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King James Bible — 400 Years!

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King James Bible — 400 Years!

15 minuten leestijd

Rev. J.B. Zippro, Grand Rapids, MI

A masterpiece of English prose. A most vivid translation of the Scriptures. The glorious language of this Bible survived the turbulence of history. A major cooperative endeavor that required the efforts of dozens of the day’s leading scholars. Creating harmony between diverse communities.

Solemn words spoken by Elizabeth II, Queen of England, in her Christmas message at Hampton Court Palace, England, on December 25, 2010. With these words she referred to the great value and significance of the King James Bible that was published in 1611. This year it will be exactly four hundred years ago that this great event took place. Commemorations will be held all over the world. There are many reasons for us to give some attention to it.

Why is our Bible called: King James Bible? What has this king to do with the Bible? Did this king give us the Bible? No, of course not! Not King James, but God gave us the Bible—God, the King of all kings, has given us His precious Word. This is the great and wonderful Book of all books. We call this Book the Word of God. This Word was originally written in the Hebrew and Greek languages. The translation out of these old languages is necessary in order to understand what God is saying to us.

Imagine if we had a Bible that said:

En archei ehn ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos. Houtos ehn en archei pros ton theon.

This is the beginning of the Gospel according to John in the Greek language. For most of us the Greek language is a strange language that we cannot understand; therefore, we need a translation! Imagine—it was forbidden by the church to translate this for common people! That is how it was before and in the early days of the Reformation.

The Reformation began with translating the Bible in the native and local languages and with spreading the translated Word of God throughout Europe. This enraged the clergy and priesthood and was seen as an attack on the Roman Catholic teachings. Bible translating was officially forbidden in England, and many suffered persecution. The only Bible that was allowed was the Latin Vulgate; however, very few were able to read the Latin and understand it.

John Wycliffe, who lived in the fourteenth century, and who is called “the morning star of Reformation,” was one of the first who started with translating the Bible out of that Latin Bible into the English language. Wycliffe also appointed lay preachers to bring the gospel to ordinary people. He had a different view on the sacraments and saw the Bible as the only authority in matters of faith. Although his ideas were repudiated as heretical, he was never excommunicated or deprived of his life.

The first Bibles of Reformation

One of the first persons who began to translate the Bible from the original languages was William Tyndale. This learned and godly man who was enlightened by Gods Spirit began this immense work. Tyndale studied in Oxford and in Cambridge. He became convinced that the Bible should be placed in the hands of ordinary people. He uttered his wish “... that the boy who plowed the field, knew more about the Bible than the pope himself.”

The church authorities in those days were strongly against a new translation of the Bible. Tyndale, therefore, left England for Germany. He went to Wittenberg where he personally met Luther and Melanchthon. In 1526, his translation of the New Testament was published in Worms, and four years later, the Psalms and the five books of Moses were finished. However, he never lived to translate the whole Bible.

In 1535, while working on his Bible in Antwerp, he was betrayed by Henry Phillips (whom he trusted to be a friend) and caught. He was put to death near Brussels; after strangling to death, he was burnt. His last words before he died were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” The prayer of Tyndale was heard, and within four years there were several Bibles published in England at the king’s behest.

In 1539, the first authorized Bible in English was published in Paris, authorized by King Henry VIII. The king ordered that this Bible would be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England. This so-called “Great Bible” was prepared by Myles Coverdale. He included much of the Tyndale Bible with some revisions. He translated the remaining books of the Old Testament from the Latin Vulgate and the German translations (not from original languages).

In 1560, the so-called Geneva Bible was published. This Bible was the work of English Protestants who had fled to Geneva during the reign of Mary (nicknamed Bloody Mary). John Knox was also involved in the work. They translated from the Hebrew and the Greek. Scholars assert that for 80% these men followed the translation of William Tyndale. The Geneva Bible was the first mechanically printed, mass-produced Bible, made available directly to the general public. This Bible became very popular among Puritans. This was also the Bible that the first Puritans took with them when they came to America in 1620.

In 1568, another English Bible was produced under the authority of the established Church of England. This is the so-called “Bishops’ Bible.” It was an attempt to replace the Geneva Bible which was regarded as Calvinistic. Although it never succeeded in replacing the Geneva Bible, the revision of 1572 became an important base text for the King James Bible.

Preparations for a new Bible translation

It was in 1604 that King James I of England agreed to meet a number of ministers at Hampton Court Palace, one of the royal palaces in those days. They talked about the future of the church but also about the necessity of a good translation of the Bible in English. Although many different English versions of the Bible did already exist, they caused more confusion than unity among Christians. Many had a problem with the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible. In the eyes of many Anglican theologians these were too much Calvinistic. Also, the King himself did not like the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible and was a strong adversary of marginal notes in the newly made Bible. Example: The story goes that the King didn’t like the notes on Exodus 2 about the Hebrew midwives, who lied to Pharaoh. He feared that people, in general, would start to tell lies.

Therefore, King James himself ordered that there should be only one official version that would be acceptable for all parties. The Bible had to be translated in such a way that it would reflect the structure of the Church of England and its traditional beliefs about ordained clergy. That is why words such as church and bishop had to be retained. The whole project would be led by Richard Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury. In England this Bible would become known under the name of the Authorized Version, or King James Version of the Bible. Some say that the name Authorized Version is not correct because the government never officially authorized this translation. The title page says: APPOINTED to be read in churches, not: authorized to be read in churches.

Committees for translation

A committee was formed of fifty-four of the most learned Hebrew and Greek scholars. They were chosen to make a new translation. These translators were not all Puritans, as, sometimes, people think! They were all different and had different views, but... they all believed in the infallibility and inspiration of the Scriptures. They were divided into six different groups; two met in London at Westminster, two met in Cambridge, and two of them met in Oxford. One of the leading figures was Lancelot Andrewes, who headed the Westminster Company and acted as a general editor for the project as well. He was also one of the English delegates for the Synod of Dort in 1618. Among the translators was Samuel Ward. Ward was a moderate Calvinist and also a delegate to the Synod of Dort.

What a heavy and responsible task to translate the entire Bible! However, they did not just start with a blank page. As I said, there were already many other versions of translations, like the Coverdale Bible and the Geneva Bible. But these fifty-four scholars drew significantly on the translation of William Tyndale. According to analysts, the King James New Testament follows Tyndale 84%, and the Old Testament is 75% Tyndale’s. Also, the Apocrypha were translated by a special committee of nine members, among whom also was Richard Bancroft.

The work of the committee, with the mandate of the king, took seven years of revising, checking, and translating. In more than 8,500 cases, marginal notes were added to provide an alternative English wording or a literal rendering from the original or even a variant reading of the source text. Also, some 9,000 scriptural cross-references, in which one text was related to another, were originally in the first editions. However, no marginal theological interpretation of the text was added like in the Dutch Statenbijbel.

The principles of translation

With a deep impression that it is the living God Himself who speaks through His Word, these men did their work. If they could not translate the words in the text, they used more English words to further explain but placed these words in italics, expressing that these words were not originally there. The translators showed great respect for the names of God as it is seen in the Old Testament where the greatest name of God, Jehovah (JHWH), is translated with Lord and only four times with JEHOVAH (Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 12:2 and 26:4). The name of Adonai was rendered with Lord.

Another very important thing is that all translators who worked on the King James Bible held to the sound doctrines of Scriptures. This cannot be said of many modern versions of the Bible. These men all firmly believed in the truths of God’s Word:

• the predestination of God from all eternity,

• the creation of heaven and earth in six days,

• the divinity of Christ,

• the conception by the Holy Ghost and the virgin birth of Jesus,

• faith in His resurrection,

• the total depravity of man,

• and the necessity of regeneration.

As we all know, the King James Version frequently uses the words “Thou” and Thee.” This was done on purpose to make a distinction between “you, singular” and “you, plural” as it is clearly seen in the Greek and Hebrew languages. Thee and Thou were not in common usage in the seventeenth century but found a place in the Authorized Version in order to make the original text more transparent.

Example: Luke 22:31&32 where the Lord Jesus says:

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not....

Here, the difference between plural and singular is made evident in the English by using you and thee.


The King James Bible could finally be published in 1611 by Robert Barker, the official printer of the king. The Authorized Version was printed as a complete folio Bible and “Appointed to be read in churches,” so it was meant for public use. Later on, smaller editions and Roman-type editions followed that could be used for private devotion.

The original title page says:

THE HOLY BIBLE containing the Old Testament and the New newly translated out of the original tongues and with the former Translations diligently compared and reunited by his Majesty’s special commandment.

Appointed to be read in churches.

Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, printer to the Kings most excellent majesty.

Anno Domini 1611

The original printing contained two prefatory texts: first was a formal Epistle Dedicatory “To the most high and mighty Prince James, by the grace of God king of Great BritainYou will find it in most of the British printings, but several smaller American printings fail to include it. The second preface was The Translators to the Reader, a long essay that clarifies and defends the new version and very strongly affirms that the Bible “.. containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God’.” Also, the first printing contained a table for the reading of the Psalms at morning and evening, a calendar, and a table of holy days and observances.

The acceptance of the KJV

The King James Bible soon found acceptance in the churches although the older versions, like the Geneva, remained popular. Within the academic world, critical comments could not fail, but slowly on, the Authorized Version became the standard version of Scripture for English-speaking scholars and divines. It went even so far that, by many, this version was regarded as an inspired text in itself.

By the mid eighteenth century there were numerous different printings of the Authorized Version in circulation. They contained several errors or omissions. Over the years, many misprints had crept into the text. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both took up the immense task to produce an updated text by standardizing the wide variation in punctuation and spelling of the original, making many thousands of minor changes to the text. The 1769 Oxford edition, edited by Benjamin Blayney, became the official standard text and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings.

In the second half of the twentieth century, many new translations appeared, based on modern interpretation of Scripture and on other manuscripts. Scholars claim that these manuscripts are older and, according to them, more reliable than those that underlie the text of the King James. However, they forget that older does not necessarily mean better! It could well be that “younger” manuscripts are based upon older and better manuscripts that we don’t have anymore. What is even more serious: the translators of modern versions have not only abandoned the principles of translation which reflect reverence for God and His holy Word but also the sound doctrines based upon that Word! The translators of the Authorized Version were great scholars but, at the same time, converted and godly men who adhered to the doctrine of the Church.


We come to a close. We may still have that old Bible, called King James. Why do we still use this Bible in our houses and churches? Are there not many other translations which we could use nowadays? Why does this translation have so much authority and influence all over the world? The Authorized Version has stood the test of time, and today is still the international standard for English translations. It has been used by many missionaries. The words of the King James Bible were used for the conversion of countless people in England and in America and in several other parts of the English-speaking world.

The Bibles of today, written in easy-to-understand English, have not led to massive conversion of secular people outside the church. On the contrary, they have led to more confusion, misunderstanding, and criticism. A translation in modern day English will not necessarily mean that there will be more comprehension of the text. The words of John 1:1 will not be easier to understand, in whatever kind of English. We can only understand the words when we know the Scriptures as a whole and adhere to the teaching of God’s church throughout the ages. God’s Word remains the same in a constantly changing world. God’s Word can teach us the way of salvation. This has not changed. Whether we live in the seventeenth century or in the twenty-first century, we all need the same instruction on our way to eternity.

An important question for all of us is: has that Word become precious for our soul? Has that Word become the treasure of our heart? Let us not forget that only an outward acknowledging of the truth cannot save us. The outward words will not change our heart. We can have read the words of the King James our whole life and, thus far, be strangers of free and sovereign grace. We need to know not only ourselves in our sins and miseries but also the power of Jesus’ blood through the operation of God’s Spirit. Not King James, but only King Jesus can save us from the wrath to come! That it may be or become our prayer: teach me, O Lord, through thy Word and Spirit, and lead me in the way everlasting!

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 juni 2011

The Banner of Truth | 24 Pagina's

King James Bible — 400 Years!

Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 juni 2011

The Banner of Truth | 24 Pagina's

PDF Bekijken