Ancestry of the English Bible (VII): The King James Version

Mike Willis
Mooresville, Indiana

One of my instructors in college related this following personal experience in the late forties. While in a town for a basketball game, he overheard two old farmers discussing religion when one asked the other, "What version of the scriptures do ya' use?" The other farmer put his thumbs under the suspenders of his overalls, reared back and spit his tobacco, then said, "I don't know 'bout you, but I use the St. James Re-advised Version!" That ended that discussion!

When my professor first told this story to the class, I almost immediately recalled the recent advertisement in the GOSPEL GUARDIAN for a "King James Preacher." Despite the fact that so many use the KJV, few are acquainted with its history.

History of the Translation of the KJV

When King James I (by no means a "saint") ascended the English throne (1603-1625), religious confusion was rampant since three distinct parties were seeking control of both the state and the church. The Catholics wanted to regain the power they lost under Henry VIII when he established the Church of England. The Anglicans wanted control though their only major difference between them and the Catholics was centered on whether to offer allegiance to the king of England or to the Pope of Rome. The third party, the Puritans, sought to purify the Church of England. King James I eventually aligned himself with the Anglicans.

However, shortly after he began his reign the Puritans presented the Millenary Petition (so called because it contained 1000 names) to King James I listing their grievances. In a convention in 1604 at Hampton, all their grievances were ignored except their request for a new translation of the scriptures which would be void of controversial marginal notes.

The king appointed fifty-four men to translate the Bible into English (though only forty-seven actually were engaged in the work). The KJV was a revision of the Bishops' Bible and had as one of its objective to use words of previous translations when possible. Ecclesiastical words were to be left in the translation and italics were to be employed in marking English words necessary for the completion of the sense though actually absent from the Greek text. Finally, in 1611, seven years of translation work reached the public when the KJV was published.

Subsequent History of the KJV

Several revisions were made within a few years to remove printing errors. In 1762 and 1796, Dr. Thomas Paris and Benjamin Blayney revised this version by modernizing the spellings, punctuation, and expressions. Contrast Heb. 1: 1-4 in your edition with these verses of the 1611 edition:

1. God who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets,

2. Hath in these last dayes spoken vnto vs by his Sonne, whom he hath appointed heire of all things, by whom also he made the worlds,

3 Who being the brightnesse of his glory, and the expresse image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when hee had by himselfe purged our sinnes, sate down on ye right hand of the Maiestie on high,

4 Being nude so much better then the Angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent Name than they.

Although it is discernible, that edition would be difficult for me to read.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the KJV

No translation has ever rivaled this version in the beauty of its English. The Shakespearean English of the seventeenth century gives greater dignity to the entire Bible. We will always love the rhythmic statements of this translation. However, let us not overlook its disadvantages.

The KJV had a very weak textual basis. Four Hebrew Bibles were used for translating the Old Testament and the Erasmus Text (later called the Textus Receptus) was used for the New Testament. None of the major Greek manuscripts available today were used in this translation.

Some of the rules employed in this translation were not the best. One, for instance, was the decision to render all proper names letter for letter in English equivalents. Although it sounds like a good rule, the practical application led to the rendering of the prophet's name Elijah in the Old Testament and Elias in the New Testament, resulting in a little confusion. The rule to omit marginal notes more than offset that problem, however.

Since 359 years have transpired since the translation, several of the words used in the KJV are now archaic. Here are a few of them: "charity" (love), "conversation" (behavior), "quick" (living), and "wist" (know). The rendering "Holy Ghost" would also fit this category since "ghost" meant "spirit" in 1611.

Acts 12:4 is one of the most blatant errors in the KJV where "Easter" should have been translated Passover. The separation of the text into isolated verses caused thoughts and sentences to be broken. I am persuaded that this has had no little effect upon the failure of many to study the context of a passage.

Lest I be too condemnatory, let it be understood that for over three centuries the KJV has placed in understandable language God's will for man. During this period, it has known no rival. As a matter of fact, no major translation was made between 1611 and 1881- for 270 years. That alone is sufficient attestation of the honor due the King James Version!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 20, pp. 5-6
March 25, 1971