Celebrating the Quad Centenial of 1611 King James Bible


            The new year will mark the 4th Centennial of the KJV. While this was not the first English translation, it has become one of the most widely used, in its modernized form, of all the early English translations. John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible into English that was widely circulated in manuscript form (before the printing press). It became illegal because of his stance against the Catholic Church’s teachings on several things in England in 1409. The manuscripts usually had a date before 1409 to circumvent the religious ban. Interestingly, because Wycliffe translated word for word from the Latin Vulgate, there wasn’t any way to distinguish it from other English translations so later Bible commentators from about 1600 through 1799 mistook the banned manuscripts as orthodox translations.

William Tyndale translated the New Testament in 1525 and later began a translation of the Old Testament but did not finish it before his death. Myles Coverdale took Tyndale’s translation and with only minor adaptations made it into the Great Bible version which was adopted as the Authorized Version by the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII. After his death, Edward I became king at age eight, and he named Lady Jane Grey as his successor in his will. She was queen for nine days. The movie about her depicts some of her arguments with the religious leaders of the day. She believed in individual salvation by grace, not works based salvation, and she believed the Eucharist did not turn into Christ’s body and blood. She was beheaded in the Tower of London in 1553 and was succeeded by her cousin, Mary I, Queen of Scots who reinstated the Roman Catholicism as the state religion resulting in many English Reformers fleeing the country.

John Calvin led these Reformed Protestants in Geneva where these scholars produced the Geneva Bible. This translation was actually a revision of the Great Bible and Tyndale’s Bible based on the original languages. Then came the Church of England’s Bishop’s Bible which failed to displace the Geneva Bible in the hearts and parlors of the common folk. The Roman Catholics subversively imported the Douay-Rheims translation in 1582.

King James VI of Scotland convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 with instructions that the Bishop’s Bible, then the Authorized Version of the Church of England, as the primary guide so as to keep the words recognizable to readers, and the translation to be true to the ecclesiology of the Church of England.

Forty-seven scholars divided into six groups and translated sections of the book, each completed by 1608. The King’s Printer, Robert Barker published the Authorized Version in 1611 which was sold loose leaf for ten shillings, and bound for twelve shillings.

This volume opened the eyes of many ordinary people like you and me. Suddenly, God’s word was there for all to read, albeit not all people could read. However, it has been one of the most published Bibles since the first day ink was set to paper. However, there have been many modernizations made to the original 1611 text. For example…

1611 version of 1 Corinthians 13:
1. Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing.

1769 version:
1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Comparing the two, besides the punctuation and spelling changes, the word no is substituted erroneously for the word not. In the original Greek the word  μή mē (may) is a primary particle of qualified negation and is adverbially translated not. It is apparent that the 150 something years between the first publication of the King James Version and the 1769 published version the English language had undergone tremendous changes indicated by the nearly 24,000 changes between the first edition and the 1769 Oxford text edition. The substance is the same, no matter what language a person reads. While the words may be spelled differently, and some of the meanings of the words have shifted with modern usage, we can still be astounded that the Bible has remained steadfast since Moses wrote the Law and the Apostles wrote their epistles. 

(A lot of this history came from Wikipedia. While I generally take this source with a huge grain of salt, the sources for this piece on Wikipedia are quite authoritative. You might also want to check out The King James Bible Trust)
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