King James Bible

King James Bible

King James Bible

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. — John 1:1

The Bible is the best selling book in the English language. The King James Bible (aka Authorised Version) is the best selling edition.

The King James Bible has had huge influence on the English language. To many it is the Bible. Contrary to popular misconception, it was not the first Bible in English.

The Venerable Bede was the first known attempt at a translation into English. Fragments, scribbled commentaries in margins of Latin Bible.

The Bible is a collection of books.

The Old Testament is the history and sacred text of the Jews, mainly written in Hebrew, 4000 to 130 BC. 39 Books.

The New Testament is oral accounts of the life of Jesus, plus the letters Paul wrote to the scattered Christian communities. Written in Greek from around 80AD. 27 books.

St Jerome (382-405 AD) produced a Latin translation known as The Vulgate. It was written in common Latin, ie not the Classical Latin of Julius Caesar.

Is English a suitable language for communication with God?

1380 John Wycliffe translated a Bible into English from The Vulgate. He had to invent many English words. The Bible contains many revolutionary ideas. Suitable reading for peasants? The Wycliffe Bible (1380) directly influenced the Peasants Revolt (1381).

Enough was enough. Archbishop Arundul (1409) made it illegal to translate the Bible into English, illegal to read in English, punishable by death!

In the Dark Ages, the only centres of learning, of Christianity, were the monasteries, few people could read.

The Renaissance brought about radical change. There was an interest in Greek, in Classical texts, a rise in literacy, a desire to translate or at least read the Bible in its original Greek.

An important development took place in Mainz in Germany. Gutenberg was a metalsmith. He devoloped metal movable type. He saw a market in printing the Bible as it would be widely read. And it would be in German to maximise the readership. This led to the Gutenberg Bible (1456).

Erasmus translated the Bible from Greek to Latin. He corrected many of the mistakes of The Vulgate.

Martin Luther, a Calvanist, wanted a German Bible so that the common man could read the Bible.

William Tyndale, a very able linguist, translated the New Testament from Greek to English. This led to the Tyndale Bible, Cologne 1535, first five books of the Old Testament (plus parts) and the New Testament. There was followed by a 1534 edition.

It was still illegal to read or print the Bible in English in England. The Tyndale Bible was heretical. Neverthless copies were smuggled in England and it was very popular. Tyndale was executed in Brussels (1536).

Coverdale Bible (1538) during reign of Henry VIII

By the River Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Sion.

The Great Bible (aka Whitchurch Bible after the printer) was ordered by Henry VIII. Copies to every parish church.

The Geneva Bible (1560) by English Calvanists exiled in Geneva. It introduced chapter and verse and marginal notes. This was the Bible Shakespeare used. Too radical, King translated as tyrant!

Bishops Bible (1568) ordered by Queen Elizabeth I.

This was a time of religious upheaval across Europe.

1530 Dissolution of Monasteries.

1559 Elizabethan Church Settlement.

In Europe the Reformation was religious. Not so in England and that is why it has been so drawn out and is still ongoing.

Henry VIII had two reasons to establish himself as the head of an English Church: Divorce, money to finance foreign wars. Great wealth was acquired by the Crown.

1603 No Pilgrimages. No statues. Service in English. No monasteries. No shrines.

Puritans: authority lies with scripture, not the church.

1603 James I of England.

1604 Hampton Court Conference called to try and resolve some of the religious issues. The Big Idea was let’s have a new Bible! Six companies as they were known were formed, two in Westminster, two in Oxford, two in Cambridge. They were drawn from all sides of the church. The Bishops Bible was to form the base, but also draw upon Tyndale, Coverdale, Great Bible and Geneva Bible.

They went well beyond their brief and went back to the original works in Hebrew and Greek. They also looked at German translations. Two men were allocated to each book. They would translate independently, then compare translations.

The New Testament is written in a Greek dialect koine not Classical Greek.

The work was then revised in 1610, two men from each company under the general direction of Launcelot Andrewes, a scholar and Dean of Westminster. Each person would read out his work, it had to sound good, if no interuptions, it was accepted. The model, the literary style, was the Book of Common Prayer by Cramer.

It should as though God Himself was speaking.

The King James Bible was published in 1611, the same year George Abbot (one of the translators) was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury. It was not an immediate success. It was the English Civil War that made it a success.

By 1700 it was the English Bible. It was to have a huge influence on the English language.

At a time when few could read, few had books, if there was one book in the house it was The Bible.

If there is one thing that gets Evangalists excited it is converting the Heathen. Schools were established, English was taught, the book used was The Bible. Thus English spread around the world.

Many of our modern English idioms are from the King James Bible (or Shakespeare):

East of Eden
how are the mighty fallen
the root of the matter
Set your house in order
Be horribly afraid
Suffer little children
Turned the world upside down
a thorn in the flesh
there were giants in the earth in those days
white as snow
The skin of my teeth
from strength to strength
reap the whirlwind
Many are called but few are chosen
see through a glass darkly
a man after his own heart
rod of iron
be of good cheer
new wine into old bottles
fell by the wayside
eat drink and be merry
den of lions
fly in the ointment
there is nothing new under the sun

Where to now?

Older Greek texts has led to revisions. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi find have provided new information.

The likelihood of a new translation is very low. 50-80 people were involved in the King James Bible. It would not be possible to gather together today that number of scholars with their knowledge. And from where would come the resources for such a project?

Based on an excellent talk given by Catherine Ferguson at St Nicolas Church in Guildford. Part of the King James Bible Celebrations 2011.

– The Book of Books
The Gospels
Where does the New Testament come from?
The Bible A Biography

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One Response to “King James Bible”

  1. Andrew Currah Says:

    We thought you would be interested to know about a new app just
    published by the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford.

    The Making of the King James Bible is available now for iPhone, iPad and Android, from only 99 cents:

    Featuring over 60 items from the exhibition, including original and
    previously unseen manuscripts, the app traces the history of the King James Bible, particularly the role of Oxford, and the influence of the translation in England up to 1769. We’re excited to give users the opportunity to explore such a wide range of original manuscripts.

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