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The King James Version Of The Bible
Rev. Steven Houck
Minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches
The Bible is no ordinary book. It is not a human book. The Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word-God’s Book. It is the Book which God has given to His people to teach them the Truth which they must believe and the godly life which they must live. That is why the Bible is so important for every believer. Without the Holy Scriptures the believer has no Word of God. He has no standard of what is the Truth and what is the lie, what is righteous and what is wicked.
It is, therefore, imperative that every child of God takes great care that the Bible version which he uses, defends, and promotes in the world is a faithful translation of the Word of God.
On this point, however, there is much confusion. There are many versions available today and they are all promoted as the best. Some are advertised as the most accurate. Others are advanced as the easiest to understand. All of them are justified by the supposed inferiority of the King James Version.
The truth of the matter, however, is quite different. The King James Version, although it is almost 400 years old, is still the best translation available today. It was translated by men who were both intellectually and spiritually qualified for the work. The great version which they produced is faithful to the originals, accurate, incomparable in its style, and easily understood by all those who are serious about reading and studying God’s Word.
The King James Version of the Bible is the version which we ought to use both in our churches and homes. It is my prayer that God will use this history of the King James Version to give the reader a better appreciation for this Bible.
Rev. Steven Houck
Table of Contents
- THE INCEPTION OF THE NEW VERSION
- A Puritan’s Petition
- Bishops and King
- God’s Bible
- THE TRANSLATORS OF THE KJV
- Their Organization
- Their Learning
- THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE TRANSLATORS
- Protestant Men
- Godly Men
- Believing Men
- THE RULES AND METHODOLOGY
- The Rules
- The Procedure
- Other Contributors
- A Careful Work
- An Accurate Translation
- A Majestic Translation
- THE SOURCES USED IN TRANSLATING
- Original Languages
- Previous Translations
- A BIBLE OF THE REFORMATION
- Stephanus and Beza
- The Received Text
- Tyndale and Rogers
- Coverdale and Cranmer
- Geneva and King James Versions
- God’s Grace
- A BIBLE FOR WHICH MEN DIED
- The Greek Text
- John Wycliffe
- William Tyndale
- Rogers, Cranmer, and Coverdale
- Geneva and King James Versions
- GOD’S WORD TO HIS CHURCH
- Authorized Bible
- The Best Version
- An Admonition
The Inception Of The New Version
Many times God uses the incidental, the unexpected, and even the seemingly evil things of life to perform mighty wonders for His Church. Who would have ever expected that the words of a little Jewish maiden would lead to the conversion of Naaman the Leper? Who would have ever thought that the evil deeds committed by Joseph’s brothers would have resulted in the preservation of Israel in the time of famine? But so it was in the wondrous providence of God.
In like manner, it was only the good providence of God that brought the King James Version of the Bible into existence. This version, which has played such a large part in the life of the English-speaking Church, had its beginnings in a very unexpected and incidental way-yea, in the midst of great disappointment on the part of some of God’s people.
A Puritan’s Petition
Four Puritans along with fourteen representatives of the Church of England were gathered together at Hampton Court for an ecclesiastical conference in January 1604. The Puritans had many objections concerning the English Church as it was then established. They were hoping that their new king, James I, would so guide the Church of God in England that there would be further reformation of the Church. They wanted to make the Church of England more like the Reformed Church of Geneva and the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland. They had already met James on his way to London where he was to receive the English crown and had presented him with a petition stating their grievances. The petition was signed by about a thousand clergyman and therefore called the Millenary Petition. It was on account of that petition that James had called the conference to hear and determine things pretended to be amiss in the Church.
It did not go so well for the Puritans, however. Not only were they in the minority at the conference, but King James, rather than sympathizing with them, supported the cause of the High Churchmen or Conformists who did not want the Presbyterian form of Church government. In the midst of their struggle Dr. John Reynolds, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, suddenly petitioned the king, that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original. This motion of the Puritan leader evidently was not something which he had planned but something that was introduced incidentally in order to keep from losing all ground at the conference.
This is confirmed by the preface to the readers entitled The Translators To The Readers which was found in the first edition of the King James Version. There we read, …the very historical truth is that upon the importunate petitions of the Puritans, at his Majesties coming to the crown, the conference at Hampton Court having been appointed for hearing their complaints; when by force of reason they were put from all other grounds, they had recourse at the last, to this shift, that they could not with good conscience subscribe to the Communion Book, since it maintained the Bible as it was there translated, which was as they said, a most corrupted translation.
The Puritans did object to the translations of the Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible which were quoted in the Prayer Book, but they did not zealously demand a new translation. They were content with their Geneva Bible and its Calvinistic notes. The motion for a new translation was incidental to them. In fact, if it were up to them, there probably would not be a King James Version of the Bible.
Bishops And King
On the other hand, the bishops were not immediately in favor of a new translation either. Bishop Bancroft of London (who was appointed by the king to oversee the translation work) expressed his opposition this way, If every man’s humor should be followed, there would be no end of translating. Indeed, the bishop made a very good point. That is exactly what we have today with all of the new versions. There are so many new translations that it seems as if every man is making a translation to his own liking. Thus neither party in the Church of England was zealous for a new translation.
It was the king’s zeal and enthusiasm for the project that caused the work to be undertaken and that saw the work through to the end. In the Dedication to the King, found in most of our King James Version Bibles, we read this concerning the king, …your Majesty did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require. Indeed, the king seems to have been the driving force behind this grand undertaking.
Yet we make a mistake if we attribute his zeal to good motives. It may have been that he had an interest in the Scriptures. He is said to have done some translating of the Bible of his own. Most, however, attribute his zeal to an ambition to advance his own cause and glory. He greatly disliked the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible because he thought they encouraged disobedience to kings and therefore wanted a new translation to replace it. He was shrewd enough to see that a new translation, which was acceptable to all, would do much to unite the church and thus enhance his own glory.
We must conclude from all of this, that the King James Version of the Bible is not a Puritan Bible, nor an Anglican Bible, and not even a King James Bible. A Bible which has been used of the Lord for hundreds of years can not be merely the product of an incidental suggestion or the zeal of bad motives. No! The King James Version is the product of God’s great love for His English-speaking Church. God so ruled in the hearts and lives of finite men that He caused this new translation of the Bible to be made. He provided this Bible for His English-speaking Church so that His Word might be preserved in her midst. Even the translators acknowledge that it was God who had put the zeal for a new translation into the heart of the king. They exhort us, Let us rather bless God from the ground of our heart, for working this religious care in him, to have the translations of the Bible maturely considered of and examined. God in His providence took the incidental remarks of a Puritan, the zeal of a king for his throne, and in the midst of the opposition of bishops, gave to His Church a Bible that has been her blessing and strength for almost four hundred years.
Some men praise it for its pure English and forceful style, others for its beauty and majesty, and still others for its accurate translation. It is all of that and more. But even more important, we must recognize that the King James Version is the Word of God which God has graciously and lovingly given to His English-speaking Church. It is a faithful translation of the inspired originals which have been providentially preserved by God in the thousands of manuscripts which have come down to us. Thus we can be assured that with the King James Version of the Bible we have the authoritative Word of God.
The Translators Of The KJV
In the providence of God, although all others seemed little concerned about a new translation, the suggestion of Dr. Reynolds was fixed in the mind of the king. In due season that suggestion ripened into personal enthusiasm on the part of the king and also on the part of those whom he appointed to take charge of this great undertaking. Conformists and Puritans alike with great zeal and dedication were ready to begin their tasks. By June 30, 1604 (six months after the Hampton Court Conference), fifty four men had been approved as translators of the new version (Evidently only forty seven men actually took up the labors.) and a plan of procedure had been set down. Bishop Bancroft, entrusted with the general management of the work, was busy making all the necessary preparations.
The translators were formed into six companies: two meeting at Westminster, two at Cambridge, and two at Oxford. Genesis through II Kings was translated by the first Westminster company, I Chron. through Ecclesiastes by the first Cambridge company, and Isaiah through Malachi by the first Oxford company. The second Oxford company translated the four Gospel accounts, Acts, and Revelation. The Second Westminster company did Romans through Jude. The Apocrypha was done by the second Cambridge company.
The Apocrypha, however, was not considered a part of the inspired Scriptures. It was translated and bound with the Bible, but the King James Version translators did not count it as God’s Word. In that they differed from the Roman Church. The fact that the Apocryphal books were separated out of the Old Testament and put after it indicates that they did not consider it equal with Holy Scripture. In later editions it was dropped altogether.
In these six companies of translators were gathered together the most learned men of the age. Today it is charged that the King James Version is obsolete, for we have learned so much more and have men who are much greater scholars than those of the 17th century and who, therefore, can do a much better job of translating the Bible. Indeed, we have gathered much general knowledge in the past three hundred and eighty years. It is NOT true, however, that the King James Version translators were inferior scholars. They were men of great learning.
Who today is skilled in fifteen languages as was Launcelot Andrews, the head of the Westminster company which translated Genesis through II Kings? It is said of him that he might almost have served as an interpreter general at the confusion of tongues, he was so proficient in the languages. Others spoke of him as that great gulf of learning. He was so knowledgeable that the world wanted learning to know how learned this man was.
William Bedwell of the same company was well known as the greatest Arabic scholar of the day. To him belongs the honor of being the first who promoted and revived the study of the Arabic language and literature in Europe. He authored the Lexicon Heptaglotten, which included Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic. He also worked on a Persian dictionary, an Arabic Lexicon, and an Arabic translation of the Epistles of John.
Dr. Smith, the author of The Translators To The Readers and one of the final editors, is said to have had Hebrew at his fingers’ ends. He was so conversant in Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic that they were as familiar to him as English. His knowledge of the Greek and Latin fathers was exceptional. He was so versed in literature that he was characterized as a very walking library.
John Harmar of the Oxford company, was a noted scholar in Greek and Latin. He translated Calvin’s sermons on the Ten commandments, several of Beza’s sermons, and some of the Homilies of Chrysostom.
John Boys of the Cambridge group was one of the most distinguished scholars of all the translators. His father taught him Hebrew when he was five years old and he was admitted to St. John’s College, Cambridge when he was fourteen. He was a most exact Greek grammarian who had read no less than sixty grammars.
Dr. John Reynolds, the Puritan who first suggested a new translation, had a reputation as a Hebrew and Greek scholar. He had read and studied all the Greek and Latin fathers, as well as the ancient records of the Church. Those who knew him held him to be the most learned man in England. It is said of him, that He alone was a well-furnished library, full of all faculties, all studies, and all learning. His memory and reading were near to a miracle. He worked on the translation of the Prophets until his death in 1607.
Henry Savile of the New Testament Oxford company was one of the most profound, exact, and critical scholars of his age. He became famous for his Greek at an early age. He is chiefly known as the first one to edit the complete works of John Chrysostom. Some have styled him, that magazine of learning, whose memory shall be honorable among the learned and the righteous forever.
No, these men were not ignorant. They were not even average. They were exceptional in their various areas of knowledge. The first half of the seventeenth century, when the translation was made, was the Golden Age of Biblical and oriental learning in England. Never before, nor since, have these studies been pursued by English scholars with such zeal and success. It is very doubtful that all the colleges of Great Britain and America could even bring together the same number of men who are equally qualified by learning and piety as the King James Version translators.
The Spiritual Charactor Of The Translators
But scholarship is not everything. A translation of the Bible is always affected by the spiritual character and faith of the translators. An unbeliever does not translate the Bible as does a believer. Martin Luther wrote, Translating is not an art that everyone can practice, as the mad saints think; it requires a right pious, faithful, diligent, God-fearing, experienced heart. Therefore, I hold that no false Christian, or sectarian can be a faithful translator. No false Christian, no sectarian-that is, no unbeliever can be a good translator of the Bible. This is the problem with many modern versions. Some of the translators were not qualified spiritually for the work, even though they might have been intellectually.
What about these translators? Did they have this heart which Luther describes? The answer is a most emphatic, yes. These men where, indeed, pious men of God, who were committed to the Truth. Gustavus Paine, in his book The men Behind the King James Version, tells us that there were among the translators no Roman Catholics, no Jews and no women. That little statement says much. They were all Protestants who belonged to the Anglican Church. Some were High Churchmen. Some were Puritans. Others were somewhere in between the two. But they were all members of a church that was Protestant, a church of the Reformation. The church was not as Reformed as Geneva, not even as Reformed as it had been in the days of Edward VI, but it was nevertheless a church that had adopted many of the Truths of the Reformation. In a few years (1647), under the leadership of the Puritans, this church would produce the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. These Creeds are standards of the Reformed Faith.
Although some of the translators were more or less Arminian, many of them were Calvinists. One authority tells us that Calvinistic doctrine was the prevailing doctrine of the day. Lawrence Chaderton was one of the strong Calvinists among the translators. At his conversion from the Roman Church to Calvinism his father had written him, Son Lawrence, if you will renounce the new sect which you have joined, you may expect all the happiness which the care of an indulgent father can assure you; otherwise, I enclose a shilling to buy a wallet. Go and beg. This was no idle threat. His father was a very wealthy man. Without his aid life would be very difficult for the young Chaderton. But he refused to give up his Calvinism and became an outspoken anti-Arminian preacher. Thomas Holland, a thorough Calvinist, is said to have opposed Rome with more force than any other. Whenever he went on a journey his farewell to his fellows at the College was this: I commend you to the love of God, and to the hatred of popery and superstition.
Miles Smith in the translators’ preface to the readers describes the spiritual character of these men. He asked, And in what sort did these assemble? In the trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of wit, or deepness of judgment, as it were in an arm of flesh? At no hand. They trusted in him that hath the key of David, opening and no man shutting; they prayed to the Lord the Father of our Lord, to the effect that St. Augustine did; “O let thy Scriptures be my pure delight, let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them.” They were godly men who did not trust in their own strength, but sought guidance and help from God. They knew that if their work was to be a success, it had to be the work of God. They believed that, even after the translation was completed, it would be meaningless to the people of England without the enlightening power of God’s grace. Thus they remind the reader, It remaineth that we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of his grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand his word, enlarging our hearts, yea correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, yea that we may love it to the end.
Unlike many who translate the Bible today, they believed that they were dealing with the inspired Word of God. Concerning the Scriptures they could exclaim through Miles Smith in the Preface, And what marvel? The original thereof being from heaven, not earth; the author being God, not man: the enditer (prompter), the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the Pen-men, such as were sanctified from the womb, and endowed with a principal portion of God’s Spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God’s word, God’s testimony, God’s oracles, the word of Truth, the word of salvation; the effect, light of understanding, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the Saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance immortal undefiled, that never shall fade away; Happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night.
Indeed, these men considered the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God. To them, the Bible was a very special book and they handled it accordingly. Yet, they knew too that this special book could be properly translated and profitably read and studied only when God in His sovereign grace worked in the hearts of its translators and readers.
The Rules And Methodology Followed
Great care was taken to give the translators guidelines to follow in their work of translating. If all these men were going to work together as a harmonious whole, they would need some very strict rules to follow. The scheme for the entire work was set down in the form of fifteen specific rules. To name a few: 1) The Bishops’ Bible, the official version of the Church, was to be as little altered as the truth of the originals permitted. 2) There were to be no marginal notes with the exception of explanations of Hebrew and Greek words. 3) There also were to be Scripture references in the margins. According to F. H. A. Scrivener (Born in 1813 and an editor of several editions of the Greek New Testament), there were 8,422 marginal notes in the 1611 edition of the King James Version. In succeeding editions, thousands more were added. 4) Proper names were to be as near to the common usage as possible. 5) Old ecclesiastical words such as Church were to be used. 6) Words of varying interpretations were to be rendered in accordance with patristic tradition and the analogy of faith. 7) Other translations were to be consulted such as Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
Along with such rules as these, the procedure that was to bring together into one work the translations of all these various men and companies, was strictly set down for them. First of all, each translator was to individually work on a translation of the section. After that was done each man’s work was brought to his company as a whole. Evidently the head of the company would read the passage from the Bishops’ Bible. Whenever one of the translators wanted something changed or had something to say about the translation, he would present his own work. In this way the work of each was compared with the others and the company as a whole worked out one translation. When each book of the Bible was finished, they would send it to each of the other five companies to be reviewed. If the later companies found anything objectionable, they would note such places and send it back to the originating company with their reasons. If there was a disagreement, it was to be settled by an editing committee later. If there was a passage that was especially difficult, all the learned men of the land could be called upon to make a judgment.
According to England’s delegates to the Synod of Dort., after each company had finished their work they sent it to a committee comprised of two men from each company which reviewed and revised the whole work. Last of all Thomas Bilson and Miles Smith put on the finishing touches and had it printed.
Besides those who were appointed to the companies, there were many others who contributed to the work. The king had instructed Bishop Bancroft to move the bishops to inform themselves of all such learned men within their several dioceses, as, having especial skill in the Hebrew and Greek tongues, have taken pains in their private studies of the Scriptures… This was to be no private translation, no Bishops’ Bible either. It was, so to speak, public. Anyone with the proper qualifications, could make suggestions as to how to translate a certain passage. There were many who were qualified too. England not only had many learned men at that time, but their learning had turned largely to theology. Theology rules there, said Grotius. Another declared that he found both King and people indifferent to letters in the ordinary sense, but that there was a great abundance of theologians in England. The King James Version took advantage of this learning and this theological atmosphere.
How very different was this open policy of translation from the secret policy of the revision of 1881(the first revision of the King James Version done by such men as Ellicott, Trench, and Westcott)! No one knew what that revision would be like until it was done. With the King James Version, however, each bishop kept the clergy of his district notified concerning the progress of the work so that if anyone felt constrained to send in their observations on a passage, they could do so.
A Careful Work
It must be noted in particular, that the work was done very carefully. They did not rush themselves. They say in the preface, Neither did we run over the work with that posting hast that the Septuagint did, if that be true which is reported of them, that they finished it in 72 days; neither were we bared or hindered from going over it again having once done it, like St. Jerome… These men were not afraid to go over their work again and again until they were satisfied that they had attained the best possible translation. If they followed the procedure which was laid down for them, each part of the work must have been closely scrutinized at least fourteen times.
They understood very well the nature of the book they were translating and therefore took great pains to do it right. Some of the translators began their work, as soon as they were appointed in 1604. The entire body was engaged in the work by 1607. The new version was finally published in 1611 from the press of Robert Barker who retained the right of printing for nearly a hundred years. Thus you can see that some men diligently labored for six or seven years, while the main body worked for three or four.
An Accurate Translation
It must be noted further that the King James Version translators were very concerned to have an accurate translation of the originals. They proclaim on the title page, Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New: newly translated out of the original tongues… That proclamation is true. For these men have given us, for the most part, a word-for-word translation of the originals. They did not follow the principle of dynamic equivalence as do most translators today. Most modern versions are not word-for-word translations. One English word is not translated for one Greek or Hebrew word. Rather the ideas expressed in the originals are put into English. Dynamic equivalence is the method of translation whereby one translates the ideas but not necessarily the words. The King James Version translators did not use such a method. They translated word for word. Thus they have produced a very accurate and faithful translation as far as the original words are concerned.
They were so concerned about it that they even took over the very phraseology of the Hebrew and Greek. We find in our Bibles, all kinds of Hebrew expressions and concepts that are not natural to the English way of speaking. In fact, it can even be said that the English of the King James Version is not the English of the 17th century, nor of any century. It is an English that is unique, for it is Biblical English-an English formed by the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible. It is Biblical English because the translators were more interested in being faithful to the originals than in making their translation in the street language of the day, as do translators today.
That they sought an accurate translation is further indicated by the fact that they italicized every word that did not have a corresponding word in the original. How many modern Bible versions do that? Moreover, to insure the fact that the reader understands the meaning of certain original words, they added 4,223 marginal notes that gave the literal meaning of the original words, and 2,738 notes with alternate translations. The result is that in the King James Version we have an accurate translation that puts the others to shame.
A Majestic Translation
In the third place we must note the fact that the translators gave the King James Version a majestic quality that raises it high above all other translations. They recognized God to be GOD-a God of glory and majesty. Therefore, they were careful to translate His Word in such a way that it would be filled with His majesty. That is another reason why the English of the King James Version is not the English of the 17th century. The translators deliberately chose words and phases that were no longer used in general conversation even in their day in order that they might set this book apart from all others. All you have to do is compare the language of the dedication to King James in the front of your Bible with the Bible itself and you will see the difference immediately.
Many tell us that the King James Version is no longer useful because its language has become obsolete, but what they do not realize is that its language is not a type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. Oh, it was such that the people could understand it, but it was, nevertheless, a particular language deliberately chosen to make the King James Version a version that reflects the reverence and respect which is due unto its Divine Author. In that respect, they succeeded too, for there is no version that even comes close to the beauty and majesty of the King James Version.
The Sources Used In Translating
The particular English of this version is also due to the fact that the King James Version is at the same time both a new translation and a revision of previous translations. It is indeed a new translation which goes back to the original languages. The translators had editions of both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament available to them. Miles Smith writes, If you ask what they had before them, truly it was the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Greek of the New. The age in which they lived was bursting with knowledge. Since the fall of Constantinople (1453), the West had been flooded with scholars and knowledge had increased tremendously. There was renewed interest in the ancient tongues and as a result the originals were there for them to use.
The Hebrew text had been remarkably preserved by God. At the time the translators were ready to begin their work, they had no less than ten printed editions of the Hebrew Old Testament available to them. There was the Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes published in 1517 which contained the Hebrew text (the fifth complete O. T.) as well as the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint translations of it. They had four editions by Daniel Bomberg (1516-17, 1516-17, 1521, 1525-28). The last of these was popular with the Reformers. The standard edition was considered to be that of Jacob ben Chayim-the Second Rabbinic Bible. Besides these, there was the Antwerp Polyglot (1572) with the Hebrew text of Arius Montanus and the Latin interlinear translation of Pagninus.
The Greek text was readily available in the Complutensian Polyglot (1514), the five editions of Erasmus (1516-1535), the four editions of Robert Stephanus (1546-1551), and the ten editions of Theodore Beza (1560-1598). They also consulted the editions of Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), and Plantin (1572).
There can be no doubt, therefore, that the King James Version translators went back to the primary sources. Thus they could ask the reader, If truth be (is) to be tried by these tongues (the originals) then whence should a translation be made, but out of them. They recognized the fact that the final authorities in this work were the Hebrew and the Greek texts.
Yet the King James Version is not a totally new work. In terms of literary units-phrases and clauses-the King James Version is about thirty nine percent new translation. Sixty one percent of the phrases are taken over from older English versions. In fact, the King James Version can be considered the fifth revision of the work of William Tyndale who first translated the New Testament into English from the Greek. Before Tyndale there was the translation (1380) of John Wycliffe (An English Reformer often called the Morning Star of the Reformation) and the translation of John Purvey (A Colleague of Wycliffe), but they were translated from the Latin Bible. Tyndale was the first to go back to the original languages.
The first revision of Tyndale was done by John Rogers (Rector of a London church and later chaplain to the English merchants in Antwerp) and is called the Matthew’s Bible (1537). Under the auspices of Thomas Cromwell, Myles Coverdale (Tyndale’s assistant) revised the Matthew’s Bible to produce the Great Bible (1539). In 1560 the Protestants in exile at Geneva produced the Geneva Bible which was the third revision of Tyndale. Finally in 1568 the English bishops prepared what is known as the Bishops’ Bible, which was the version from which the translators were to make their revisions, according to the command of King James.
In actuality they used all of these versions plus many other translations such as the German and French Bibles as well as many commentaries such as Calvin’s and Beza’s. In their own words, Neither did we think much to consult the translators or commentaries, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch (German)… Of all the English versions used, more of the phrases and clauses found in the King James Version come form the Geneva Bible than any other-about 19 percent. While it is said that five sixths to nine tenths of the general literary style comes from the translation of William Tyndale.
A Bible Of The Reformation
If we carefully consider these sources of our Bible, then it becomes clear that there is something very special about it. Of all the English versions available today, the King James Version is the only one which can be called a Reformation Bible. This Bible came out of the Reformation of the 16th century.
Stephanus And Beza
This is true first of all from the point of view of the Greek text. The Greek text which underlies this Bible is the text which was recognized and used by the Reformers. In fact, it was even edited by them. Robert Stephanus (Estienne), whose forth edition of the Greek New Testament was very influential in the translation of the King James Version, was a strong adherent of the Reformed Faith. Forsaking Rome and embracing the Faith of the Reformation, he gave up his position as royal printer in order that he might publish Reformed literature. He fled from Paris to Geneva, that great Reformation city, where he printed his 4th edition of the Greek New Testament. He also published several of the writings of John Calvin.
The Reformer, Theodore Beza, was even more influential than Stephanus. Scrivener in his Parallel New Testament-Greek and English, demonstrates that the King James Version translators primarily used Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek New Testament. He indicates that out of the thousands and thousands of words in the New Testament, they deviated from Beza only about one hundred and ninety times. Moreover, they not only used his Greek text but relied heavily upon his Latin translation of it. Therefore, Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin at Geneva, a great Reformer himself, was a leading influence upon our King James Version.
The Received Text
It must be noted on the other hand that with but two exceptions, there is not another English version available today which is based upon the text of Stephanus and Beza, commonly called the Received Text. All others, except the New King James Version and the Modern King James Version, are based on the critical text of Westcott and Hort which omits and changes thousands of words. For instance, in all other versions you will find the following passages either omitted or questioned: 1) the descent of the angel into the pool of Bethesda (John 5:3b-4), 2) the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:13b), 3) the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), 4) the last 12 verses of Mark 16, 5) the appearance of the angel to Christ and the sweating of the great drops of blood (Luke 22:43-44), and many more. The critical text used by modern versions departs from the Received Text in over 5000 places. But the text of the King James Version is the text used by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and the fathers of the Synod of Dort.
It is not true either that these Reformers did not know of the existence of this rival text. We are told that they used the Received Text because it was all that they had. That is not true. While they did not have the thousands of manuscripts which we have today, they did know of this corrupt text as it was represented in some of the manuscripts that were available to them. They, however, rejected that text for the Received Text-the text which is supported by 80 to 90 percent of all the manuscripts we have today. That is the text of the King James Version. This gives us strong incentive to use the King James Version rather than the modern versions. Modern versions are not reliable with regard to the true text of the New Testament. They are based on a text which is the result of man’s manipulations. The King James Version, on the other hand, is based on a faithful and reliable Greek text.
Tyndale And Rogers
The King James Version is a Bible of the Reformation also from the point of view of the English versions of which it is a revision. William Tyndale, whose translation is reflected in nine tenths of the King James Version, was a child of the Reformation. He had embraced the faith of the Reformation and may have even met with Luther and Melanchthon at Wittenberg. In fact, Tyndale also made use of Luther’s German New Testament (1522) in his translation work. Thus Martin Luther influenced him greatly. It is no wonder that he could reply to a Roman Catholic priest, I defy the pope and all his laws… if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do. Tyndale’s own enlightenment had come from the Word of God and, therefore, he desired others to see that same light of the Gospel.
John Rogers, who is responsible for the Matthew’s Bible is another who embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. We read concerning him, that he cast off the heavy yoke of popery, perceiving it to be impure and filthy idolatry and joined himself with them two (Tyndale and Coverdale) in that painful and most profitable labour of translating the Bible into the English tongue. Rogers moved to Wittenberg and there he associated with the Lutheran divines, particularly Melanchthon. He even translated four of Melanchthon’s books into English. In harmony with his convictions, he added to the Bible prefaces and notes out of Martin Luther’s works. These notes were strongly anti-papal.
Coverdale And Cranmer
Myles Coverdale, who influenced the King James Version through his own Bible (1535), the Matthew’s Bible to which he contributed one third, and the Great Bible which is a revision of his own work and that of Tyndale, was a strong supporter of the Faith of the Reformation. He moved from England to Germany where he was for a while the minister of a Lutheran congregation. He corresponded with John Calvin and later moved to Geneva where he was elder in the English Church there.
Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury who supported Coverdale in his work, turned to the true Faith. Cranmer especially supported the efforts of the Reformers in England. He was strengthened by the council of such Reformers as Peter Martyr, Bernardo Ochino, Martin Bucer, and Melanchthon.
Geneva And King James Versions
The Geneva Bible which influenced the King James Version more than any of the others was produced in the Reformation city of Calvin and Beza. Its translators were all exiles who had fled England and Scotland because of persecution for their Reformation doctrines. Associated with this version are such men as John Knox, Myles Coverdale, Thomas Cole, Christopher Goodman, John Pullain, William Whittingham, Thomas Samson, Anthony Gilby, Lawrence Tomson and others. Thomas Samson, after his own conversion in London, was used of the Lord to lead John Bradford (the English Reformer) to the Reformed Faith. Anthony Gilby was a translator of the commentaries of Calvin and Beza. He made these great men accessible to thousands of English readers. Christopher Goodman was the life-long friend of John Knox. He was also co-pastor with him of the English congregation at Geneva. William Whittingham succeeded Knox as the pastor of the English congregation in 1559. He was also a contributor to the metrical version of the Psalms which accompanied many editions of the Bible.
Even the translators of the King James Version itself had rejected popery. They were influenced greatly by the Reformation both on the continent and in England. These men considered Theodore Beza to be the chief authority in religious matters. They relied upon his judgment in matters of exposition as well the Greek text. Many of the translators were themselves very Calvinistic. Miles Smith, who was a member of the third translation company, one of the revisors of the whole, the final editor with Bishop Bilson, and the author of The Translators To The Readers, was a severe Calvinist. His influence upon the King James Version was great. Besides Smith, Lawrence Chaderton, John Reynolds, Thomas Holland, Daniel Fairclough, George Abbot, John Harmar, and Samuel Ward were all Calvinists. No doubt there were more Calvinist among them, but we know little about many of these translators.
It is clear, therefore, that the King James Version both as a revision of previous translations and as a new translation, is the product of the Reformation. One is amazed by the fact that the translators of this Bible and its predecessors were almost all involved in the Reformation of the Church. The King James Version, therefore, is the product of the mighty power of God’s grace. For it was God’s grace alone that stood behind the Reformation. God, in reforming His Church, put within the hearts of these men a longing to have the Holy Scriptures in the native tongue. Thus the translators of the King James Version exclaim, Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water. Indeed, the King James Version is the product of a God-given desire to see God’s Word, in all of its reforming power, in the hands of the people that they might know and experience the glorious light of the gospel. Of all the English versions available today, the King James Version alone has claim to the name Reformation Bible.
A Bible For Which Men Died
It is not strange, therefore, that this Bible comes down to us today stained with the blood of the martyrs. For the men behind the English Bible were of such strong conviction, by the grace of God, that they would suffer imprisonment and death rather than renounce their faith in the Bible as God’s infallible Word and as their sole authority for life and doctrine. Indeed, the persecution was very great. It is not strange that the Roman Church should seek to do all in its power to stop the translation of the Scriptures. She recognized that one of the leading causes of the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. Therefore, she persecuted the editors, translators, and promoters of the King James Version and its predecessors.
The Greek Text
We see this antagonism already in connection with the original languages. An ignorant and illiterate monk is reported to have said, There was now a new language discovered called Greek, of which people should beware, since it was that which produced all the heresies; that in this language was come forth a book called the New Testament, which was now in everybody’s hands, and was full of thorns and briers; that there was also another language now started up which they call Hebrew, and that they who learned it were turned Hebrews. This monk was by no means alone in his convictions. At this time, the monks and priests were so ignorant that they could read no Greek, Hebrew, or even Latin. Yet they considered the Latin Vulgate to be the only true Bible.
The Roman Church did not look kindly upon the editions of the Greek New Testament which began to come off the presses. In 1514 Erasmus, the first editor of the Greek New Testament, was told not to publish his Greek text. Some in the Roman Church considered it an open condemnation of the Latin Vulgate. Robert Stephanus, who gave us four editions of the Greek New Testament, had to flee Paris and settle in Geneva because of persecution.
But even more than the Greek New Testament, the Roman Church feared the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. In The Translators To The Readers we find the following reference to this attitude of the Roman Church, So much are they afraid of the light of the Scripture that they will not trust the people with it, no not as it is set forth by their own sworn men, no not with the License of their own Bishops and Inquisitors. Yea, so unwilling they are to communicate the Scriptures to the peoples’ understanding in any sort, that they are not ashamed to confess, that we forced them to translate it into English against their will. Thus all the wrath of Rome came down upon those who were involved in getting the Bible into the hands of the people.
John Wycliffe, translator of the first complete English Bible, was one of the first to feel the wrath of Rome, even though he translated from the Latin. He translated the Bible with the expressed purpose of promoting the reformation of the church. But the circulation of his Bible was bitterly opposed by the Roman Church. Those who read it and disseminated it were denounced as heretics. Wycliffe himself was accused of being a master of errors and condemned as a heretic. Even though they could not capture him in life because of his powerful friends, forty years after his death they disintered his body, burned his bones, and scattered the ashes in the Swift River.
William Tyndale, who so greatly influenced the King James Version, was so persecuted that he was not even allowed to translate the Bible in England. He had to do it in Germany. But even there he was not left alone. He was hunted down by both the emissaries of Henry VIII and those of the Roman Church. In order to elude them he was compelled not only to move with great secrecy, but to assume other names. When his translation finally came off the press and was circulated in England, it was branded as crafty, false, and untrue and was forbidden to be kept and used in the land. Many copies were confiscated and burned. Tyndale himself was slandered by his enemies. They maliciously circulated the slander that his New Testament was only an English translation of Luther’s German Bible. Tonstal (an enemy of the Reformation) preached against Tyndale’s Testament and alleged that it contained not less that two thousand mistranslated texts. His enemies finally captured him in early 1535 and imprisoned him for eighteen months in the castle of Vilvorde. All who talked with him in the castle witnessed his purity of character. He was even instrumental in the conversion of some. But on the 6th of October 1536 they led him forth to the place of execution where they tied him to the stake. Tyndale then cried with a loud voice and fervent zeal, Lord, open the eyes of the King of England. That was his dying prayer. Then the hangman strangled him to death and burned his body.
Rogers, Cranmer, And Coverdale
John Rogers, who completed and edited Tyndale’s version, found himself in great trouble when bloody Mary came to the throne. It was not long before he was imprisoned by that enemy of God and His Word. For half a year he remained a prisoner in his own house and during all of 1554 he was confined to Newgate prison with thieves and murderers. He was very harshly and cruelly treated. All that time he was refused permission to see his wife and ten children. It was not until he was led to the stake on Jan. 4, 1555 that they met him. There he was burned alive to become the first victim of the wicked Mary.
Thomas Cranmer, who exerted a great deal of pressure to get the Bible into the hands of the people, could not escape the wrath of Queen Mary either. He was tried and convicted of heresy with others of like Faith. Before he was executed, he was forced to watch the burning of Latimer (Bishop of Worcester) and Ridley (Bishop of London) who were also of the Faith of the Reformation. Mary thought that she had won the day when Cranmer signed a recantation of his Protestantism. But when the fire was put to him, he repudiated his retractions and held the offending hand, which had signed the recantation, in the flame until it was consumed. In his death he did not forsake the Faith.
Although Coverdale did not die at the hand of Mary, he did suffer persecution with the rest. He was imprisoned for two and a half years. Several times he was examined by the Inquisitors and was in extreme danger of losing his life.
Geneva And King James Versions
The very existence of the Geneva Bible was due to religious persecution. Queen Mary sought to stamp out the Word of God in England and to destroy the faithful with fire and sword. As a result hundreds of Protestants fled England to find refuge on the continent. Many of them settled in Geneva and there translated the Bible into English. Thus the Geneva Bible, in a very unique way, is a Bible that came out of persecution.
Even some of the translators of the King James Version had to suffer for the cause of the Holy Scriptures. They were dedicated to accurately translating the Bible into the language of the people. Many of them sacrificed much for the work and were rewarded with very little. The translators make it very clear that there was much opposition to their work. They write, Thus not only as oft as we speak, as one saith, but also as oft as we do any thing of note or consequence, we subject ourselves to every ones censure, and happy is he that is least tossed upon tongues; for utterly to escape the snatch of them is impossible. But none of this could keep them from doing their work. Like their predecessors, they were willing to endure great hardship in order that they might see the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people. Dr. John Reynolds, the Puritan who petitioned the king for the new translation, died before the work was finished. His death was caused in part by his diligent study and work on the translation. But when urged to cease his labors he replied that for the sake of life, he would not lose the very end of living! The King James Version is a martyrs Bible because the Word of God meant more to these men than the life of this world.
God’s Word To His Church
The new translation did not immediately take over all others. For some time there was a struggle with the Geneva Bible. But in the end, the people of God recognized the superior qualities of the King James Version so that it conquered all others. It has gone through hundreds and hundreds of editions since it was first published in 1611. Some changes have been made in the spelling, punctuation, italicizing, and cross references. Nevertheless, the King James Version which we have today is basically the same as that published in 1611. It is still the choice of God’s people too. Even with all the competition from the modern versions, the King James Version is one of the most popular of all versions.
As far as we know the King James Version, also called the Authorized Version, was never authorized. Even thought it was appointed by the King, it was never approved by Parliament nor the Convocation, nor the Privy Council. Nevertheless, it is recognized by God’s people as the Authorized Bible-God’s Authorized Bible. God has so worked in the hearts of His people that it has been recognized as God’s Word by generation after generation of English-speaking Christians. It has been recognized as the version which God has given to us in His good providence. There is no other translation so universally regarded as God’s Word.
The Best Version
Even though the King James Version has its weaknesses, it is an excellent translation and by far the best version available today. We must not be taken in by the modern versions and their claims. Our 400 year old Bible is to be preferred above all others because it is better than them all.
1) It was translated by men who are unsurpassed in their knowledge of Biblical studies.
2) The translators were pious men of God who believed in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
3) It is the mature fruit of generations of English translations as well as the careful work of its translators.
4) The King James Version is based upon the Received Text rather than the critical Greek text of modern versions.
5) It is a word-for-word translation which faithfully and accurately reflects the originals.
6) The language is one of reverence and respect which gives honor to the majesty of its Author.
7) Of all the English versions of today, it alone is the Bible of the Reformation.
8) Our spiritual forefathers thought so highly of it that they were willing to suffer and even die for it.
9) It is the version which has been recognized for generations and generations as the Bible God has given to His English-speaking Church.
The translators’ admonition to the reader concerning the new translation is certainly just as applicable to us today, as it was in 1611. They exhort us, saying, Ye are brought unto fountains of living water which ye digged not. Do not cast earth into them with the Philistines, neither prefer broken pits before them with the wicked Jews. Others have labored, and you may enter into their labors; O receive not so great things in vain, O despise not so great salvation! Be not like swine to tread under foot so precious things, neither yet like dogs to tear and abuse holy things… If light be come into the world, love not darkness more than light; if food, if clothing be offered, go not naked, starve not yourselves… It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but a blessed thing it is, and will bring us to everlasting blessedness in the end, when God speaketh unto us, to hearken; when he setteth his word before us, to read it; when he stretcheth out his hand and calleth, to answer, Here am I, Here we are to do they will, O God.
Indeed, we find fountains of living water in the King James Version of the Bible. It is the living Word of the living God. Do not despise it and reject it for the unreliable modern versions as so many do today. Do not let anyone take this great Bible away from you. This version is the Bible we ought to use in our homes and churches. It ought to be the authority for both our faith and practice. We ought to stand up for and defend this Bible which has been given to us by the good providence of God.
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