Psalm 119:160 says, “Thy word is true from the beginning.” This is still true today and it is also true of the King James Version. I don’t exalt King James, but I exalt King Jesus. Now I would like to give you a brief overview of how we got our Bible.
The New Testament was completed in 1380 and the Old Testament in 1382. Wycliffe’s translation was based on the Latin Vulgate, and it contained most of the errors common to that version.
In 1534, King Henry VIII wanted a divorce and the Pope did not allow it, so he broke the country away from Catholicism and King Henry VIII became the head of the Church of England. An English Bible was now needed.
William Tyndale completed the New Testament and fifteen books of the Old Testament before he was put to death in 1536. This was the first time the Bible was translated into English from the original language.
Myles Coverdale took Tyndale’s translation and finished the rest of the Old Testament in 1535.
Converted by Tyndale and became his friend, John Rogers received Tyndale’s translation just before he died. Rogers finished the Old Testament and published the Matthew’s Bible in 1537. “Thomas Matthew” appears on the title page. This was a pen name for John Rogers who would end his life being burned at the stake as the first martyr under Bloody Mary’s reign.
If you have bad eyesight, you would have loved this Bible. Published in 1539, it was called this because of its size. The Great Bible was published in six volumes, each measuring 16.5 x 11 inches. It was ordered by King Henry VIII to be translated and had to be put in every church. To discourage theft, the Chain Bible as it was also known by, was chained to the reading desk in the church.
Lord Cromwell “ordered that…a copy of the Great should be placed in every parish in England…Thus it came about that Tyndale’s Bible was circulated extensively for many years in the name of others, and with the king’s formal authorization, and became the basis for subsequent translations.” (Simms, Bible from the Beginning, p. 178).
Up until this time, it had been illegal to print or distribute English Bibles in England. The Great Bible was the first legal English translation of the Bible in English-a great step forward in religious freedom.
The Geneva Bible was produced by English refugees (Puritans) in 1560 who settled in Geneva to escape the persecutions of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, who in England reigned from 1553 to 1558. About 300 times the word “king” was substituted for “tyrant” in its translation.
This was the first entire English Bible to contain verse divisions. It also contained Calvinist-Reformed notes and condemned Roman Catholicism in the margin notes. The Geneva Bible quickly became the most popular English Bible and its influence lasted for almost 100 years. This Bible was carried to America by the first settlers from England in the 17th century. It continued to be printed in England until 1625.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without forme and voyde, and darkness was upon the depe, and the Spirit of God moved upon the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” -Genesis 1:1-3
“For God so loved the world, that he hath given his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16
The Church of England wanted a Bible to compete with the popular Geneva Bible and one that could replace the Great Bible. The Bishop’s Bible was produced in 1568 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who followed Bloody Mary and established the Church of England on a Protestant footing. The Bishop’s Bible was never very popular, and the Geneva Bible continued to be the people’s Bible.
Anglican bishops made the translation and was printed to defend the divine right of kings. How many of you think it is wrong to have an agenda when it comes to a translation?
King James Version
James became king of England in 1603 when he was 36 years old. While he traveled from Edinburgh, Scotland to London, England, he was approached by John Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, He presented the Millennium Petition. More than a thousand ministers had signed it. Reynolds asked King James to help them purify the Anglican Church (Church of England). They were trying to remove Roman Catholic influences. Remember that back in 1534, King Henry VIII told the Catholic Churches, “Now you’re Anglican.” The Protestant Reformation had been steering the Anglicans closer to biblical principles. King James agreed. A conference was held at Hampton Court Palace in 1604. All of the bishops, deans, and the Puritans were summoned. John Reynolds suggested that a new translation of the English Bible be produced. The king wanted the Bishop’s Bible because it defended the divine right of kings. So King James called for a new translation with no marginal notes. The only thing you could put in the margin was a word if you were not sure what would be the best translation for that and cross references. He asked for the best and learned men. Within six months, fifty-four men were appointed. The work began in 1607.
The process of the translation was amazing. The king said there would be three places where the translation would take place: Westminster Abbey in London, University of Oxford, and the University of Cambridge. There were two companies or groups of translators in each place so six companies. Each translator completed the same chapter week by week. Then that translated portion was then considered by the company as a whole. They compared their translations and came up with a final revision that everyone in that company could approve of. As they were doing this, one translator would read verse by verse, while the others compared it to a Bible in some language (French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Syriac) in his hand. If any of them thought it needed alteration, he spoke, otherwise they read on. How many of you think our new translators do that today? If a difficulty was found, the company would send for Learned men (professors of church history and the church fathers) who were not a part of the translation committee to submit their opinion. When the companies completed a book, it was then sent to the other five companies for review. Every word, every verse, every chapter, every book was translated by fifty-four men and gone over at least six times. The finished text from each company was then submitted to the General Assembly in London (twelve translators) spending nine months reviewing each book, settling any questions or differences as they were the final committee.
Why is the King James Version superior compared to the other translations?
- Fifty-four translators are better than a few.
- These were the smartest translators ever assembled. I’ll give you just two examples. Lancelot Andrews learned a new language during his month long vacation at Easter every year. Downes was called a walking library. He had a photographic memory and everything he ever read he could quote verbatim. In his autobiography, Downes recalls after the KJV had been made, this young man stood up with the KJV and gave three reasons why a certain Greek word should have been translated a different way. Downes went to lunch with this man at his house and during a discussion, he said something along the lines of, “By the way, you should not do what you did in the church service today. Because we considered your three objections to the text, but we had thirteen more reasons why that word was chosen” and he recited those thirteen reasons from memory.
- Psalm 12:6-7 says, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” How many groups checked the King James? At least seven times.
- English was at the height of its purity and strength. All linguistic historians agree English was at its best around this time.
- Knowledge of biblical languages was at its best. When the Greek city of Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the copies of the Greek texts of the Bible were brought to Europe. This revived the study of the original languages. Today’s biblical scholars learn Hebrew and Greek in seminary, whereas many back then were raised with it as a child.
- In order to make sure their was no agenda in the translation and to have peace in his kingdom, King James made sure that both Church of England bishops and Puritan bishops worked on the translation and they all had to agree on the text.
- One of King James’ instructions was the consistency of words in the translation.
- The King James Version had other English translations that preceded it. In essence, the translations for the most part got better.
- The King James Version revised the Bishop’s Bible. James said change the Bishop’s Bible as little as you can when it was not necessary. Try to keep the language the same that the people would have known already. Familiarity was important to him.
- The King James Version has lasted more than four hundred years and has been instrumental in almost every great revival among English-speaking people. The King James Version was called the Holy Bible up until 1929 when it was called the KJV.