the apostle's sense, nor the situation of the place.
2 - Psalm cv. 28, from the Great Bible; ‘They were not obedient;’ the original being, ‘They were not disobedient.’
3 - Psalm cvi. 30, also from the Great Bible), ‘Then stood up Phinees and prayed,’ the Hebrew hath, ‘executed judgment.’

Instructions were given to the translators that were intended to limit the Puritan influence on this new translation; the Bishop of London added a qualification that the translators would add no marginal notes, which had been an issue in the Geneva Bible; King James cited two passages in the Geneva translation where he found the marginal notes offensive:

1 - Exodus 1:19, where the Geneva Bible had commended the example of civil disobedience showed by the Hebrew midwives
2 - II Chronicles 15:16, where the Geneva Bible had criticized King Asa for not having executed his idolatrous grandmother, Queen Maachah.

The King's Instructions:

Further, the King gave the translators instructions designed to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England; certain Greek and Hebrew words were to be translated in a manner that reflected the traditional usage of the church, for example, old ecclesiastical words such as the word "church" were to be retained and not to be translated as "congregation"; the new translation would reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and traditional beliefs about ordained clergy.

James' instructions included several requirements that kept the new translation familiar to its listeners and readers; the text of the Bishops' Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained; if the Bishops' Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list, the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew's Bible, the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible; in addition, later scholars have detected an influence on the Authorized Version from the translations of Taverner's Bible and the New Testament of the Douay-Rheims Bible; it is for this reason that the flyleaf of most printings of the Authorized Version observes that the text had been "translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by His Majesty's special command."

The English Translation:

The task of translation was undertaken by 47 scholars, all of them members of the Church of England and all except Sir Henry Savile were clergy; the scholars worked in six committees, two based in each of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster; the committees included scholars with Puritan sympathies, as well as High Churchmen.

Forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops' Bible were specially printed so that the agreed changes of each committee could be recorded in the margins; the committees worked on certain parts separately and the drafts produced by each committee were then compared and revised for harmony with each other; the scholars were not paid directly for their translation work, instead a circular letter was sent to bishops encouraging them to consider the translators for appointment to well paid livings as these fell vacant; several were supported by the various colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, whilst others were promoted to bishoprics, deaneries and prebends through royal patronage.

The committees started work towards the end of 1604 and on the 22nd July 1604 King James I, sent a letter to Archbishop Bancroft asking him to contact all English churchmen requesting that they make donations to his project:

Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. Whereas we have appointed certain learned men, to the number of 4 and 50, for the translating of the Bible, and in this number, divers of them have either no ecclesiastical preferment at all, or else so very small, as the same is far unmeet for men of their deserts and yet we in ourself in any convenient time cannot well remedy it, therefor we do hereby require you, that presently you write in our name as well to the Archbishop of York, as to the rest of the bishops of the province of Cant.[erbury] signifying unto them, that we do well, and straitly charge everyone of them ... that (all excuses set apart) when we prebend or parsonage ... shall next upon any occasion happen to be void ... we may commend for the same some such of the learned men, as we shall think fit to be preferred unto it ... Given unto our signet at our palace of West.[minister] on 2 and 20 July , in the 2nd year of our reign of England, France, and of Ireland, and of Scotland xxxvii."

The Completion:

They had all completed their sections by 1608, the Apocrypha committee finishing first; From January 1609, a General Committee of Review met at Stationers' Hall, London to review the completed marked texts from each of the six committees; the General Committee included John Bois, Andrew Downes and John Harmar, and others known only by their initials, including "AL", who may have been Arthur Lake, and were paid for their atendance by the Stationers' Company.

John Bois prepared a note of their deliberations, in Latin, which has partly survived in two transcripts; also surviving is a bound together set of marked up corrections to one of the forty Bishops' Bibles, covering the Old Testament and Gospels, and also a manuscript translation of the text of the Epistles, excepting those verses where no change was being recommended to the readings in the Bishops' Bible; archbishop Bancroft insisted on having a final say, making fourteen changes, of which one was the term "bishopricke" at Acts 1:20.

The Committees and their Members:
Archbishop Richard Bancroft was the "chief overseer" of the production of the Authorized Version.

1st - Westminster Company, translating from Genesis to 2 Kings: Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, Hadrian à Saravia, Richard Clarke, John Layfield, Robert Tighe, Francis Burleigh, Geoffrey King, Richard Thomson, William Bedwell.

2nd - Westminster Company, translated the Epistles: William Barlow, John Spenser, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins, Michael Rabbet, Thomas Sanderson, who became Archdeacon of Rochester.

1st - Cambridge Company, translated from 1 Chronicles to the Song of Solomon: Edward Lively, John Richardson, Lawrence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Roger Andrewes, Thomas Harrison, Robert Spaulding, Andrew Bing.

2nd - Cambridge Company, translated the Apocrypha: John Duport, William Branthwaite, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Samuel Ward, Andrew Downes, John Bois, Robert Ward, Thomas Bilson, Richard Bancroft.

1st - Oxford Company, translated from Isaiah to Malachi: John Harding, John Rainolds, Thomas Holland, Richard Kilby, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Daniel Fairclough, William Thorne.

2nd - Oxford Company, translated the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation: Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, Richard Eedes, Giles Tomson, Sir Henry Savile, John Peryn, Ralph Ravens, John Harmar, John Aglionby, Leonard Hutten.

Printing:

The Printing of the King James Bible:

The original printing of the Authorized Version was published by Robert Barker, the King's Printer, in 1611 as a complete folio Bible; it was sold looseleaf for ten shillings, or bound for twelve; Robert's father, Christopher, had, in 1589, been granted by Elizabeth I the title of royal Printer, with the perpetual Royal Privilege to print Bibles in England; Robert invested very large sums in printing the new edition and consequently ran into serious debt, such that he was compelled to sub lease the privilege to two rival London printers, Bonham Norton and John Bill.

It appears that it was initially intended that each printer would print a portion of the text, share printed sheets with the others and split the proceeds; bitter financial disputes broke out, as Barker accused Norton and Bill of concealing their profits, while Norton and Bill accused Barker of selling sheets properly due to them as partial Bibles for ready money; there followed decades of continual litigation and consequent imprisonment for debt for members of the Barker and Norton printing dynasties, while each issued rival editions of the whole Bible.

In 1629 the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge successfully managed to assert separate and prior royal licences for Bible printing, for their own university presses and Cambridge University took the opportunity to print revised editions of the Authorized Version in 1629 and 1638; the editors of these editions included John Bois and John Ward from the original translators.

This did not, however, impede the commercial rivalries of the London printers, especially as the Barker family refused to allow any other printers access to the authoritative manuscript of the Authorized Version; the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews of the 1611 edition of the Authorized Version shows the original typeface; marginal notes reference variant translations and cross references to other Bible passages; each chapter is headed by a précis of contents; there are decorative initial letters for each Chapter and a decorated headpiece to each Biblical Book, but no illustrations in the text.

Two editions of the whole Bible are recognized as having been produced in 1611, which may be distinguished by their rendering of Ruth 3:15; the first edition reading "he went into the city", where the second reads "she went into the city."; these are known colloquially as the "He" and "She" Bibles; however, Bibles in all the early editions were made up using sheets originating from several printers and consequently there is very considerable variation within any one edition; it is only in 1613 that an edition is found, all of whose surviving representatives have substantially the same text.

The first printing used a black letter typeface instead of a roman typeface and like the Great Bible and the Bishops' Bible, the Authorized Version was "appointed to be read in churches"; it was a large folio volume meant for public use, not private devotion; the weight of the type often mirrored the weight of establishment authority behind it; however, smaller editions and roman-type editions followed rapidly, such as the quarto roman type editions of the Bible in 1612.

The 1611 edition of the Authorized Version contrasted with the Geneva and Bishops' Bible, both of which had been extensively illustrated, because there were no illustrations at all, the main form of decoration being the historiated initial letters provided for books and chapters, together with the decorative title pages to the Bible itself and to the New Testament.

The original printing contained two prefatory texts; the first was a formal Epistle Dedicatory to "the most high and mighty Prince" King James; many British printings reproduce this, while a few cheaper or smaller American printings failed to include it; the second preface was called The Translators to the Reader, a long and learned essay that defends the undertaking of the new version; it observes that the translators' goal was not to make a bad translation good, but a good translation better, and says that "we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession ... containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God" in English.

The first printing contained a number of other apparatus, including a table for the reading of the Psalms at matins and evensong, and a calendar, an almanac, and a table of holy days and observances; much of this material became obsolete with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar by Britain and its colonies in 1752 and thus modern editions invariably omit it; so as to make it easier to locate a particular passage, each chapter was headed by a brief precis of its contents with verse numbers; later editors freely substituted their own chapter summaries, or omit such material entirely; pilcrow marks are used to indicate the beginnings of paragraphs in the Gospels and Acts, but rarely elsewhere.

While the Authorized Version was meant to replace the Bishops' Bible as the official version for readings in the Church of England, it was apparently never specifically "authorized", although it is commonly known as the Authorized Version in the United Kingdom; however, the King's Printer issued no further editions of the Bishops' Bible, so necessarily the Authorized Version supplanted it as the standard lectern Bible in parish church use in England.

In the 1662 Book Of Common Prayer, the text of the Authorized Version finally supplanted that of the Great Bible in the Epistle and Gospel readings, though the Prayer Book Psalter nevertheless continues in the Great Bible version; the case was different in Scotland, where the Geneva Bible had long been the standard Church Bible; it was not until 1633 that a Scottish edition of the Authorized Version was printed, in conjunction with the Scots coronation in that year of Charles I.

The inclusion of illustrations in the edition raised accusations of Popery from opponents of the religious policies of Charles, and of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury; however, official policy favoured the Authorized Version and this favour returned during the Commonwealth, as London printers succeeded in re-asserting their monopoly of Bible printing with support from Oliver Cromwell and the "New Translation" was the only edition on the market.

F.F. Bruce reports that the last recorded instance of a Scots parish continuing to use the "Old Translation" as being in 1674; the Authorized Version's acceptance by the general public took longer; the Geneva Bible continued to be popular and large numbers were imported from Amsterdam, where printing continued up until 1644 in editions carrying a false London imprint; however, few if any genuine Geneva editions appear to have been printed in London after 1616 and in 1637 Archbishop Laud prohibited their printing or importation.

In the period of the English Civil War, soldiers of the New Model Army were issued a book of Geneva selections called "The Soldiers' Bible"; in the first half of the 17th Century the Authorized Version is most commonly referred to as "The Bible without notes", thereby distinguishing it from the Geneva "Bible with notes"; there were several printings of the Authorized Version in Amsterdam, one as late as 1715, which combined the Authorized Version translation text with the Geneva marginal notes; one such edition was printed in London in 1649; during the Commonwealth a commission was established by Parliament to recommend a revision of the Authorized Version with acceptably Protestant explanatory notes, but the project was abandoned when it became clear that these would be nearly double the bulk of the Bible text.

After the English Restoration, the Geneva Bible was held to be politically suspect and a reminder of the repudiated Puritan era, furthermore, disputes over the lucrative rights to print the Authorized Version dragged on through the 17th Century, so none of the printers involved saw any commercial advantage in marketing a rival translation; the Authorized Version became the only current version circulating among English speaking people.

Slowest of all was acceptance of the text by Biblical Scholars; in 1611 Hugh Broughton, the most highly regarded English Hebraist of his time, issued a total condemnation of the new version, criticising especially the translators' rejection of word-for-word equivalence and stated that "he would rather be torn in pieces by wild horses than that this abominable translation should ever be foisted upon the English people".

Successive printings of the Authorized Version were notably less careful than the 1611 edition had been, compositors freely varyied spelling, capitalisation and punctuation and also, over the years, introducing about 1,500 misprints, some of which, like the omission of "not" from the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" in the version known as the "Wicked Bible", became notorious.

A more thoroughly corrected edition was proposed following the Restoration, in conjunction with the revised 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but Parliament then decided against it; by the first half of the 18th Century, the Authorized Version was effectively unchallenged as the sole English translation in current use in Protestant churches and was so dominant that in 1750 the Roman Catholic church in England issued a revision of the 1610 Douay-Rheims Bible by Richard Challoner that was very much closer to the Authorized Version than to the original.

< Over the course of the 18th Century, the Authorized Version supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English speaking scholars and divines, and indeed came to be regarded by some as an inspired text in itself, so much so that any challenge to its readings or textual base came to be regarded by many as an assault on Holy Scripture.

By the mid 18th Century the wide variation in the various modernized printed texts of the Authorized Version, combined with the notorious accumulation of misprints, had reached the proportion of a scandal and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both sought to produce an updated standard text; first of the two was the Cambridge edition of 1760, the culmination of twenty years of work by Francis Sawyer Parris, who died in May of that year; this 1760 edition was reprinted without change in 1762 and in John Baskerville's fine folio edition of 1763; this was effectively superseded by the 1769 Oxford edition, edited by Benjamin Blayney, though with comparatively few changes from the 1760 edition, which became the Oxford standard text and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings.

Parris and Blayney sought consistently to remove those elements of the 1611 and subsequent editions that they believed were due to the vagaries of printers, while incorporating most of the revised readings of the Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638 and each also introducing a few improved readings of their own; they undertook the mammoth task of standardizing the wide variation in punctuation and spelling of the original, making many thousands of minor changes to the text; although some of these updates do alter the ostensible sense, as when the original text of Genesis 2:21 "in stead", "in that place", was updated to read "instead", "as an alternative"; in addition, Blayney and Parris thoroughly revised and greatly extended the italicization of "supplied" words not found in the original languages by cross checking against the presumed source texts; unfortunately, Blayney assumed that the translators of the 1611 New Testament had worked from the 1550 Stephanus edition of the Textus Receptus, rather than from the later editions of Beza; accordingly the current standard text mistakenly "corrects" around a dozen readings where Beza and Stephanus differ.

Like the 1611 edition, the 1769 Oxford edition included the Apocrypha, although Blayney consistently removed cross references to the Books of the Apocrypha from the margins of their Old and New Testaments wherever these had been provided by the original translators;altogether, Blayney's 1769 text differed from the 1611 text in around 24,000 places; since that date, only six further changes have been introduced to the standard text, although 30 of Blayney's proposed changes have subsequently been reverted; so apart from minor editorial changes the King James Bible has not change much since 1769.



Go back.