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HISTORY OF THE AUTHORIZED
KING JAMES BIBLE
Published On : July 29, 2002
Last Updated : November 9, 2010
Bloody Mary's Reign, Flight to Geneva, God's Mighty Army, Geneva Bible, Bishop's Bible, Authorized King James Version, Textus Vaticanus, Textus Sinaiticus, "He" And "She" Bibles, Political Correctness In The AKJV, The Translators To The Reader, "Ebed" And "Doulos", Spirit-Filled AKJV, Price Of The AKJV Bible, Compromise In Modern Translations, Elizabethan English - Not Difficult To Understand, My Daughter's Example
Following this busy period of productivity by the Reformers, as is usually the case when God's Word is widely proclaimed, -- please refer to the Book of Acts -- a new threat arose. As the cry for reform within the extremely conservative, powerful and corrupt Roman Catholic Church grew stronger, it was only a matter of time before the "Holy Mother Church" would react; and she did. William Tyndale was but one of the first Reformers to die a cruel agonizing death at the hands of the blood-drenched Roman Catholic inquisitors. In the year 1553, Mary Tudor, the eldest child of King Henry VIII, and the only surviving child of his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon, arose to the English throne. Being a staunch Roman Catholic, she posed a serious obstacle to the publication of an English version of the Bible. This woman seemed to be possessed by a demon in her quest to return England to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1555, this English Queen Jezebel -- who would become known as "Bloody Mary" -- ordered John Rogers and Thomas Crammer to be burned at the stake. However, Queen Mary's iniquity, and her lust for blood, did not stop there. In all, she killed almost three hundred so-called "heretics", because of their "crime" of just being Protestants. This dark era resulted in the Marian Exile, and the Reformers fled from their beloved England, with little hope of ever seeing their homeland again. Apparently, by God's Design, some of these brave men regrouped in Geneva, which was one of the few safe havens for them in Europe. There, they were received with sympathy by the blossoming Protestant church. This band of Christian refugees was led by Myles Coverdale, John Foxe -- author of "Fox's Book Of Martyrs" -- also known as "Book of Acts and Monuments" -- Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham.
What amazed me as I began to conduct my research for this current series, is the realization that all across Europe, from England, to the Netherlands, to France to Germany, to Switzerland, God's Spirit was moving, and He was raising up an army of willing soldiers, who would challenge the corrupt beast that was the Roman Catholic Church. God heard the cry of the poor and the illiterate, and He responded in a great and mighty way, which would affect the world for centuries to come; in fact, to our present day.
Under the protection of Frenchman John Calvin and Scotsman John Knox, who were also important figures in the Reform movement, the Church of Geneva decided to produce a Bible which they could use to educate their families while they continued in exile. The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. Known as the Geneva Bible, it was the first Bible which incorporated verse numbers in each of the chapters. Every chapter was also accompanied by extensive marginal notes and references so thorough and complete, that the Geneva Bible has come to be regarded by some scholars as the very first English study Bible.
For over one hundred years, the Geneva Bible was the Bible of preference amongst English-speaking Christians; so much so, that renowned playwright, William Shakespeare, extracted many quotes from it. Between 1560 and 1644, at least one hundred and forty-four editions of the Geneva Bible were published. Close examination of the 1611 Authorized King James Version demonstrates the influence of the Geneva Bible, and thus the influence of William Tyndale, because the Geneva Bible retains approximately ninety per cent of Tyndale's translation. It may surprise you to know that for many decades, the Geneva Bible remained even more popular than the Authorized King James Version. Not only that, but it holds the honor of being the very first Bible which the Puritans and the Pilgrims brought to America.
As a side note, due to a verse in the Book of Genesis which describes the clothing which God made for Adam and Eve upon expulsion from the Garden of Eden as "Breeches" -- which is an Old World form of the word "Britches" -- some people have referred to the Geneva Bible as the Breeches Bible.
With the end of Queen Mary's reign in 1558, the Reformers were finally able to safely return to England. The Anglican Church -- or Church of England -- under Queen Elizabeth I, reluctantly tolerated the printing and distribution of the Geneva Bible; however, the marginal notes, which were very critical of the Roman Catholic Church -- even comparing it to Babylon the Great in the Book of Revelation, and accusing the pope of being the Antichrist -- were not viewed with favor by those in authority. The solution was simple: a new version without all of the inflammatory remarks added by the Reformers, must be produced. Thus, in 1568, the Bishop's Bible was introduced. Even though the government backed this version, and despite the fact that nineteen printings were made between 1568 and 1606, this compromised edition never gained popularity amongst the people; the reason being that the Geneva Bible was simply too trusted to compete with.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, James Stuart, who was then Prince James VI of Scotland, became King James I of England. One year later, in 1604, the Protestant clergy approached the king, and requested that a new translation be made to replace the Bishop's Bible, which, as I have already stated, was not faring very well amongst the common people. In other words, there was still no Bible to rival the very popular, yet controversial and anti-Roman Catholic, Geneva Bible. This was the primary motivation behind the desire for yet another edition of the Holy Bible. The English religious authorities simply wanted a Bible which would be politically correct, non-offensive to King James, and which would not expose the glaring sins of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a known fact that King James did not like the Geneva Bible for both political and religious reasons. In fact, he said that it was the worst of translations.
How much this sounds exactly like the attitude which is now prevalent in our modern, liberal society, where the Bible is being translated once again, and God's Holy Word is being seriously tampered with, in order to produce a politically- correct, non-offensive version, which will neutralize some of the Holy Scriptures' most fundamental teachings regarding sexual morality. For more information regarding this issue, please refer to my series "When Sin Is No Longer A Sin".
Referred to as the "translation to end all translations", the Authorized King James Version was the result of the combined efforts of about fifty brilliant scholars. This body of men was very educated in the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages. As I noted earlier, they relied heavily upon Tyndale's New Testament, as well as on the Coverdale Bible, the Matthew's Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible; and they even used the Catholic Rheims New Testament for comparison. In addition to this, and perhaps even more importantly, they had access to the Textus Receptus, which is still available to scholars and translators today. Please note that this was Erasmus' original Textus Receptus, and not the fake, corrupt one which is said to have surfaced later. The accuracy of the Textus Receptus was also confirmed by the Majority Text.
It is also worthy of note that this body of AKJV scholars did not rely upon any of the documents which form a part of the Alexandrian Text, which they believed were invented by the Roman Catholic Church. This includes the Textus Vaticanus, which was discovered in 1481 in the Vatican Library. While the Textus Vaticanus was known to Erasmus, it was not used in his compilation of the Textus Receptus in 1516 due to his suspicions about the same. Another questionable text which has been rejected by some scholars, is the Textus Sinaiticus; which was found in 1844 at Saint Catherine's Monastery in a trash heap. The Sinaiticus contains many omissions, as well as many marked out and rewritten words and phrases. Sadly, the modern Roman Catholic Bible is derived from both the Textus Vaticanus, as well as the Textus Sinaiticus, which casts serious doubt upon its accuracy.
To continue; for the first two years, from 1605 to 1606, this group of scholars -- among whom is believed to have numbered William Shakespeare -- engaged in private research; and then from 1607 to 1609, they assembled their work. A year later, in 1610, it went to press; and the year 1611 saw the first publication of the official King James Bible. Similar to the Great Bible, this massive tome was sixteen inches in height, and was made available to all Church of England pulpits.
It took many years for it to overtake the Geneva Bible in popularity, but eventually, the King James Version not only became the official Bible of the English people, but it also became the most printed book in the history of the world. In fact, for around two hundred and fifty years, the Authorized King James Version remained unrivaled, until the appearance of the Revised Version in 1881. While the very first Bible to be printed in the United States of America was done by John Eliot in 1663 and was in the Algonquin Indian language, the first English language Bible to be printed was the King James Version. That was by Robert Aitken in 1782. In 1791, Isaac Collins vastly improved upon the quality and size of the typesetting of American Bibles, and produced the first "Family Bible", which likewise utilized the Authorized King James Version. That same year, Isaiah Thomas published the first Illustrated Bible in America as well. It too was the King James Version.
As an interesting side note to this story of the history of the AKJV, due to a typographical error in Ruth 3:15, in which the pronoun "She" was erroneously rendered as "He", some of the first editions of the 1611 AKJV acquired the name of "He" Bibles, while others were referred to as "She" Bibles.
Before concluding this article, allow me to make a few more comments. As I point out in other articles such as "The Lamb Of God Was A Goat", and "My God Is A Shocker", while I fully recognize that the AKJV Bible is a work of the inspiration of God's Spirit, given the political and spiritual environment surrounding the court of King James I during the early seventeenth century, it would be foolish of me, or of any of us, to deny that there were political and religious forces which influenced its translation. So, while I view the AKJV Bible as an inspired work, so much so that it is the only Bible which I personally trust, I must still recognize the fact that the dedicated men who translated it into our English tongue, were just as human as you or I. In other words, they were not perfect; and by virtue of their imperfection, the AKJV Bible cannot be perfect either. Every single word is not "Thus saith the Lord", despite what some die-hard AKJV users might wish to claim.
To verify this point, I encourage you to read what the 1611 translators had to say for themselves regarding their own work. In the original AKJV Bibles, following the "Epistle Dedicatory", that is, the dedication to King James I, there is another lengthy section entitled "From The Translators To The Reader", which is a detailed explanation of how those men went about their work. By reading it, we get a glimpse into the minds and hearts of the translators. You will find this document on our web site, in the "Non-EPN Articles" area of our website, under the "Authorized King James Version - AKJV - Of The Bible" section.
Knowing human nature, it is difficult for me to accept that the translators were so in tune to the Lord, and so yielded to His Spirit, that they got every single word right. While some people may consider my position somewhat heretical, I prefer to think that I am being a realist. It is my view, that given the puritanical spirit which was prevalent in England during that time, and considering the desire of the translators to produce a version which would be acceptable to the king, that we should suspect that at least a few words were intentionally toned down during the translation process.
One example of this, is the word "ebed". This Hebrew word means "slave", and is equivalent to the Greek word "doulos" in the New Testament. Now, despite their clear meaning in the Hebrew and Greek lexicons, the actual word "slave" is found only one time in the entire Old Testament, and nowhere in the New Testament; and the one time that it is found in the Old Testament -- in Jeremiah 2:14 -- it is in italics, in order to show that it was added by the English translators, as a clarification of the sentence. All of the other times that "ebed" and "doulos" are used -- and they number in the hundreds -- they are translated as either bondman, bondmaid, or servant. Why is this? Might it have something to do with the fact that England was heavily involved in slave trade, and so using the correct word "slave" might have been a bit offensive to King James? In other words, "We all know that we practice slavery, but let's use a softer, more polite word in our translation, in order to not offend the king".
Allow me to reiterate that in spite of the few verses where I have found what I personally view as possible discrepancies in the translation, I still trust the AKJV much more than any other English Bible which has been published from then until now. To strengthen my position, consider also the fact that, according to what I have read, any authentic parchments or scrolls which have been discovered since the time that the AKJV was translated, have only served to verify the accuracy of the same; they have not detracted from it. As I point out in my companion series, "In Defense Of The KJV", perhaps one of the key factors which influences me to trust in the AKJV, is that more than in any other modern translation, I sense the Power of God in the AKJV Bible. It speaks out to me like no other version does. The others are dry and spiritless by comparison. The AKJV moves me, and it excites me when I read it. Not only does it inspire my faith, but apparently it has done the same for many others as well, because millions of souls have been won to Christ through the use of the AKJV over the past four centuries; and that says a lot! It is tried and proven!
There is another very important reason why I have confidence in the AKJV Bible. It has to do with the price. No, I am not referring to its commercial value, but rather to the price in persecution, blood and martyrdom, which had to be paid in order for me to hold a copy of the AKJV in my hands today. No other modern version of the English Bible can make this very same claim; only the AKJV and earlier versions can. From the persecution of John Wycliffe and the evil desecration of his grave, to the persecution, torture and martyrdom of William Tyndale and the sixteenth century Reformers, a steep price was paid indeed; and that should say something about what calibre of men they were, as well as about the calibre of the Bible they have all given us.
By comparison, today's modern translations are based upon mere whim, and sadly, upon the financial considerations of huge publishing houses which I do not believe have the same fear of God, or respect for His Word, as those men of old. They will change a word here, or change a phrase there, if it suits their convenience, and allows for higher sales. As I noted earlier, it has gotten so bad now, that they are even altering verses which condemn the ungodly practices of homosexuality and lesbianism, in order that God's Word won't be so offensive to those who indulge in such unhealthy and sinful practices. This is spiritual compromise at its worst.
In spite of the AKJV's proven track record, it still has its critics. Principle among them are those who claim that the language of the AKJV has become outdated. They insist that Elizabethan English is simply too difficult for the modern reader to understand. One person who wrote to me some time ago really took this position to the extreme when he stated that Elizabethan English is like a foreign language. I find such a thought to be absolutely ludicrous. My argument is simple: If a young English-speaking person can go to school, and over a period of a few years, learn a foreign language such as Spanish, French, German or Italian, which, by the way, has completely different sentence structure, then in my mind, they should have no difficulty in understanding a form of English which is only a variation of his own English. In light of this fact, I have to view the "Elizabethan English is too difficult" argument as being rather baseless.
Furthermore, rather than create yet another translation which might stray even further from the meaning and intent of the original authors, that is, the holy men and prophets of old, is it not a much safer practice to simply allow the reader to use the Hebrew and Greek lexicons, when he or she is in doubt, and trust God's Holy Spirit to rightly lead that person in their understanding of the Holy Scriptures? That is precisely what I do with my Online Bible program, which includes both of the lexicons. I simply fail to see why others cannot do the same as I do, instead of having to rely upon some publishing company doing another translation, in which they basically tell the reader what God's Word is supposed to mean, instead of letting them determine that for themselves through personal diligence and study. It is not the duty or responsibility of these companies to do this for us. Their considerations are financial first, and not the spiritual well-being of the flocks of God.
To add weight to my argument, consider the fact that I have read commentaries which state that when compared with some of the more modern versions, the AKJV scores considerably higher in scholastic reading and grammar tests. In fact, if I recall correctly, it is at the fifth grade reading level. In other words, a fifth grade American student can easily read the AKJV Bible, and grasp most of its meaning, if he applies himself to the task.
For those of you who may wish to refute my previous remark, allow me to share with you the example of my own daughter. At the time that I authored the original version of this article, she was a normal child of middle school age. In a scholastic sense, she was above average in some areas, but by no means exceptional. She could easily be the child next door. Since her elementary school years, she has been reading the AKJV Bible, and she understands a great deal of it. In fact, she knows some of its stories and Parables better than I do; and she has memorized a number of verses as well. In addition to this, at that age, my daughter knew how to use the Hebrew and Greek lexicons in order to find the original meaning of words and phrases in the Bible, and she had already written several Bible-based articles herself.
I do not say any of this to boast, but merely to make a point, and that is this: If this precious child of the Lord can take the initiative and accomplish so much, because she hungers for the full truth of God's Word, why can't some of you who criticize the AKJV, do the very same thing? Surely you possess as much intelligence as my daughter. Or is it that your criticisms of the AKJV are motivated by something else? With these thoughts, I am going to bring this article to a close. I trust that you have found it interesting and informative, and that it has been a blessing in your life. I also hope that the beloved AKJV has been a blessing in your life as well.
Please go to part three for the conclusion of this series.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .