King James Bible

New critical editions of the text available to the revisers were the Latin Old Testament of Arias Montanus (based on Hebrew) and the Latin Bible of Tremelius with the Apocrypha of Franciscus Junius (from the Hebrew for the Old Testament and the Greek and Syriac for the Apocrypha and the New). Vernacular translations consulted with evident respect were the French Geneva (1587-88), Diodati’s Italian (1607) and Valera’s Spanish (1602) Bibles. The revisers were for their time good scholars, but their Greek texts were based upon manuscripts containing rather more copyists’ errors than the manuscripts found after their day. Though the Bishops’ Bible was their basic text, the Geneva Bible and Rheims New Testament seem to have influenced their changes most. In the prophetical books of the Old Testament there are many changes due to the Geneva Version; in the historical and poetical books the changes from the Bishops’ are fewer, but more independent, particularly in the Apocrypha. The New Testament is essentially the Bishops’ text modified by a comparison with the Greek, Beza’s Latin version and the Geneva and Rheims Testaments. It is in the vocabulary that the influence of the Rheims New Testament is seen, and in matters of interpretation that the Geneva’s influence is most strongly felt, but the revisers avoided the obscurity of the former and the notes of the latter. The lack of consistency of the King James Version in rendering some Greek and Hebrew words is defended in the Preface.

This rather large group of men, with diverse aids, produced a better version of the English Bible than had previously existed. It was not perfect; some sections are more closely accurate than others, but it was faithfully and carefully done. The revisers of 1881 say this of it in their preface:

We have had to study this great Version carefully and minutely, line by line; and the longer we have been engaged upon it the more we have learned to admire its simplicity, its dignity, its power, its happy turns of expression, its general accuracy, and, we must not fail to add, the music of its cadences, and the felicities of its rhythm.

And through it all, on nearly every page, rings the vigor and rhythm of the work done by Tyndale and Coverdale nearly a century before! Laura H. Wild has described it:

A few of Wyclif’s phrases are here, but Tyndale is largely responsible for it, for the Bishops’ Bible which was used as its foundation was as we have seen only a revamping of the Great Bible and that in turn depended on Matthew’s text and that was Rogers’ editing of Tyndale’s work plus Coverdale’s additions. Coverdale put his delicate touch on it, the sturdy tone of the Geneva Text and the sonorous Latinisms of the Rhemish New Testament modified certain sentences. But Tyndale was the genius who penetrated to the very heart of the Scripture, finding priceless treasures, then sent it on its way in English waters like a ship laden with life-giving fruits.

But always in considering this, our English classic, we must remember that behind it were the world’s profoundest religious truths uttered by the Hebrews in concrete, vivid, figurative expression. It was this rich ore which was cast into the English crucible to be heated hot with religious fervour and with the zest of a new intellectual awakening, a new freedom of the individual, a new national loyalty. Out of the fire came this book, so simple, direct, and suggestive in language, so beautiful and resonant in rhythm, so majestic and inspiring in tone that as literature it is said even to surpass the original, and no one influence has been so great in the life of English-speaking people, religiously, morally, socially, politically, as has this version.

Early Editions

Sometime in 1611 the revision was published by Robert Barker in London, in a fine black-letter folio with engraved title page, a dedication to King James, a Preface to the Reader, genealogies, maps and other popular features. Words supplied in the text were printed in roman letters, as were the chapter summaries and running heads. There were marginal readings in italics and some references. There is no evidence to show that the version ever had the approval of “the chiefe learned of the Church” or the “Priuie Councell” or of James himself. For some time previous to 1611, printers, evidently on their own authority, had been using the phrase, “Authorized and appointed to be read in churches” on copies of the Bishops’ Bible, to distinguish it from the Geneva Bible. It would seem that the “Appointed to be read in churches” in the 1611 version had no specific official warrant, and the phrase “Authorized Version,” though in modern usage assumed to distinguish it from other versions, does not historically do so.

Two issues seem to have been published in that year, the printing possibly done in two shops to meet the expected large demand. Within three years fourteen editions in various sizes were printed, and from then on several were issued each year. It was forty years, however, before the King James Version achieved a clear victory over the popularity of the Geneva Bible. From the middle of the seventeenth century it became the Bible of the English-speaking people. With spelling modernized and some minor corrections, this Bible of 1611 became the most beloved version in the English language and has exercised an untold influence on English literature and upon the moral and religious life of the English-speaking peoples.

Corrected editions were published by the Cambridge University Press in 1629 and 1638 by the hand of Dr. Goad of Hadley, Dr. Joseph Mead, Dean Bois and Dr. Samuel Ward of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, the last two having been members of the original group of revisers. Carelessly printed copies continued to appear, some printed in Holland. In 1762 Dr. F.S. Paris of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, prepared a newly corrected edition for the University Press, and seven years later Dr. Benjamin Blayney prepared a similar edition for the Oxford Press, but no comprehensive revision was undertaken until the middle of the nineteenth century.

While it is interesting to examine the strengths and weaknesses of Bible versions, we must realize that the important thing is not which translation a person reads, but that he reads something. No translation is perfect, but no translation is so poor that it obscures the message that God intends us to have. The Word of God speaks clearly to us as we read. Of the many versions it may be said, as Paul said of the many preachers of his day, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will . . . ” but “whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice” (Phil. 1:15, 18).

The New King James Version (NKJV) is the product of over 130 evangelical scholars and it is intended to be a replacement for the KJV of 1611. The New Testament appeared in 1979 and the Old Testament in l982. The strengths of this translation are its fidelity to the KJV tradition, its modernization of terminology, its accuracy, and its flowing cadences.

The King James Version Bible Bibliography

1: F.H.A. Scrivener, The Authorized Version of the English Bible (1611), Its Subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives , Cambridge: University Press, 1884; A.W. Pollard, ed., The Holy Bible, An Exact Reprint in Roman type, Page For Page, of the Authorized Version Published in the Year 1611, With an Introduction , Oxford: University Press, 1911 (reprinted Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982, without introduction); E.J. Goodspeed, ed., Translators to the Reader; Preface to the King James Version, 1611 , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935; David Daiches, The King James Version of the English Bible , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941 (reprinted 1968); G.S. Paine, The Learned Men , New York: Crowell, 1959 (reprinted The Men Who Produced the King James Bible , Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988); M.E. Elliott, The Language of the King James Bible, A Glossary Explaining Its Words and Expressions, New York: Doubleday, 1967; W. Allen, Translating for King James, Being a True Copy of the Only Notes Made by a Translator of the King James Bible , Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.

2: The available lists of revisers, which vary somewhat, show only the following forty-seven names:

Genesis through II Kings – Westminster Company: Dr. L. Andrews, Dean of Westminster; Dr. J. Overall, Dean of St. Paul’s; Dr. A. de Saravia, Canon of Canterbury; Dr. R. Clark, Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge; Dr. J. Layfield, Fellow of Trinity College; Dr. R. Teigh, Archdeacon of Middlesex; Dr. F. Burleigh, Pembroke Hall, Cambridge; Mr. Geoffrey King, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge; Mr. T. Thompson, Clare Hall, Cambridge; Mr. W. Bedwell, St. John’s College, Cambridge.

Chronicles through Ecclesiastes – Cambridge Company: Mr. E. Lively, Fellow of Trinity College; Mr. J. Richardson, afterwards Master of Trinity College; Mr. L. Chatterton, Master of Emmanuel College; Mr. F. Dillingham, Fellow of Christ’s College; Mr. T. Harrison, Vice-Master of Trinity College; Mr. R. Andrews, afterwards Master of Jesus College; Mr. R. Spalding, Fellow of St. John’s College; Mr. R. Bying, Fellow of St. Peter’s College.

Isaiah through Malachi – Oxford Company: Dr. J. Harding, President of Magdalen College; Dr. J. Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College; Dr. T. Holland, afterwards Rector of Exeter College; Mr. R. Kilbye, Rector of Lincoln College; Dr. Miles Smith, Canon of Hereford; Dr. R. Brett, Fellow of Lincoln College; Mr. R. Fairclough, Fellow of New College.

The Four Gospels, Acts, Apocalypse – Oxford Company Dr. T. Ravis, Dean of Christ Church; Dr. G. Abbot, Dean of Winchester; Dr. E. Eedes, Dean of Worcester; Dr. Giles Thompson, Dean of Windsor; Mr. (Sir H.) Savile, Provost of Eaton; Dr. J. Perin, Fellow of St. John’s College; Dr. Ravens, Fellow of St. John’s College; Dr. J. Harmer, Fellow of New College.

Romans through Jude – Westminster Company: Dr. W. Barlow, Dean of Chester; Dr. W. Hutchinson, Archdeacon of St. Alban’s; Dr. John Spencer, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Dr. Roger Fenton, Fellow of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge; Mr. Michael Rabbett, Trinity College, Cambridge; Dr. T. Sanderson, Balliol College, Oxford; Mr. W. Dakins, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.