The King James Bible: The Impact and History of the Biblical Translation

The crowning product of English scholarship is unquestionably the Authorized, King James Version of the Bible – a Bible conceived by the work of William Tyndale, gestated in the womb of the English Reformation, perfected with the words of the great English language, and proved through its powerful witness in succeeding generations.

Although the average Christian of today has been led to believe that the Authorized, King James Version is obsolete because of the fact that it is now 400 years old and contains many archaic words and phrases, The King James Version Bible has dominated for centuries and stands today as one of the most accurate, beloved versions in print.

A Brief History of The King James Version Bible:

It is imperative that we try to capture the mood just prior to the printing and publication of the King James Bible.  It is also vital that we appreciate the sacrifice made by those who were instrumental in bringing our Bible to us.  The emergence of our Bible took place when a price was often paid for remaining true to the Scriptures. The King James Version is the product of a number of other English Translations that had come into existence in rapid succession during the turbulent early years of the English Reformation.  It was also translated at a time when the English language was at its zenith. This all came about through a series of events in England.

A.  Wycliffes Bible:

John Wycliffe (1302-1384 A.D.) translated the first complete English Bible in 1380-82 A.D.  Although considered by many to have been translated from the corrupt Latin Vulgate, this indeed created a hunger in the hearts of Englishmen for the Word of God and sowed the seeds of the Reformation some 130 years later.

B.  Tyndales Bible:

William Tyndale (1494-1536 A.D.) translated the first English Bible from the original tongues.  Tyndale was a great Protestant Reformer, a student of Erasmus and a contemporary of Martin Luther. He translated Erasmus’s Greek New Testament into English in 1525 and was the first to publish an English New Testament in print.  This was managed under severe trials in Germany.  He had been exiled from England because of Romish opposition to his labor of Bible translation.  In 1535 he issued a third edition of the New Testament from the Greek text and this became the forerunner to the Authorized Bible of the English language.  In October, 1536, William Tyndale was martyred for his faith and work on the translation of the Bible.  His last words were, “Lord, open the King of Englands eyes!”

C. The Reign Of King Henry VIII

Henry ruled England from 1509-1547 A.D. and in 1534 A.D. broke with the church of Rome, thus beginning the English Reformation.

D.  The Reign Of King James I

James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots.  He was proclaimed King James VI of Scotland as an infant, and raised by the Scottish nobility as a Protestant.  He ruled England from 1603-1625 A.D.  In 1604 A.D. two events took place which led to the translation of what was to be called the King James Version Bible:

1.  The Millenary Petition

This was a petition signed by 1,000 Puritan (Presbyterian) clergymen sent to King James which asked, among other things, that there be a complete translation of Scripture in the English language based on the God preserved texts.

2. The Hampton Court Conference

This was proclaimed by King James in response to the Millenary Petition.  A suggestion by Dr. John Reynolds, “that a translation be made of the whole Bible as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England.

On July 22,1604, King James pronounced he had approved 54 selected men to translate a new Bible.  The work of translation began in 1607.

The Translators Of The King James Version Bible:

The scholarship of the men who translated the King James Bible remains unchallenged.  They were not only scholars, but they had a regard for the sacred Scriptures.  Although they differed among themselves on many matter of church order, administration and doctrine, they approached the task with a reverent regard for the Divine inspiration, authority and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures.  To them it was “God’s sacred Truth” and demanded the exercise of their utmost care and fidelity in its translation.

The scholars who were asked to help translate the King James Version Bible included Puritans, Anglican clergy and laymen.  Originally, fifty-four men were assigned to the task, but because of sickness and death, only forty-seven were on hand for the project.  The men were divided into six companies – two at Westminster, two at Cambridge, two at Oxford.  Each of the companies was assigned a particular portion of the Bible to translate. The Westminster group worked on Genesis to II Kings and Romans to Jude; the Oxford group took Isaiah to Malachi and the Gospels, the Acts and the Revelation; the Cambridge group was assigned I Chronicles to Ecclesiastes and the Apocrypha.  It was required that a comparison of translations of each individual translator with every other one in each company would be made, and when a book was completed by a group it was passed on to every other group for review and possible suggestions. Translators also had the privilege of consulting scholars not included in the forty-seven for advice.  Each member of the company was to make his own translation first.  The members of each company then met to compare one another’s work, reading the passages out loud while comparing written notes.  When each group completed a Book, it was sent to the other five groups for their independent assessment.  When the complete Bible was translated, it came before a select committee of twelve men, two from each company.  In 1609 A.D. this group met daily in London.  Finally, the entire work was assembled and polished by a publication committee of two men, then being sent to the Royal printer. By this method, each passage in the translation was scrutinized a minimum of 14 times!

One eminent translator was Sir Lancelot Andrews, the Bishop of Winchester.  He was noted for his godliness, gravity, dignity, integrity and ability.   He spent five hours each day in prayer and devotions.  He was fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic, and was fully conversant in fifteen languages.  He was a strong protestant and an outstanding preacher.  He was a leader of the “High Church” faction within the Church of England.

Another translator and leading spokesman for the Puritan faction was Dr. John Reynolds.  He entered Oxford University at the age of 13, graduated at age 17, and began lecturing in Greek there at the age of 23.  He possessed an almost miraculous memory, and was called, “The Living Library.”  He too was noted for his holiness of life, gravity, integrity and skill in Languages.

No reasonable person imagines that the translators were infallible or that their work was perfect, but no one acquainted with the facts can deny that they were men of outstanding scholarship, well qualified for their important work, or that with God’s blessing they completed their great task with scrupulous care and fidelity.  It is remarkable that the literary style of individual members of the company of translators was generally inferior to that of the version which they jointly produced.  The explanation of this is that they exercised their wisdom in leaving undisturbed the simple style and vocabulary of the earlier translators.  If they had cast the translation in the mold of the more ornate style of their own period, it is doubtful whether their work would have triumphed for so long as it has.  They made many thousands of small changes, most of which improved the rhythm, clarified the meaning, or increased the accuracy of the translation.

The time required to translate the King James Version Bible may be divided into two periods.  The first 3 years (1604-1607) was spent in preliminary study, privately, prior to continual work as a body.  The next two to three years was one of individual and co-operation pursuit of the six groups.  The last nine months were spent on the final copy.  The completed Bible was ready for the press and published May 2, 1611.

In closing, I would like to use a quote from Time Magazine’s, May 9,2011 article referencing the 400th Birthday of the King James Bible.  “The King James Bible was not a book of poetry or philosophy or music or mystery, but something of all of them, which is one reason its rhythms remain embedded in our Language 400 years after its publication on May 2, 1611.

No other book in recorded history has been so despised and scorned as the King James Bible.  Through history it has been ridiculed, allegorized, banned and burned but still stands today.  Its very existence is proof of its authority and approval by Almighty God.  It stands as a living memorial to the ability of God to fulfill His promise to preserve His Word.  “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:35

Writer Bio:  Bryan Sellers is currently the pastor of Valley Landmark MBC in Spokane Washington where he has been serving for the past nine years. He was also a former pastor of Central MBC in Warren, Ar. A former graduate of Louisnana Missionary Baptist Institute and Seminary in Minden, La with a Bachelor of Theology Degree in 2000.

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