20th June 2011

Happy Anniversary, KJV!

The eighth and last of a series

“Let vs drawe neere with a true heart in full assurance of faith, hauing our hearts sprinkled from an euill conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let vs hold fast the profession of our faith without wauering (for he is faithfull that promised)…”
Hebrews 10:23-24 (original KJV of 1611)

When Elizabeth was succeeded by James I in 1603, the king was already partly persuaded by his own clergy from Scotland, where he was James VI, that something needed to be done. James was considered to be a Biblical expert, or at least he liked to think of himself as such. There were two translations then available: The Bishops Bible, which was unpopular; and the Geneva Bible, very popular but regarded by king and clergy as subversive.

James granted leave for a new translation, but there was to be no commentary on the text included. The king authorised six companies totalling between 47 – 54 men (some died and were replaced during the years of translation) to do it.

James succeeded in paying not a penny towards this Bible, which bears his name. He had each man contribute and also the printer, with the promise of preferment. His chaplain, Launcelot Andrews, for example, eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury.

An interesting aside is that had the Gunpowder Plot of 1603 succeeded, many of the translators, who, as bishops, sat in the House of Lords, would have been killed along with King James. How that might have affected his Bible is unsure—perhaps it might never have been completed.

Included were theologians and linguists, one of whom, Miles Smith, afterwards bishop of Gloucester, undertook the final editing. He also wrote the preface (which is well worth reading). Although it took a while—the Psalms from the Coverdale Bible continued in use in the prayer book until the 1960s—all other translations, including the Geneva, fell out of use in favour of this version, written to be read aloud, using simple language and with the aim of making of previous good translations a single better version. His prologue finishes: “It remaineth, that we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of his grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think…. A blessed thing it is, and will bring us to everlasting blessedness in the end, when God speaketh unto us, to hearken; when he setteth His word before us, to read it….” Which says it all, and perhaps shows why after 400 years this is the Bible in the English language still of choice for many, despite the many, many translations that have come along since. And it is perhaps fitting to conclude with the thought that God has called, convicted and converted through the reading of this book as perhaps through no other translation.

Loving Father, we give you thanks for the work done in your name to bring your word to our nation in the English language. We thank you, too, that some 300,000 translations into other languages continue to bring your word to all nations. Because only by the hearing of the word (Ephesians 1:13) can you call, convict and convert those you wish to call. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by John Stettaford

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