|Hampton Court Conference|
In 1603 Queen Elizabeth I of England died and the crown was passed to James I, who was already King
of Scotland as James VI. On his way to England to take his throne, he was presented with a petition,
listing the grievances that the Puritan Party had against the Church of England. This petition
became known as the Millenary Petition because it supposedly was signed by 1,000 people.|
In response, King James convened a conference in 1604 at Hampton Court, where he surprised many of the clergy with his theological learning and understanding. However, not much was resolved at this Conference as far as dealing with the Puritan's grievances. In fact, 16 years later, many of these same Puritans would pack up and sail to America to avoid dealing with the Church of England. These became our Pilgrim Fathers, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
The only substantial resolution that came from the Hampton Court Conference was that "a translation be made of the whole Bible, faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek, and that this be set out and printed without marginal notes, and be used in all Churches of England in time of divine service." This became the charter under which the King James Version was created.
|Creating a Bible to the King's Specifications|
At this time there were three major versions of the English Bible in circulation. The Bishops' Bible was used
in all Churches of England. The Geneva Translation was preferred by most Protestants
for private reading and study. Those of Roman Catholic persuasion typically used the Rheims-Douay Bible.
It was generally recognized that the English translation used in the Bishops' Bible was inferior to that of the Geneva Translation. But the Geneva Translation had many marginal notes which had been written by Protestant Reformers. Some of the notes were critical of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. These notes were unacceptable to church leaders and even to King James himself, who felt that they undermined the Divine Right of Kings. The King felt that a new English Bible would be the answer to both problems.
King James I wanted this new version to be created by university scholars, then reviewed by the bishops, and finally ratified by James himself. He insisted that there be no controversial Margin Notes. James thought that this was the best way to assure that the Bible would be satisfactory to the Church of England as well as to other Protestant denominations.
To the surprise of many, King James took a significant part in organizing the translation project. In fact, the rules that guided the translation had to be sanctioned by the King. The new Bible was to be based on the Bishops' Bible, however all original Hebrew and Greek sources were to be consulted, as well as all previous English Bible versions. This meant that early Bibles, like Tyndale's and Converdale's, were used in the creation of the text for the King James Version.
To help avoid some of the problems of earlier English translations, the same Greek or Hebrew words could be translated differently based on their context. And they were. As an example, in I Corinthians 13:8-13, the Greek word "katargeo" appears four times, and is translated "fail", "vanish away", "done away", and "put away". This created a fresh translation that read well in English.
The Geneva Bible's practice of using italics for words that were not present in the original Hebrew or Greek was continued. Sometimes additional words that were not in the original language were needed to make the English read correctly. By printing these words in a different typeface, additions could be distinguished from the rest of the translation.
Proper names of Bible characters were to be spelled as they were in day-to-day usage. This kept people like "Isaac" from getting a Hebraic name like "Isahac", which was how it was spelled in the Bishops' Bible.
The only notes permitted in the margins were a) explanations of Hebrew and Greek words, and b) cross references to other Scripture. Headings were created for each chapter, providing a quick summary of the contents.
About 50 scholars were assigned to the project; each was personally approved by the King. Although each translator was given free room and board while he worked on the project, everyone was expected to donate his time free gratis; no one got rich from this translation. The translators were grouped into 6 sections — 3 worked on the Old Testament, 2 on the New Testament, and one group translated the Apocrypha. When each of the groups had finished their section of the Bible, the results were reviewed by a committee of 12 men — two from each of the 6 groups. When they were finished revising the work, the entire Bible was forwarded to bishops and leading churchmen for their approval. Finally it was sent to James himself, for the final, royal approval — which occurred in 1610.
|A Beautiful Volume, but Mixed Reception|
The King James Version came off the presses in 1611. The massive book was almost 1,500 pages long!
Even though the Title Page has the words: "Appointed to be read in Churches", neither the
King nor Parliament had made such an appointment at that time. The first editions were printed using Black Gothic
type in double
columns. Between the Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha was placed as a separate section.
As in previous English Bible translations, the King James' Title Page featured beautiful engravings, which
included Matthew, Mark, Luke, John the Beloved, Peter, Paul, Moses and Aaron. The version was dedicated
to King James, who had his hand in just about every area of the Bible's creation.
So popular was the King James Version, that it was printed three times in the year of its release, 1611. There were quite a number of mistakes (mostly typographical) in the early editions. Over the years, spelling was changed, mistakes were repaired, and marginal notes were modified. Between the years 1611 and 1800, over 1,000 editions of the King James Version were published.
That does not mean that everyone liked this new version. One highly-esteemed Biblical scholar of the day said that he had rather be "rent into pieces by wild horses than any such translation by his consent should be urged upon our poor churches." He went on to say that "the cockles of the sea shores, and the leaves of the forest, and the grains of the poppy may as well be numbered as the gross errors of this Bible." (He may not have liked the Bible, but he sure was poetic about it.) When the Puritans left England in 1620 on the Mayflower, it was the Geneva Translation that they took with them — not the King James Version; they didn't like it either.
|A Lasting Work|
But eventually the tide of opinion changed;
the King James Version was the best English version created
up to that time, and its superiority eventually became recognized. The understanding of the Greek and
Hebrew languages had greatly increased in the years since the release of the Bishops' Bible. This
resulted in a Bible that was scholarly accurate -- a Bible that could be relied on.
But, for many, the crowning jewel in the King James Version's crown is its use of the English language. English literature had grown and matured by 1611. It was the 'Days of Shakespeare' -- the English Language was near its zenith. The revisers of the King James Version knew what good literature was, and were determined that this version would be a good example of English prose. They were very successful. At a time when the English Language was its most majestic -- at a time when the standard for good literature was at its highest -- the King James Version became the finest example of English prose ever to be produced.
It was somewhere around 1630 before the King James Version had completely taken over the hearts of English people. And then, for more than 2½ centuries, the King James Version became the Bible for all English-speaking people.
|Use the Menu on the left to view actual pages from a 1611 King James Bible.|