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A King’s Bible BY







© Copyright Michael L Drake April 2005 All rights reserved. Not to be copied or reproduced in whole or in part by any means without permission. Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION; © Copyright 1973,1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. A note about copyright: Those who feel tempted to copy pages from this book despite the fact that to do so is illegal should prayerfully consider Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:18 and Exodus 20:15. Published by Wycliffe Christian Schools 43 Pilkington Road, Panmure, Auckland 1006 New Zealand Cover Drawing by John Brinkman ISBN 0-908806-17-5



Foreword................................................................................8 Introduction..........................................................................10 1. Words in Context.................................................................13 2. A Godly King? ....................................................................39 3. Writing the King James Bible..............................................60 4. The Process of Translation...................................................73 5. A Question of English.........................................................95 6. All the King’s Men ...........................................................124 7. A New King's Bible?.........................................................143 8. A King's Treasure?.............................................................164 Appendix 1: .......................................................................169 IS THERE REALLY A DIFFERENCE?..........................169 Appendix 2: .......................................................................179 THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE....................179 Appendix 3:........................................................................185 GENDER IN TRANSLATIONS.......................................185 BIBLIOGRAPHY..............................................................188 INDEX...............................................................................193






was brought up with the King James Version of the Bible. At a well known Roman Catholic Boarding School in Johannesburg our first session every morning consisted of religious instruction. The school was fifty percent Roman Catholic, 40 percent Protestant and 10 percent Jewish. The Protestant and Jewish boys separated each morning from the Catholics and combined for that half hour session. We were told to memorise chapters from the Bible. That was all we did for that half hour each day. Of course the Bible we used was the Authorised Version, the King James. The Jews were confined in the memorisation exercises to the Old Testament. We, the Protestants, memorised equally from the Old and New Testaments. The competitive element entered into this exercise. On this basis I memorised many chapters of the Bible. In my first pastorate which lasted 23 years I found it necessary to use a contemporary Bible and so moved from the KJV to the NIV. One of the factors that influenced this choice was the number of Chinese members of our congregation. They found English difficult enough without having to think of ‘eths’ and also contend with archaisms which we hardly understand ourselves such as, ‘and are not afraid with any amazement’ (1 Peter 3:6). But to this day when I need to find a text I remember the text of the KJV and use a Young’s Concordance to locate textual references. For the New Testament I use the Greek


apparatus and when preaching from the Old Testament check the Hebrew text. Yet I always remember those passages learned from the age of 12 to 17. The Bible is utterly unique. As sprung from the original manuscripts it is the only perfect book in existence. All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). There are beautiful expressions in the KJV. An example is Malachi 3:17. ‘They shall be mine saith the LORD of hosts in the day when I make up my jewels.’ The ESV reads, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession.’ Possession is the meaning of the Hebrew word. Nevertheless the concept of precious jewels is illustrative and stirs the imagination. I heartily commend this work by Michael Drake because he holds the KJV in high esteem but at the same time shows that its merits are due to the nature of the Word of God and not to the translators who were mostly Anglo-catholic and biased toward Anglicanism. The KJV was not the choice of the Puritans. Michael Drake also deals clearly with special claims for the textus receptus. It is not honourable to rest one's case on bad scholarship. The author is gentle with the New King James. I would be much more critical than he is. We have reached a very high standard of translation today and now have the English Standard Version which is still being assessed. It certainly seems to be a frontrunner for accuracy and for its all round qualities.




complex and pervasive mythology envelops the King James Bible. Without doubt the King James or Authorised Version is one of the great Bible translations, loved and effectively used by generations of English speaking Christians. It has been used by God to bring to millions the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to build up the Church in nations around the world. Yet a collection of myths surrounds it, directly affecting the way the Bible is read and God worshiped. In examining those myths my aim has been two-fold: to help English speaking believers make a sensible evaluation of the relative merits of the KJV and with a clear conscience choose to use a Bible they can understand; secondly, to show those who assume we have not examined the issues clearly that in fact we do not lightly set aside their call to be committed to exclusive use of the King’s Bible. The King James Bible has rightly earned the respect of generations of Christians. Yet since the 18th century, when the Romantic Movement equated anything mystical, unknowable and elevated to true spirituality, some who favour KJV have vehemently insisted that it is the only valid English translation. There are many who use the KJV out of respect for the quality of translation and English it embodies, and in this they rightly exercise their liberty in Christ. Others, however, have increasingly 10

elevated the KJV to a point where it is idolised as a talisman of true Christianity. Too often they seek to bind the consciences of others to their preference. As a result debate about the use or replacement of the King’s Bible has been colourful and divisive. Our aim is to show that much of the debate is based on misunderstandings and error – if not deceit. Those who are committed to the supremacy of the King’s Bible may not be persuaded by what follows here. All I ask of them is to recognise that holding a different view to them is not necessarily a result of ignorance or the bewitching powers of liberal scholars. Over the years a number of fellow Christians whom I hold in great respect have given me the benefit of their advice, tracts and books advocating the exclusive use of the King James Bible. I have listened and read, but found I cannot agree because the evidence does not support their position. We have no wish to bring their use of this great English translation to an end, but we cannot agree that others should be bound to it. On the other hand, I hope believers who have been intimidated or unsettled by the myths and frowns of those who measure orthodoxy by allegiance to the King’s Bible rather than to the King of Kings will be encouraged to hold to their convictions and their faith. To prefer a Bible translation that does not have the imprimatur of loyalists to the Authorised Version is neither a denial of Jesus Christ nor a denigration of the Bible. Biblical Christianity does not demand exclusive adherence to a Bible that cannot be understood without the aid of a priest or pastor in a priestly role. To use a Bible we can understand is to stand in the tradition of the believers who over the centuries gave their labours and sometimes their lives so that people like us can read and understand the Bible. It must not be imagined that all those who prefer the King’s Bible measure orthodoxy in this way or hold to a distorted view of


Bible translation. Not all who advocate the use of the KJV and rejection of modern translations hold to the myths or misguided principles this book seeks to correct. We rejoice in their commitment to the integrity of God’s Word. With them, we exercise and support Christian liberty in the choice of Bible translation. We respect them, we do not attempt to overthrow their practice, and we ask the same of them. But we quite consciously seek to challenge those who rely on myths and distortions in an attempt to impose exclusive use of this classic but dated version. Zeal for the integrity of the Bible is a good thing. But misdirected zeal is both dangerous and sad. It is sad so much energy is expended and so much hurt inflicted in an empty cause. It is dangerous because it diverts believers and divides the Church of God. This is a collection of essays or articles rather than a progressing technical book. A common theme runs through the chapters: the King James Bible was not a faultless translation, is not suitable for general use today and should not be made the test of orthodoxy. But I have not attempted to unfold or develop that argument in a traditional manner with each chapter resting on the previous one – rather, different aspects of the same theme are developed in different chapters. This approach is used because many readers will be interested in only some aspects. I have tried therefore to ensure each chapter will stand on its own (for those who want to pick and choose) while nevertheless contributing to the whole (for those who wish to study the topic in its breadth). As a result, there is some repetition without which it would not be possible for independent chapters to be read with understanding.




hoosing a Bible translation to be used in private reading, school study or public worship inevitably turns, in part, on the question of the King James Version (KJV). By some this version is so venerated as to make its exclusive use a measure of orthodox faith. For many it is a version valued for its tradition, language or reliability. For many others it is regarded as obscure, if not incomprehensible. Influencing all these attitudes is a profusion of polemic writing, often bitterly partisan, frequently selective, and at times purely mythical, regarding the integrity of various translations. This book examines some of the issues that are too frequently overlooked in the hope of encouraging quiet, prayerful reflection on an issue that should be less divisive and much more a source of encouragement to all who seek to read and understand the Word of God. Why was King James’ translation made? It was not merely to provide a Bible in plain English – the men and women of England


already had an English translation they understood and loved. When the King ordered a new translation he did so to secure ecclesiastical and political power over his enemies. The translation committee identifies those enemies as Catholics, Baptists and Puritans. The King’s Bible is shaped by this aim. HISTORICAL CONTEXT The King James translation did not arise from a vacuum. It was written and imposed on the people of England at the king’s command to solve a political crisis. In earlier days Wycliffe and Tyndale had laid the foundation of a Bible for ordinary people in their own language. To them the provision of the Bible in words common people could understand and love was so critical they were willing to give their lives for it. By the time the young James was crowned King in 1603, several English translations were available and in use. The most popular English Bible in the new king’s England was the Geneva Bible. This had been translated and published in Geneva by refugees from Bloody Mary’s demonic reign of terror. In fact, almost all the memorable biblical expressions we associate with the King's Bible, such as all things to all men and perfect love casteth out fear were copied into the King's Bible from the Geneva version.1 It was a sound translation and written in good English, but it included marginal notes that were too Protestant for the King’s liking! The Anglican Prayer Book also contained significant portions of the Bible in English, all in the Bishops’ Translation. Published 1

See David Daniell The Bible In English Yale, New Haven, 2003 pp429ff who includes escaped with the skin of my teeth; fell among thieves; filthy lucre; let brotherly love continue; saying peace, peace, when there is no peace; the patience of Job; the powers that be; they have sown the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind; and the wages of sin as Geneva Version expressions copied by the King's Bible. See also p93 below where all the expressions listed as coined by Tyndale have come into the King's Bible from the Geneva Version.


in 1568 this “somewhat pedestrian”2 translation failed to displace the Geneva Bible as intended. But the inclusion of readings from the Epistles and Gospels, and the complete book of Psalms in the Prayer Book was to ensure the Bishops’ Bible a place in history, not least on account of providing the pretext for the King’s Bible to be commissioned. The Anglican Church of the day, the only legal organisation of Christians in England, was politically divided. The history of the Reformation (and opposition to it) in England had seen Protestant and Catholic religion forced alternately by law on the people in a series of sometimes violent oscillations. One of the results was that at any time there would be a mixture of true and false believers in the national church. Leaders and adherents could be grouped broadly under three headings: High-Church Arminians3 (and secret Catholics) who were more or less committed to a Catholic form of religion, with a mystical faith, ritualistic worship and dependence upon good works for salvation; Nominal believers, who for the simple expediency of living an untroubled life (or at times of living at all!), flowed with the prevailing theology and practice; 2

Edgar Newgrass, An Outline of Anglo American Bible History, Batsford, London 1958, p27 As in most religious groupings, there were shades of commitment and individuals who were only partially committed to the distinctives of the group to which they were aligned, but the practical and theological congruency of High-Church with Arminianism and Evangelical with Calvinism is fundamental to the period. It is possible to view Arminianism simply as a religion of "Free-will" – hence modern historical revisionism tends to question late 16 th and early 17th Century use of the term to describe high-churchmen. And by the time of the 18 th Century Weslian revivals, Arminianism had unquestionably found a home among evangelicals. However, in the period in which the King's Bible was being written, the division between Calvinist and Arminian was seen in its much broader context. Free-will can only exist if man is not totally depraved but retains some natural abilities to find and choose God, and that in turn not only rests on, but is an essential element of, the Thomastic dualism at the heart of Roman and High Church religion, worship and architecture. By 1603-11 the substance and implications of Arminius' teachings were well known and well understood: hence "Arminian" is a name properly owned by and applied to the High Church party. 3


Evangelical believers, whose faith was in Christ alone for their salvation, whose practice was uncompromisingly Protestant and theology Calvinistic, and who consistently displayed a commitment to biblical Christianity. 4 The Evangelicals were strongly committed to the use of the Geneva Bible. And it was these Evangelicals who, to a large extent, would resist the imposition of the King James Bible for nearly three generations. Yet some committed Evangelicals would take part in the revision and promulgation of the King’s Bible. How did this come about? ANGLICANISM & AMBIGUITY The Anglican “Church” was not an organisation of churches as might be imagined by many modern believers. It was, and indeed still is, in its own conception, a single “Church”. To Anglicans, the “Church” is the single combined body of all believers under one organised structure and leadership. Modern believers of Baptist or similar “independent” or “dissenting” heritage need to take pains to understand this, for to regard the Anglican “Church” as we might view an association or synod of independent churches is to miss the significance of Anglicanism. Baptists see no significant threat to their existence or freedom of association when independent churches adopt various beliefs and practices. It may impede inter-church fellowship and weaken the unity of the body of Christ on earth, and is therefore to be avoided if possible. But it need not compromise any independent congregation.


It is difficult to find a simple term to describe these believers, and while “Evangelical ” is not a term they would have used, for our purposes here, it clearly distinguishes them from their main antagonists, the High-Church party.


For Anglicanism however, any variation by individuals or local congregations must be within the limits of what is acceptable to the whole. Because the Anglican church was seen as the only true church, those committed to it, whether leaders or led, would do all in their power to minimise division and submit to leadership. Loyalty to the Anglican super-structure has meant believers have frequently modified their convictions to preserve organisational unity. For example, in the “Elizabethan Settlement” of 1559, Evangelicals went along with doctrinal statements that in places were ambiguous. In this agreement by which Queen Elizabeth the First settled tensions between Evangelicals and Catholics, terms were used that each party could claim meant what they believed. Evangelicals subscribed to these statements, giving to them more biblical meaning, but recognising that Catholics would give a different or even opposite meaning to the same terms. The same pattern made various articles of the Thirty Nine Articles equally acceptable. In this way they formally subscribed to something that held the Anglican church together while appearing to avoid doctrinal compromise. It is partly within this context that some Evangelicals took part in the King’s revision of the English Bible and in the new version’s subsequent imposition on the Church by the king’s political authority. There was, without doubt, a desire to see a good translation made, and to achieve this it appears some evangelical scholars worked – wittingly or unwittingly – with those whose sympathies were antagonistic to their cause. A desire to preserve the unity of Anglicanism certainly influenced their participation in publishing a version which, as we shall see, in several important respects displaced textual integrity with political expediency. The same commitment to Anglican unity saw many Evangelicals accept the displacement of the preferred Geneva Bible. Indeed, the Puritan commitment to remain Anglican made


inevitable the eventual replacement of a translation they had come to trust with a version that included in its translators’ aims the suppression of Puritanism itself. But most importantly, the King James Bible started out not as a replacement for the Geneva Bible, but as a replacement of a very poor translation used in the Prayer Book, and evangelical co-operation was secured by this ploy. PURITANISM PERSECUTED Puritanism began as a movement to purify the Anglican Church. Again, Baptists and other independents often fail to recognise the fact that independent Puritanism was an off-shoot of true Puritanism, the result of a frustrated attempt to purify Anglicanism. Independent Puritanism was not strictly Puritanism at all. Over the years the Puritan movement divided into two distinct groups: that remaining in the Anglican framework, still endeavouring to purify or reform it from within; and the second group which moved towards congregationalism and independency. As a result, the second group, which many historians argue is not truly “Puritan”, neither possessed nor sought the organisational and political influence of those who remained in Anglicanism. When King James joined the call for a new translation it became the “Authorised Version” by his decree that it would, once written, become the translation to be authorised for use in the Anglican churches. The title page of early editions included the words “Appointed to be read in Churches”, but as Alister McGrath points out5 “appointed to be read” meant set-out in a suitable way for public reading. In fact its use was never finally “authorised”, either by King James or by Parliament; both 5

Alister McGrath In the Beginning Hodder & Stoughton, London 2001, p206


measures were legally necessary before the version could be properly described as “Authorised”.6 The Great Bible of 1539, one of several revisions of Coverdale’s translation of 15357, was the only Bible ever to be fully “authorised” (although Church authorities had ordered that the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 be used exclusively in Churches). Authorised or not, the King’s Bible did not gain universal approval. One of the most outspoken critics was Hugh Broughton: “Tell his Majesty I had rather be rent in pieces by wild horses than that any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches. It crosseth me and I require it to be burnt … who bade them put the error in the text and the right in the margin?”8 He told the King himself “The cockles of the sea shore, and the leaves of the forest, and the grains of the poppy, may as well be numbered as the gross errors of this Bible.” 9 Apart from matters of translation, some 1,500 typographical errors had been made in various printings by 1884.10 Nevertheless, the king’s initial mandate carried such weight, and suppression of dissent by church authorities was so rigorous, that Puritans within Anglicanism were forced to submit to its use out of loyalty, fear and political manipulation. Congregations and ministers who were loyal to Anglicanism, both in England and in the growing colonies of New England, had no choice but to suppress their favoured Geneva Bible and use the “Authorised Version”. Independent Puritans, particularly in New England 6

Daniell The Bible p429 cites the OED as recording the first use of the term "Authorised Version" for the King's Bible in 1824! 7 Henry VIII in fact appointed Coverdale Editor in Chief of this revision, so that it can quite properly be considered “Coverdale’s” Bible. 8 Quoted by Lewis Lupton History of the Geneva Bible Vol XXV Olive Tree, London, 1994, p89f 9 quoted by Brian Edwards Nothing But the Truth Evangelical Press, Darlington, 1993 p218 & Lupton XXV p89f 10 Scrivener The Authorised Version of the English Bible (1611) Cambridge, 1884 cited by David Daniell William Tyndale – A Biography Yale UP, New Haven, 1994


where they were strongest, mostly continued to use the Geneva Bible, but its use by this minority eventually gave place to the king’s edict and the Anglican Church’s power. This was a time of bitter persecution of Puritans, but history would see sixty years of rearguard action by independent evangelicals before the Geneva Bible was completely given up. At a time when the dominant church structure in both countries made the King’s Bible the only legitimate one, it was inevitable that his version would become dominant even among independents. In 1616 James prohibited further printing of the Geneva Bible in England, but it continued to be imported from the Continent. In 1633 James’ son Charles I appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury. This bitter enemy of the Puritans declared the importing of the Geneva Bible “unpatriotic” since it deprived English printers of an income from selling the King’s Bible. Laud justified suppression of the Geneva Bible in 1640 on the grounds that “there was a great and just fear conceived that by little and little printing would quite be carried out of the kingdom.”11 When Charles was executed and Cromwell’s Commonwealth instituted in 1649, it might be supposed that the availability and popularity of the Geneva Bible might have been revived. But it wasn’t. Cromwell maintained monopoly protection of the King’s Bible for English printers. When Charles II was crowned in 1660, the fate of both versions was sealed: there was no place in Restoration England for a Bible favoured by Puritans! “Puritan opposition to the King James Bible virtually guaranteed that it would be the established translation of the new administration.”12 If under an earlier less popular (and for that matter less Catholic) monarch Laud had been 11

Daniell Tyndale p458 citing Norton A History of the Bible as Literature Cambridge, 2000. Daniell adds the comment in his notes "Norton … 89-107, is illuminating on the defeat of Geneva Bibles." p825 12 McGrath p 287


able to suppress the Geneva Bible on grounds of patriotism, how much more so was the King’s Bible the Bible of patriotic Englishmen under their new popular king. “‘The new translation’ triumphed because it was commercially manoeuvred to do so, not because it was new.”13 It should not be imagined that once the King’s Bible gained dominance, it was the only one used in every instance. The King’s Translators themselves used the Geneva in their Preface, and for many years scholars would resort to other translations, especially the Geneva Bible, in their writings – sometimes from textual preference and sometimes because it or another version supported the point they wished to make. Sir Henry Vane for example, mostly used the King’s Bible but resorted to the Geneva when wanting “love” rather than “charity”. 14 The politics of distribution and power may have ensured only one version was sold and read publicly, but the many Geneva Bibles in private ownership and the nature of biblical scholarship meant it was a long time before the King’s Bible achieved in published writing the dominance it gained more quickly in public worship. Of course there were other issues that influenced the dominance of the King’s Bible. The introduction, in 1662, of a revised Prayer Book, in which passages from the King’s Bible replaced those of the Bishops’ Bible (except for the Psalms) must have helped. Daniell suggests it was particularly significant in the American Colonies.15 McGrath argues that following the Restoration, “the most significant factor in its [the King’s Bible’s] final triumph appears to have been the fact that it was associated with the authority of the monarch at a time when such authority was viewed positively.” 16 The eventual impact of popular books 13

Daniell Tyndale p460 Daniell The Bible p475 (the reference is to 1 Corinthians 13) Daniell Tyndale p487 16 McGrath p289 14 15


that used the King’s Bible cannot be overlooked. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress used the King’s Bible. In all likelihood it was the only Bible Bunyan knew as he was converted and wrote at a time when that version was dominant. Such works as his entrenched the King’s language in the hearts and homes of multitudes – but only after it had become the only version to which they had access. The variety of reasons influencing acceptance of the King’s Bible could have been no more than conducive to acceptance of the Crown’s monopolistic practices. The fact remains that no other Bible version was legally available. The American Colonies continued using the Geneva Bible long after it had been superseded in England simply because they could get copies, and so long as they could get copies, the King’s Bible took second place. There, the Restoration brought a new Prayer Book and new pressures to conform: inevitably, if more slowly, the King’s Bible took hold in the Colonies. But in England “the triumph of the KJV [over the Geneva] was entirely due to the commercial interests of the owners of the monopoly on the text, the King’s Printers …”17 The battle was all but over, and the domination of English speaking Christianity by the King’s Bible would eventually extend for a remarkable 350 years. THE KING & THE CHURCH None of this however makes real sense until the relationship of the king and the Anglican Church is understood. The Church and the state (in the person of the king) were conceived of as two branches of the one basic organism. The king was the head and protector of the Church. He saw the Church as a means of securing political stability, while the Church saw the state as a 17

Daniell Tyndale p457


means of achieving ecclesiastical stability. Both the king and the Church were quick to use the state’s power of the sword to force doctrinal and practical compliance, while they were equally quick to use the Church’s power of excommunication and discipline to uphold the state’s unity. On his accession to the throne, James faced a state in danger of falling apart over a number of key issues: in addition to the Catholic/Protestant division, the Crown, the Bishops and Parliament were all seeking to assert their power. To preserve the peace of his realm, and indeed, in at least a political sense, to preserve the Protestant faith to which he was more or less committed, he had to resolve this religious debate. James was vigorously anti-Catholic (despite occasions where for political reasons he appeared to cultivate the Pope’s sympathies by intimating greater freedom to Catholics or even his own conversion), so he was equally vigorous in defending the Protestant church; nevertheless his commitment to Protestant doctrine, which he knew well, was not as vigorous. He seems always to have been more concerned with his royal prerogative (which Protestantism protected against Papal imperialism) than with God’s prerogative. Critical to High-Church acceptance of his proposals and his own form of Protestant faith was the replacement of the Geneva Bible which so uncompromisingly condemned the ritualistic works-salvation of the Anglo-Catholics. Both the King and the translators of the king’s new Bible made very clear that their intention was to overthrow the old Protestant Bible and to suppress the Puritan faith. They write in most disparaging terms of the Puritans who, they hope, will be silenced by their translation. James himself hated the Geneva Bible because it authorised the overthrow of an unjust ruler. Reference to this could be found in


an extensive marginal note to Exodus 4:19. James however, claimed a divine right to rule – God, he believed, had instituted him king and no authority could overthrow him. The importance of this issue should not be underestimated: throughout the entire period in which the King’s Bible was being translated, James was engaged in a bitter struggle with Parliament over his demands for absolute power to rule. So long as the Geneva Bible existed, it had the potential to support or foment insurrection against an unpopular king in an unstable time. It had to go. Thus the prime function of the king’s new Bible version was not to give the people a Bible in their own language – they already had one and it was in very widespread use. Some imagine that before the KJV few had access to a Bible in English. This is simply not true – the majority of believing families possessed and regularly used a copy of the Geneva Bible.18 Rather, the aim of the KJV was to provide a pragmatic solution to what by anyone’s account was a difficult political situation. Because the prime function of the king’s version of the Bible was to effect a political and ecclesiastical peace, the king gave the translators instructions (to which most were heartily committed in any case) that directly affected the language used and the principles of interpretation applied. THE ORIGINAL KING JAMES BIBLE James ascended to the throne in 1603. He was almost immediately challenged by a petition (known as the Millenarian Petition because of the 1,000 signatures purported to have been appended to it) calling for the rapid and radical extension of the 18

It was the Geneva Bible Oliver Cromwell would publish selections from in The Soldier’s Pocket Bible of 1643 which was issued to each of his soldiers during the Civil War. It was revised 50 years later using the King's Bible to replace the Geneva translation – and that edition eventually found its way into the hands of Federal troops during the American Civil War. (see Daniell The Bible p471)


reforms in the Church of England – reforms that were very much of a Puritan nature. He had an intense aversion to Puritanism, and called a conference at Hampton Court in 1604 at which he chaired a debate between the conservative Anglican authorities and Puritan parties. King James’ hatred of Puritanism was increased by this conference. It was during the conference that he made his now famous angry outburst, “No bishop, no king,” by which he expressed his fear that Puritan reforms of the ecclesiastical structure would remove the basis of his own authority. This principle would be carried into his version of the Bible by the translators who would replace the word “elder” used in earlier versions with “bishop” out of respect for the king’s political preference. Numbers of Puritans now left not only the Church but the country, moving firstly to Holland then to New England: these “separatists” deemed conscience of greater importance than conformity. The new Bible version was one of two important results of the Conference at Hampton Court. The other was the institution of a new wave of persecution of evangelical Christians by the King and his Church. Soon after the conference ended, James made his opposition to Evangelical Christianity plain. He ordered a new translation of the Bible, as had been suggested at the conference, to be written; and at the same time he issued a decree requiring complete conformity to Church decrees and rituals – effectively prohibiting every expression of Puritanism. When, after a period of almost six months it was apparent his law would not prevail over all consciences, he expelled 300 Evangelical ministers from their churches.19 Persecution of 19

The official figure was only 50 ministers expelled; some modern scholars consider 90 more likely. [see David Willson King James VI & I Jonathan Cape, London, 1966 (1956) p209]. However, even among those who supported the King, the alarm created by the expulsions and the consequent social disruption was so widespread, the smaller numbers seem most unlikely. Then, as


evangelicals, including imprisonment, torture and martyrdom, surged in waves throughout the period of translation work and on into the following years. This persecution lead to the greatest migration of English citizens from England in its entire history prior to the nineteenth century. This coincidence of the persecution of Bible-believing ministers and the commissioning of a new translation of the Bible should not be under-rated: they were aimed at the same end, the suppression of the puritan or evangelical faith. With this as the backdrop to the writing of the King’s Bible, there can be little surprise that the new version was so antagonistic to the evangelical faith that the Puritans almost universally rejected it, and instead continued to prefer their Geneva Bible for almost another 60 years.20 The resulting translation became known as the King James or Authorised Version because it was the version now to be used in Anglican Churches. The king “authorised” its use in the churches, and clearly intended to stop other versions from being used. When he sold the copyright he not only made copying of his Bible by others illegal, he even made printing of other versions a breach of copyright too! Yet not even the translators of the king’s Bible intended it to be exclusive: in their “Introduction” they quote with approval Augustine’s words, “Variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.”21 now, the ploy of “constructive dismissal” was well used – so it is possible that of the 300 who were ejected, a smaller number were “officially” removed by the authorities. In any case, Puritan records have proved to be a very reliable source, and there is no reason on this particular occasion to doubt their accounting or to impute any motive for exaggeration. 20 see Allan Carden Puritan Christianity in America Baker, Grand Rapids, 1990 p24 "This version did not meet with early acceptance and most Puritans for the next three generations preferred the Geneva Bible." 21 The Translators to the Reader – being a reprint of The Original Preface to the Authorised Version of 1611 The Trinitarian Bible Society, London, 1911, pp12, 32 (referred to from here-on as The Translators' Preface)


While James is well remembered for continuing King Henry the Eighth’s policy ensuring a Bible in English was available and open in every church,22 James’ version was designed to suppress clear Protestant doctrine and practice, displacing it with a mixture of High-Church Arminianism and Protestant faith. James loved and knew the Bible well, frequently quoting extensively from it to support an argument or proposal. It may be supposed therefore that he was in part motivated by a desire to see the Bible opened and in use in the churches of the land. It is no mere supposition however, that the Bible version he authorised represented a compromise of the Protestant position; a compromise made to secure ecclesiastical peace for the sake of peace in the state, with both the Church and the state ruled by his absolute authority. CHANGES MADE TO THE KING’S BIBLE The King James Version that is in common use today is not the version that King James authorised. This may be a point of embarrassment for those who favour the exclusive use of the King’s version, but in fact what we have today has been changed from the version that truly bears the King’s authorisation. Today’s “King James” or “Authorised Version” has been changed in four respects, and those who would argue that only the “King James Version” should be in use must most certainly abandon the Bibles they are presently using! The first, and possibly most significant change, has been the removal from the translation of marginal notes. As we will explain shortly, the translators believed those notes were so important that failure to include them would render their translation incapable of being properly understood. 22

Since Elizabeth’s rule, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was also on display in every Church, indicating the extent to which nation and Church were united in opposition to any return to Roman Catholic sympathies.


The second change has been the removal of the Translators’ Preface from the front of the translation. The translators went to some length to precisely explain why and how they made their translation, committing themselves to principles of interpretation essentially the same as those used by reputable modern translators (such as the use of a range of manuscripts, insisting that the full range of available texts be consulted, and condemning any limiting of texts as unacceptable). In it they also make clear their intention to suppress aspects of the Protestant faith. Although its omission from modern versions of the King’s Bible does not alter the text available, it makes it very difficult for modern readers to understand the way in which their Bibles have come into being. Thirdly, the versions known as the King James Bible have undergone significant revision of the Authorised Version. The first revision of 300 archaisms and spellings was made in 1613, just two years after the initial publication. Other major changes were made in 1769. Fourthly, the Apocrypha is not normally included in Protestant editions of the KJV, particularly those editions cherished by some who want the King’s Bible to be used exclusively. Yet the king’s Authorised version did have the Apocrypha, and it was made illegal to produce a version without it. THE MARGINAL NOTES The inclusion of marginal notes in their translation for the King was of critical importance to the translators. Directly referring to Roman Catholic opponents of their translation work, but also in a guarded reference to the King and his supporters, they recognised that “some” might suggest the Bible should be free of marginal notes. But in their view the difficulty of translation is such that often there is no adequate translation possible: there, marginal notes they say, are essential.


The King had directed that margin notes not be included. He had in mind the sorts of commentary included in the Geneva Bible that caused him great offence because of their Evangelical and Calvinistic nature. His preference was for no notes at all, but he allowed for some where the text needed explanation. 23 So the translators are particularly careful to explain why they have inserted so many marginal notes. “Diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary,” 24 they say. Some things are not clear and cannot be translated, they argue, and without the notes to guide the reader he cannot be expected to understand God’s Word merely by use of their translation. The failure to print these marginal notes makes the King James Version an incomplete translation which, in the view of the translators themselves, is consequently impossible to understand in some places. A brief comparison of the Geneva and King James versions’ marginal notes is interesting. It is more than evident that the King’s translators made good use of the Geneva Bible, yet avoided the Calvinistic notes for which the Geneva Bible was so popular. On Romans 9:15, the King’s translators follow the Geneva Bible with a marginal reference to Exodus 33:19, but at that point they part company. The King’s version contains no note on Exodus 33:19 itself, but the Geneva Bible contains a most illuminating note: As the only will and purpose of God is the chief cause of election and reprobation: so his free mercy in Christ is an inferior cause of salvation, and the hardening of the heart, an inferior cause of damnation. 23

" … for the Explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text." From a facsimile reproduced by Lupton Vol XXIV p19 24 The Translators’ Preface p32


The King’s desire to suppress Puritan theology was definitely fulfilled. While the translators were convinced their text could not be understood without their notes, they were limited to notes about translation and textual issues, and cross references, and were not able to include explanation or commentary. THE LANGUAGE USED The translators of the King’s version make much of the need to use clear English as used by ordinary people: they speak of previous translators having given the Bible in “... the vulgar tongue,” with clear approval. “But how can men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How can they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?” 25 they ask. On account of this many have supposed that the King’s version represents the ordinary language of the day. Yet it takes little study of English to discover that the language of the King’s version is far from the ordinary language of its day. The Geneva Bible, which the King’s version replaced by edict, used a much clearer and simpler form of English, which is one of the reasons it was so loved at that time by the ordinary people and the Puritans. The style of English used by the translators of the King’s Bible is best understood in terms of caste dialects. In many cultures there are definite caste divisions that are distinguished, at least in part, by the language used. The higher castes use a higher language that marks them out and separates them from the ordinary people. In a similar way the language of formal Anglicanism, being rooted in the upper class of English society and the mysticism of ritualistic religion, separated the ordinary people from God through ritualistic, mystical language; and it was this high, priestly language the translators used in the King’s version. They wrote a version fitted to their pattern of mystical 25

The Translators’ Preface p12


worship, and in doing so deliberately moved away from the common English of the popular Geneva Bible and Tyndale’s wonderful work that had so effectively captured the spirit and language of the ordinary people. Anglican ritualism was born and bred in the mystical buildings inherited from pre-Reformation Catholicism. It fed on the Catholic dichotomy that separated the ordinary from the spiritual. It insisted that the forms and language of worship must be surrounded by a sense of awe and speciality that created in the ordinary people at worship a feeling that they were not fully part of what could not be fully known. The ritual, the formalism and the language were all calculated to create a sense of the unknown and separation. The humanist Erasmus expressed this well when he said of Bible translation “things should not be written in such a way that everyone understands everything but so that they are forced to investigate certain things and learn.” 26 The aloofness of formal language with its obscure structure and special words made ordinary men feel their smallness. But it also meant that the absence of the “vulgar tongue” obscured the meaning and hid the Word of God from people. In what amounts to an acknowledgement that the English of the KJV was not sufficiently “vulgar” and used archaic words, revision was begun almost immediately! One not infrequently hears reference to the “Wonderful language of the King James Version that rises above ordinary English,” or the suitability of it for use in public worship because it has about it a “suitable sense and rhythm.” This simply reinforces the point: this translation is not, and was not when first published, a translation written in ordinary English; it is a version written in what is at times an obscure and definitely formal dialect to make people sense awe without knowledge, and to separate religious response from an understanding of the simple 26

Daniell Tyndale p44


meaning of the text. It is intended to move the emotions irrespective of understanding. It is not surprising that the King’s Bible is noted for its style and rhythm when read aloud – it was intended to be good for reading aloud and an important feature of the translation process was the reading aloud of the draft. 27 “This was not intended to be a Bible for personal study” 28 but one for use in the imposing formality of Anglican worship. Here is a Bible translation intended to be listened to as much as to be read. The English scholar Professor David Daniell29 contrasts the rhythm of Tyndale’s translation with that of the King’s version. Daniell’s detailed analysis demonstrates that Tyndale’s Bible reads with the rhythm of good English, contrasting noticeably with the priestly rhythm of the King’s version. He argues that the older English of the King’s Bible – what he calls “looking back” – was used for three reasons: to reinforce traditional Anglicanism, to reinforce, by its Latin constructions, the reliability of Latin tradition, especially as expressed in the Vulgate, and most importantly, to give a sense of the sacred that was “remote from real life. … of increasing, as it was thought, a worshipful distance.”30 Quite apart from this failure to translate into ordinary English, the Kings’ Bible hides the variety of styles and diversity of contexts in which God has spoken. There is an evenness of high English throughout the King’s version – from Genesis to Revelation there is a consistency in the way it reads. While this might have its attractions, it deceives readers into imagining such an evenness belongs to God’s revelation. In fact, the Bible came to us in a range of literary styles and contexts, and an 27

McGrath p187 McGrath p211 Daniell Tyndale p3 etc 30 Daniell The Bible pp441f 28 29


understanding of that is critical to a proper understanding of any passage under study. The King’s Bible “misrepresents in several ways the material which it professes to translate. For example, it elevates the prosaic to a poetic level, and its evenness of quality makes the large variety of biblical texts, written in many different periods, styles and genres, all appear the same.” 31 Effectively this elevated English makes it harder, not easier, for readers to recognise differences in time, in place and in patterns of language and culture, thereby making it harder, not easier, to understand what God has said. THE IMPORTANCE OF SUITABLE ENGLISH God “‘spoke and wrote’ in order to be understood.”32 This, of course, refers not only to the ideas and content of what was revealed by God for man, but the language in which it is written. “The Bible is written in ordinary language. It does use technical or specialized vocabulary in sundry places but on the whole it is written in ordinary language.”33 So the language into which it is translated ought to be plain and easily understood, the ordinary language of the people. In contrast, there are those who argue “the word of God is supposed to be a bit over our heads. Elevated is what God is.” 34 But this elevated God has chosen to make himself known in ordinary language; and that is part of his self-revelation. He is not a God hidden in the mystery of incomprehensible language, but a God who makes himself known – truly but not exhaustively – in 31

Gerald Hammond English Translations of the Bible in Alter & Kermode (eds) The Literary Guide to the Bible Harvard UP, Cambridge Mass, 1990 (1987) p650f 32 R Reymond A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1998, p87 33 Noel Weeks The Sufficiency of Scripture Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1998, p31 34 HRH The Prince of Wales, December 19, 1989, Speech at the Presentation of the Thomas Cranmer Schools Prize, St James’ Church, Garlickhythe, London, as reported by the Reader’s Digest, Auckland, Vol 143, No 859, November, 1993, p64


language that does not hide his meaning or make it difficult to understand his message. The idea that God’s word must be a little beyond our comprehension, a little towards the mysterious, to be truly wise, is to be found in western philosophy and eastern religions, as well as in High-Church liturgy. God warns against such worldly wisdom: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” 35 God’s word is hindered, not helped, by elevated language. “We know that revelation is in ordinary language because we have it in our Bibles. Here is a case where ordinary language has greater claim to wisdom than esoteric, technical language.” 36 As God’s word was given in ordinary Hebrew to the Hebrews, and in ordinary Greek to Greek speaking people, it ought to be translated into ordinary English for those who speak English. The King’s Bible was not in ordinary English when it was first translated, and it is today even further from being ordinary English. The translators chose a style of English that was elevated, distant and not entirely comprehensible – 400 years later it is in effect more elevated, more distant, and less comprehensible. It is sometimes argued that people can learn to understand the King James Version. That, to some extent, is true. But why should people have to learn 400 year old English to read their Bibles? After all, the King’s translators themselves said the Bible should be translated into the people’s English – they never said that people should be made to learn a different English. What is so precious about 17th Century English that we must teach it to the entire English speaking world of the 21st Century – even if the church had the educational resources to undertake such a task? 35 36

Colossians 2:8 Weeks, p32


The Bible was not given by God in 17 th Century English – it was not even given in the Greek or Hebrew equivalents of 17th Century English. God’s people today need a Bible in the English they speak and understand, just as God gave his people in the past a Bible in the Greek and Hebrew they could understand. OTHER PRINCIPLES OF TRANSLATION The translators make some telling points about the way they approached the writing of the King’s translation. In support of the publication of yet another version, they quote Augustine, “... variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of Scriptures.”37 Either they were unaware of the King’s plan to make the use of their translation mandatory and exclusive, or they were less than genuine. In either case, the fact that the translators themselves did not consider exclusive use of their translation a good idea hardly gives support to those who would make the King James Version the only one to which Christians should now turn. John Owen lends weight to this: “... the sense and substance of the Scripture being contained entirely in every good translation (amongst which that in use among ourselves is excellent, though capable of great improvements) ...”38 Those who “pertinaciously adhere unto one translation”39 are simply wrong. Neither the translators themselves, nor the wise Dr Owen thought exclusive use of the King’s translation at all good. Nor did he regard any of the translations in use entirely satisfactory, much less worthy of being venerated beyond revision or improvement! The translators also explain that they would not be tied to a word-for-word translation. Many today appeal to the King’s translation as one that is exact, yet the translators wrote, “... we 37

The Translators’ Preface p32 J Owen, Works, Book 6 Part II, Chapter 8, page 216; italics are his. 39 Owen p215; again italics are his 38


have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done because they observe that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way.”40 In other words, they were happy to abandon an exact translation if they felt they could better convey the sense of the original; and they go further, explaining that they might translate a particular word into a variety of different English words in different places depending on the sense they determined to convey. Too much is made by some of a distinction between exact and inexact translations (what are called “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence” translations). 41 The King’s Bible is indeed more formally equivalent than most more modern translations, but it is not a “formal equivalence” Bible. While they are less inclined than others to move away from exact translation, the King’s translators do nonetheless abandon formal equivalence with frequency and deliberation. This they make abundantly clear in their Preface and in their practice. For example, this so-called “formally equivalent” translation gives eighteen different English words for the twenty-seven occurrences of the Greek word kategoreõ, and uses the English word “destroy” for no less than forty-nine different Hebrew words!42 How formally equivalent is the insertion of “God” fourteen times to turn the Greek be it not so into “God forbid” in the King’s Bible?43 The arguments put forward by modern proponents of “formal equivalence” are in substance the same arguments the King’s men disparage so vehemently. They did not support “formal 40

The Translators’ Preface p33 Robert Martin Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989 for example 42 Bruce Metzger The Bible in Translation Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001, pp74f 43 Metzger p92 41


equivalence” (a term unknown to them but a practice they knew of) and they did not practice it in places where “dynamic” translation seemed to them to be more suitable, or, as in the examples above, more convenient.44 Some dynamic translation appears to have been almost accidental. Parallel passages in the Gospels translate identical Greek in dramatically different ways. For example, Matthew 26:41 is translated, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” while the identical Mark 14:38 is rendered, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”45 The King’s translators roundly condemn the Papists, “... since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may be kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scriptures may speake like itselfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.” 46 This is a clear condemnation of the use of language which ordinary men cannot understand. It is ironic that shortly before this they explain that they refuse to use some plain English words, as already used in the Geneva Bible, because such words support the Puritans. We have already alluded to the use of “Bishop” in place of “elder”. “Elder” was Tyndale’s correct translation of the Greek presbuteros but 44

Tendencies can be described as more or less equivalent or more or less dynamic. The King's men tend to be more equivalent than, say, the NIV translators, but both legitimately lay claim to the same basic principles of seeking to render the original text in the best possible comprehensible English. Translations cannot be legitimately categorised as either equivalent or dynamic: to do this may be polemically impressive but it is unsustainable scholarship that falsely represents the translation process (especially when the King's Bible is held to be the definitive "formally equivalent" translation). 45 McGrath p240. He discusses this in the context of the Synoptic Issue (the modern understanding that the Synoptic Gospels used a common source) which was, as he points out, unknown to the King's translators. 46 The Translators’ Preface p34f


Professor Daniell explains47 that it could not be used, not only because it offended the king, but because it offended the Church hierarchy who did not want to distinguish this office from that of “priest” (hieros in Greek). They also claim to have “... avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritanes ... as when they put washing for Baptism, and Congregation in stead of Church.”48 Congregation and washing were widely accepted as accurate translations before this time, but were rejected because the translators had an agenda for the Church of England that was in conflict with the plain Word of God. “The language of Canaan” had been used from Tyndale to Geneva, but despite the translators’ protestations to the contrary, could not be used in the King’s version. Clearly then, the King’s translators made quite deliberate and unashamed alterations to the known meaning of God’s Word so as to suppress Puritan and Baptist theology and practice.49 In the light of this it is sad that many of today’s venerators of the King’s version turn a blind eye to this while accusing modern translators of the crime of theological bias – despite the fact that there is much less evidence that this features in the best of the modern translations. They would do better to heed the translators’ warning not to obscure the Word of God.


See Chapter 4 The Translators’ Preface p34 For those concerned about the debate between formal and dynamic equivalence, it is difficult to find anything less formal than this! 48 49




he dedication to the King’s Bible addresses itself to “The most high and mighty Prince James by the grace of God King …” and speaks of the “zeal of Your Majesty toward the house of god … by writing in defence of the Truth … by religious and learned discourse, by frequenting the house of God, by hearing the Word preached, by cherishing the Teachers thereof, by caring for the Church, as a most tender and loving Father.” High praise, probably genuinely given, but not realistic. This king was zealous for his church and kingdom, perhaps in his own way even for God, but not with a biblical zeal. Others regarded him as “the wisest fool in Christendom,” 50 and “a King devoted to his own nothingness.”51 He was a king of contrasts, a ruler of sparkling intelligence and dazzling incompetence; a man who manipulated court and country adroitly for his own ends while excelling in ineptitude in matters of state. He undoubtedly knew his Bible well, quoting it aptly and 50 51

Attributed to Sir Anthony Weldon in The Court and Character of King James c1617 David Willson p428


forcefully in debate, but by his pattern of life despised its standards. He was a leader who held himself up as an example of Christian faith; but this “Christian Prince”, who lucidly expounded Christian doctrine, too often resembled those who have a “form of godliness but [deny] its power.”52 This is the King James who commissioned the King James Bible. It is too much to argue that the distinctive features of his Bible version are a direct result of his character and rule. Yet there can be no question that he seized on the idea of a new Bible translation as an opportunity to advance his power in church and state. He chose translators he could trust, he set the rules for translation for his own ends and he gave his imprimatur to the translation when he was satisfied his goals had been achieved. There is no evidence that the ungodliness of the way of life of this “Head of the Church of England” compromised the moral standards of his Bible; but there is clear evidence that his beliefs shaped the process and quality of the translation that carries his name. His immorality was as plainly condemned by his translation as by any other, but his theology of power was, as he had demanded, shored-up by the process of translation and publication, and by the new Bible itself. It is clear that he held to a belief in the Bible as the Word of God. It was equally clear that he saw the Bible as validating his claim to rule his kingdoms with absolute power, exercising a divine right to be king. He saw himself not only as the model of the godly king (“Am I not as good a King as King David? as holy a King as King David? as just a King as King David?”53), but as so vested with divinity as to be answerable to no man. Without this “divine right” to absolute rule, James knew he was open to censure, constraint or even overthrow. He had tasted and come to 52 53

2 Timothy 3:5 quoted by Willson p172


fear “democracy” in Scotland (“some fiery-spirited men in the ministry got such a guiding of the people as finding the gust of government sweet they began to fancy to themselves a democratic form of government”54), miss-interpreting the Reformation there as a democratic movement. He was endowed with more than sufficient intelligence to realise Puritan Christianity would find ample scope to challenge his way of life. Despite the affirmed loyalty of the Puritans (which he unjustly distrusted), he could anticipate they would eventually question his rule in the Church and even the basis for his continued civil rule if his morality was publicly scrutinised. As a youth in Scotland he had been taught by his Calvinistic tutors that “kings had been chosen originally by the people and were continued in office through their will, that kings could not override the law, and that those who broke it could justly be called to account and in the last resort put to death.” 55 He had seen the same teaching in the marginal notes of the popular Geneva Bible, regarding them as “very partial, untrue, seditious and savouring too much of dangerous and traitorous conceits.”56 He planned that his new translation would replace that version and its loathed notes. A Bible that would satisfy the High Church party, silence the Puritans and prop up his authority was what he sought and got. KING OF ENGLAND The Church of England in 1603 was Protestant, as was the new King of England. Yet the Protestantism of the English church was not the Protestantism the King had grown up with in Presbyterian Scotland. For the King, this was just as well, as he had come to 54

quoted by Willson p37 attributed to Buchanan by Willson p25 56 Willson p213 55


despise Scottish Presbyterianism. For the Puritans this spelt disaster, for while they were temporarily lulled into expectation of the King’s benevolence, the King himself was resolved to silence the pestilent party! It spelt disaster too for the Anglican Church: an opportunity to continue biblical reform was thrust aside to satisfy a proud king’s lust for power. The Anglican church of King James would be noted for its retrenchment into AngloCatholicism and the entrenchment of the ambiguity of the Elizabethan Settlement. In his opening address at the Hampton Court Conference, James extolled England and expressed his contempt for Scotland: “blessed be God’s gracious goodness, who hath brought me into the Promised Land where religion is purely professed, where I sit among grave, learned and revered men, not as before, elsewhere, a King without state, without honour, where beardless boys would brave us to the face.”57 While England was not then, nor ever would be in King James’s reign, a truly “Promised Land”, its ecclesiastical and civil structures were much more likely to give James the status and power he craved. Despite the over-flowery language, James had correctly discerned England would be more to his liking than Scotland ever could be. His contempt for the Puritans was, for the mean time, expressed less publicly than his contempt for Presbyterians, although as early as 1598 he had made it known in Basilicon Doron58 when he wrote of the “preposterous humility of the proud Puritans … Surely there is more pride under such a one’s black bonnet than under Alexander the Great his diadem.” However, by the end of the Hampton Court Conference he was to declare “If this is all they [the Puritans] have to say, I will make them 57

see Also spelt Basilikon Doron, it remained, as intended, unpublished as a private tract to his son for over a year; however, word of its existence circulated and it eventually went through several editions. Quotations here are from a copy in the public domain; see 58


conform themselves or I will harry them out of this land or else do worse.”59 In the months that followed, after a short interlude in which he vainly waited for the Puritans to capitulate, he did just that. Once the persecution was in full swing, James wrote to Salisbury “I have daily more and more cause to hate and abhor all that sect, enemies to all kings, and to me only because I am a King.”60 By 1622 he linked Puritans with Jesuits: “those neoterics, both Jesuits and Puritans, who are known to be meddlers in matters of State and monarchy.”61 In reality, the Puritans maintained a remarkably benevolent attitude to the King, and it is a sign of his ineptitude that he failed to recognise the difference between Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans. The former did indeed wish to see the Church govern Church affairs, but the Puritans, by and large, were willing to recognise the King as Head of the Church of England. Their Millenary Petition was plainly respectful, moderate in its demands (at first James even agreed in principle to many of them), and went to great pains to dissociate the petitioners from Presbyterians. When James rejected the petition and announced that conformity would be required, the Puritans continued to regard the King with benevolence, attributing their precarious position to the Bishops, not the King. Consequently they continued to place respectful petitions before the King. In October 1603, even before Hampton Court, James had issued a decree prohibiting soliciting signatures for petitions on religious matters. Failing to see the support and respect with which the English petitions were made to him even after the Conference, he failed to use them as he might to secure the cooperation of all parties in his realm. Puritan 59

Quoted by Willson p207 Quoted by Willson p209 61 Quoted by Willson p293 60


petitions for an abatement of his demands for conformity and an easing of harsh penalties fell on deaf ears. Despising petitions and petitioners, he contented himself with persecution instead of peace. A CHURCH -RULING KING For all the reform that had taken place over the tumultuous Tudor years, the English Church was not as it should have been – there were those who sought to walk by faith, but there was a greater number for whom religion then was little different from what it had been for most of the previous hundreds of years. Officially the English Church was Protestant, but many ministers and as many parishes were still bound by Catholic ignorance and ritual. The Anglican church’s “ministers were regarded more as priests than as teachers … Its sacraments were received with awe as mystic vehicles of salvation. … The external, the visible, exalted the souls of the worshippers more than anything abstract, argumentative, or doctrinal. It was by material objects they rose into the region of the eternal and the sublime.”62 Among the abuses the Puritans wanted corrected was pluralism, the corrupt system by which one minister was paid several incomes. “By this means a privileged minority of the clergy, including most Bishops, enjoyed handsome revenues; but at the cost of leaving some congregations totally unprovided for, or with only a miserably paid non-preaching curate. In 1603, according to the Bishops’ own figures, there were only 3,804 licensed preachers with degrees for the 9,244 parishes of England. Nearly sixty percent of benefices were occupied by persons either 62

Attributed to John Stroughton History of Religion in England Volume 1 pp9f; quoted by E J Pool-Connor Evangelicalism in England Henry E Walter, Worthing 1966 (revised from 1951 edition)


too stupid or too politically unreliable to be allowed to preach.” 63 In their Millenary Petition the Puritans specifically asked for the abolition of pluralism and the diversion of the Bishop’s incomes to financing godly ministries in the parishes, for schools and for the relief of poverty. James made no changes to this system however, despite an evident sympathy for the requested improvements, preferring to make use of the established web of influence to maintain his power. While James failed to effect any significant reforms in England, his historic battle with the Scottish Presbyterians ran unabated throughout his reign. He wanted an Episcopal system in Scotland to increase and entrench his power. Three years before he became King of England he appointed three Bishops for Scotland, but they had no effective control of the Presbyterian Church. In 1606 he contrived the appointment of perpetual moderators for presbyteries, then extended their powers to synods, but by neither move gained any effective extension of control. In 1609, 1610, 1612, 1618 and 1621 he gave his bishops increased legal powers but still failed to increase his actual control of the Church. He imprisoned and banished dissenters; he schemed, cajoled and raged; but neither the Bishops of Scotland nor the King of England subdued the Kirk. A RELIGIOUS KING The King’s professions of faith were remarkably consistent with biblical doctrine, yet they often conflicted radically with his practice. He was able to write to his son, Henry, that “The worship of God according to his revealed will, It is wholie grounded upon the Scripture (as I have alreadie saide) quickened by Faith, and conserved by Conscience. … because no man was 63

Christopher Hill The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 Sphere, London 1969 (1961) p83


able to keepe the Lawe, nor anie parte thereof, it pleased God of his infinite wisedome and goodness, to incarnate his onelie Sonne in our nature, for satisfaction of his justice in his suffering for us: that since we coulde not bee saved by doing, wee might (at least) be saved by believing.”64 Throughout his adult life James almost never failed to attend worship twice on Sundays and at least once during the week, often submitting quietly to the preaching of men he despised for their demanding of him faithfulness in doctrine, godliness in rule and purity in conduct. He published numerous works65, was fluent in Latin and New Testament Greek, and lectured with remarkable understanding on matters of theology. In many respects he was a model of the godly sovereign. Yet he was as well known for immorality and vulgarity as for his theological skills. He excused the foul language and curses that frequented his speech, claiming they resulted from the unusual burdens he had to bear as King causing the words to escape before he could control them! He nevertheless forbad others to use such language in his hearing. He staged the most debauched parties imaginable – causing state architects and builders to be diverted from public works to construct elaborate stage sets; but on moral grounds he attempted to ban smoking tobacco. He despised his subjects, declaring, when on one occasion he was told his people wanted to see him, that he would uncover himself and “show them my arse” if he could not be left alone. And his homosexual sins were a matter of public and international report. 64

King James Basilicon Doron The Book of Revelation was a favourite; he published a meditation on selected verses of Revelation in 1588 and a full paraphrase in 1616. Publishing a paraphrase of a portion of the Bible just five years after “his” Bible translation was published raises interesting questions about the King’s attitude to translation, paraphrasing, and the integrity of the 1611 Bible. 65


A HOMOSEXUAL KING There is a tendency today for some historians to attempt to minimise the King’s homosexuality. Yet there is no doubt that he publicly “ogled” pretty young men with whom he filled his court; that he publicly maintained a most intimate friendship with, at various times, several “special” men; and that contemporary writers recorded the beliefs of court, foreign ambassadors and the population in general that the King was a practising homosexual. At about the age of 15, James “conceived an inward affection to the Lord d’Aubigny, entered in great familiarity and quiet purposes with him.”66 Willson explains that this was “a phrase bearing special connotation in the Scots idiom of the time.” 67 Later, in England he complained that his new favourite Lord Somerset refused to sleep in the royal bedchamber. When Summerset was later arrested for conspiracy to murder, one observer wrote “The King hung about his neck, slabbering his cheeks, saying, ‘For God’s sake, when shall I see thee again? On my soul, I shall neither eat nor sleep until you come again.’”68 Similarly, the same observer wrote “The King’s kissing them [his “boys”] after so lascivious a mode in public, and upon the theatre, as it were, of the world, prompted many to imagine some things done in the [re]tiring-house that exceed my expressions no less than they do my experience.”69 Another observer noted that the King “loved young men, his favourites, better than women, loving them beyond the love of men to women. I never yet saw any fond husband make so much or so great dalliance over his beautiful spouse as I have seen King James over his favourites, especially Buckingham.”70 It was Buckingham to whom the King wrote, 66

Moysie, quoted by D H Willson, p36 Willson p36 68 Sir Anthony Weldon, quoted by Willson p354 69 Weldon, quoted by J P Kenyon The Stuarts Fontana/Collins, London 1970 (1958) p41 70 Sir John Oglander, quoted by Willson p383 67


“Sweet child and wife … My only sweet and dear child … I pray thee haste home … and so the Lord send me comfortable and happy with thee this night.”71 The King also wrote that “I wear Steenie’s [Buckingham’s] picture in a blue ribbon under my washcoat next my heart.”72 A MANIPULATING KING James, in common with despotic rulers in all ages, had no hesitation in manipulating situations and subjects alike, to his own ends; and in common with despotic rulers of all ages, he tended to cover that with a semblance of working within the law. In 1605 a group of Scottish ministers met in Aberdeen, contrary to the King’s instructions, to consider continued reformation of Scotland. James demanded the thirteen who did not express their regret be tried for sedition. But James was not satisfied with the ensuing convictions, requiring that they again be tried, this time for treason! His opposition to these men was based not so much on their one meeting, which the ministers reasonably argued he had no prerogative to inhibit; but on their willingness to oppose the king on well argued biblical grounds, and in particular, their rejection of his claim to have authority over the Church. For the Scottish Presbyterians, the Church Court was the highest authority in the Church. James was a king who demanded unquestioning submission, even of the Church, and the most offensive opposition was that based on the Bible which, to James’s mind, gave him the absolute power he demanded. To protect himself, he was willing to abuse his legitimate powers. It is a sign of the fear in which such a sovereign was held that Scottish authorities went along with him. They did so again in 1621 when the Scottish Parliament met. The King had made plain 71 72

quoted by Willson p384 quoted by Willson p433


how their voting should go, and the few dissidents whose consciences would not allow them to comply with the King’s demands were nonetheless cowed into a mumbled vote that could barely be heard. When the Chancellor urged them to speak up, the Secretary quickly interposed, “Nay, my Lord, let them alone; those that will not speak out, let the clerk mark them as consenters.”73 Willson comments, “feeble murmurs of dissent were brazenly recorded as votes of approval.”74 From 1613 to 1615 James had great difficulty with the Irish Parliament. As today, religious division dominated and try as he might he could not gain a majority by legitimate means. To solve his problems he used his royal prerogative to create 80 new seats in the Irish Parliament – all Protestant, so ensuring a majority in support of the King. This involved the creation of 39 new Boroughs, not on the basis of increased population, but on the need to create new Protestant Members of Parliament. The English Parliament was particularly troublesome. While James had some hope of manipulating the House of Lords through rewarding loyalty with power and privileges at his disposal, the House of Commons was dominated by a new class of wealthy and powerful “farmers” and city “merchants”75 who were also largely Puritan in sympathy. James needed Parliament to raise essential funds, but whenever he asked for new revenues, Parliament attached conditions that greatly vexed a king who believed he alone made law and was to be unquestioned. The year his Bible was published James dissolved his first parliament in desperation after it blocked union with Scotland and refused to give him a yearly income without regular scrutiny. Thereafter he manipulated his kingdom almost entirely without 73

Willson p314 Willson p314 Some have estimated the wealth of the Commons in the 17 th Century to be ten times that of the Lords. 74 75


Parliament. He called it once in 1614 but it passed no laws! He was forced to call Parliament again in 1621 when, to win funding for the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years’ War, he had to abolish some of the commercial monopolies he had previously awarded to those in favour. But that Parliament too was dissolved when it claimed the right to debate his foreign policy. His last Parliament (1624) voted funds for war against Spain in defiance of the King, and although it voted him new monies, it also told him how to use them. While he often contrived an appearance of legitimacy in manipulations of church and state, at times James was also content to be transparently manipulative. While seeking the English Crown he promised toleration of Catholics who were orderly, even keeping open the possibility of public office for those who could do something useful and gave an outward compliance to the law. Once he had secured the crown however, he declared, “Na, na, gud faiyth, we’s not need the papists noo.”76 Earlier in his quest to be King of England, his mother was under arrest and threat of execution. He wrote to her of his unfailing love but sent messages to Queen Elizabeth that he would not object to his mother’s execution! It is hardly surprising therefore that he would let nothing else stand in his way once he secured the throne, nor that he could never trust the word of others. A “DIVINE” KING Without doubt the driving force behind James’ religion, politics and way of life was his belief in the divine right of kings – particularly his divine right! In his book On the Divine Right of Kings he wrote “The state of the monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth … Kings are justly called Gods, for that they exercise a 76

Willson p148


manner of resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you consider the attributes to God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king. … That as to dispute what God may do, is blasphemy … so is it sedition in subjects, to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power.”77 Apparently adapting that from memory in a speech to the House of Commons he said “The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth. For kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God Himself they are called gods…. They have power of raising and casting down, of life and of death, judges over all, and yet accountable to none but God only. They have the power to exalt low things and abase high things and make of their subjects like men at the chess, a pawn to take a bishop or a knight, for to emperors or kings their subjects’ bodies and goods a due for their defence and maintenance.”78 And in Basilicon Doron he wrote God giues not Kings the stile of Gods in vaine, For on his throne his Sceptre doe they sway: And as their subjects ought them to obey, So Kings should feare and serue their God againe.79

For James his position of power was absolute under God. He ruled because God had vested him with authority to rule. “I will not be content that my power be disputed upon.”80 This was the attitude he brought to his English throne and it stayed with him. In 1615 he published God and the King in which Willson explains he declared “The allegiance of the people is inviolable, and cannot be dissolved by tyranny, nor falseness, nor heresy, nor


In the public domain eg Willson p243, who attributes it to The Trew Law of Free Monarchies. 80 On the Divine right of Kings 78 79


apostasy”.81 James required that this be taught in all schools and parishes. James’s famous insistence on “bishop” instead of “elder” is often referred to, but its significance can be seen better when the full quotation is given: “I know what would become of my supremacy. No bishop, no King. When I mean to live under a presbytery I will go into Scotland again, but while I am in England I will have bishops to govern the Church.” 82 Without the word “bishop” and the hierarchical authority the term embodied, there could be no hierarchical authority to validate his own “divine rule” – there could be no king of the sort he wanted to be. His reference to Scotland makes that abundantly clear: there, without doubt, the Presbyterians believed as they had taught him, that kings, while appointed by God nevertheless answered to the people. He would have a new Bible, it would have the word “bishop” and he would be absolute ruler in England. His belief in the divine right (if not the divinity) of kings, or more specifically in his divine right (if not divinity), was at the core of his beliefs and the driving force behind his actions. He must have power, and to have power he must have the divine right. To have that he needed a Bible to which he could appeal safe in the knowledge that its words and ritual secured his rule. Bishop Montagu declared of King James, “God hath given us a Solomon, and God above all things gave Solomon wisdom: wisdom brought him peace; peace brought him riches; riches gave him glory.”83 And “Solomon” had his Bible to prove it. The commissioning of the King James Bible appears to have taken everyone by surprise – the Puritans, the High Church men and the King himself, although it was not a novel idea for James 81

Willson 294 Willson p207 83 Willson p170 82


who had some years early suggested that the Scottish Kirk should make a new translation. Nor was the King ignorant of what was involved: he not only knew his Bible well, he was also thoroughly acquainted with the nature of biblical translation. Even as a child when required to “perform” for visitors he had been able to open a Greek New Testament at random, translate it before them into Latin, then translate his Latin into English with a level of fluency and accuracy that confounded many contemporary linguists. He had the ability then to keep more than a patronising eye on the translation work he commissioned. HAMPTON COURT The story of the King’s Bible begins at Hampton Court, a great rambling palace at which King James met with the Puritan party who had presented a petition from 1,000 ministers asking the new King to promote biblical reform of the Church of England. The reforms sought had been relatively restrained: they wanted a small number of plainly Catholic rites removed from the Church, they wanted better educated ministers, they asked for an end to the corrupt practice of paying ministers an income for one or more parishes they never attended, and they hoped the King would support a simplified and shorter service of worship with music “more suited to edification”, together with stricter observance of the Lord’s Day. Had the King implemented these moderate reforms, the Puritan cause may well have been far less taxing to the new King than it became in the face of his vigorous, sustained and callous hostility. In the event, the King used the conference to confirm his opposition to the Puritans and to begin a life-long assault on them and on their faith. James had come to the throne of England in 1603 on the death of Elizabeth I. He was already King of Scotland (James VI) where he had displayed apparent sympathy to the Presbyterian


cause. It would soon become apparent that these “sympathies” were more of a pragmatic and political nature than held out of conviction, for he in fact hated and feared the Puritan position, and would soon launch opposition and persecution against the evangelical faith north and south of the Scottish-English border. Born to the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in 1566, the young prince was almost immediately separated from his mother and placed in the care of godly men for his education. Crowned King of Scotland shortly after his first birthday, with the Reformer John Knox among those officiating, he would never know a time when he was not king. The pomp, the adulation and the power certainly influenced the prince, as did the violence, scheming and murder that characterised Scottish politics and court in his day – he was held captive, threatened, and at least once he only just escaped with his life. Raised under the tuition of godly Presbyterians he had a fluent knowledge of the Bible and sound doctrine, but a fear of a Presbyterianism he considered opposed to what he believed to be his divine right to rule as King. But it was as a Presbyterian in Scotland where he was taught in service after service that the King in church was an “ordinary member” that he came to fear and oppose Presbyterianism. The new King of England travelled to London through his new kingdom with a show of great pomp and unseemly haste. He had openly sought the crown of England, playing the politician even to the extent of agreeing to the execution of his own mother, to win this prize. Yet his prize came with problems. These were troublesome times – and one notable “action” early in his reign was escaping destruction by gun-powder as he opened Parliament in 1605. The notorious Guy Fawkes was captured and executed, and a bevy of co-conspirators who had hoped to secure control of England for the pope arrested, tried and punished.


Although these events were yet to unfold, tensions ran high in the kingdom at James’ ascension. The new King wanted to assert his belief in the divine right of kings to rule nation and church unchallenged, while the Bishops wanted to assert a similar right at cost of the Kings’ power. Both were opposed to the growing power of Parliament, but were dependent upon it for finances that were so low the Crown would soon come close to bankruptcy. The Bishops and the Crown were also united in their opposition to Presbyterian forms of church government. In fact, James’ book on the way he believed he should rule had just been published in London. No-one should have been surprised by his policies. In the light of this the Puritans might well have expected the new king to be less favourably inclined towards them than his Calvinistic upbringing indicated. James was astutely aware that a fine balance in religion best assured his security on the English throne, and he was in no hurry to encourage the Puritans, much less accept any concessions when he needed to assert his royal right to rule absolutely in the church and the state! As king, he had to control and he had to win; so he set rules for the conference ensuring the Puritans had to be defeated. At the same time he astutely manipulated the Bishops, asserting his supremacy over them. All of these political currents would meet in the commissioning of a new Bible version. Hampton Court is an imposing place for the King to meet his people. Its red brick buildings are set in beautiful gardens beside the river Thames. Each principal room is heated by an open fire, and each fire has its own chimney with uniquely designed brickwork. From the gardens the roof line is broken by dozens of brick chimneys, patterned, spiralled, twisted and shaped in a kaleidoscope of texture. Among his house guests, entertaining him daily in the week before the conference, was one William Shakespeare and his troupe.


The Puritans had their Millenary Petition and the King agreed to a conference at Hampton Court to consider the issues it raised. He appointed nine Bishops and eight other church officials to form one side of the debating party, and allowed four Puritans to make up the other party, only one of whom was allowed to speak. The King was taking no chances of a Puritan victory! (Four of the King’s men, but only two of the Puritans, would be included in the committee charged with production of the new Bible, which gives some indication of the bias in the subsequent translation work.) To be even more certain of victory, the King excluded the Puritans from the first day of the Conference. On the second day, the Puritans were admitted, but overwhelmed on every point. King James writes of this day that he “had soundly peppered off the puritans [sic]. They had fled before him. Their petitions had turned against them.”84 For most of the third day of the Conference, the Puritans were again excluded, being admitted eventually to hear the verdict rejecting every request they had made. In fact, the King had not entirely opposed the Puritans. The Bishops had not wanted to meet at all, but James insisted on it, not only to exert his authority over the Bishops but because he had genuine sympathy for some of the reforms the Puritans requested. He agreed to many Puritan requests. But he suspected that the Puritans were inclined to a Presbyterian form of church government – almost certainly a mistaken suspicion, as these Puritans were as committed to English episcopacy as the Bishops themselves. So when a hint of Presbyterianism appeared in the submissions the Puritans made to the Conference, he flew into alarm. Bishops and King were now united in a cause – suppress the Puritans. The new Bible would be one weapon in this assault. 84

King James to Mr Blake, quoted by Lupton vol XXIII p112


A REQUEST FOR A NEW BIBLE TRANSLATION In desperation, the leader of the Puritan party, Dr John Reynolds, asked for a new translation of the Bible to be made. There is no indication that this was a planned strategy, although some commentators think the Puritans may have discussed this and the request may therefore have been a corporate request rather than a personal spur-of-the-moment plea by a greatly discouraged man. Whatever the case, the request was initially opposed vehemently by the Churchmen, who must have been as surprised as the Puritans when with a measure of alacrity the King agreed to a new Bible. It is widely touted today that the Puritans asked for a new Bible for common use. But this was simply not the case. Almost every Puritan used and loved the Geneva Bible, which was widely circulated in England at the time. Its translation had been made into fluent and clear English in Geneva during the Marian persecutions, and the Puritans had no reason to seek its replacement. Rather, the Puritans had long objected to the Bible translation used in the Prayer Book, a translation every minister and churchgoer was by law required to use in services of worship. This version was Coverdale’s very poor translation, and it included the Apocrypha. They regarded this version as “old Popish dregs”85 and truly groaned under the burden of its forced use. So they asked that it be replaced. Dr Reynolds specifically requested the replacement of the translations allowed “in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI” (that is, Coverdale’s, the Matthew Bible and the Great Bible.)86 Everybody knew what he was aiming at, which is why the Anglo85 86

Lupton vol XXIV p11 Lupton vol XXIII p113


Catholics voiced immediate opposition. The only surviving eyewitness account, written by Dean Barlow of Chester (one of the King’s party at the Conference) states: “When by force of reason the Puritanes were put from all other grounds, they had recourse at last to this shift that they could not with good conscience subscribe to the Communion Booke, since it maintained the Bible as it was there translated, which was as they said a most corrupted translation.”87 So the Puritans did not ask for a new Bible for common use. They asked for the Catholic translation in the Prayer Book to be replaced. It is ironic therefore that the King’s new Bible would replace the Bible in common use, but would leave the Prayer Book unchanged – although the King’s version of the Gospels and Epistles was eventually introduced into the Prayer Book in 1662, Coverdale’s poor translation of the Psalms retains its place to this day in the old Prayer Book! Why was the king so anxious to have a new translation? Simply, he hated the Geneva Bible because along with its clear English it included a number of marginal notes that explained and supported the evangelical faith – and by necessity therefore undermined his claims to absolute power and the High-Church party’s Catholic preferences. For example, the note on Exodus 4:19 in the Geneva Bible indicated there could be just disobedience of Kings – but James claimed a divine right to rule unchallenged. Here was his opportunity to get rid of the hated Geneva Bible – and to do so at the request of the Puritans! So he ordered a new translation to be made and specifically included the Geneva Bible in the list of those to be supplanted. We cannot now tell if this move by James was planned. In these early years of his reign in particular he was astute and quick to see political opportunities. Had the Puritan request been pre87

Lupton vol XXIV p11


meditated, and had James gained prior knowledge of it, his response could not have been more fitted to his machinations. Whatever the case, the High-Church party fell into line behind their King, and the new translation was commissioned. The Puritans had hoped for a better translation for the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book used in Anglican church services, but the King seized the opportunity to replace the Bible version in general use because that version undermined his political and ecclesiastical aspirations. Accordingly he set up strict rules that ensured the suppression of evangelicals – but at the same time it limited the extent to which real translation could take place. The result was not only a Bible that delighted the Anglo-catholic party and helped in the suppression of evangelical faith. The King’s rules ensured that the new “translation” was no translation at all, but a revision of earlier English Bibles.88


While the KJV is clearly a revision of an existing English version rather than a translation from the biblical languages, the terms “translation” and “translators” have been used here most often instead of “revision” and “revisers” for simple fluency and consistency of English usage. The point should not be lost however, that although Greek and Hebrew sources were consulted, the “translators” started with an English version, and used the Greek and Hebrew for revision in the same way as other English – and indeed other language – versions were consulted.




he King set very specific rules for the writing of his Bible. One of the most important rules ensured that this would not be a translation at all, but a revision of the earlier Bishops’ Bible. Instead of starting with the Greek and Hebrew, the translators were required to begin with the Bishops’ Bible, and after consulting other English versions, versions in other languages, and the Greek and Hebrew, make as few changes as possible. The translators were faithful to this direction, for although they would frequently consider the original languages, their discussion was just as frequently about selecting the best turn of phrase in English from the various possibilities offered by as diverse a range of sources as the Catholic Latin Vulgate and Tyndale’s first English version. The King also directed that certain “old ecclesiastical words be kept” specifying by way of example Church was not to be


translated congregation. “Church” was a recent inclusion in English translations and could hardly therefore be called an “old ecclesiastical word”, but to protect the High-Church Anglican centralised “church” structure it was essential that no sense of congregationalism be allowed in the King’s Bible. The Roman Catholic humanist Erasmus had translated ekklesia as “congregation”, as did Tyndale in 1525. Modern readers might wonder how important just one word is – but it was very clear in Tyndale’s day this was fundamental. “… the gathering of Christians together is a congregation of equals, not a church of divisions and hierarchies, where priest and bishop and pope are essential … The bishops saw that this idea could make the whole Church structure fall apart.”89 This was one of Tyndale’s “heresies” for which he and his translation would be burned. Eighty six years later King James and his bishops were as vehemently opposed to biblical doctrine and plain English translation as their predecessors. This was just one of several ways in which Anglo-catholic doctrine, and the relationship of king to church, was to be protected in the “translation” of the King’s Bible. The translators were not free to give an accurate rendering of the Greek and Hebrew. On the contrary, political and doctrinal bias was stamped on their work from the very beginning, and continued to the very last stage of “translation”. This principle was also followed in the next rule, “When a Word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by most of the Ancient Fathers ...” In other words, preference was to be given to words of antiquity rather than words of contemporary meaning. The King wanted little change, except for the provisions of his sixth rule: “No marginal notes at all to be affixed...” While he does allow marginal notes 89

Daniell Tyndale p122


that explain Hebrew or Greek words, or cross reference quotations, he wants none of the commentary in marginal notes that caused him to hate the Geneva Bible!90 Indeed the translators were so supportive of the King’s antievangelical thrust, that they explained their motivation in making this new translation as, in part, to suppress Puritans and Baptists! This was no passing comment, but one of the stated aims given in their formal preface to the Bible. The last set of rules related to the organisation of the committees and their work. HOW THE WRITING OF THE KING’S BIBLE WAS ORGANISED The first stage of writing began in 1604 and lasted until 1607. Six groups of writers were set up, each to work on a part of the Bible. The King instructed the Bishops to pay for the labours of these men, but in fact none received payment. Most were relatively well-heeled – not least on account of holding numerous “livings” at the same time ( a “living” being a supposedly fulltime appointment as minister in a parish, dean of a cathedral, bishop of a diocese, etc.), so few suffered – but some indeed did struggle, and at least one failed financially on account of his translation work. Most of the men commissioned to the writing of the King’s Bible were antagonistic to the evangelical faith – some violently so. Some were plainly ungodly. A small handful of writers were unequivocally evangelical, but their influence was, as intended, swamped. Two groups were based in Westminster, the first revising Genesis to 1 Chronicles, and the second the New Testament 90

The issue here not whether or not a good Bible translation should include marginal notes or commentary, but the King's desire to prevent commentary to which he objected.


Epistles. Two groups were based at Oxford, the first revising the Prophets and Lamentations, and the second the Gospels, Acts and Revelation. The two groups at Cambridge revised 1 Chronicles to Ecclesiastes, and The Apocrypha. (So much for the Puritan hope of removing the Apocrypha from the prayer book!) Each group worked in committee on their revisions. For the most part there are no notes remaining from these groups, but those notes that we still have indicate that wide-margin editions of the Bishops’ Bible were prepared, and as each group met notes were written indicating changes to be made. There is evidence of some discussion and correspondence outside of the committee meetings, but for the most part a verse would be read to the committee, any changes suggested discussed and, if agreed to, recorded. Changes to the Bishops’ Bible seem to be largely of three sorts: 1. Changes made for a different English rendering. Often the writers explored a range of possibilities, but many of these changes were taken word for word from other translations. Included in the King James Version are phrases lifted word for word from the Rheims Bible (the Catholic English version) the Latin Vulgate (translated into English of course) and even the Geneva Bible, as well as from other English versions. 2. Changes made in response to the Greek or Hebrew text available. Often changes would be suggested but rejected, but many important improvements were made in this way. However, it is interesting that at one point the Greek was changed rather than the English! This indicates that commitment to the available Greek text (later to be known as the Textus Receptus) was not as strong as some of the modern myths would suggest. 3. Changes made for ecclesiastical or political reasons. The King insisted on “bishop” because he feared that without that concept, the royal position was under threat. High-Church


preferences saw “confess” replace “acknowledge” and “fold” replace “flock”. Once revision of a book was settled, copies were sent to each of the other groups for review. There appear to be no records of this step so we cannot tell how important this “peer review” was in reality, but it no doubt contributed to a consistency of style throughout the whole version. Throughout 1608 and into 1609 a General Committee made up of two members from each of the six groups met to revise the complete work. Only four of those involved at this stage are known – one was a Puritan. Once this was completed (in 1609) a committee of two made an almost final revision – “almost final” because the work of this last official group was unofficially reviewed by Bancroft, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Bancroft had the final say, forcing fourteen final changes on the translation despite opposition from those officially responsible for the new version. Among the changes he made is the insertion of the word “bishopricke”91 in Acts 1:20!92 His reasons for doing this are transparent, but such blatant manipulation somewhat undermines excessive modern claims for the purity and integrity of the King’s Bible. The King then sold the text – and its copyright – to a London publisher for the princely sum of £3,500. Paying for the copyright was meant to recompense the King for the expenses he suffered – but as he had not paid his writers (and therefore had not incurred any expenses), he made a handsome profit. Copyright was also meant to protect the publisher, but as continental printers had over a hundred years’ experience in printing English Bibles and smuggling them into England, cut-price KJV Bibles were soon 91

“Modern” revision of the KJV saw the “e” dropped (bishoprick), and in general usage even the “k” has now gone (bishopric). 92 The quotation in Acts 1:20 is from Psalm 109:8 which uses “office” not “bishopricke”


swamping the market and the original publisher went bankrupt as a result. While this gives an interesting little insight into 17 th century economics – little has changed it would seem – it also puts into perspective the foolish rejection of modern versions because they are copyrighted. If that is to be done, then the KJV also must be rejected, as the King creamed a sizeable profit from copyrighting the Word of God. THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT USED FOR THE KING’S BIBLE In the providence of God the original manuscripts on which the Bible was written have disappeared long ago. Bible translators must now rely on a collection of over 5,000 Greek manuscripts and more than 8,000 Latin (and other ancient language) versions 93. Few of these are complete. Often these manuscripts overlap, sometimes extensively; yet there remain differences and uncertainties about the exact wording of the original New Testament. Such small differences between overlapping passages in different manuscripts are not frequent and they are not very significant, but in the interests of accuracy in the Word of God, the Greek specialist has to try to decide which variant – which little variation – is the best. We are left with having to choose between variants without any certainty; in the providence of God translators have to make judgements about which letter, form of punctuation, word, or expression is most likely to have been in the original. It is important to note however, that while there are minor variations in the texts from which we translate our Bibles, “nothing we believe to be doctrinally true, and nothing we are commended to do, is in any way jeopardised by the variants.” 94 93

D A Carson The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism Baker, Grand Rapids, 1979, p17 (See also the Preface to the Revised Authorised Version of the Bible or New King James Version, Samuel Bagster, London, 1982, pvi) 94 Carson p56


The existence of these variants “should not overshadow the overwhelming degree of agreement which exists among the ancient records.”95 TEXTUS RECEPTUS The manuscripts now available in this wonderful array are grouped together by things they have in common, mainly to do with historical, geographic and linguistic issues.96 One such group is known as the “Textus Receptus”, which means “Received Text”. This group is based on manuscripts that come from the Eastern or Byzantine Empire which continued to use Greek after it separated from the rest of the Roman Empire. Frequently, reference is made to the Textus Receptus as if it is a single New Testament Greek text, one that is said to be reliable to the exclusion of all other manuscripts. Such a single text does not exist. Although there is obviously a group of texts called “Textus Receptus”, that they should have special powers associated with “being received” is nonsense. For a start, this group does not produce a single Greek New Testament about which there is total certainty, even among those who treasure it. It is not simply a choice between Textus Receptus and other sources of manuscripts – choices have to be made even when translating from all the manuscripts within the Textus Receptus group. Most advocates of Textus Receptus now recognise that it originates in a broader group of manuscripts 97 in 95

Preface to the Revised Authorised Version, pvi The discussion of relative merits of these different groups as a basis for Bible translation is beyond the scope of this book. Because so much is made of the "Textus Receptus " by some advocates of the King's Bible, the inconsistencies of their argument are considered here as relevant to claims for exclusive use of the King's Bible. We have made no attempt to advocate one group or another, but have merely aimed to show that within the group that includes the Textus Receptus what the King's translators used was not entirely reliable. For the wider discussion see Carson and Metzger. 97 “This large body of manuscripts is the source of the Greek text underlying the Authorised Version. It is the Greek text … presently know as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text.” Preface 96


which there are about six to ten variants per Bible chapter about which these choices have to be made.98 In fact, the handful of manuscripts used to construct the Textus Receptus were not even all the manuscripts then available – its compiler, Erasmus was is such a hurry he had to make do with what was at hand at the time, instead of making a comprehensive collection. The idea of such a superior text or group of manuscripts upon which they could rely was completely foreign to the King’s writers. They used other language versions of the New Testament based on manuscripts that were not Textus Receptus, openly bewailing the limited number of manuscripts available to them, and saying they would have consulted more texts had they been able to. Not only does a single, completely reliable Textus Receptus not exist, the concept was not invented until long after the King’s writers had completed their work. Although they made use of the texts now called “Textus Receptus”, they did not do so exclusively or consciously. They simply had no idea there would ever be a “Textus Receptus”! Too often the polemics of those who want to use the Textus Receptus go from the extreme to the foolish. Objection is made to alternative texts as coming from Roman Catholic sources99 – but so did the Textus Receptus! Westcot and Hort are significant textual critics who favoured an alternative textual tradition. Their work has influenced modern translations. Their faith and integrity is criticised, and becomes a basis for rejecting their scholarship. Critics ask, “How can we rely on the textual criticism of men who to the Revised Authorised Version, pvii 98 Carson p68 99 for example E T Chacko By His Singular Care and Providence a tract published by The Westminster Tradition Singapore, 1993: “The contention of Hort and Westcott was that the Alexandrian Text is superior … But I think Hort’s and Westcott’s proposition is shred to smithereens when we realise that the manuscripts they championed had the Papacy’s endorsement. For the Sinai manuscript came from St Catherine’s Monastery and the Vatican manuscript came right from the Vatican Library.”


do not meet the high standards of our evangelical faith?” If that is the case, how then can we trust the work of the Roman Catholic who compiled the text that forms the Textus Receptus from sources that include Roman Catholic ones? ERASMUS’S TEXT The writers of the King’s Bible had to rely mainly on a Greek New Testament compiled by the Roman Catholic humanist Erasmus from several incomplete and sometimes conflicting manuscripts. Parts of these were made up because there was no Greek available – in some cases it is still not available, within or beyond the Textus Receptus group. Erasmus managed to find a small number of Greek manuscripts – probably about six or so out of the many then in circulation. He disliked and therefore discarded one because, although it was the oldest one, it differed too much from the Latin version he had! Several passages were missing from all the manuscripts he had. For the Gospels he used a manuscript from a Roman Catholic monastery in Basle and for Acts and the Epistles another one from the same library. With most passages he was able to compare two or three different manuscripts to decide which might be the best rendering – although we have no idea as to what persuaded him one text was to be preferred above another at any point. For the Book of Revelation he had only one manuscript and nothing to check it against. The last six verses of Revelation were missing, so Erasmus made them up from the Latin. He then translated the Greek back into Latin, apparently in an odd attempt to show he got his Latin translation from the Greek! He did the same with several other passages in Revelation. “In Erasmus’ self-made Greek text are readings which have never been found in any


known Greek manuscript – but which are still perpetuated today in printings of the so-called Textus Receptus.”100 The same thing happened in Acts 9:6 where the question, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” is not found in any Greek manuscript at this point (it can be found in some manuscripts at Acts 22:10 however!). Erasmus simply took it from the Latin and made up the Greek. Yet this too remains part of the “Textus Receptus”. Erasmus was in a great hurry to produce his Greek New Testament because he knew that others were working on a similar project. As a result, he rushed it into print without proper editing or checking. It contained hundreds of typographical errors. The first edition was published in 1516, and it went through five revisions till the final version was printed in 1535. In the fourth edition he made ninety changes to the Book of Revelation alone. Erasmus came under vigorous criticism for leaving out verses 7 & 8 of 1 John 5 – what is now called the Comma Johanneum. Considering his willingness to fill in gaps from the Latin in other passages, his obstinacy here is fascinating. Erasmus simply said he could not find it in any manuscript. 101 He even examined a number of manuscripts that were not available to him when he first wrote the translation, and was still not able to find it. But the Latin version, declared by the Pope to be the true Bible, had this passage, and by refusing to include it Erasmus was challenging the might of Rome. He dug in! He would include the passage only if it could be shown to him in a Greek manuscript. Eventually a copy of the passage in Greek was found – or rather manufactured. What Erasmus suspected we now know to be the case: some time around 1520 a Franciscan friar at Oxford 100

B M Metzger The Text of the New Testament Second Ed, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1968, p100. See also Carson pp34f 101 Martin Luther was just as sceptical! See Brian Edwards p200


in England named Roy or Froy wrote an ancient looking manuscript by translating the Latin into Greek.102 This was presented as an authentic manuscript to Erasmus who kept his word and included the passage in the third edition of 1522 – but in a footnote he expresses his suspicions that the whole thing has been contrived. Apart from this manuscript, only three others have since been discovered to contain the passage.103 One is a 12th century manuscript that has the passage inserted in the margin in a 17th century style of handwriting; the second is a 16 th century copy made from another New Testament published around the same time (the Polyglot Bible); and one that is dated from either the 14 th or 16th century, depending upon which specialist is listened to. Just as significantly it does not appear in the oldest Latin versions and the first mention of it in non-biblical literature is a 4 th century quotation attributed, not to the Bible, but to the sayings of an early church leader. How did Erasmus choose between the variations in the texts he had available to him? We do not know. Why is this tiny collection of texts preferred when others were available? He did not have time to look at the others. Is there any reason why his text should be used while other manuscripts are ignored? Market forces ruled – he published first!104 Subsequently a Robert Estienne (or Stephanus) issued four editions of the Greek New Testament. His work, notable for the introduction of numbered verses, is largely a development of Erasmus’ work. The Reformer, Theodore Beza then published nine editions that varied little from the work of Estienne. Two of Beza’s editions are the ones used mainly by the writers of the KJV. 102

Metzger p101 Carson p35 Speaking of the haste, Erasmus himself said his Greek New Testament was "precipitated rather than edited." Quoted by Robert Martin p79 103 104


It was not until 1633 that a passing advertising note by a publisher tagged this Greek version as the “Textus Receptus”. The publishers of that version of Erasmus’s New Testament, modified and edited by a number of scholars and publishers including Theodore Beza, actually referred to it in this way: this is “the text which is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted”105. In other words, this is the text that had at that time been accepted for use – they in no sense suggested that it was to be “received” in opposition to other Greek texts, much less received from God in some mystical way or with unusual powers or integrity. It was simply the text passed on to them and commonly used. The publishers were attempting to establish with readers that because of this, theirs was a trustworthy translation. Textus Receptus represents the choices of one man to favour selected variants over other equally valid options, to make-up missing passages, and to bend his scholarship to the requirements of Roman Catholic tradition. Some people may have a preference for it. It may happen to be the text used for English Bibles for nearly 400 years. But neither evangelical superstition nor dogma can justify exalting this significant and useful but limited collection of incomplete texts to a position of cultic reverence. There are other issues relating to the relative merits of the different groups of texts now available, but it is clear the Greek text used by the King’s translators was not entirely reliable. Whatever position is now taken on the reliability of the various textual groupings – which of the 5,000 plus texts now available are accepted as most reliable – the text used by the King’s translators had weaknesses and outright errors. The Greek they consulted (and sometimes rejected) was not the best available then 105

Translated by Metzger, p106; in the Latin (in which this was written) the words are “Textum … receptum: …” from which “Textus receptus” is derived.


and is not the best available now.106 Departure from the Textus Receptus (and from the King’s Bible) is not indicative of heretical tampering with the Word of God.


Robert Martin, while strongly advocating the reliability of the KJV compared with modern translations, nevertheless graciously closes his discussion of the Textus Receptus in words with which we concur: "My purpose merely is to ask that no unique or exclusive place be given to the Textus Receptus or the King James Version, to the exclusion of other safe guides in the Scriptures." p82




he KJV is not a translation and never claimed to be one. It is a revision of an earlier English translation, with the revisers reviewing a wide variety of manuscripts. Among the king’s requirements was that they kept as closely as possible to the old English version, the “Bishops’ Bible”, and that they kept old words and expressions. The changes they made sometimes came from Greek and Hebrew, but also often came from Latin, French, and other documents. Each of the six translation committees was required to begin with the Bishops’ Bible, and compare it to other English and foreign language Bibles, as well as Greek and Hebrew texts. Roman Catholic texts were included. The writers list Chaldean, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch sources in their Preface. They were required to make as few changes as possible, and to keep to traditional expressions. They were forbidden to use a number of expressions – even those used


in earlier English Bibles – if they supported Puritan or Baptist theology or practice. In fact, in their introduction Smith and Bilson state that silencing Puritans (and by implication, Baptists107) was one of the aims of the writers. Two sets of manuscripts recording the deliberations of writing committees still exist.108 From these notes it is possible to see how the committees worked through their choices, although the reasons for the decisions are not always so evident. While much of the work is as might be expected, some quite clearly does not uphold the myths about adherence to the Greek and “formal equivalence”. Some of the revisions made in writing the King’s Bible were innovative – but many were simply copies of variations from other translations. The Second Westminster Committee proposed 181 changes to the Bishops’ Bible version of 1 Timothy. Of the 153 that were eventually included in the King’s Bible, 20 came from Tyndale’s version, 41 came from two versions of the despised Geneva Bible, 35 from the heretical Catholic Rheims New Testament – just 57 were original. The General Committee then revised 1 Timothy again, introducing 53 changes of their own: 14 from Tyndale, 3 from the Geneva translation and a significantly increased proportion of 28 from the Catholic Rheims New Testament.109 SEARCHING FOR THE BEST ENGLISH The first two examples we will look at indicate that rather than working on finding the best translation from the Greek, much less on a word-for-word basis, the writers were concerned to find the 107

When they opposed the “Puritan” preference for “washing” in place of “baptism” and “congregation” in place of “Church”. 108 See Lupton vols XXIII, XXIV & XXV from which much of the information in this chapter is drawn. 109 Lupton vol XXV pp65f


best English rendering by shuffling the word order and vocabulary: Luke 1:57 reads Elizabeth’s time came that she should be delivered... in the Bishops’ Bible – the starting point for the revision. At first the committee changed this to: Now Elizabeth’s time was fulfilled that she should... . Later, they changed it again to: Now Elizabeth’s full time came that she should ... . There is no indication here that any attempt was being made to achieve “equivalence” to the Greek – rather, it was a search for the best English. The committee was not satisfied that “time came” communicates accurately in the context of the culture of English readers. This was not just any event whose time had come, but the full-term of her pregnancy. So they searched for an expression that conveys that precise meaning. It is interesting to note that they retained the dynamic translation of the Bishops’ Bible by omitting the preposition that in the Greek indicates the time has come to her, and instead rephrased it to indicate the time she possesses has come to its full term. Greater equivalence would have been achieved by translating the preposition that is found in the Greek, but this would have been at cost to English idiom and English understanding. In their preface, the revisers state they will not be held to a word-for-word rendering, and here is an example of the exercise of such necessary dynamic liberty. For the sake of good English they omit a word found in the Greek. This is dynamic not formal equivalence. Luke 1:63 began in the Bishops’ Bible as “And when he had asked for writing tables, he wrote ...” The first revision reads “And demanding a writing table, he wrote ...” A second revision reads “And he asked for writing tables, he wrote ...” Finally the version that became part of the King’s Bible reads “And he asked for a writing table and wrote ...” Here they changed the tense


(contrary to the Greek), correctly changed the plural to singular (but retained “table” where “small table” or “tablet” is better), inserted an article not found in the Greek (which is just as well as English requires an article), and inserted a conjunction not found in either the Bishops’ Bible or the Greek. The article is not italicised.110 Again the search was for dynamic and comprehensible English rather than formal equivalence. In this verse (Luke 1:63) the Greek and the King’s Bible both have “... wrote, saying ….” This is Greek idiom, much the same as “... answered, saying ...” that has no English equivalent. Indeed, here it confuses the issue because it is quite clear from the next verse that he did not speak until after he had written, but “wrote, saying …” conveys the sense that he wrote, and simultaneously spoke.111 In English “wrote” means that the words that follow are what he wrote down, the intention of the two words in Greek; the word “saying” is included in an English translation at cost of clarity and good English. In Revelation 12:9 the Greek was ignored in favour of more effective English idiom. The King’s Bible has cast out ... cast out ... cast out – a familiar and dramatic idiom in English. In the committee’s deliberations it was noted that the Greek uses two different words meaning respectively cast and cast out, but the Committee abandoned formal equivalence in favour of stronger English – they used the same word three times despite two different words being used in the Greek. The NIV however, sometimes castigated for lack of formal equivalence, uses hurled down and hurled to which is more formally equivalent than the King’s Bible. 110

Italics were used to indicate words supplied by the translators that were not in the original. Hendriksen argues that the word “saying” here is an indicator of the beginning of the quotation (similar to the way in which we use quotation marks) and is best left out of an English translation: William Hendriksen New Testament Commentary – The Gospel of Luke Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1979 p120 111


The most radical suggestion in the committees however was at 1 Corinthians 6:4 where it was suggested it would be better to change the Greek for “thus better consideration will be had of the sense” than to change the English to match the Greek. This suggestion was agreed to. It is rather difficult to impose the modern concept of “formal equivalence” on this process of changing the Greek to fit the English they wanted to use! TRADITION SOMETIMES DETERMINED “TRANSLATION” The next two examples show how tradition played a significant role in determining the wording of the King’s Bible: In Revelation 6:14 the Committee wanted to say that the heavens were gathered and made reference to Isaiah 34:4 which they argued had the same sense. But apart from the Rheims Bible (the Catholic English translation) that had “departed as a booke folded together”, all English versions since Tyndale had used the word vanished. This traditional influence was too strong, and the submission was over-ruled: the King’s Bible reads And the heaven departed as a scrole. Not only had the committee come to a better translation with “gathered”, they correctly linked it to Isaiah 34:4. But for tradition’s sake, they retained the sense of vanishing with “departed as a scroll” which has as little clarity now as it had then. The “departure” of a scroll has as much meaning as the departure of a book: how does a scroll or book depart? But the “rolling up of a scroll” or even the “gathering of a scroll” would have the perfect clarity of a wonderfully graphic image. At Revelation 7:15 the Greek scholar John Bois made a strong case for expressing the Greek (he shall tabernacle over them) as He shall pitch his tent. In this he had the support of six other (non-English) versions. He also made detailed references to four other New Testament passages which helped establish his


argument. But the English tradition had been for “dwell” and it is this that finds its way into the King’s Bible: He shall dwell among them. Knowing what the Greek literally meant, the choice was nonetheless made by the revisers to ignore the Greek and stick with tradition. It can be seen from this that when the NIV translates the passage He shall spread his tent over them it is not making a change based on an inferior text, but is being more faithful to the text known to, used by, and ignored by, the King’s writers. Again the Greek of Revelation 13:8 gave the Committee a reason for suggesting a better translation. Comparison was made by the Committee with Revelation 17:8 to justify their argument. But the case was rejected because it was “not prudent to institute anew anything in a matter so commonplace and spread abroad.” There is more of theological bias than formal equivalence at play here! SOMETIMES POOR TRANSLATION There are many examples of good English in the King’s Bible – but a very large number of these, perhaps even a majority, come from Tyndale’s much earlier translation. In other words, the King’s Bible did not improve on the English of the versions it was intended to replace. Worse, there are also some most disturbing instances of poor translation, where the English is made unnecessarily obscure, if not incomprehensible. Here are some examples: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 “Our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompense in the same ... be ye also enlarged.” 2 Corinthians 8:1 “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed ...”


Psalm 5:6 “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” Isaiah 32:4,5 “The heart of the rash shall understand knowledge. The vile person shall no more be called liberal.” Hosea 10:7 “As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water.” Job 36:33 “The noise thereof sheweth concerning it, the cattle also concerning the vapour.” These passages, and many more like them in the King’s Bible, may have had clarity of meaning in 1611, but that has long since gone. Neither the “very vulgar” nor the well educated modern English speaker will understand such a Bible version. Now the King’s Bible is not alone in having poor translation – but those who so idolise the King James revision of the Bishops’ Bible as to maintain it cannot be improved upon should explain such examples. Their explanations should be given in the light of the introduction to the KJV, But how shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? ... [the purpose of some translations] is to darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood. But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan that it might be understood of the very vulgar.112

HIGH CHURCH ENGLISH: CLOUDY, ANTIQUARIAN & MYSTICAL There is no doubt that the English of the King’s Bible is noble English. It has a style and fluency that is rhythmic and moving. Yet there is a mythology that has grown up around the issue of style that maintains that the KJV English is simultaneously 112

The Translators Preface pp12, 34f


elevated and common. This myth asserts that this version is written in common Elizabethan English which is easily understood while also maintaining that it is written in elevated English particularly suited to formal worship and to the translation of the Word of God. As with most myths, there is an element of truth here. It is written in elevated English – it is not written in common Elizabethan English. This elevated style is not accidental, but nor is it the natural language of the day – much less a natural language of ours. A majority of those working on the King’s Bible were unashamedly dedicated to the formal ritualism of High Church, Anglo-Catholic, worship. They chose to write in a formal, mystical English. Does this English “sound good” when read aloud? It should, because it was meant to move the emotions as it was read in the vaulted chambers of High-Church sanctuaries. Tyndale’s wonderful goal was for the ploughman to be able to read the Bible at his plough, but the King’s Bible was intended for loftier lecterns. The KJV sets “out to make antiquarian effects ... for partly political reasons.”113 This was literary English, not common English, and it used archaic words and phrases with deliberation. “It was cloudy English but philologically sound.”114 In the words of Lewis Lupton, the King’s Bible “(with Jacobean punctuation) stands alone in matching ambiguous Greek with ambiguous English.”115 It is hardly surprising then that modern readers stumble over archaic words and phrases – readers in 1611 were doing the same! Throughout the King’s Bible a more formal register is maintained than is to be found in either the Greek or earlier English translations. Typical is the very formal pattern of the 113

Daniell Tyndale, p135 Daniell Tyndale p302 115 Lupton vol XXV p64 114


(noun) of the (noun)116. In fact, this idiom is so typical of the formal register of the King’s Bible that when one who is familiar with the KJV hears that pattern he assumes he is hearing a quotation from the Bible. There is no need to stoop to colloquial or “newspaper English”117 to use a less formal register (but in no sense informal or casual) in the form of the (possessive noun) (noun). Professor Daniell gives the example, “Abraham’s seed” which is, he argues, better English than “The Seed of Abraham,” which is also more formal than the original. 118 TRANSLATING CANNOT BE WORD-FOR-WORD It is nonsense to speak of translating fluently from one language to another with “word-for-word equivalence.” Languages differ in their basic structure. Greek and Hebrew differ from English in the meaning of words, in the semantic variations words can have, in idiomatic usage, in syntax, in the significance of variation in letter shape and markings, and in punctuation. Meaning can be significantly altered by those unfamiliar with connotations, for example, whether in the original language or translation; and shades of meaning may vary between registers and dialects. As a result every translation that has any possibility of being understood must involve a measure of dynamic equivalence. Contemporary Hebrew scholar, John Selden, was highly critical of word-for-word translation that replicated Hebrew idiom rather than translating it into English: If I translate a French book into English, I turn it into English phrase and not into French English. “Il fait froid”: I say “it is cold,” not “it makes cold.” But the Bible is translated into 116

eg “the beasts of the field” This superficial, if not snide, epithet is frequently attached to modern translations by certain critics. See p137. 118 see Daniell Tyndale p285 etc for discussion of this. 117


English words rather than English phrases. The Hebraisms are kept and the phrase of that language is kept. As for example, “he uncovered her shame,” which is well enough so long as scholars have to do with it, but when it comes among the common people, Lord what gear [nonsense] do they make of it.119 The meaninglessness of word-for-word translation is demonstrated by Dr Fisher with an example passage, Genesis 33:14: “As for me, let me lead my gentleness to the foot of the business which is to my face and to the foot of the children that I shall come to my lord to Seir.”120 This may be literal in the sense that it is formally equivalent, but it is nonsense in English. The concept of translating word-for-word simply does not belong to English – one might just as well talk about translating letter-forletter. In English, the basic unit of meaning is not the word but the sentence. That is not to say words are not important – they are – but they are the servants of the idea and sentence.121 Leland Ryken, for example, asserts “The most basic of all literary forms through which meaning is conveyed is words. There is no such thing as disembodied thought.”122 Yet words without a sentence are “disembodied thought”. Where, for example, one word is used several times but with varied meanings in the Greek New Testament, should it be translated as only one word in English, irrespective of meaning? Interestingly the King’s translators argued “No!” and exercised a deal of freedom in this regard. Calls for word-for word equivalence fail to 119

Quoted by McGrath p265 Fisher, The New Testament Student and Bible Translation quoted by Edwards, p234 121 Words without sentences do have ideas attached to them, but those ideas are frequently not fully defined. Take, for example, the word “hit”. It is not until it is used in a sentence that a particular meaning is realised, and that is not just a matter of shades of meaning but of very different meaning. Examples: He hit her. He hit on her. He was a hit. It was a huge hit in the 1960s. It was a huge hit into left field. 122 Leland Ryken The Word of God in English Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill, 2002 [His italics] 120


recognise the fact that a single word with a variety of meanings in one language might well be better translated into a variety of words with precise meanings in another.123 Semantic Range

Carson notes,124 by way of example, that the Hebrew word nephesh can mean “soul, heart, life, man, beast” and in idiomatic usage “neck, throat and desire”. It can also be used in place of a pronoun. To decide which of these meanings is to be given in an English translation, the translator needs to understand the regular and idiomatic usage of the Hebrew, he needs to understand the particular context of the word being translated, and he needs to understand the semantic range and idiomatic usage of each of the English meanings – and perhaps not one English translation will exactly represent the Hebrew as it is understood by a Hebrew reader. Different words or phrases may be used legitimately in different places for the same word, yet on each occasion only one selection will be “right”. In recognition of this, the KJV writers say “there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere.”125 On this point the KJV writers were adamant they would not be held to a formal equivalence: they stress firstly that some meanings, no matter how carefully they choose their words, cannot be effectively translated, and as a result they include marginal notes to explain the meaning – indeed they go so far as to say without these marginal notes (which cannot now be found in most KJV Bibles) the King’s Bible cannot be understood. They 123

Nonetheless repeated use of a word may not be accidental (as it is when only one word is available). Repetition is a key feature of Old Testament Hebrew, and many passages depend on repetition of words and expressions that are not always uniformly translated. In such cases the need is not for word-for-word translation but translation that recognises the literary impact of repetition. 124 Carson Tyndale p 91 125 The Translators' Preface p33


therefore defend their right to translate a particular word in different ways at different places. They also refer to the many words about which they were uncertain – they just did not know the meanings of all the words they translated, and admit improvements and changes will still need to be made. In this pattern, for example, they translate one Greek word in three different ways (rejoice, glory and joy) in the two verses of Romans 5:2 and 3. Idiomatic Usage

All languages have idioms in which words are used in a way that differs from their strict meaning when taken in isolation. And it came to pass in Luke 17:11 and elsewhere is a strict word-forword translation, but neither a literal nor an equivalent one. The Greek idiom may best be expressed in English as it happened next, if not as now or immediately next; whereas it came to pass is at best obscure, if not suggesting a passing of a period of time before the event occurs. The word-for-word translation obscures the meaning by not using an English idiom to match the Hebrew idiom. The Hebrew idiom rising up early – meaning to do something continuously126 is translated literally by the King’s translators eleven times in Jeremiah. When it does make sense in English it does so in a way that hides the meaning of the Hebrew, but in such places as Jeremiah 7:13 and 29:19 it doesn’t even make sense in English. It is this to which John Owen refers when he writes that interpretation cannot be given unless “we understand the language wherein he speaks, as also the idiotisms [idioms127] of 126

McGrath, p232 The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary relates idiotism to the language the King’s translators said was needed that the “very vulgar” might understand it. 127


that language, with the common use and intention of its phraseology and expressions.”128 Greek can use a sequence of words that in English are superfluous and confusing. Philippians 3:8 for example begins with a string of particles, and translated word-for-word it would read But indeed, therefore, at least, even. Hendriksen suggests that at least one of these particles should not be translated into an English word at all, indicating a tone of voice rather than a word we would use.129 Alert readers of the King’s Bible will be familiar with the frequent use of the conjunction “and” at the start of sentences. Greek regularly indicates a linking of one sentence to another by beginning the second with “and” – but such a usage is rare in English, and the frequency of its literal translation of this in the King’s Bible is just poor English. In Luke 23, for example, the King’s Bible has some 70% of sentences – 40 of them – beginning with “and”: it is more than a little overwhelming. 130 Even the NKJV manages to reduce this to under 20 by dynamically substituting other conjunctions. Sentence Structure & Punctuation

Good Greek can use long sentences. In its long sentences it uses numerous subordinate clauses and lots of participles. But this is not good English; and when long sentences are used coordinate clauses are more likely in good English than subordinate ones. Sentence structure in the King's Bible is frequently awkward, such as “to his own master he standeth or falleth,” where the 128

John Owen, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit Book VI, part II 1678 in Works, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1967 p215 – italics are his 129 W Hendriksen New Testament Commentary – Philippians Banner of Truth, London, 1962 p162 foot 130 My attention was drawn to this by some one else – source unknown


Geneva has the much clearer “he standeth or falleth to his own master.” That stilted syntax came directly from the version the King wanted his translators to use as their starting point, the Bishops’ Bible which “supplied, for the most part, the organisation of sentences in [the King’s Bible].”131 As to punctuation, many modern readers will have been confused by the way in which capitals, semi-colons and the like are used in the King’s Bible. The lack of contemporary punctuation for speech, and for quotations within quotations, is particularly confusing and liable to contribute quite directly to misunderstanding. Quite simply, the modern reader who depends on contemporary conventions of punctuating quotations will often be unaware of the introduction of or change in speaker, rendering confusion certain and misinterpretation likely. ARCHAIC USAGE There is no question that the King’s Bible contains archaic words and expressions – many were already archaic when it was first translated, and as English has changed over the intervening centuries, more of the KJV has become archaic. Some argue that people can be taught to understand archaic expressions, but that makes a nonsense of translating the Bible into the language that is being spoken. For example, “While Elizabethan English and archaic vocabulary may cause problems for children and others with very limited reading skills, the average literate adult adjusts to the Elizabethan style in a relatively brief time and can discover the meaning of the archaic words with relatively little effort (if he is willing to make the effort) from the context or from a good dictionary.”132 Apart from the fact that it is an absurdity that the 131

Ward Allen Translating the New Testament Epistles 1604-1611 etc Nashville, Tennessee, 1997 pxxxiv quoted by Daniell The Bible p447 132 Robert Martin p74


average adult reader makes easy sense of “Elizabethan English” in the KJV, why should God’s intention that people have Bibles in their own language be subverted by requiring adjustment to Elizabethan language? Tyndale’s poor ploughman now has a dictionary and a small library of “helps” hanging from his plough so that he can make his own translation from archaic English into the language he uses. The tradesman might be more willing to make an effort to find the meaning of an obscure archaism than Mr Martin is willing to give him a Bible in his own language, but is that really what Bible translation is to be reduced to? Certain specialised words and expressions need to be part of any good Bible translation – one thinks, for example, of “atonement” – but most archaisms are not of that sort. The effect of archaic language can be two-fold: it can be such a stumbling block as to cause a reader to avoid sections of the Bible or to give up reading it at all; or it may confuse and “muddy” the understanding (to use an image favoured by the KJV writers) because archaisms are most frequently not recognised. Most archaisms are words still in use but with changed meanings. The modern reader understands the word or expression as if its modern usage is intended and thereby completely misunderstands what he is reading – and is probably quite unaware this has happened. Some examples: In Romans 12:16 the King’s Bible has “...but condescend to men of low estate.” When written in the King’s Bible condescend had none of the nuance of deprecation inevitably attached to its modern usage. A modern reader of this passage would imagine that the instruction involves a stooping to those lower than himself, whereas it more properly means treating others as equals without pride. In 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14 The King’s Bible uses “earnest” and “guarantee” for the Greek word arrabon.


“Earnest” is probably meaningless to the modern reader who will try to fit the meaning of sincerity and urgency to the passage. At least the reader will have a sense of difficulty, and may be prompted in this case to get help. But “guarantee” is very likely to be unwittingly misunderstood. A more formal equivalent, and much better translation for the modern reader, would be down payment. For most modern readers fluent in English deny in Matthew 26:34 would imply some sense of withholding access or a benefit, or refusing, or declaring untrue. Disown is closer, but is unlikely even to be considered by the modern reader of the King’s Bible. Careful today means to take care – but in Philippians 4:6 Paul is certainly not suggesting Christians should be careless. Rather, he wants them to not be anxious. This would entirely escape the modern reader who is not prompted by the context to consider an archaic usage. Proper in Hebrews 11:23 could mean excellent, handsome or unusual –archaic meanings that would be obscure to someone used to the contemporary meaning of proper: correct or suitable. Suffer means permit in such places as Psalm 101:5 and Matthew 19:14 in the King’s Bible, rather than grudgingly bear with or tolerate – the modern meaning. The modern reader would assume the wrong meaning without any thought that it might be an archaism expressing a completely different idea. The confusion is compounded by the fact that in other verses suffer has other meanings, including to endure. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15 prevent will be understood as not allowing, whereas in the King’s Bible it means to go before. It can therefore convey a meaning exactly opposite to what was intended by the Holy Spirit. One form of archaism that has less obvious but nonetheless significant impact is the lack of a word now common but not then


used. A prime example is the possessive pronoun “its”. Prior to the 17th Century, “his” was used in places we now use “his” and “its”133. The King’s Bible, for example translates Malachi 4:2 as “… shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings”. Some might suppose that when the NIV translates the same verse “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” it has weakened the Christ-centeredness of the King’s Bible by translating “his” as “its”. But the King’s translators did not consider the option of “its” because they were not using that word.134 The archaic use of “him” in the King’s Bible here, and in similar places, is misleading. While we might interpret “Sun of righteousness”135 as “him”, there is now no justification in the Hebrew for translating it as such, and the NIV is more accurate. A WORD OF CAUTION The problems of translation should not be over-simplified. There can be patterns of language that have no equivalence in English but would be understood by the people to whom a book was written. There are ways stories are told and symbols used that differ from culture to culture and language to language. Hammond points to features such as “Patterns of repetition, the way one clause is linked to another, the effect of unexpected inversions of word order, the readiness of biblical writers to vary tone and register from the highly formal to the scatological, and the different kinds and uses of imagery.” 136 He correctly argues 133

ie "his" was used for both neuter and masculine possessive pronoun McGrath points out they do use it once, in Leviticus 25:5, indicating they were aware but not entirely persuaded that the "new" word "its" was coming into use. (p274) 135 We should note here too the "dynamic" interpretation of the KJV in capitalising "Sun" where there is no justification for that in the Hebrew. This is one of a number of places in which the King's men used very liberal dynamic equivalence to identify what they considered references to Deity but for which the text gives no such indication. In this verse, as in most others, evangelical interpreters tend to agree with the interpretation made by the King's men – but that does not endorse their inexact translation. 136 Hammond p664f 134


that these are often more evident in the formal construction of the King’s Bible than in more modern versions. This does not necessarily make the King’s Bible more comprehensible, for if the construction is so foreign that a modern reader cannot understand it, he can gain no advantage from a better rendering of the technical features! No translation into English can fully convey all the aspects of the original Greek and Hebrew with the clarity needed. It was for this reason the King’s translators insisted on including many more marginal notes than King James directed. Translators must balance clarity with precision, and readers must be willing to make use of additional help such as marginal notes or footnotes, and commentaries. This is well illustrated with the translation of the Hebrew verb yada and related words in the early chapters of Genesis. The King’s translators render yada in 31 different English words throughout the Old Testament – all relating to “knowing” in some way. Beginning in Genesis 2 there is a significant but often not recognised pattern of “knowledge” and “knowing”. The King’s Bible shows this well: there is “the tree of knowledge of good and evil”, Adam “knew his wife”, the serpent says that “God doth know”, they then “knew they were naked”, and finally God pronounces the curse because “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” There is an “economical linking, through this verb, of the fruit of the tree with shame, God’s knowledge, and sexuality.”137 Yet this linking can only be understood by a reader who understands that when Adam “knew his wife” he had sexual relations with her – an understanding that will escape most modern readers. Accordingly most modern translations accurately translate it with a more contemporary reference to sexual intercourse, ensuring the basic idea is understood even if the more subtle language pattern that Hebrew readers might notice is lost. 137

Hammond p652


A good translation will ensure the passage can be understood. The willingness of the King’s translators to render yada in so many different ways indicates they shared that conviction, preferring dynamic to formal equivalence. They did not fail in Genesis 4:1, for the expression did have sexual connotations when they wrote their translation. Today, even if scholars and experts can see in this passage a pattern that is present in the Hebrew, “knew” for sexual intercourse in the King’s Bible is too archaic to be comprehensible for most readers. When problems of this sort occur for translators, clarity must be a priority. Every reader must understand some things are necessarily lost in translation. The wise will make use of good commentaries, and, where they are given, footnotes or marginal notes. THEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL TWISTING In some cases these “archaisms” are deliberate theological perversions. “Charity” and “church” are examples of words used with deliberation in ways that now appear archaic. These terms were introduced into the King’s Bible, replacing the more accurate “love” and “congregation” used in earlier English translations, to support Anglo-Catholic teaching. “Charity” was expected to encourage the good work of alms-giving, and “church” stressed the national structure of an organised “national church” at the expense of the local congregation. In the same way “confess” (in support of confessing to a priest) replaced “acknowledge” and “one fold” replaced Tyndale’s “flock” in John 10:16 in support of the Anglo-Catholic idea of one national (or international) organised church. How does the word “Easter” find its way into the King’s Bible at Acts 12:4? Not by way of formal equivalence! Perhaps the most blatant perversion of the text is found in Acts 1:20. The Archbishop of Canterbury made 14 changes to the final


revision of the Bible, despite opposition from Dr Smith. One of these was to include the word “bishopricke” (later the spelling was changed) in Acts 1:20 to support the Anglican office of Bishop as being biblical. TAKING BITS FROM THE KING’S BIBLE? Modern versions often indicate that some parts of the King James Version cannot be relied upon as part of the original text. This can cause alarm – are modern translations trying to remove parts of the inspired text? This is not an unusual accusation from those committed to the exclusive use of the King’s Bible. As can be seen from the translators’ records, the decision to include or exclude particular words or expressions exercised the minds of the translators as they worked in their committees. In many cases there was simply no certainty as to what belonged, and the translators expressed a desire to have studied manuscripts from a wider selection than those available to them. In other cases they appear to have been unaware of the corruption of texts they were using – for example, 1 John 5:7 & 8 was almost certainly included in the King’s Bible as the result of a Catholic conspiracy to force its inclusion in Erasmus’ Greek text. Orthodoxy of ancient texts cannot be decided merely on the King’s Bible – “If anyone would begin to think that the conflict of opinion is one between ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘liberalism’ (or ‘modernism’), he would be mistaken.”138 William Hendriksen is most certainly a conservative biblical scholar, but nevertheless formed the view that the last 22 verses of Mark’s Gospel should not be included as part of the Scriptures. Why? He points to the fact that the passage is not found in the oldest manuscripts. He also points out that the early Christian 138

William Hendriksen New Testament Commentary Mark Banner of Truth, Edinburgh 1976 p 682


writers did not appear to know of the passage, some quite distinctly commenting on the ending of the Gospel with the words of verse 8. But, say the proponents of the “Majority Text” view139, there is such a large number of manuscripts, albeit not the oldest, that have this passage: so many manuscripts cannot be wrong. Hendriksen replies, “It cannot be denied that ever so many Greek manuscripts do contain these words, but when the manuscript evidence is properly evaluated instead of merely counted [his italics], the balance swings heavily towards the omission of the contested verses.” 140 He then examines matters of style and language usage in the passage and concludes “Since it would be very difficult – perhaps impossible – to defend the thesis that every word of this ending is without flaw, no sermon, doctrine, or practice should be based solely upon its contents.” This does not represent unbridled antagonism to the integrity of the Scriptures – on the contrary, it indicates a very high regard for the Bible as the inspired word of God, demanding that such respect not be given to any passage where there are clear indications it does not belong. Similarly, most modern translations indicate that John 7:538:11 should not be included in the text of our Bibles. Is this a result of doctrinal prejudice or modernistic tampering? Well, the passage cannot be found in any Greek manuscripts before the fifth century when it appears in one manuscript but not in any others. In fact, no other manuscript has the passage until the ninth 139

The vast majority of known Greek manuscripts are in a group known as the "Majority Text" and are dated much later than those in other groups. Proponents argue that by virtue of their majority, these texts are more reliable than manuscripts from other groups which may be older but less numerous. Carson represents those who cannot accept this mechanical approach: "Manuscripts must … be weighed, and not just counted." p30 Other considerations (and speculations) revolve around the regions and church traditions from which the manuscripts originate and the likelihood of accuracy. The Majority Text is closely linked to the Textus Receptus: proponents tend to support KJV wording against alternatives, and "Majority Text" is more widely appealed to now by KJV supporters than "Textus Receptus" alone. 140 Hendriksen p 683


century. It is not until the twelfth century that any Church leader comments on the passage, even then noting that the most reliable manuscripts do not include it. In the following centuries, the passage appears more frequently, but in different places! Sometimes it comes after John 7:52, but at other times after Luke 21:38 or at the end of John; and often with editorial or typographical indications that the passage is probably spurious.141 The evidence overwhelmingly indicates this passage has been included wrongly in the King’s Bible, and should not be considered part of our Bibles – but to say that is not to undermine the integrity of the Bible. We have no hesitation in saying the Apocrypha should not be included in the Bible, even though it is part of the King’s Bible, and we should be as willing to discard other textual material where there is such a strong basis for rejection.


P W Comfort Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament Baker, Grand Rapids, 1990 pp 115ff




ow much did the King’s Bible improve the English of earlier translations? There are those who claim it is the best English Bible, but over the centuries others have spoken of “The bald and barbarous language of the old vulgar version.”142 Modern adulation of the English of the King’s Bible is, according to C S Lewis, “deeply influenced by the Romantic movement … that taste for the primitive and the passionate which can be seen growing through nearly the whole of the eighteenth century.”143 The reality is that this Bible adopted a style of English that was not good English then, and is not good English now. It was the flowery English of a ritualistic religion favoured in Palace and University, but remote from ordinary English church-goers.


C Edward Harwood, 1768 quoted by C S Lewis The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1967 (1950) p26 143 C S Lewis p27


WYCLIFFE’S BIBLE Apart from fragments of the Bible in Old English (or AngloSaxon), Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible in 1384 was the first Bible in English. Its production was a monumental effort, with Wycliffe and assistants working from the Latin, facing opposition and persecution for much of the time. One of the principles of translation he held to – one that remains foundational for Bible translation work – was: “The best translating out of Latin into English is to translate after the sentence and not only after the words, so that the sentence be as open, or opener [sic], in English as in Latin, and go not far from the letter; and if the letter may not be followed in the translating, let the sentence ever be whole and open, for the words ought to serve to the intent and sentence, or else the words be superfluous or false.” 144 In contrast, there are times when the KJV translators lose sight of the simple sentence; with their university scholarship it is possible they were able to make sense of difficult words in complex sentences – a case of perhaps seeing the wood and the trees! But today’s readers, if not yesterday’s also, can find it too difficult to see the sense for the words in these passages. LUTHER’S GERMAN TRANSLATION It is interesting to contrast the King James Translation with Luther’s German translation. Although written in the early part of the previous century, Luther’s German Bible has an even higher standing in German Literature than the King’s Bible has in English. “The English Bible has also become a classic, but hardly attains the exalted position of the German in this respect. Luther’s influence, exerted chiefly through this work, has been so enormous on the literature of his people that it is sometimes said 144

Quoted by Edwards p209


that he created the modern written [German] language.” 145 And there are very good reasons for this. Firstly, Luther successfully translated into the common language, not into the dialect of ritualistic worship. “I talk a common, standard German rather than a particular dialect, and thus I can be understood in both Upper and Lower Germany...” Again, “It is not possible to reproduce a foreign idiom in one’s native tongue. The proper method of translation is to seek a vocabulary neither too free nor too literal, but to select the most fitting terms according to the usage of the language adopted ... I try to speak as men do in the market-place.”146 Secondly, his work is remarkably free of the influence of ecclesiastic or political considerations. For example, he used the German equivalent of “congregation”, never using “church” for it, though he had just as much reason to do so as the King’s translators. He translated what was there, even translating the book of James which he honestly believed should not be included in the canon of Scripture. Considering the turmoil of the age in which he wrote his translation, this integrity is indeed remarkable, and it is a double condemnation of the failure of the King James Version’s translators to stick to the text. Thirdly, he used much better textual sources. Quite apart from the inflamed debate that surrounds the text used by the King’s translators, the fact is that even within the Textus Receptus framework they used incomplete texts of inferior quality. Luther’s text was better. WILLIAM TYNDALE’S TRANSLATION The story of William Tyndale’s Bible translation work is an epic on any account. Considered in terms of history, linguistics 145 146

P Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther Hodder, London, 1993 (1911) p212 Smith p212


and literature, or Christian faith, his determination at cost of his life, to have the Bible translated and published in common English was pivotal to the Reformation in England. But it was not just translation of the Bible that is significant; it is the quality of his work that effectively set the word of God loose in the churches and homes of England. It is Tyndale’s English, more than the work of any other individual or group, that is to be found in the English Bible. It was Tyndale, not the King’s translators, who gave the English Bible such phrases the burden and heat of the day; the birds of the air; the fish of the sea; signs of the times; a law unto themselves; as a city set on a hill; no man can serve two masters; as sheep having no shepherd; the floods came, and the winds blew; Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you; and am I my brother’s keeper?147 Among the words Tyndale introduced, not only into the Bible, but into the English language, are beautiful, long-suffering, peacemaker and scapegoat. In fact, the vast majority of the words and expressions that stand out for their clarity and imagery in the King’s translation are in fact Tyndale’s. Apart from changing some archaic spellings and replacing some dated vocabulary, “improvements” made by the King’s men on Tyndale’s English tend to be more flowery, more formal and more difficult to understand. Unlike the King’s translators – whose English was forged in the classical universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and practised in the literature and liturgy of elevated formalism – Tyndale’s English was that of the ordinary people. Tyndale gave a Bible “in the language people spoke, not as scholars wrote.” 148 His English has a fluency that often sounds better than the King’s Bible even 147 148

see numerous references by Daniell Daniell Tyndale p3


today: in Genesis 31:28 he translates “Thou wast a fool to do it” 149 which the King’s Bible has as “thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.” Tyndale translates 1 Samuel 16:12 “And he was brown with goodly eyes, and well favoured in sight” 150 while the King’s Bible has “Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.” Referring to that sentence from the King’s Bible, Daniell says, “That is the sort of sentence that gets the Bible a bad name. No one, ever, spoke that, or could do, with a straight face. As a sentence, all it can do is live in a book on a brass lectern and be read out on one of the Sundays after Trinity.”151 “Tyndale goes for clear, everyday, spoken, English. Because it was largely the current language of his day, it remains largely a current language of ours. He is not out to make antiquarian effects, as the Authorised Version did.”152 Tyndale used the monosyllabic language of ordinary English, whereas the King’s Translators, more used to Latin with its polysyllabic words, wrote in more complex English. Daniell notes the following contrasts between Tyndale’s English and the scholars’: high v elevated; gift v donation; and many v multitudinous.153 There is nothing lost from the meaning of the original in the simpler form; there is nothing less reverent; but there is a great deal more clarity. Tyndale’s theology, too, was biblical rather than High-Church: he preferred “congregation” to “church”: “Tyndale avoids ‘church’ because it is not what the New Testament says.” 154. He used the local English word “elder” for presbuteros.155 In contrast, the King’s translators had no such commitment to 149

Daniell Tyndale p303 Daniell Tyndale p356 (he has the reference as 2 Samuel 16) Daniell Tyndale p356f 152 Daniell Tyndale p135 153 Daniell Tyndale p3 154 Daniell Tyndale p148 155 Daniell Tyndale p17 150 151


equivalence, happily dispensing with the word equally appropriate in English or Hebrew culture, and replacing it with their preferred “bishop”. Daniell notes: Yet ‘elder’ is right not only for the Greek, presbuteros, but for the person singled out because of wisdom and experience to minister to the local congregation … In [Tyndale’s England] the village elder would be someone who ‘had earned the title by helping and advising his neighbours in thoroughly practical ways.’ … Such common practicalities of everyday life, however, experienced by 99 per cent of Englishmen at many levels of local society, were invisible to the bishops, who saw only heresy.156

In fact, Tyndale originally used “senior” where he eventually settled for “elder”. Both the deliberation with which Tyndale used “elder” and his sense of humour are evident in his reply to Thomas More’s criticism of his failure to use “priest”: “Of a truth senior is no very good English, though senior and junior be used in the universities; but there came no better in my mind at that time. Howbeit, I spied my fault since, long ere Mr More told it me, and have mended it in all the works which I since made, and call it an elder.”157 Tyndale used a whole raft of biblical terms abandoned by the King’s translators, such as “acknowledge” where the King’s Bible has “confess”, and “love” where the King’s translators chose “charity”. Tyndale defended his use of “love” against More’s preferred “charity” with its over-tones of good works. In their turn, the King’s translators adopted the high-church preference in place of accuracy. “He is making the New Testament refer inwardly to itself, as he instructs his readers to do, and not 156

Daniell Tyndale p17 William Tyndale Answer to Sir Thomas More (1531; reprint, London, 1850) p 16 quoted by Hammond p651. Hammond adds ‘Tyndale’s use of “senior” in stead of “priest” angered More by removing the biblical basis for the priesthood. Tyndale’s second thoughts do the same thing, only better.’ (End notes p665) 157


outwardly to the enormous secondary construction of latemediaeval practices of the Church: priests and penance and confession and charity.”158 Tyndale’s commitment to plain English was unequivocal. On being challenged by a scholar with the words “we were better be without God’s law than the Pope’s” Tyndale responded, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”159 DATED LANGUAGE Many of those who have spent years profitably immersed in the King James Bible may underestimate the impact of the archaic words, expressions and style of their favoured translation on a generation that speaks a different English. The King’s Bible has nurtured them in faith. They have confidence in it and in its usefulness in nurturing the church and taking the gospel to a lost world. Yet what nurtured them cannot nurture people who no longer speak the English of 400 years ago. Comparison of the language of the KJV and with the language in use today makes plain that the KJV is truly incomprehensible to most modern readers. Measurement by standard readability tests demonstrates that the King James translation is genuinely able to be understood by less than 10% of the population, including those to be found in church membership.160 This last point is worth emphasising. Some assert that since the Bible is primarily intended for the Church rather than for evangelism, it does not matter if the masses 158

Daniell p148f Daniell Tyndale p79 160 see the analysis of Hebrews 12 in Chapter 5 and in the Appendix 1 Is There Really a Difference 159


cannot understand it, so long as the Church can. But if less than 10% of today’s church members can understand it, the translation is not suitable. If the Word of God is to be placed in the hands of the ploughman in words he can understand, to cite Tyndale’s hope, then the King James Version is unsuitable on the grounds of its English usage alone. To speakers of the “People’s English” the “King’s English” is a foreign language and the King’s Bible is a foreign book. It is not suitable for today’s reader, and its continued use is a millstone around the neck of today’s church, hiding the Word of God. Whether from conviction or tradition, to impose the translation our Puritan forebears rejected, is to place today’s readers in bondage to a version that for them darkens the meaning of God’s Word. To those who are familiar with the ancient language, the King’s Bible is a treasure; to those who have not learnt that English, it is a lost treasure. IMPACT OF THE KING’S BIBLE ON ENGLISH Much is made of the impact of the King’s Bible on modern English: it is said to have shaped our language. So good was its English, we are told, that today we speak English moulded by the KJV. It is clear that certain expressions and vocabulary from the English Bible are to be found in general English, especially in literature. Yet it is equally true that the vast majority of those expressions and words come, not from the work of the KJV translators, but from Tyndale. Of course, it was in the Kings’ Bible that they have been read for 400 years, so in that limited sense it can be said these sayings have become part of the English we use because of the KJV. Yet even that does not constitute an influence on the English language.


In a booklet in which he addresses this issue, no less an English scholar than Professor C S Lewis argues that what is often regarded as influence is in fact the very opposite. An author will quote someone else in a distinctly different style because “he knows quite well, and he expects his readers to know, that he is borrowing from somewhere. He counts on recognition. He is decorating his style. He wants the phrase to stand out from his own composition as gold lace stands out from a coat. The whole pleasure, such as it is, depends on the fact that the embedded quotation is different.”161 In other words, if he is quoting Shakespeare, he is quoting him because it will be recognisable and different, and achieving an effect is dependent upon the English being different. If, in fact, Shakespeare’s expression had influenced English, it would be a part of every-day usage that could not be instantly distinguished. Rather than influencing English, it is the fact that it has not influenced the English that makes the quotation effective.162 In the same way, whenever the language of the King’s Bible is used as recognisably biblical, it is being used – and is able to be so used – because the King’s Bible has not influenced English sufficiently to make the expression or quotation part of our ordinary English. “Embedded quotations from the Authorized Version are nearly always in exactly this position. … Only because the surrounding prose is different – in other words, only 161

C S Lewis p18 McGrath is surely correct when he argues (p259) that "most modern English speakers are unaware of the biblical origins" of many of these sayings. Times have moved on since Lewis's day! For the most part however, even if the biblical origin is not recognised, these sayings have force because they are recognised as some type of "proverb". Speakers who use these terms still "count on recognition". McGrath quotes William Roseau in support of his assertion that "Many of the Semitic turns of phrase that have gained an accepted place in modern English can be traced directly to the King James Bible" (p262) and lists a range of examples (p263) but it must again be stressed that while they came into everyday usage through the King's Bible, almost none of them is the work of the King's translators but Tyndale's. His was the genius that rendered Hebrew into English that even today "fits". 162


insofar as our English is not influenced by the Authorized Version – do they achieve the effect the authors intended.”163 When it comes to vocabulary, there is little doubt that certain words used in the English Bible have found a place in our everyday English. “Beautiful” is just such a word, but as both Lewis and Daniell point out, “beautiful” and various other similar words find their way into everyday English from Tyndale and not from the King’s men.164 And what of those words the King’s translators deliberately chose for theological or political reasons, such as “bishop”, “charity” and “church”? These already had an embedded English meaning, which is why those words were useful to the translators – rather than influencing English, the English influenced the translation. Transliterations such as “baptise” certainly have become entrenched, but more in special religious language than in ordinary usage. Real influence on English is achieved, argues Lewis, when we are prompted to speak or write in a particular way because of the Bible. He concedes he believes the influence of the Bible on the imagery of our English is strong, but that he cannot show that this is so: for example, “bread rather than mutton or potatoes is [the] lofty synonym for food … stone is more poetical than brick”. He says, “I suspect that this is due to the Bible, but I have no rigorous proof. Nor, in this sphere, would it be easy to distinguish the biblical influence from that generally Mediterranean and ancient influence which comes from the classics as well as the Bible.”165 When we look at those features of English that are really distinctively KJV English, we find they simply have had no impact on English. Lewis again: “What astonishes me here is the failure of some of [the Authorized Version’s] most familiar terms 163

Lewis p18 Lewis p19 165 Lewis p21 164


to get into our language at all. It came to pass, answered and said, lo – have these ever been used by any English writer without full consciousness that he was quoting?”166 Over and over again the King’s Bible begins sentences with “And” – but in neither written nor spoken English is a frequent use of “And” to start a sentence accepted as good English. Compare that with the taboo on ending sentences in a preposition imposed on written English by Dryden – almost universally adhered to, this is indeed a matter of influencing today’s English.167 ONLY BEGOTTEN A great deal of concern is expressed by some that the words “only begotten” are not to be found in some modern translations of John 3:16 and related passages. It is often argued that this represents a low view of the divinity of Christ and an undermining of Scriptures.168 In support of this, reference is often made to the Nicene Creed’s statement that Christ is “the only begotten.” But this is spurious – the creed was not written in English so use of “begotten” is a translation issue there, just as it is in John 3:16. In any case, doctrinal issues should not force a particular usage in an English translation that is not demanded in the Greek original. The translators of the New King James Version (NKJV), for example, insist on the necessity of “only begotten” in John 3:16. Yet they deny their principles almost as many times as they observe them! They follow the King’s Bible in Luke 7:12, 8:42 166

Lewis p22 See Lewis p21 where he points out that although Dryden managed to cause even Lewis, who detests what he calls “a frenchified schoolroom superstition” to conform in writing, he has not changed the way English is spoken! 168 Carson in The KJV Debate rejoins “It is worth noting that the KJV refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘itself’ (Rom. 8:26), apparently because it is translating too literally: the Greek word is neuter. Why does no one complain about the irreverence of the KJV in referring to the Holy Spirit as ‘it’?” p99 167


and 9:38 by translating monogenes as “only” in these passages, and “only begotten” in John 1:14 & 18, John 3:16 & 18, Hebrews 11:17 and 1 John 4:9. But they do not follow the King’s Bible in referring to Christ as the “first begotten” in Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 1:5. Why is “only begotten” a preferred translation? The ordinary English meaning (and it was the same in King James’ day as in ours) relates to procreation. “Begotten” is used in this way elsewhere in the King’s Bible: Deuteronomy 23:8, Leviticus 18:11, Judges 8:30, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5. But Christ is not procreated from the Father; so a new idea of “generation, origin or substance” is given to the word “begotten” to justify its use with reference to Christ. It did not have this meaning before its use in the New Testament – this was a meaning given to the word by theologians after its introduction into the English New Testament. If we go back to the Nicene Creed we can see how this idea developed. In 325AD Eusebius of Caesarea suggested the adoption of his own Church’s creed to correct the Arian heresy that attacked the deity of Christ. The Council of Nicaea agreed to this but made significant modifications that find their way into the Nicene Creed. At the two places where Eusebius’ Creed used the word translated into English as “begotten” the Council went to great lengths to qualify this as related to “of one substance with the Father.” Bettenson169 explains “substance” as meaning “from the inmost being of the Father, inseparably one” and “sharing one being with the Father, and therefore distinct in existence though essentially one.” If this is the meaning intended by the KJV and NKJV translators for John 3:16 it is easy to see why they refuse to be 169

Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, Second edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1965 (1963, 1943) p35 foot


consistent in translating the Luke passages (Luke 7:12, 8:42 and 9:38): the children in Luke were definitely not of one being with their fathers! But why then do the KJV and NKJV translators use “only begotten” in Hebrews 11:17? Isaac was no more of the same substance of Abraham as were the children in Luke with their fathers. Nor can it be said of Isaac that he was Abraham’s only son – Ishmael and the sons of Keturah were also begotten of Abraham. The problem has a simple translation solution: translate monogenes (the word sometimes translated “only begotten” in the Kings’ Bible and the NKJV) in terms of relationship. The children in Luke each have a special relationship with their fathers. That is what makes their cases so pathetic and pressing: it is not that the fathers have only one child each, but that the filial love has only one focus. Clearly it is the unique nature of relationship that makes Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac so full of pathos. And in the same way John’s use of monogenes highlights the special relationship of Christ to the Father. It is a unique relationship: no other man has this relationship; and it is pathetic, for both Father and Son are committed to Calvary in spite of this relationship. “The thrust of its meaning has to do with Christ’s utter uniqueness. Literally, it may be rendered ‘one of a kind’ – and yet it also clearly signifies that He is of the very same essence as the Father.”170 Even if “only begotten” is used in John 3:16, the Christology of John 3:16 is obscure because the meaning of “only begotten” is obscure. “Only begotten” does not enhance or preserve the Christology. But John’s Christology is so clearly expressed in John 1:1 it cannot be obscured 15 verses later by replacing “only 170

John MacArthur, Re-examining the Eternal Sonship of Christ Grace To You – The Old Curiosity Shop, November 1999 (web-page statement at


begotten” with “one and only”. Claims that translators who do not use the obscure wording “only begotten” are undermining Christology are unfounded. In other words, monogenes can be faithfully and consistently translated in every case as the KJV or the NKJV translators sometimes translate it, “only”. They could do better, of course, by stressing monogenes has an extra sense of “one and only”, “special only” or “unique” in contrast to the word monos which is what they normally translate as “only”. But is there some etymological evidence that would force the translation of monogenes as “only begotten” in every case despite the difficulties this poses in Luke and Hebrews? Or is there even some etymological evidence that would allow “only begotten” as an alternative in reference to the Son of God? There are those who argue, “Yes”. They point out that monogenes could have come from monos meaning only and gennaoo meaning begot. But others point out monogenes could just as easily have come from monos (only) and genos (kind or race) meaning “only one of its kind” or “unique”.171 To what do the “onlybegottenists” appeal to justify their preference for the former? They use a traditional circular argument that the meaning of John 3:16 must be “only begotten” therefore that is the correct translation. 172 There is no substantive etymological evidence either way, but the principles of translation so clearly stated by the King’s translators and others since is that translation should be consistent whenever possible. “Only begotten” is not a consistent usage, is not demanded by the text, is not accurate (except as re-defined for this specific text) and is therefore not a good translation.


D A Carson Exegetical Fallacies Baker, Grand Rapids, 1993 (1984), p29 I presume, though I have not found their comments, that they reverse their view for the Lukan passages! 172


The protest against replacing “only begotten” with the clearer and more consistent “one and only” – so vehemently made in the introduction of the NKJV – is both misleading and wrong. “Renderings such as ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’173 are prompted by neither an inordinate love of paraphrase, nor a perverse desire to deny some cardinal truth, but by linguistics.” 174 I’LL THOU THEE, THOU … In 1603 the great English sailor Sir Walter Raleigh was on trial for his life. Knight and gentleman that he was, being tried for treason was something to be taken calmly with dignity. Suddenly, however, he interrupted the proceedings with a vehement protest. Addressing the prosecuting Attorney-General, Sir Edward Coke, he exclaimed, “It becometh not a man of quality and virtue to call me so!”175 What dreadful four letter words had been used to impugn Sir Walter’s character? With deliberation, Sir Edward had “tutoyered” Sir Walter. And he had done so with a vengeance. Not only had he addressed Sir Walter as “thou” instead of “you”, he had made absolutely certain that the everyone understood it as a deliberate insult: “Thou viper!” he had shouted at Sir Walter, adding “I ‘thou’ thee, thou traitor!”176 In the presence of such foul and offensive language the Lord Chief-Justice had to intervene, calling for a cooling of zeal and an exercise of “valiant” behaviour on both sides. Sir Walter, of course, took no great umbrage at being called a traitor – that was what he expected when on trial for treason. Nor was it the use of the word “viper” that offended him – the Lord Chief-Justice 173

John 3:16 NIV Carson p30 Stephen Tumin, Great Legal Disasters Book Club Associates, London, 1984 (1983) p1 176 Tumin p1 174 175


permitted Sir Edward to accuse Raleigh of “viperous treason” immediately after rebuking him for his offensive language. No, he had been “thoued”. Recovering from his shock, he continued to protest to the Attorney-General, “You speak indiscreetly, barbarously and uncivilly.”177 Two years earlier, and ten years before the King’s Bible was published, Shakespeare, in Twelfth Night, has Sir Tody recommend a gross insult to provoke a duel. What terrible insult will ensure a response? “If thou thou’st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss.”178 In King James’ day the use of this archaic personal pronoun was almost universally regarded as offensive. It had dropped out of ordinary speech many years earlier 179, being “superseded by the plural ye, your, yours, in addressing a superior, and (later) an equal, but [was] long retained in addressing an inferior.” 180 By 1603 its use in general speech was limited to such derogatory use as inflicted on Sir Walter, by the Quakers who by using it to address other individuals stressed the classless equality to which they were committed, and in a few northern dialects – but they never used it to address a superior. Indeed, it is possible it was use by the generally despised Quakers that had ensured no-one else in most of the English speaking world would use it politely. So how did this word, recognised in 1603 as derogatory in the extreme, come to be used in the King’s Bible, particularly with reference to God, eight years later? After all, it is one of the features valued by many who hold exclusively to the King’s Bible. They find the failure of modern versions to use “thou” in 177

Tumin p1 Tumin pp50f Interestingly, "thou" and "thee" continue in use as a term of familiarity (rather than of reverence) in some Northern English dialects (in Yorkshire and Lancashire for example): it was as unlikely to be offensive there in the 17th Century as now unless in addressing a superior. But minority dialects regarded as quaint by those not using them offer no basis for "thee" and "thou" in the King's Bible. 180 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 178 179


addressing God as one of the reasons for rejecting such translations. “Thou” and its cases in reference to God, it is argued, is the only appropriate way to address God; “you” is said to lack reverence. “Thou” was used in five ways in the early 17 th century. It was used, as noted, as a curse word, and as a form of address by Quakers. It was also used by Shakespeare. It was used in the Anglican liturgy. And it was used in “homiletic language, and in poetry, apostrophe, and elevated prose.”181 It is its liturgical and formal literary use, of course, that leads to its inclusion in the King’s Bible. That is entirely consistent with the “elevated prose” and deliberately remote and mystical language the translators intended. Here was a usage that was remote from every-day Elizabethan English, and as such was deemed appropriate for the Bible. Earlier English Bibles had used the form when it was in general use; now as an archaism it “elevated” the Bible above ordinary English. Shakespeare used it in exactly the same way (when not as an insult). Some mistakenly point to his use of “thou” and its cases as indicating it was still in common usage as a “nice” word. But Shakespeare’s English was the language of the theatre, and his audience always understood that the players, the action and the dialogue were remote from them. “The sheer artificiality of the edifice of the play meant that it was not considered necessary to imitate closely the language of everyday speech.” 182 In fact, this remoteness was essential for the playwright’s survival, for his plays frequently sailed very close to the political wind, and a misjudgement on his part could see his head severed from his body! “Macbeth” for example, was being acted within months of the Guy Fawkes “Gunpowder Plot” it commented on. (Several of 181 182

Tumin pp50f J Drakakis York Notes on Much Ado About Nothing Longman, Harlow, 1980 Introduction p12


those who would be selected to help with the work of translating the King’s new Bible preached on the subject at this time too – some before the King.) Shakespeare based whole passages of dialogue on transcripts of the trials of the conspirators. If Shakespeare was to escape offending King James, it was essential that he make it appear the play was very remote from the time of its performance. To do that, he set Macbeth in a remote place and in a remote time, as he usually did with his plays. And to reinforce its remoteness, he used the language of an earlier age, including its “thee’s” and “thou’s”. It is difficult, if not impossible, therefore to sustain arguments in favour of “thou” being retained in biblical use on the basis of its common use in 1611. It simply was not in such common use – and its use in the King’s Bible was a studied archaism. 183 True, when earlier editions had been translated, such use was common: “… when the Bible was first translated into English the singular forms of the pronoun thou, thee etc. were commonly used in speech and in literature, both in relation to God and in relation to man.”184 But that was no longer the case in 1611 and if anything the argument that its use in earlier translations is justified because that was then common English, is the best possible argument for excluding its use in 1611! After-all, the same writer (Terence H Brown) continues, “The translators [of earlier Bible translations] rightly took the current phenomena of the English language into account.” Well, the 1611 translators should have taken their “current phenomena of the English language into account” also. Curiously, Brown concedes that when introduced into English Bibles, “thou” was used “in speech addressed to God and man.” He might also have added that in the King’s Bible “thou” is used 183

McGrath argues that the use of "thou" etc in the KJV is a result of James' instruction to make as few changes to the Bishops' Bible as possible (p269). 184 T H Brown Thou versus You in J P Thackway (ed) Archaic or Accurate The Bible League, Salisbury, undated p6


to address Satan! There is no basis here for use of “thou” as specially applied to God. He does go so far as to admit “you” as a singular pronoun for modern Bible usage in reference to people, but then argues that “thou” should nonetheless be retained for addressing God. In other words, he recognises that originally it had no special reference to God, and conveyed no elevated sense of reverence. Yet he, and those he speaks for, continue to demand that English speaking people the world over be chained to archaic mysticism on the pretext of being reverent. Here is a legalism that has no basis in history or the Bible. It is no less rooted in tradition than Roman Catholic legalism. T Ernest Wilson, another contributor to the same booklet, extends the same argument to demand the same artificial bondage to ancient English in prayer. “Admittedly,” he writes, “when the Authorised Version was translated, thou, thee etc., were simply singular forms of the pronouns … The translators followed this rule whether God or man was being addressed.” 185 So he takes the same position as Brown, that the “reverent language” they now want everyone to be chained to was not specifically reverent when used in the English Bible. “While this is true,” he continues, “yet the old form of the second person and its reverential use is a part of our language.” Perhaps, but it is not part of the language used today by most English speakers. He goes further: “We learn it in school in our conjugations: I am, thou art, he is, etc.”186 With respect, when and where? Not in any of the schools the vast majority of today’s English speakers know, most of whom will never have conjugated anything, let alone have come across the pronoun “thou” or the verb “art”. For his part, Brown recognises that many people today “experience some difficulty in actually composing sentences in prayer consistently using these forms of 185 186

T Wilson in Thackway, p11 Wilson p11


speech.”187 So why insist on it? Too often one hears people who have no evident idea of the correct way to use these words attempting the “obligatory” ritual wording, resulting in prayer that has more of the ludicrous than the reverent about it. We need to be clear that while imposition of such language in prayer is unbiblical, men must be free to answer to their own consciences and use such words as they find reverent when addressing God, providing that in doing so they do not offend Scripture (as some do who trivialise prayer with trite flippancy). They would sin to do less. Those who wish to pray with such words should do so, although they ought to exercise a great deal of caution when leading in public prayer, for then they run two risks: firstly, they may simply not be understood by everyone present, so that they effectively pray in “an unknown tongue”; secondly, their example may mislead other Christians into believing they too must master archaic conjugations to be able to pray. But we will not bind them, although they would bind us. They are free to use archaic English from a bygone High-Church culture – whether High-Anglican or High-Dissenting. Others are just as free to use plain English after the pattern of the plain Hebrew and Greek used by God himself in giving us the Bible. But even such pragmatic considerations would need to be set aside if there were a genuinely biblical reason for adopting elevated English to address God. Brown himself points out that such is not the case when he writes: “Critics of the use of thou, thee and thy insist that the ancient languages did not use a different form of the personal pronouns in speech addressed to God. This is quite true.” 188 His point is as clear as it is true. God, in inspiring the Bible, chose not to use a distinctive pronoun when he was addressed. God made that choice. With what arrogance 187 188

Wilson p9 Wilson p6


then do men exercise a greater wisdom than God and demand the Bible be re-written as if God had chosen a specially reverent pronoun with which he would be addressed? With what arrogance will they bind all English speaking people to Bibles they have tampered with, even while they effectively acknowledge they are adding to God’s revelation? “The argument in favour of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ as a reverent or respectful way of addressing Deity is not a biblical argument; neither the Hebrew nor the Greek makes such a distinction. In the New Testament [KJV] even the devil is addressed in the second person singular, ‘thou’!”189 It is true that “thou, thee, thy” and “thine” were singular, while “you” was plural. Today, “you” fills both singular and plural roles, and there can at times be ambiguity. That is a fact of the English we speak. No matter how desirable it might be to be able to distinguish between singular and plural second person pronouns, the English spoken today does not have such a distinction. Changing this is but one of a multitude of “improvements” some might like to make to English. But English cannot be restructured on the whims of anyone. In any case, such a consideration is irrelevant to the basic argument about appropriate pronouns for addressing God. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how the change came about – out of reverence for people in superior positions, the plural “you” was adopted. It was deemed respectful to address those in high position in plural forms.190 At a time when peers could still be addressed as “thee” or “thou”, those to be addressed with respect and reverence – Lords, Kings, and God himself – were to be addressed as “you”. This was more respectful. 189

Edwards p234f It is likely the trend to use the plural "you" has its origins in the idea that in addressing the Crown you addressed "The King and God", a concept dearly held by King James who normally spoke of himself as "We". 190


Subsequently, out of respect to peers, the same form was adopted when speaking of those of equal status. By the time the King’s Bible was being translated, “thee” and “thou” were derogatory terms except when used in High Church worship. It is evident that “you” is indeed a more respectful form of address than “thou” ever was. Any appeal to traditional reverential usage must therefore uphold either the use of “you” or the irregular High Church use of an otherwise demeaning “thee” or “thou”. Insistence on using “thou” in today’s English Bibles (and in prayer) is an insistence on “improving” on God’s wisdom, an imposition on the liberty we have in Christ, and a hindrance to the plain and simple translation of God’s Word into common English. It is an insistence born at best out of misunderstanding or ignorance, and at worst out of traditional legalism – in either case it is offensive to the Gospel and to the principles of Bible translation. ANALYSIS OF LANGUAGE USED Almost everyone has a view about how easy it is for others to read the Bible version they prefer. As a rule we are very familiar with the version we favour, so cannot see why it should pose problems for others. The resulting insensitivity to the problems of others is more often born of ignorance than bigotry – it is nonetheless real. Yet it is possible to analyse the language levels of Bible versions and of readers. Some mechanical measures are helpful: measuring sentence length, for example. Long sentences tend to be complex, and represent more difficult English. In Hebrews 12:1-11191, the King’s Bible and the NKJV have sentences of about the same 191

See Appendix 1


length, but which are significantly longer than the NIV, making the NIV easier to read. Some technical analysis is also useful: the extent to which the passive voice is used can indicate how formal a passage is. In the Hebrews 12 passage, the King’s version uses the passive voice 33% of the time, indicating it is very formal English. That is 50% more frequently than either the NKJV or the NIV use the passive voice. Yet these technical and mechanical devices do not tell the whole story. Using them as a basis, one might reasonably conclude that each version can be read with reasonable understanding by any person who has had about seven years of formal education (ie is about 12 or 13 years of age). The NIV is slightly easier – but not much. But in reality it matters little whether the passive or active voice is used if the vocabulary is beyond comprehension. For example, analysis identifies four words in verse 1 of the King’s version of Hebrews 12 as archaic 192: a modern reader would be unclear about either the word or the particular usage of wherefore, compassed, doth and beset. When archaic usage, such as seeing we also are is also taken into account, a passage that might appear readable by a mechanical measurement is in fact largely incomprehensible. In the Hebrews 12 passage, 33% of words in the King’s Bible are affected in this way by archaic vocabulary or usage. Reading teachers generally aim for less than 5%193 of “problem words” in a passage if the reader is to have reasonable comprehension and not be discouraged from reading. Yet to achieve such comprehension in reading the King’s Bible, ordinary modern readers will need to be given extensive specialist instruction before they can 192

cf The Shorter Oxford Dictionary cf Dr M Clay, Professor of Education, Auckland University, whose extensive publications on the reading process and on learning to read consistently suggest a 5% maximum error rate for independent reading. 193


understand what they are reading. They may as well be given the Greek to start with, and be taught it! The NKJV has indeed achieved its aim of reducing archaic vocabulary and usage, even if it creates new problems in other ways: only 8% of this passage in Hebrews in the NKJV is archaic. Only two words – 0.7% – are affected in this way in the NIV. Because of what the Bible is, it is by nature more difficult to read than other literature with which readers may be familiar. It necessarily uses technical language. The language of revelation, worship and Christianity must and should be used: many of those words will only be understood when they are taught. Of necessity therefore, the Bible will be more difficult to read than other reading material until the reader is taught. The need for teaching however should be kept to words of necessity and not words of obfuscation. NEWSPAPER LANGUAGE? Somewhat snide comments are sometimes made about modern English versions being written in “newspaper English”. Why newspapers as a genre should represent “low” English is not immediately obvious. The writing of Charles Dickens, for example, is newspaper English. The New Zealand Herald, the national daily newspaper published in Auckland, is a fairly middle-of-the road newspaper: it is not known internationally for erudite194 editorials, nor is it characterised as “tabloid” journalism. In common with 195 newspapers, its writing is characterised by long sentences: on average, about the same length as sentences in the KJV. Its 194

That is not to say it does not have good editorials – just that it does not have the reputation of le Monde, The New York Times, and The Times (of London) for example. 195 These comments are based on a careful analysis of textual samples from the paper.


paragraphs normally have only one or two sentences – in appearance almost identical to the verse structure of the KJV (given that very few readers today know how to identify paragraphs in the KJV). Both the KJV and the Herald use specialist words to a similar level – after all, such usage is called “journalise” because journalistic publications use a specialist vocabulary to convey ideas in few words to readers who have become familiar with it. There is however a far greater use of sub-group idiom in the KJV compared with the Herald which has very little such English. Yet putting aside issues of archaic vocabulary and usage, a reader still needs about five more years of formal education to be able to understand this newspaper when compared with any of the three English versions examined for this study196. This is because a newspaper uses a relatively advanced vocabulary to convey its ideas in as few words as possible, while the language of the Bible is far less concise. In other words, while the general form and structure of the King’s Bible and a reasonable quality newspaper are about the same, the newspaper is significantly harder to read. Disparaging comments about “newspaper English Bibles” are no more nor less than emotive but empty slurs. They would be pathetic were it not such an evil thing to tear down and destroy by innuendo without substance. FOR WHOM IS THE BIBLE WRITTEN? Noel Weeks asks the pertinent question, “Should the translation of the Bible be determined by the capacity of the unbeliever to comprehend or by the needs of the church?”197 If the Bible is meant to be primarily for unbelievers, then their language needs must have a significant influence on translation. 196 197

KJV, NKJV, NIV see Appendix 1 Weeks p285


Weeks responds “On balance one would have to answer that it is written for the people of God.”198 This will affect good translation. Not only will a “people of God vocabulary” be appropriate, it will be a vocabulary that at times is unfamiliar to those who are “not the people of God”. Cultural and historical contexts of Old and New Testaments will be important influences on the vocabulary, because they are important to the people of God and to God’s self-revelation. In other words, the effort to translate into a language that “the very vulgar can understand” should not obliterate all theological terminology, every cultural allusion or each historical reference. When Tyndale envisaged the ploughman reading his Bible, he was not expecting this to be in the context of evangelising the labourer with a racy tract. Tyndale’s ploughman would not read his Bible at his plough because he had a sudden urge to be evangelised. He would read it because he loved it. He was a godly man who saw in his Bible his Saviour and his way of life. Tyndale wanted the people of God to have the Word of God. He wanted them to be able to read it; he wanted them to be able to understand it; he wanted them to be encouraged to memorise it. All this meant a Bible in the English of the people – but an English nonetheless that could include words that belonged to the people of God; words that were not in common use; words, indeed that they would learn under a church’s instruction. The Bible is for God’s people, and they must learn those words that are especially biblical (such as Passover and Christ); they must learn those words that have distinctive application in the Bible (such as cross and redemption); and they must study to know the connotations and images that belong to biblical history and culture (such as lamb and Egypt). 198

Weeks p285


That the people of God must do. And to do it they must have a Bible that faithfully translates those words, that faithfully conveys those applications, and that faithfully projects such connotations and imagery. Yet those special requirements do not mean obscure, archaic or formal English needs to be used; rather it gives even greater impetus to the use of plain English wherever possible. Erasmus was wrong when he attempted to justify deliberately obscure “translation”: “things should not be written in such a way that everyone understands everything but so that they are forced to investigate certain things and learn.” 199 Rather, “any translation is to avoid the introduction of any unnecessary hindrance to the clear hearing of the Word.”200 Erasmus came to view translation this way too, and in the Preface to his Greek New Testament wrote, “I totally disagree with those who are unwilling that the Holy Scriptures should be translated into everyday languages and read by unlearned people. Christ wishes his mysteries to be made known as widely as possible.”201 HOW FORMAL WAS THE GREEK OF THE NEW TESTAMENT? New Testament Greek was “the language of the people”, and any good translation will represent that popular language. Koine (or common) Greek, distinct from the cultivated literary Greek used by sophisticated scholars, was in widespread use in popular literature and business records. Even though some variations of 199

Daniell Tyndale p44. Weeks p271 201 McGrath p55. Erasmus goes on to say, "I would wish even all women to read the gospels ... I wish that the husbandman may sing parts of them at his plough, that the weaver may warble them at his shuttle, that the traveller may with their narratives beguile the weariness of the way." Daniell p67 Daniell comments "Erasmus begins to appear more and more a man after Tyndale's own heart" and one wonders if he has not knowingly adapted Tyndale's hope that the "boy that driveth the plough" should know the Scriptures. 200


register (formality) would have been found, for example arising from the context or from regional variations, the Koine Greek of the New Testament stood apart from the language of the workshop as much as it differed from the language of the intelligentsia; yet it was used by and understood in all classes of society. There can be a tendency to over-simplify assessment of this issue, whereby the assertion that New Testament Greek was “the language of the people” is sufficient justification for whatever degree of informality an advocate favours. The fact that Koine Greek could be understood by the man in the street does not mean it is “street language” any more than the fact that it could be understood by the priests and palace officials mean it was the language they used in their official capacities or formal settings. It would also be a mistake to regard every New Testament book as being written in the same way. Some have a more literary or formal style than others202, but what is clear to modern scholars is that as well as their predilection for formal English, the King’s translators were unfamiliar with the Greek of the New Testament. They “worked on the assumption that the same vocabulary rules of grammar that applied to the classical period also applied to the New Testament. Yet this is not always the case, and can lead to some serious misjudgements.”203 But while it is difficult to determine just how formal New Testament Greek was in the context of the Greek used at the time, it can safely be asserted that the New Testament “lacks both the commonness of the colloquial language and the articificiality of the literary language. It cannot be identified with either.”204 Therein lies the basic guideline for good translation: it too, should 202

cf McGrath p236 McGrath p238 204 Weeks p284 203


be neither artificially formal nor colloquial. The New Testament was given in a “popular” register, one that could be understood by ordinary people. By introducing “antiquarian effects”205 and a high-church register, the King’s translators fell short of their goal of writing in the “vulgar tongue”. As McGrath puts it, “The language of the workplace and the market is thus subtly changed into the high cadences of the palaces of Westminster and the high tables of Oxford and Cambridge.”206

205 206

Daniell Tyndale p44 McGrath p239




ot a few of the myths surrounding the King’s Bible would be finished with if attention were to be given to what the translators themselves wrote about their translation. A 36 page Preface,207 entitled “The Translators to the Reader,” was included in the King’s Bible. Written by the two Bishops who conducted the final official revision of the translation, Thomas Bilson (who had not previously been involved) and Miles Smith, it is a rambling 208 apologetic for their work. It gives reasons for writing the King’s Bible, outlines the history of Bible translation, and explains the principles by which their version was shaped. Although the commitment of individual translators to the authority of the Bible varied, their Preface contains an excellent statement of the doctrine of inspiration: “The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the inditer, the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or 207

The Trinitarian Bible Society's 1911 reprint ran to 36 pages. Towards the end they comment, “Many other things we might give thee warning of, gentle reader, if we had not exceeded the measure of a Preface already.” p35 208


Prophets.”209 “This is the Word of God, which we translate.” 210 Their reliability and usefulness is equally well defended: the Scriptures “can make us wise unto salvation. If we be ignorant, they will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us.”211 So they plead with their readers to make good use of this Bible: “Others have laboured, and you may enter into their labours. O receive not so great things in vain; O despise not so great salvation!”212 The group assembled for the translation work – “Not too many, lest one should trouble another; yet many lest many things haply might escape them”213 – did not “trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of wit, or deepness of judgement, as it were in an arm of flesh.”214 Instead, with the words of Augustine they prayed, “O let the Scriptures be my pure delight, let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them.”215 The translators of the King’s Bible were very conscious of the nature of the work they undertook. “Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place.”216 Before their work began there existed, they maintained, many sound English translations – but their task was to refine and polish what already existed, “for by this means it cometh to pass, that whatsoever is sound already (and all is sound for substance, in one or other of our editions …) the same will shine as gold more brightly, being rubbed and polished; also, 209

The Translators' Preface p12 The Translators' Preface p22 211 The Translators' Preface p10 212 The Translators' Preface p35 213 The Translators' Preface p30 214 The Translators' Preface p29 215 The Translators' Preface p30 216 The Translators' Preface p13 210


if anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place.” 217 They were also adamant that the need of such polishing or refining did not invalidate a translation: “The very meanest translation of the Bible in English … containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God. As the King’s Speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin, is still the King’s Speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere.”218 With such an understanding the King’s translators explained that the Greek Old Testament, in use at the time of Christ and the Apostles, was an acceptable translation even though it was not always a good translation: “It is certain, that that translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction.”219 In this context they justified the Apostles when they sometimes made quotations from the Old Testament that were not word-for-word translations, but accurate enough “to deliver the sense thereof according to the truth of the word.” 220 Of course, as they point out, the Apostles made these dynamically equivalent translations “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” 221 The Apostles were directly inspired by God – translators of English versions are not. Yet the King’s translators clearly recognised the validity of some dynamic translation that conveyed the sense without complete word-for-word accuracy or formal equivalence.


The Translators' Preface p22 The Translators' Preface p23 [italics are theirs] 219 The Translators' Preface p14 220 The Translators' Preface p15 221 The Translators' Preface p15 218


ACCURACY AND GOOD ENGLISH THEIR AIM Accuracy of translation was a concern. To that end they consulted as many manuscripts as they could find, including Bible translations and commentaries in many languages222. But their priority was to give English that could be understood. “How shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?”223 It is arguable that they failed to completely abandon the language of high church worship, yet their aim was to give a Bible in plain English: “Indeed, without translation into the vulgar tongue the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket.”224 English more plain and easy to understand than “the vulgar tongue” would be hard to find! There are some today who attempt to foist 400 year-old English on modern readers, as if “beautiful” but obscure language can beautify ignorance. But according to the King’s translators, understanding should be paramount: “Now what can be more [suitable to the saving of souls] than to deliver God’s book unto God’s people in a tongue which they understand? Since of a hidden treasure, and of a fountain that is sealed, there is no profit.”225 So “we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.”226 They commend the translation work of earlier ages: “The godly-learned were not content to have the Scriptures in the language which themselves understood, Greek and Latin … but also for the behoof and edifying of the unlearned which hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and had souls to be saved as well 222

The Translators' Preface p31 The Translators' Preface p12 224 The Translators' Preface p13 225 The Translators' Preface p21 226 The Translators' Preface p34 223


as they, they provided translations into the vulgar …” 227 Having a Bible people can easily understand is “not a quaint conceit lately taken up”228 but is something good men have always sought to provide, “no doubt because it was esteemed most profitable to cause faith to grow in men’s hearts the sooner.”229 There were those who objected that a new translation implied earlier ages were misled (the same objections can today be heard with regard to more modern translations!). “Hath the Church been deceived, say they, all this while?”230 The translators answered, “We are so far off from condemning any of their labours that travailed before us in this kind … that we acknowledge them to have been raised up of God.”231 Rather, they saw their task as “building upon their foundation that went before us … to make that better which they left so good.”232 As to a complaint that there was a constant alteration and amending of English translations, they responded, “For to whom ever was it imputed for a fault (by such as were wise men) to go over that which he had done, and to amend it where he saw cause?” 233 Their aim was never “to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”234 So they were willing to be patient, not only improving on earlier translations, but carefully revising their own work: “Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered.”235 227

The Translators' Preface p16 [their italics] The Translators' Preface p18 229 The Translators' Preface p18 230 The Translators' Preface p19 231 The Translators' Preface p21 232 The Translators' Preface p21 233 The Translators' Preface p25 234 The Translators' Preface p29 235 The Translators' Preface p31 228


Another objection they faced – and one that can also be heard today against more modern English translations – was that some of the translators of earlier versions were ungodly men: “Heretics, forsooth, were the authors of the translations.”236 “We marvel,” they responded, “what divinity taught them so.”237 The ancient church “was not ashamed to make use of [translations by ‘most vile heretics’] … giving commendation to them … and set them forth openly to be considered of and perused by all.” 238 Rather than reject a translation because unbelievers contributed to the translation work, they urged that we use what God in his providence has made available. CALL FOR LIBERTY OF TRANSLATION The question of marginal notes was not so easily dealt with – the King had prohibited anything but the most essential notes, and in justifying the notes they did include, the translators had to walk a careful path between respecting the King’s direction and silencing those who would have “no variety of sense to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures … should somewhat be shaken.”239 But there was a real problem, they argued: “It hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation … but in matters of less moment”240 that notes need to be inserted in the margin. Some words in the original languages were unclear, names of some animals and objects were unknown to them, “so diversity of signification and sense in the margin … must needs 236

The Translators' Preface p24 The Translators' Preface p24 238 The Translators' Preface p25 239 The Translators' Preface p31 240 The Translators' Preface p31 237


do good, yea, is necessary.”241 Far from hoping to fix their choice of words in concrete for all ages, “so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left … questionable, can be no less than presumption.”242 While some today object to changes from the words used in the King’s Bible, the translators themselves argued that variations given in the margin “do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that.”243 To support variations in the margins they quoted with approval Augustine’s advice about different translations: “that variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.”244 This is far from suggesting their translation should be used exclusively. Rather, there will be variations in translation that cannot be resolved: “They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one.”245 In the same spirit, “we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done.”246 Others may select a particular word “because they would say something, [rather] than because they were sure of that which they said,” 247 but the King’s translators will not be so insistent on their preferences. They give a number of examples, both from history and their own work, of variations in wording and translation they regard as of no consequence. Since God uses “diverse words in His holy writ … we, if we will not be superstitious, may use the same liberty in our 241

The Translators' Preface p32 The Translators' Preface p32 The Translators' Preface p32 244 The Translators' Preface p32 245 The Translators' Preface p32 246 The Translators' Preface p33 247 The Translators' Preface p32 242 243


English versions out of Hebrew and Greek.”248 “There be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere.” 249 They determined to not translate one word so as to convey different senses in different places, but they would not be bound to use the same English word each time. “We might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places … But that we should express the same notion in the same particular word … we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom.” 250 So there was a dynamic flexibility (which they call “freedom”) about their translation such that “we might also be charged (by scoffers) with some unequal dealing towards a great number of good English words.”251 OPPOSITION FROM ALL QUARTERS Despite the ease with which the translators appear to have rebutted objections, opposition to their work was clearly significant. They opened their letter to the readers with the claim that their work “deserveth certainly much respect and esteem, but yet findeth but cold entertainment in the world.”252 Opposition does not appear to have been limited to the Bible translation: “As oft as we do anything of note or consequence, we subject ourselves to everyone’s censure, and happy is he that is least tossed upon tongues; for utterly to escape the snatch of them it is impossible.”253 They clearly have in their sights the Pope and his kingdom, “[once] a true church.”254 “We have shunned the obscurity of the Papists … that of purpose darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language 248

The Translators' Preface p34 The Translators' Preface p33 The Translators' Preface p33 251 The Translators' Preface p34 252 The Translators' Preface p5 253 The Translators' Preface p7 254 The Translators' Preface p6 249 250


thereof it may be kept from being understood.”255 By taking a stand against Roman Catholicism and commissioning an English Bible, even King James “casteth himself headlong upon pikes, to be gored by every sharp tongue.”256 The Puritans, too, are rebuked for their opposition. They are mocked in the first place for having requested a new translation – a request the King quickly turned to his own advantage against the Puritans. The King did “begin to bethink himself of the good that might ensue by a new translation … Thus much to satisfy our scrupulous brethren.”257 The Puritans – those “scrupulous brethren” – had asked for a new translation because “When by force of reason they were put from all other grounds 258, they had recourse at the last to this shift, that they could not with good conscience subscribe to the Communion book, since it maintained the Bible as it was there translated, which was, as they said, a most corrupted translation.”259 The King had seized on the Puritan petition to replace the translation used in the Prayer Book as a pretext to replace the popular Geneva Bible, used not only by the Puritans, but by the bulk of the English population. To rub salt into the wound, the translators ensured the wording of the King’s Bible deliberately undermined the Puritan faith. Having already argued they had liberty to choose English words best suited to convey meaning, irrespective of tradition, the translators’ deliberate rejection of “the scrupulosity of the Puritans, who leave the old Ecclesiastical words, and betake them to other, as when they put washing for Baptism, and Congregations instead of Church”260 is a calculated attack on the Puritan position. Under 255

The Translators' Preface p34 The Translators' Preface p9 257 The Translators' Preface p23 258 At the Hampton Court Conference where they petitioned the new King for continued reform. 259 The Translators' Preface p23 260 The Translators' Preface p34 256


attack on one side were the Roman Catholics, but on the other261, to be resisted just as vigorously by the publication of the King’s Bible, were the Puritans. The Preface closes by commending readers into the care and instruction of God, who “removeth the scales from our eyes, the vail [sic] from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His Word.”262 “A blessed thing it is … when God speaketh unto us, to hearken; when He setteth His Word before us, to read it; when He stretcheth out His hand and calleth, to answer, Here am I.”263 THE WRITERS OR TRANSLATORS OF THE KJV Who were the men appointed by King James to write his new Bible? Some, but not all, were godly men of sound faith. But the majority were publicly resolved to oppose the reformation of the church and the proclamation of biblical Christianity. Not a great deal is known about some of these men – indeed there is some uncertainty as to the final list. The most complete list264 includes some 49 names. At least two died during the translation work, one before he had written anything. One other, at least, appears to have been appointed to replace one of the dead, so joined the work after it had started. From what is known, at least eighteen and possibly as many as 23 had High-Church convictions; while eight or nine were sympathetic to the Evangelical or Puritan faith.


The Translators' Preface p34 The Translators' Preface p35 263 The Translators' Preface p35f 264 That of Lewis Lupton. Allowing for the two who died, this matches the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s reference to 47. 262


THE FIRST WESTMINSTER GROUP One of the most influential members of the King’s HighChurch party at the Hampton Court Conference became the leader of the writing of the first draft, and was appointed to lead the First Westminster group. Lancelot Andrewes (or Andrews) was Dean of Westminster. He had once associated with the Puritans, but by 1604 was as High-Church as one could be in safety! 265 While following the King’s requirements to lead public worship in the Protestant form, he maintained a private chapel in which he used what was called by his contemporaries “Popish furniture” of candles, tapers, an altar instead of a table, fancy cushions to hold the service book, and silver canisters for the communion wafers. Believing in transubstantiation, “He wanted the Church of England to express its worship in an ordered ceremonial, and in his own chapel used the mixed chalice, incense and altarlights.”266 He was known among the Puritans as “Popish Andrewes”. With Andrewes in the First Westminster group was John Overall, Dean of St Paul’s, who was an outspoken Arminian 267, teaching that “Christ died for all men sufficiently but only for the believer effectually.”268 His wealth was secured with five “livings”, two College appointments and a number of other incomes. 265

William Lamont argues that the division between Puritan and Arminian was not as defined or significant as has generally been held. For example he quotes Andrewes as writing “The moving, or efficient, cause of predestination to life is not prevenient faith, or perseverance, or good works, or any other thing that is innate in the predestined person, but on the will of a beneficent God.” (Godly Rule Macmillan, London, 1969, p64.) Unfortunately he does not date this clear statement of Calvinistic doctrine, but at best it indicates Andrewes once held to Calvinism: his Catholic form of worship and the contempt with which Puritans held him and his doctrine suggest Andrewes had come to reject earlier beliefs in the same way he had rejected earlier practices. 266 F Cross (Ed) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford UP, London, 1996 (1958) p50 267 The Arminian position was almost inevitably aligned with Catholicism. 268 Lupton vol XXIV p31


There were eight others in the First Westminster group of ten: Hadrian Saravia was a Latin scholar who had poor English and no knowledge of biblical languages. He was a High-Church “zealous champion of episcopacy” 269 who threw himself into the repression of Puritanism. Archdeacon Robert Teigh (or Tighe) was a “pillar of the Mitre and the Crown”270 or in other words, an active supporter of the Anglican forms and the divine right of the King. Francis Burleigh was a Fellow of Chelsea College, vicar of one parish and rector of two others. It is recorded that he had to pass the test of being “well affected towards the Ecclesiastical ministry” before he was given an appointment – he seems to have passed this test more than once! Richard Tompson was known then and remembered now as a profligate drunkard of Arminian convictions. William Beadwell (or Bedwell) was a specialist in orientalism, with particular skills in Persian and Arabic – it was the latter that earned him a place on the Committee on the basis of his argument that Arabic was a key to understanding Hebrew. John Leifield (or Layfield) was most noted for his sailing to the West Indies and Puerto Rico as chaplain to a pirate. Geoffrey King was Regis Professor of Hebrew271 and vicar of Horsham. Little is known of Richard Clarke apart from his several “livings”. THE SECOND WESTMINSTER GROUP William Barlow led the second Westminster Group. He was the “recorder”272 at the Hampton Court Conference. At the 269

Cross p1216 XXX Lupton vol XXIV p36 Presumably at Kings College, Cambridge where he was a Fellow. 272 Writing a record of the conference. 270 271


Second Hampton Court Conference he preached on “The Antiquity and Superiority of Bishops” from Acts 20:28 and was so committed to episcopacy and royal supremacy that the King charged him with leading a debate against the Presbyterians. The leading Presbyterian in this debate, Lord Melville, found as the Puritans before him that the King could arrange such conferences to his own advantage. Melville resorted to Latin poems to castigate the tactics, theology and character of his opponents – and for his pains and poetry was sent to the Tower of London for four years! Also in the Second Westminster Group were six other scholars: Ralph Hutchinson, who before he died in 1606, was fully involved in committee work. It was he who initiated the changing of the Greek text to justify better English in 1 Corinthians 6:4 “... for thus better consideration will be had of the sense.” John Spencer or (Spenser) was a very committed High-Church man who helped with the publication of a five volume defence of Episcopalian subordination entitled Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Roger Fenton is noted for his almost endless list of “livings”. In 1608 something of the iniquity of taking an income from more parishes than he could visit seems to have touched him, for he gave up one of those livings, preaching a sermon entitled “Of Simonie and Sacrilege” – but he accepted three more in 1609. Michael Rabbet (or Rabbett) is described as a “King’s Anglican” and little is known of Tomas Sanderson and William Darkins.


THE FIRST OXFORD GROUP The first Oxford Group of seven or eight was dominated by those with Puritan sympathies. It was led by John Harding whose income was assured as Hebrew Professor at Oxford, where he was also University Proctor, and church appointments as Rector of Great Hasely and Canon of Lincoln Cathedral. He is noted for having debated against prayers to saints and angels during King James’ visit in 1605, and may have been partly responsible for an attempt to established a puritan style rule in Magdalene College. Probably the first Oxford Group’s most prominent member however was John Reynolds or (Rainolds) who led the Puritans at Hampton Court. He openly objected to the sign of the cross in baptism, would not allow a ring to be used in marriage and refused to use the Apocrypha – but he did approve of the doctrine of apostolic succession. He died in 1607 as the first stage of writing was completed. There were five or six others in the First Oxford group: Thomas Holand was a thorough Calvinist, who normally said farewell to anyone with the words “I commend you to the love of God and to the hatred of popery and superstition.”273 Dr Kilbye (or Kilby) whose biographical notes give strong evidence of evangelical repentance, is otherwise remembered for giving to his parish a double gilt chalice and paten. Mr Brett, Rector of Quaiton may have complained of the final revisions made by the Bishops. Of Mr Fairclough little seems to be known. Lupton includes in this group a William Thorne, noted for his simony – but no other list includes him. Miles Smith is undoubtedly the most controversial figure. Simply put, his convictions waver. As Bishop of Gloucester (after 273

Lupton vol XXIV p76


the translation work was completed) he removed the altar and installed a puritan style communion table; yet he contributed to the KJV the preface which roundly condemns Puritans and Baptists. The chapter and page headings in the KJV are attributed to him, as are the quotations in the Preface – all of which are from the Geneva Bible, not the new KJV they are introducing! One wonders if the irony of this escaped King James. THE SECOND OXFORD GROUP The leader of the Second Oxford Group, Thomas Ravis, was a bitter persecutor of the Puritans and was chosen by King James to oppose them at Hampton Court. Once he became Bishop of London he relentlessly set out to establish conformity to HighChurch practice. Next in this group is George Abbot, a champion of the Puritan cause and a Calvinist to his last days. Made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611 he continued to press for reform. He refused the King’s demand for a divorce for the Countess of Essex. To get around this, the King appointed Thomas Bilson to the commission considering the divorce, securing a majority to overrule Abbot. Nevertheless Abbot promulgated an edict in 1615 making it illegal to print a KJV Bible without including the Apocrypha. He also managed to shoot dead with a cross bow a game-keeper during a hunting expedition with the King. Although a commission eventually declared not only that this was an accident but that it was indeed lawful for an Archbishop to hunt, it was used by his enemies to malign his character for the rest of his life. He died after Charles I had ascended to the throne and effectively stripped the 71 year old Protestant Archbishop of all real power.


An ardent anti-puritan, Richard Edes had been in the King’s party at Hampton Court and was appointed to this group of translators, but died before the revision work began. John Aglionby, a defender of prayers to saints and angels, replaced Edes, and contributed significantly to the KJV; but he died in 1611 as the version was being published. Sir Henry Savile, co-founder of the Bodlian Library, was the only un-ordained translator. He was widely travelled, and recognised as a scientist, antiquarian and language scholar. He publicly opposed Arminianism. Also in the Second Oxford Group, Leonard Hutten (despite being Bishop Bancroft’s chaplain) and John Harmer appear to have had some Puritan sympathies. Of the others in the group, Ralph Ravens and John Perrin, little is known. THE FIRST CAMBRIDGE GROUP The First Cambridge Group held little practical sympathy for the Protestant cause. The theology of their leader, Edward Lively, Regis Professor of Hebrew, is unclear, but in any case he died in 1905. John Richardson was an Arminian, Roger Andrews HighChurch, and Robert Spalding and Andrew Bing (or Burge) appear to be noted only for the number of “livings” they held! Laurence Chaderton (or Chatterton) was noted for his preaching, with sermons as long as three hours under the duress of the congregation who cried out, “Go on! We beg you go on!” 274 . In a sermon preached at St Paul’s in 1574 he asked, “Where are the lips of the ministers which preserve knowledge? Or the messengers of God at whose mouths poor people should seek his laws? Nay, rather, there are whole swarms of idle, ignorant and ungodly curates who neither can nor will go before the flock of 274

Lupton vol XXIV p 49


Christ in sound doctrine and integrity of life.” Shortly afterwards he accepted the position of founding Master of the new Emmanuel College in Cambridge – a college Queen Elizabeth complained about as being a “Puritan foundation.” 275 Clearly, here was a man with strong Puritan sympathies, but he managed quite well not to stand by them too clearly when controversy threatened. He used the sign of the cross, and when questioned as to why his communicants sat in puritan fashion to receive communion instead of kneeling, he argued that the shape of the pews prevented them from kneeling instead of owning up to the more likely reason, Puritan theology opposed kneeling.276 Thomas Harrison is described as “possibly a Puritan”. We can be more sure of Francis Dillingham who went into print against the papacy. There is a myth that William Alexander of Menstrie translated the Psalms for the King’s Bible,277 but the First Cambridge Group was given this task and it is their version of Psalms found in the King James Bible. Alexander was a dramatist and poet, Prince Henry’s tutor until the youngster’s death, and a court favourite of James’ whose main claim to fame was his appointment as founding Governor of Nova Scotia (effectively making Nova Scotia his personal fief) and Viscount of Canada. The myth that he translated the Psalms for the King’s Bible appears to arise from the fact that Alexander was commissioned by James to revise James’ own metrical translation of the Psalms – this was published in 1631 as The Psalmes of King David, translated by King James. Further, Charles I gave Alexander exclusive rights to publish King James’ Psalmes, and made use of any other version 275

Lupton vol XXIV p 50 Lupton vol XXIV p50 The historical novelist Nigel Tranter, in Poetic Justice (1997) is among those attributing the translation of Psalms for the King's Bible to Alexander. 276 277


in Scotland illegal.278 But the French captured Nova Scotia and the English England. King Charles lost his kingdom and his head. Although Alexander kept his head, when he died bankrupt in London in 1640 he had no Nova Scotian “kingdom”, he had no wealth and he certainly had no claim to being the translator of the King James Version’s Book of Psalms. THE SECOND CAMBRIDGE GROUP The Second Cambridge group has only one who stands out for his support of the Puritan cause, Samuel Warde (or Ward). He kept a diary in puritan tradition, associated with Puritans and made his sympathies clear – but he also enjoyed income from a truly remarkable number of “livings”. The theology of William Branthwait, Andrew Downes and Jeremiah Radclife (or Ratcliffe) is unclear. John Boyes (or Bois) was a leading specialist in Greek manuscripts, and with Reg Warde (or Robert Ward) had evident High-Church leanings. The Leader of the Second Cambridge group, John Dewport (or Duport), made his support for absolute power vested in the church and the King clear. He was rewarded with the posts of Master of Jesus College, Prebendary of Ely, Proctor of Cambridge University, four times Vice Chancellor of the University, Rector of Harleton, Rector of Medbourne, Rector of Bosworth, Rector of Fulham and Precentor of St Paul’s. Apparently he still had time to supervise revision of the Apocrypha.


Confusion is compounded by the fact that the version was not well received in Scotland , and another revision by Alexander was published in a version of the Prayer Book Laud imposed on the Scottish Church in 1637. Although the metrical Psalms in this Prayer Book were Alexander's (or James') all Bible quotes in the Prayer Book itself, including the Psalms, were from the King James Version of the Bible.


REVISION These committees worked from 1604 till the end of 1607. In 1609 a General Committee met to revise the work of the committees. It apparently consisted of two representatives from each group, a total of twelve members. Only four are known: John Bois, Andrew Downes, Arthur Lake and the Puritan John Harmer. When they finished, the final official review was conducted by Bishop Bilson and Miles Smith. Not only did these two have responsibility for the final official revision, they produced the “Translators’ Preface”. Smith was a member of the First Oxford group, and has been described as a “lapsed Puritan”. But Thomas Bilson had not previously been involved in the translation work. He had come to prominence when, as noted above, the King used him to pack a commission to secure the King’s wish to grant Lady Essex a divorce. The King rewarded Bilson for his vote by knighting his son. The son, in his turn, became known (presumably beyond the King’s hearing) as “Sir Nullity Bilson”. The Bishop himself remained a staunch defender of the Anglican and Royal powers. Before the new Bible was published, however, another revision took place. Archbishop Bancroft, a violent persecutor of the Puritans, conducted his own revision, making what Smith called fourteen obstinate changes. Smith’s protests were to no avail, and the Archbishop made these changes, including the insertion of “bishopricke” (changed to “bishoprick” in a later revision) with no basis in any text or manuscript. The Bishop simply asserted his power, and with no reference to “textus receptus” or “formal equivalence” determined on his own how the Kings’ Bible would be worded.




t is inevitable that any contemporary examination of King James’ Bible should also look at the New King James Version (NKJV). For many, this adaptation of the King’s Bible meets the need for a modern version in the tradition of King James. In its title, and in their comments, the publishers make clear their commitment to the textus receptus, formal equivalence and a high English style. There are some good points about the NKJV. It removes some of the idiosyncrasies of the older King’s Bible – but introduces some of its own. While improving some points, this revision makes others worse, introduces new peculiarities, and bases the whole process on faulty assertions about Bible translation, and about the KJV in particular. By changing some of the anachronisms of the King’s Bible, retaining others and introducing new idiomatic confusion, the translators have produced a version that is unlikely to satisfy either those looking for a Bible in the English now in use or those who prefer the English used four centuries ago. Their commitment to the textus


receptus is commitment to a myth. Their claims to formal equivalence are rhetorical exaggeration. Their attempts to improve on the dated English of the KJV result in an appalling mix of style. While the KJV writers aimed to make from many good versions one better279, the NKJV writers have made of a good but dated version one significantly worse; one that darkens the sense of the Word of God. BY THEIR WORDS280 In their introduction the publishers make a number of claims that demonstrate that the NKJV cannot live up to its aims. Here we evaluate their work in the light of their claims. The publishers assert a commitment to what they call the “spiritual treasures found especially in the AV”281 This is not a reference to the original Greek and Hebrew text, but to their assertion that the actual English words of the King’s Bible itself have “spiritual” value in their own standing. But the spiritual value of a Bible translation is in its faithfulness to the original texts. The English words used in the King’s Bible are not inspired. The spiritual treasures of the King’s Bible are found in the degree to which God’s word is accurately translated. There may be emotive impact in the lyrical language chosen by fallible translators, but that does not constitute a spiritual treasure! Good translation will expose the treasure of the objective truth once given by the precise words of prophets and apostles under the 279

“We never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principle good one.” (From the Translators’ Preface) 280

We will look firstly at what the publishers themselves claim about their new version, then examine some of the issues that arise from an examination of the text itself. It is of course easy to find in any version examples of translation and usage that can be criticised. For that reason I have avoided making eccentric examples a basis of criticism. Where examples are given, they are only given if they represent a consistent position of this version. 281 Holy Bible – Revised Authorised Version Bagster, London, 1982 Preface p iii


direct inspiration of God. The treasure lies in the original words, and is exposed by the faithfulness of translation, not in existential encounter with out-of-the-ordinary English. To venerate a particular translation as if it has unique spiritual treasure is reprehensible – yet their opening statement effectively does just that to the KJV. They commend the “majesty of style” of the King’s Bible, and attempt to retain what is best described as the high church mystical language of that version. Christians committed to the Bible cannot accept any attempt to “improve” the majesty of the words in which God spoke. In the words of Reformed Confessions, Scripture is “perspicuous” (or able to be understood plainly) by God’s design. No matter how worthy the desire to increase reverence, we must not attempt to be wiser than God by making his word more “majestic”. Faithful translation involves close replication of the style God chose to use, and “improvements” – no matter how noble the motivation – are an affront to God and a denial of the doctrine of plenary inspiration. The publishers claim that the “[Elizabethan period] was more devoted to classical learning.”282 By this it is intended to commend a classical style of translation. The scholars who wrote the King’s Bible were indeed devoted to classical learning – all but one were holders of university office in an age when university learning and classical learning were synonymous. But this is not true of the people for whom Tyndale translated, and who still constituted the bulk of the Crown’s subjects in 1611. None of the ordinary men and women of England in either Elizabeth’s or James’ day were “devoted to classical learning.” The King’s Bible was more “classical” than the English of its day – and ours. By their own confession, the NKJV translators set out to produce a Bible suited to the halls of classical learning – but 282

Preface p iii


just as Tyndale’s age needed a Bible suited to its “common ploughman”, our age needs a Bible suited to our “common ploughman”. Here is a version, the publishers claim, that is a “precise translation, and by no means a paraphrase or a broadly approximate rendering.”283 This sentiment is shared by all conservative versions but the implication is overstated. The NKJV frequently departs from precise word-for-word rendering just as did its idol, the KJV. It is simply impossible to produce a genuinely “precise” translation from one language to another, and the NKJV translators regularly depart from the precision they claim. The publishers write that the reverence of the KJV translators “for the divine Author and his Word assured a translation of the Scriptures ...of utmost accuracy …”284 Sadly, this is a misleading myth. Among the KJV translators there was a very small group of godly Puritans, and a few sympathisers – but even these put their labours to a version openly dedicated to the suppression of those who were most committed to godliness. Also included among the translators however was a drunkard, an oriental scholar who believed eastern mysticism had at least as much insight as biblical religion, and a pirate’s chaplain. The vast majority of KJV translators were High Church Anglo Catholics whose reverence was more for form, ceremony and Catholic church order than for biblical worship or life. Most shamelessly lived off the incomes of multiple appointments in widely dispersed parishes and colleges – “livings” they could not possibly service faithfully. Lancelot Andrewes, arguably the most influential of the KJV translators even maintained a private chapel where he “worshiped” with the aid of popish vestments, bells and images – 283 284

Preface p iii Preface p iii


between-times leading public services in other parts of the cathedral in conformity to royal demands for Protestant worship! The duplicity, avarice and popishness of so many KJV translators puts the lie to any claims this was a body of men of biblical integrity. Some were such good men; many, perhaps most, were not. That the NKJV attempts to establish its own integrity on this myth is sad. If, as they argue, the integrity of the NKJV is founded on the “integrity” of the KJV men, then the NKJV plainly lacks integrity! The publishers even make reference to the Fabian playwright G B Shaw285 in an extraordinary attempt to validate their cause. He is of course well known for his ability to write provocative plays that challenge the values and conventions of his day – a most effective way of cultivating social acceptance for his form of Marxism. But one wonders how this qualifies him to validate a Bible translation. A more fitting critic of the English of the KJV might have been found in C S Lewis. Unfortunately though, Lewis denies that the KJV is in the English people speak, or even has literary quality apart from its religious significance. An extraordinary statement is made by the publishers: “seeking to unveil the excellent form of the traditional English Bible, special care has been taken in the present edition to preserve the work of precision which is the legacy of the 1611 translators.”286 At first this appears to express commendable sentiments, but what are they saying? They are saying that the form287 of the KJV English is veiled and needs to be unveiled to the modern reader. What is form? This conventional literary term refers to the arrangement and style of a work without reference to its meaning. The most prominent characteristic of the form of the 285

Preface p iii Preface p iii 287 their italics! 286


KJV is its formal English. While some vocabulary is changed in the NKJV, very little of the form is actually changed – most readers will instantly liken it to the KJV because rather than unveiling the form it clearly follows it. When it does change the form in places, there is a tendency to introduce an unrecognisable style of hybrid English that mixes modern idiom with the formal dialect of the localised North American sub-culture in which this version was spawned. Often this matches the conventions of certain extreme, inwardly looking sub-cultures across the Atlantic in England who take as their mentors obscure separatists of previous centuries. It is the sort of English that can satisfy few strata of society, much less such a diverse body of English speakers as should delight to read a Bible today. All classes of English society were able to read Tyndale’s fluent idiom and delighted in it in his day – and a translation for this day should be as widely useful. COMPLETE EQUIVALENCE With statements about complete equivalence an attempt is made to drive an absolute wedge between translation principles of the NKJV and other conservative versions. While the NKJV has a tendency to reproduce the word order, idiom and grammar of Hebrew and Greek, even when this does not have equivalence (complete, formal or dynamic) in English, this is only a tendency. There are many occasions in the NKJV – as is the case with the King’s Bible – where “dynamically equivalent” translations are used because it is the only way to make English from the Hebrew or Greek. If dynamic equivalence is as wrong as the NKJV translators make out, they condemn their own translation by the hyperbole of their argument.


Their first appeal is to their retention of “begotten” in John 3:16 where others use “only” or “one and only”. On page 122 we considered this more closely – sufficient to say that “begotten” is neither unambiguous nor complete in expressing the Greek, and use of “one and only” has sound theological and translation justification. It is not good enough to condemn a change because of the mysticism and emotion attached to “begotten” which has an obscure meaning and is frequently misunderstood. They argue that “behold” and “Lo!” continue to have a place in English usage288. Where? Is there really a contemporary body of English speaking people who commonly use “behold” or “Lo!”? One wonders when even the NKJV translators themselves intersperse their literature or speech with “beholds” and “los” except perhaps when wanting to sound like their favoured Bible version.289 Although “behold” as “observe” or “look at” is still listed in dictionaries, its use has so diminished that lexicographers must soon discard it as archaic. But its use as an interjection – which the NKJV translators insist still has a place – is a long extinguished usage that, used in their version, obscures the Word of God. Remarkably, the NKJV translators go on to say exactly that! Having falsely claimed that “behold” continues in use, they give a list of valid alternatives290 and give themselves liberty to use these when the context supports it. By implication they condemn other translations for abandoning “behold” then announce they will use this same dynamic practice when they want. This, mind, is in a section of their introduction where they condemn the flexibility of what they call “dynamic equivalence”, claiming for themselves “complete equivalence.” But the problem with dynamic 288

Preface p iv See Lewis p22 who asks has lo “ever been used by any English writer without full consciousness that he was quoting?” 290 Preface p iv “indeed”, “look”, “see” and “surely” 289


equivalence compared to complete (or formal) equivalence is, according to them, exactly this sort of flexibility! The really useful aspect of this section of the NKJV introduction is the exposure of the fundamental “translation” principle of this version: be conservative if at all possible, even if meaning and good English is lost. They will arbitrarily adopt a better English translation in some instances but in other places will retain obscure and meaningless vocabulary and idiom when it represents a strong tradition. This section closes with an appeal to the reliability of the translators because they all subscribe to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs. This is good. But it is interesting they fail to point out that this position was not shared by the KJV translators. Since the NKJV makes a great point of being no more than a revision of the KJV, one has to say that the body of KJV and NKJV translators as a whole has no consistent position on inspiration. Further, the publishers seriously undermine the stated view of plenary, verbal inspiration by indicating a two level inspiration: some words, marked out by red type, are identified as more truly Christ’s words than others.291 But plenary, verbal inspiration demands that every word of the Bible has the same force of authority. Every word in the Bible is Christ’s. Many today loudly object that translations in plainer English compromise the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible, yet at the same time they use and promote a version that so colourfully distorts that very doctrine. How remarkable that so many can strain at the gnats of “thees”, “beholds” and “begottens” while swallowing the camel of such an evil concept of two-tiered 291

Initially editions published in the United States appear to have been exclusively in "Red Letter" versions; English published editions have tended not to be "Red Letter", and more latterly some "Black Letter" editions have been published in the United States.


inspiration. Every word of the Bible is equally God’s word, deserving of the same typographical emphasis. Publishing and using “Red-Letter” NKJV Bibles is a direct attack on one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible. The writers of the NKJV may be committed to plenary verbal inspiration, but the only NKJV widely available destroys the doctrine. We tempt the undiscerning and fire the searing coals of heresy when we use or advocate a Bible that teaches its readers to place diminished value on the bulk of its text. Of course, the NKJV is not alone in being published and (in New Zealand at least) almost exclusively distributed in red-letter form. The point here is that a version that demands loyalty for its commitment to plenary verbal inspiration does so falsely when it is published in red-letter form. DEVOTIONAL QUALITY The NKJV translators stress as a goal the retention of the “musical arrangement of language” and “lyrical quality ... in the AV.”292 So they express their desire to maintain the form of language that was designed to fit the KJV to the sung or chanted scripture portions and lyric mysticism of High Church liturgy, rather than to the pattern of common but dignified language in which God spoke to his people at various times. We agree that the “Gospel narratives were not merely flat utterances” but to suggest at the time of their writing they were “often sung in various degrees of rhythm” is to exaggerate with such flowery excess as to discourage any sensible reader from going any further into their work! Man’s wisdom can never do better than God: he chose the form of language by which he would speak and every attempt to 292

Preface p iv


improve its lyrical quality or musical arrangement is arrogant and distasteful. THE STYLE Here the NKJV writers wisely note the inescapable development and changes in the English language since 1611. They satisfactorily justify their abandoning of archaic pronouns (such as “thee” and “ye”) and the relinquishing of “eth” and “est” word endings. They correctly commit themselves to the retention of specialist words of significance where no English equivalent is available – such words a phylactery and propitiation. There is here however an indication as to how remote these translators are from ordinary English-speaking people when they assert that “King James doctrinal and theological terms, for example, propitiation, justification, and sanctification, are generally familiar to Englishspeaking peoples.” 293 That is nothing short of nonsense! It would be difficult to assert that even a majority of English-speaking Christians were familiar with these words, let alone Englishspeaking people generally. Of course, Christians may be aware of these words without having the understanding and ease of use suggested by the term “familiar” – is this another example of a mystical awareness being venerated in place of understanding? But again they appeal to retention of “majestic and reverent style”, imposing on the autographs a style they did not all have under God’s inspiration. From a linguistic point of view it is equally disturbing to have them express a desire to retain the “sequence and identity of words, phrases and clauses” of the KJV. In other words they wish to simultaneously retain and revise the style of the KJV that today renders the Bible veiled (to use their own terms). The confusing consequences of this are considered below. 293

Preface p vi


THE FORMAT Clear principals of format have been set out, and to a large extent these are sensible. Two comments are worth making in passing however. Firstly, the use of italics for English words supplied but not in the original can mislead some readers into assuming that unitalicised words represent a word-for-word equivalence. This is not so. One word in Greek or Hebrew may have to be translated by a phrase of two, three or more words in English. These are not italicised. Similarly, when a Greek or Hebrew phrase is properly reduced to one English word this is not indicated. Nor is there an indication where words in the Greek or Hebrew are simply left out. It can be imagined by some readers that the italicised words could be left out – but mostly they cannot. In translating from one language to another it is essential that the receptor language be used! In other words to translate into English the italicised words are normally essential not optional. For most readers the impact caused by the frequent occurrence of italicised words – especially when not related to emphasis – is distracting. A few, of course, find such technical help useful, but considering its impact on most readers, this typographical ploy is unfortunate. Secondly, the rendering of poetic passages as contemporary verse is not good translation practice. Poetry has its special problems – and the NIV translators have a particularly good approach to this.294 However, the result in the NKJV suggests 294

“Poetical passages are printed as poetry, that is, with indentation of lines and with separate stanzas. These are generally designed to reflect the structure of Hebrew poetry. This poetry is normally characterised by parallelism in balanced lines. Most of the poetry of the Bible is in the Old Testament, and scholars differ regarding the scansion of Hebrew lines. The translators determined the stanza divisions for the most part by analysis of the subject matter. The stanzas therefore serve as poetic paragraphs.” Translators’ Preface to the New International Version 1983 (1978)


that despite what they say, the writers did more than merely render such passages as the Psalms in contemporary form. For example, the parallelism of ideas of the Hebrew poetry is frequently evident in the NKJV – does this indicate that the NKJV writers in reality adopted similar principles of translating poetry as the NIV translators, but did not want to own up? TEXTUAL ISSUES Nearly a third of the NKJV introduction is given to textual issues. Because these have been dealt with elsewhere we simply note two key myths that are foundational to the narrow and faulty view of texts expressed in the NKJV: 1. There is a commitment to a mythical “Textus Receptus” said to be the basis of the KJV. 2. There is the myth that the textual issue significantly affects the text of modern translations. CONCLUSION TO THE PREFACE The introduction to the NKJV – the statement by which these writers want to characterise their work – is confused, misleading and at times emphatically wrong. This does not commend the version for general use. The writers tellingly state “The real character of the Authorised Version does not reside in its archaic pronouns or verbs or other grammatical forms of the seventeenth century, but rather in the care taken by its scholars to impart the letter and spirit of the original text in a majestic and reverent style.” 295 So they claim to have rejected archaic pronouns, verbs and grammatical forms (a claim they have not entirely fulfilled); but they have frequently retained equally unsuitable archaic vocabulary. 295

The Translators Preface p v


The writers specifically aimed to add stylistic features they believe to be more majestic and reverent than the form of language God chose to use. True reverence is seen in submitting to God, not attempting to improve on his self-revelation. God is reverenced when his ways are acknowledged, his preferences accepted ahead of our own. No matter how high the motive, God is not honoured when man adds his “improvements” to God’s word. Rather than majestic in style, the version they have produced is pompous, confused, awkward and obscure. While the aim of accuracy to the original texts is to be admired, it has a similar level of success as achieved by the Roman Catholic Bible (which was so roundly condemned by the translators of the King’s Bible because it darkens the sense: “since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood.”296). Here is a version that truly covers the Word of God in mists of eloquent mysticism, narrow dialect and unfamiliar English. ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK! A comprehensive evaluation of the NKJV would be exhausting. A thorough review of translation accuracy and quality, English style and register, and suitability for reading, study and liturgical uses, would involve a book in itself. But there are sufficient examples that illustrate the trends and distinctives of the version. This section examines examples of textual, translation and English issues that have come to notice as the NKJV has been used over a number of years. It is likely that a list of faults and weaknesses could be assembled from any Bible version. That some examples of poor translation can be found in a particular version does not necessarily mean the version is characterised by poor translation. 296

The Translators Preface p 34


However, where examples can be drawn from a wide range of locations in the version, and where types of error are repeated consistently throughout the version, it is by definition poor translation. But it is important that an evaluation of a Bible translation takes place in the context of examples and not merely in oblique references to principles. The examples taken here from the NKJV illustrate features that are found consistently throughout that version. These examples are representative and not isolated ones. There are serious short-comings in the NKJV, and these examples typify the translation, demonstrating the unreliable and unsuitable nature of this version. GENESIS 12:14 Genesis 12:14 exhibits many of the features of the NKJV. Firstly, note the KJV rendering: “And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.” Compare that with the NKJV: “So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful” and the NIV: “When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman.” There are a number of problems with the Hebrew, and with the KJV rendering: the NKJV editors recognised this, as is evidenced from the changes they made. Yet their solution leaves us with a verse that cannot make sense without filling in missing words and ideas. This is not merely a mater of style – opinion as to what is “good” or “bad” English. It is a fact that the sentence just does not adhere to the conventions of English. So it “veils” or “darkens” the sense for any English speaking reader. The KJV translators condemn those who “darken the sense” of the Bible,


who “must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof it may be kept from being understood.”297 The first problem is with the expression “And it came to pass ... when.” The NKJV correctly identifies this as an archaic idiom, but replaces it with another archaic expression, “so it was, when”. This is redundant: in contemporary English298 to say “when” in this context is to give as understood the words “so it was”. The simple English rendering “When Abram came ...” may not quite adequately express the Hebrew idiom, but would be better by far than “So it was when …”. The best solution is probably to be found in ensuring the whole sentence gives expression to the idea “It happened when …”.299 The second difficulty is with the preposition rendered “into” in the KJV and NKJV, but “to” in the NIV. There is no preposition in the Hebrew, but English demands one, so the translator must choose one that is suitable. In conventional English a traveller comes “to” a country: coming “into” a country has the sense of passing through a barrier. So one might come “into” New Zealand through Auckland Airport, but would subsequently speak of having come “to” New Zealand. However, “into” can also intimate a change of condition, which would appear to be what was intended in the text: when Abram went to Egypt, he also entered “into” the culture of Egypt in contrast to what he had previously known. In this sense, although “into” is awkward English, it is not so disjunctive as to cause a reader to interrupt the flow of thought to determine meaning. Provided it is the only departure from conventional English, using “into” could be acceptable, even preferable. 297

The Translators Preface and that does not mean newspaper English, but good written English 299 There is a sense of circumlocution needed, but “It happened when …” is clumsy. The solution lies in remembering the need to translate into the building blocks of English meaning, sentences, and not to be fixated on word-for-word renderings. 298


One point to note in passing, is that in their introduction the NKJV editors advise they will italicise words they give to complete the meaning, but which are not found in the original. What happened to “into”? It is not in the original, but it is not italicised. Here is an example of inconsistent application of their stated principles of translation. The next problem is the dominant one, however. There is a series of dependent statements, and in both the KJV and NKJV there is an ellipses (missing words) that makes the meaning of the sentence so obscure as to cause even a thoughtful reader to stumble. The problem is compounded by English and Hebrew having different conventions for ideas that are understood but not stated. Extending the confusion, the NKJV recognises that the KJV has a problem, but attempts to solve it by inserting a comma that does nothing to improve clarity of meaning. In the Hebrew, two closely related ideas are expressed: the Egyptians looked, and they saw. They looked at Sarai, and they saw that she was beautiful. There is certainly some significance in recording the two actions. But in English, it is assumed that anyone who saw has looked! So the NIV simple translates it, “the Egyptians saw that she was ...” This is certainly much better English than the KJV “the Egyptians .. beheld the woman that she was ...”. When this very “un-English” dependent clause is found within the context of two other conditionals introduced by an initial conjunction: “And ... when ... that ...” this sentence really does obscure the meaning. The NKJV has “So ... when ... that ... that”, but places a comma before the last “that”. It does not help. In fact the NKJV is much worse, because the first “that” is misplaced, having been moved from the better placement used by the KJV. The NKJV changes a poor translation so that it becomes almost pidgin English!


It would be interesting to learn from the NIV translators why they chose the simple form “the Egyptians saw that ...” instead of the acceptable, slightly less fluent “the Egyptians looked and saw ...” which is closer in meaning to the KJV. However, the NIV is in English and can be understood; the NKJV misses out on both points. The introduction to the NKJV makes a great play of the need to use “behold”. Interesting therefore, is it not, that here they change “behold” (KJV) to “saw”? They roundly condemn others for doing this – where is the integrity that allows them to do the same with impunity? The final point of interest is the italicising of “was” in the NKJV. Who in their right mind would suggest meaning and accuracy of English could be retained by treating “was” as optional? The KJV editors certainly did not – they used italics for “supplied” words, but not here. Maybe the Hebrew does not have the participle – but tenses are different in Hebrew and English, and a pedantic word-for-word correspondence is nonsense, not translation. And why italicise “was” and not “into”? The real effect of italicising “was” is to create emphasis which is most unfortunate. It suggests that Sarai was known by the Egyptians to be beautiful before they looked at her, and looking at her confirmed that view with a vengeance. OTHER EXAMPLES In Mark 4 from verse 15 the NKJV follows the KJV by using “these” without any antecedent. That may be acceptable in the language Jesus spoke, but does not convey meaning in English. The NIV is much better. Luke 6 has a collection of unhelpful constructions. It opens by faithfully reproducing what Hendriksen correctly calls “the


strange reading reflected in the AV”300 – “On the second Sabbath after the first.” In verse 3 we are told “Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this, what …’” The redundant “answering said” foreshadows more awkward renderings. The reader must struggle for some time with “this, what” before realising the “what” has reference to the beginning of verse 4. By the time the end of verse 4 is reached, eight subordinate clauses have to be sorted out – little wonder that it appears at first reading to assert it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat “those who were with him”. The NKJV repeatedly uses “asked him saying” and “dreamed a dream” (see Genesis 37 for example). In Modern English both are redundant. “Asked” and “Dreamed” are perfectly adequate: the context of asking indicates whether the questions was written or spoken, and as for dreaming, what else would one dream but a dream? Matthew 1:25 is one of several places where the NKJV uses the expression “called his name ...”. In fact, in English, they called him – not his name – “Jesus”, or they named him “Jesus” or gave him the name “Jesus”. Among the unfortunate archaisms retained can be found “take heed”, (particularly in “take heed to yourself” – Deuteronomy 12:30); “charged” (as in Genesis 40:4 – “the captain ... charged Joseph with them” where to make sense of it the modern reader must, at the very least, be given “the captain charged Joseph with their care”); “firstling” and “comeliness” are simply obscure; “tares” (as in Matthew 13 – the last time this word could be heard in common use was forty years ago in reference to a particular type of child’s marble!); “fail” (as in Hebrews 1:12 “and your years will not fail” which is not intended to convey some failure on the part of the years, but their coming to an end); and “mite” 300

Hendriksen, Luke, p320


(in Luke 21:2) which is well known today as a microscopic parasite but not as a coin. The old term “scall” used thirteen times in Leviticus 13 & 14 in the King’s Bible, is retained in the English editions of the NKJV even though it has been dropped from English dictionaries – but in a strange concession to modernity it is not used in editions from the United States I have been able to check. The retention of “firmament” in Genesis 1:6 is particularly interesting. The word conveys to the modern reader something of firm substance rather than an empty expanse. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary confirms that it indeed has the meaning “a firm or solid structure”. But it also points out that “empty expanse” is the intended meaning of the Hebrew in Genesis. The poor translation “firmament” found its way into the King’s Bible directly from the Vulgate, where it had been used in imitation of the Greek Septuagint. Calvin comments that he cannot understand why the Septuagint used this word, for, he argues, the Hebrew “literally means expanse.”301 Here we find a bad translation made in the Catholic Vulgate copied uncritically into the KJV and retained for the sake of tradition in the NKJV – poor translation, poor English and poor Protestantism! Another example of a confusing string of dependent clauses is found in Deuteronomy 30:19 & 20. The sequence is “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that ... therefore .... that ... that ... that ... and that ... for ... and that ... which ... to give them.” To understand this really requires quite a degree of linguistic gymnastic proficiency! The NKJV is particularly inept in its handling of sexual terms and situations. “Do not come near your wives” (Exodus 19:14) is not going to convey the intended sexual meaning to most modern readers. In Genesis 31:10 “leaped” is archaic in farming 301

J Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Banner of Truth, London, 1965, p79


communities – and incomprehensible in an urban context. In today’s usage, to “know” somebody carries not even the slightest nuance of sexual activity302, and such usage in Matthew 1:25 where Joseph is said to “not know” Mary whom he has married must be incomprehensible to ordinary readers today – its sexual reference is not obviously implied by context, so that rather than emphasising the continuing virginity of Mary, it simply puzzles. The same confusion arises in Luke 1:34 where Mary is quoted as saying she does “not know” any men – although the context here does hint at sexual relations, and an uninitiated but thoughtful reader might make the link. “Know them carnally” even has to be explained to those charged in law with this obscure expression, so it is hardly likely to convey the intended meaning to general readers, who at best will assume it is a reference to illegal sexual activity. The translators of the NKJV draw attention to what they see as the necessity of “only begotten” in John 3:16. Why then do they translate the same word as “only” instead of “only begotten” three times (in Luke 7:12, 8:42 and 9:38)? Why do they “undermine the Christology” of Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 1:5 by changing “only begotten” in the King’s Bible to “first-born”? If this is such an important issue of principle (which it must be to deserve the degree of attention given in the introduction to the NKJV), why deny their principles almost as many times as they observe them? At the very least the NKJV translators’ blatantly incomplete disclosure of their stated principles raises questions as to their reliability. If they cannot be relied upon to be consistent in a matter they make out to be of great importance, to what extend can they be relied upon in other translation issues? 302

The archaic "know" of course means more than sexual intimacy: but to the modern reader the sexual reference included in "know" is completely missed.


Where does all this leave the NKJV? Some changes – but not enough – have undoubtedly shifted the English of the King’s Bible towards modern usage; some – too many – have simply shuffled the obscurity or made it worse. The result is a “translation” that obscures God’s word.




he King’s Bible became England’s Bible. Despite an abundance of attempts to popularise alternatives303, it is not until the latter part of the 20th Century that the King’s Bible began to be widely replaced by modern translations 304. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the translation, the King’s Bible is undoubtedly a treasure. To contend, as I do, that it is imperative to give modern readers a Bible in their own language is not to deny that it was the King’s Bible that has brought multitudes to a knowledge of God, and stamped its mark on 400 years of English culture and Christianity. The popularity of the King’s Bible, its influential place in life and culture, and its entrenchment in English literature and 303

David Daniell The Bible in English pp843ff lists 136 since 1611, but notes more than 3,000 English Bibles have been published since 1526, 1,500 new English translations of parts or the whole Bible in the 20th Century alone (p769). 304 While none of the new versions has achieved the monopoly attained by the King's Bible in its day, it took 60 years for the King's Bible to secure its dominance: barely 25 years have passed since the more popular contemporary translations have been published – none of which has "enjoyed" an equivalent passage of time or a politically controlled market that ensured the King's Bible's monopoly.


religion, is to be explained first and foremost in this: it is a translation of the Word of God. The King’s politics ensured that it was the only version of the Bible available for many years, but it was the thirst of a nation for the Word of God that meant an English Bible was not just in every Englishman’s home but that it played a part in every Englishman’s life. That same thirst for God’s Word went with colonists and missionaries to the Americas and beyond. For all of them, the only Bible they could have was the King’s Bible. Of course not every Englishman believed the Bible, not every English ploughboy tilled the soil with a Bible at his plough, and not every English monarch ruled with biblical integrity – but biblical Christianity was so entwined into the fabric of the English nation and people that a Bible in English had to be dominant. That it was the King’s Bible is because the King of England imposed his version on England; that it was a Bible at all was because the King of Kings gave his word to England. There were other factors at play, as noted, that entrenched the monopoly: we can add to the King’s edict of 1616 the abuses of Bishop Laud, the environment of Restoration England and almost exclusive use of the King’s Bible in the revised prayer book and 17th and 18th century literature. But dramatically absent among those factors are modern claims to the quality of translation and English: it owed almost all its merits to Tyndale upon whom it dumped a litany of pomposity and obscurity for the benefit of an absolutist monarch. It was a “monarchical version, frequently beautiful but already archaic in 1611, often erroneous, sometimes unintelligible.”305 Given this, it is perhaps a little surprising that the 20 th century saw the popularity of the King’s Bible soar in parts of the Untied States, from where strong appeals for “the King James Version 305

Daniell The Bible p768


only” have emanated. What can be overlooked in a superficial review of United States’ history is the significance of the Bible – arguably as significant there as in England. Because of the monopoly position of the King’s Bible during the foundation of the United States, it was that version that entrenched itself into US culture. It was the King’s Bible that gave (at least so far as Americans were concerned) God’s approval to the Revolution and religious-sounding language to the shaping of the Constitution 306. It was the King’s Bible that underpinned Negro spirituals. It was the King’s Bible that was quoted in literature (especially such landmark works as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and that was appealed to by both sides of the Civil War. And it was the King’s Bible that stamped its idiom on the revival movements of the 19 th century and stereotypes of preachers in Westerns (whether book or film). It can safely be said that once early Puritan commitment to the Geneva Bible had been overthrown, the King’s Bible was the only recognised Bible of the popular culture of the United States. Daniell postulates that the “constant strong presence of the KJV in five hundred years of American history – still there, still very much alive” is in part because the King’s Bible is the one unifying factor in an otherwise incredibly diverse national Christianity.307 McGrath supports this: “the common factor that united the warring factions … [of] American Protestant Christianity, especially in the nineteenth century, was the King James Version of the Bible.” 308 He also points to the fact that “Standard American English is in many ways reminiscent of the spoken English of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such 306

Deism was probably more influential in the framing of the Constitution of the United States than biblical Christianity in the tradition of Puritanism, but that Deism leant heavily of the language of the King's Bible. 307 Daniell The Bible p768 308 McGrath p294


phrases as ‘I guess,’ nouns such as ‘platter’ and verbal forms such as ‘gotten’ – all of which go back to Chaucer – dropped out of use in England, yet were retained in America.”309 Certainly it is in culturally conservative states where children still address their fathers as “Sir” and mothers as “Ma’am”, and where a formal English Latinised grammar is rigidly taught at all levels of schooling that “King James Only-ism” is strongest: there the King’s Bible is a respected icon of conservatism. The language of the King’s Bible and the preferred literary language of schools and formal society offer each other mutual support. But that is a result, not a cause, of the dominance of the King’s Bible there. That it is the King’s Bible that serves as an icon of conservatism, the text of Bible-belt Christianity, and the codex of “old-fashioned morals” is a result of that version being the only one available at critical times in the cultural and political history of the United States, not because of the virtues – supposed or actual – of the version. From the monarch’s palaces to peasants’ hovels, in civil wars on both sides of the Atlantic, and in literature and political debate, the English Bible was the book of 17th, 18th and 19th Century England, its colonies, and its break-away Republic. Suppression of a clearer, more modern Geneva Bible with its better English and rejection of Anglo-catholic mysticism, has had a significant impact on English-speaking Christianity, literature and life, but examining that is not within the compass of this book. My aim has been to peal away layers of confusion, misinformation and myth surrounding the King’s Bible and to establish that regardless of its beauty and qualities, it never was the best rendition in English of God’s word and cannot be regarded as the best choice for modern use. That it has been a treasure is because God’s word is a treasure. That it has had impact is because God’s word has 309

McGrath p293


impact. That it has become loved by nations and people transformed by its words is because the Holy Spirit has worked through it in the lives of people and nations. Yet enough has been said that no one should be surprised by Daniell’s assertion that “the forcible replacement from 1611 of the remarkable, accurate, informative, forward-looking very popular Geneva Bibles at the time of their greatest dissemination and power, with the backward-gazing, conservative KJV was one of the tragedies of western culture.”310


Daniell The Bible p442



This appendix brings together examples of passages of Bible translation and discussion of related issues.

JOHN 1 IN THE GENEVA BIBLE 1583 Apart from the obvious differences in spelling and translation, note the extent of the marginal (foot) note: The holy Gofpel of Iesus Chrift according to Iohn. CHAP I. N the beginning was the Word, and that Word was with God, & that Word was God. 2 This fame was in the beginning w God. 3 All thinges were made by it, & without it was made nothing that was made. 4 In it was life, and that life was that light of men. 5 And that light fhineth in the darkenes, & the darkeneffe comprehended it not. 6 There was a ma fent fro God, whofe name [was] John. 7 This fame came for a witnes, to beare witnes of that light, that all men through him might beleeue. 8 He was not y light, but was fet to beare witnes of y light. 9 This was that true light, which lighteth every man that commeth into the worlde. 10 He was in the world, and the worlde was made bby him: and the worlde knewe him not. 1 He came unto his owne, and his owne receiued him not. 12 But as many as receiued him, to them he gaue prerorgatiue to be the fonnes of


God, [euen] to they beleeue in his Name. 13 Which are borne not of blood, nor of the wil of the flefh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 x And that Worde was made u fleft, and x dwelt among us, (and we //fawe the glorie thereof, z as the glorie of the onely begotten [Sonne] of the Father) a full of grace and trueth. Notes on v 14: That Sonne, who is God from everlafting, tooke upon him mans nature, that one & the felfe fame might be both God and man, which mifeftly appeareth to many witneffes, that faw hime, amongft whom he was conuerfant, & unto whome by fure and undoubted arguments he fhewed both his naturea. U That is, man: fo that the part is taken for the whole, by the figure of Synecdoche: for he tooke vpon him al our whole nature, that is to fay, a true body, & a true foule. X For a feafon, & when that was ended, he went bp into heauen: fo y word which he vfeth, is taken from tentes: and yet notwithftanding, his abfence from vs in bodie is not fuch, but that he is alwayes prefent with vs, though not in flefh, yet by the vertue of his Spirit. // Matt 17.2 2 Pet 1.17 Y The glory which he fpeaketh of here, is that manifeftation of Chrift his maieftie, which was as it were laid opeh before our eyes when the Sonne of God appeared in flefh. Z This worde as doeth not in this place betoken a laiafelineffe, but the trueth of the matter, for his meaning is this, that we faw fuch a glorie, as before our eyes when the Sonne of God appeared in flefth. Z This worde as doeth not in this place tetoken a likelineffe, but the tureth of the matter, for his meanding is this, that we faw fuch a glorie, as befeemed and was meete for the true and onely begotten Sonne of God, who is Lord and King over all the worlde. A He was not onlely a partaker of grace and trueth, but was full of the fubflance of grace and trueth.


JOHN 1 IN THE KINGS’ BIBLE (THIS EDITION 1613): The marginal notes are indeed brief in comparison, and there is already a much more modern “look” to the spelling. The tesftimonie of Iohn. Chap. J The Lambe of God. THE GOFPEL ACCORDING TO S. IOHN Chap 1. 1 The Diuinitie, Humanitie, and Office of Iefus Chrift. 15 The testimonie of Iohn. 39 The calling of Andrew, Peter, etc. 1....

*Gen 1.1 *Col 1.16

*Matt 3.1

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 *The fame was in the beginning with


God. 3 *All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light fhineth in darkness, & the darknefs comprehended it not. 6 *There was a man fent from God, whofe name was John. 7 The fame came for a witneffe to bear witneffe of the light, that all men through him might beleeue. 8 Hee was not that light, but was fent to bear witneffe of that light. 9 That was the true light, which lighteth every man that commeth into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 Hee came unto his owne, and his owne receiued him not. 12 // Or, the right or priuiledge *Matt 1.16

But as many as receiued him, to them gave hee // power to beome the fonnes of God, even to them that beleeue on his Name: 13 Which were borne, not of blood, nor of the will of the flefh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 * And the Word was made


flefh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the onely begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.


JOHN 1 IN THE KING’S BIBLE (1653):311 The modernisation of the spelling continues. The gofpel according to S John CHAP 1 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The fame was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light fhineth in darknefs, & the darknefs comprehended it not. 6 There was a man fent from God, whofe name was John. 7 The fame came for a witnefs to bear witnefs of the light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that light, but was fent to bear witnefs of that light. 9 That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the fons of God even to them that belive on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flefh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flefh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the onely begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.


This extract is from a tiny leather-bound pocket Bible, once owned and carried into battle in the English Civil War by Oliver Cromwell. It is to be found in the George Grey Rare Books Room, Auckland City Library. While he indisputably therefore used a KJV at this time, he had printed and issued to his troops a compilation of Bible portions from the Geneva Bible, not the KJV.


COMPARISON OF HEBREWS 12:1-11 IN DIFFERENT VERSIONS Much of the debate about different translations and versions can take place with little reference to actual texts. Here we reproduce eleven verses in each of four versions – readers can make their own judgements. Each verse is given in the four versions. Firstly, the verse is given in the King James Version [KJV], then in the New King James Version [NKJV], thirdly in the New International Version [NIV], and lastly “word-for-word” from Greek [WfW] (in which hyphenated words or groups represent a single word in the Greek). 1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, [KJV] 1 Therefore, since we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [NKJV] 1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. [NIV] 1 Therefore also we so-great having encompassing us a-cloud of-witnesses, weight having-laid-aside every and the easilysurrounding sin, with endurance we-should-run the lying-before us race, [WfW] 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. [KJV] 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [NKJV]


2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [NIV] 2 looking-away to the of faith leader and completer Jesus, who in-view-of the lying-before him joy endured cross, shame having-despised, and-at-right-hand of-the throne of-God sat down. [WfW] 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. [KJV] 3 For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. [NKJV] 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. [NIV] 3 For-consider-well him-who so-great has-endured from-sinners against himself gainsaying, that not you-be-wearied, in-yoursouls fainting. [WfW] 4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. [KJV] 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. [NKJV] 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [NIV] 4 Not-yet unto blood resisted-you against the sin wrestling, [WfW] 5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: [KJV] 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; [NKJV] 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, [NIV]


5 And you-have-quite-forgotten the exhortation, which to-you, as to-sons, he addresses My-son, despise-not discipline ofLord, nor faint by him being-reproved [WfW] 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. [KJV] 6 For whom the Lord loves he chastens, And scourges every son whom he receives.� [NKJV] 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.� [NIV] 6 for-whom loves Lord he-disciplines and-scourges every son whom he-receives. [WfW] 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? [KJV] 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? [NKJV] 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? [NIV] 7 If discipline you-endure, as with-sons with-you is-dealing God for-who is son whom disciplines-not father? [WfW] 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. [KJV] 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. [NKJV] 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. [NIV] 8 But-if without you-are discipline, of-which partakers havebecome all, then bastards you-are and not sons. [WfW] 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? [KJV] 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? [NKJV]


9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! [NIV] 9 Moreover the-flesh of-our fathers we-have-had those-whodiscipline, and we-respected not much rather shall-we-be-insubjection to father the of spirits, and shall-live? [WfW] 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. [KJV] 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. [NKJV] 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. [NIV] 10 For-they-indeed for a-few days according-to that-which seemed-good to-them disciplined but he for profit, for to partake of-his-holiness. [WfW] 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. [KJV] 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. [NKJV] 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.� [NIV] 11 Every but discipline for the present seems-not of-joy to-be but of-grief but-afterwards fruit peaceable to-those by it havingbeen-exercised renders of-righteousness. [WfW]


Appendix 2: THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE This outline highlights key points in the history of the English Bible and lists some of the more significant English versions without any attempt to evaluate them. THE ORIGINAL OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic (sometimes called Chaldean). It was translated into Greek in the 3rd or 2nd Century BC. Known as the Septuagint, this was the main Greek version used in Jesus’ day. The writers of the New Testament frequently used the Septuagint (rather than the Hebrew or other Greek versions) for Old Testament quotations. The New Testament was written in Greek. “ENGLISH” BIBLES BEFORE 1066 Prior to 1066 a form of English, “Old English” or “AngloSaxon”, was spoken in England, but today’s English speakers would neither recognise nor understand it. In the Seventh Century a Latin version of the Gospels had Northumbrian Old English interspersed line by line (an interlinear version). In the Eighth Century the Psalms, John’s Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer are known to have been translated into Old English. In the Ninth Century, the Christian King, Alfred the Great, translated the first 50 Psalms into Old English and included the Ten Commandments


and parts of Exodus 21-23 in his legal code. That century also saw the production of Psalms in Latin with an English interlinear “gloss”. In the 10th Century the four Gospels were produced in Old English – this set is known as the Wessex Gospels. Portions of seven Old Testament books were also translated into Old English. FRENCH INFLUENCE FOR 300 YEARS The Norman conquest of England in 1066 is pivotal in understanding the history of England and the English language. Under William the Conqueror, the Normans imposed French as the official language of England. Not only was English discouraged, once it regained favour it was largely influenced by French. This is the beginning of the English we know today. In the 12th Century a paraphrase of the Gospels and Acts was produced in Middle English. That century also saw the production of a “triple version” (or Triplex) with Latin, AngloNorman and Anglo-Saxon in interlinear form. The Psalms were translated into Middle English in the 13th Century, which also saw the production of metrical paraphrases of Genesis and Exodus. At the end of the 14th Century part of Matthew, all of Acts and most of the Epistles were translated. By then English was beginning to replace French as the language of educated Englishmen. JOHN WYCLIFFE 1384 The first complete Bible translation in English was made by Wycliffe (with assistants) and was published, after his death, in 1384. This translation was made from the Latin version known as the Vulgate.


WILLIAM TYNDALE 1526 Tyndale’s Bible was the first in relatively modern English. He translated from the Greek. Because of the invention of the printing press, this version was produced in large numbers and spread widely. The New Testament was published in 1526, and by the time he was burnt at the stake in 1536 he had published the Pentateuch and Jonah. THE COVERDALE BIBLE 1535 Miles Coverdale took over Tyndale’s work and added his own translation of the remaining portions to produce the first printed complete English Bible in 1535. MATTHEW’S BIBLE 1538 Using the pseudonym Thomas Matthew’s, John Rogers, a close friend of Tyndale, published this Bible in 1538. THE GREAT BIBLE 1539 In 1539 a large format Bible was published under directions from King Henry VIII who required a copy to be chained, open, in every parish Church in England. THE GENEVA BIBLE 1560 This was published in 1560 (the New Testament came out in 1557). It was published in Geneva during the Marian persecutions in England. Coverdale, John Knox and John Calvin were all involved. It is also known as the “Breeches Bible” because of its


rendering of the garments Adam and Eve were said to have been given in Genesis 3:7. This was the Bible used by Shakespeare, by the Pilgrims who sailed to America and by Oliver Cromwell. THE BISHOPS’ BIBLE 1568 In an effort to deflect the popularity of the Geneva Bible, Bishop Matthew Parker led a team of translators, mostly bishops, who produced this Bible in 1568. THE DOUAI-REIMS BIBLE 1582 - 1609 Cardinal Reims initiated the translation of a Catholic English version, with the work being done by Professor Martin of Douai. The New Testament was published in 1582 and the Old Testament in 1609. Because the Latin Vulgate had been revised, the Douai– Reims Bible also underwent revision to line it up with the official Latin version of Roman Catholicism before it was completed. THE KING JAMES VERSION/ THE AUTHORISED VERSION 1611 This was published in 1611. A number of typographical errors identify the various printings of the first editions: the “He” and “She” versions were actually printed in 1611, the variations being on the pronoun given in Ruth 3:15; the “Wicked Bible” was printed in 1631 with the accidental omission of “not” in Exodus 20:14; and the “Vinegar Bible” was printed in 1717 with “Vinegar” for “Vineyard” in the heading of Luke 20. This Version was revised in 1613. A further revision was made in 1769 under Benjamin Blayney at Oxford – that revision, significantly changed from the real King James or Authorised Version, is the one used today. 182

THE REVISED VERSION 1881 - 1885 The New Testament was published in 1881 and the Old Testament in 1885. THE AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION 1900 - 1901 The Americans involved in helping translate the Revised Version preferred a number of variants rejected by the English publishers of the Revised Version. Accordingly, they set about to produce their own version, with the New Testament being published in 1900 and the Old Testament in 1901. THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION 1946 - 1952 This was the first major version to move away from the literary or formal English used for most English versions – Tyndale’s in particular being an exception. The New Testament was published in 1946 and the complete Bible in 1952. THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE 1961 - 1970 This attempted, for the first time, a completely new translation (whereas the earlier versions had revised work based on Tyndale’s). The New testament was published in 1961 and the complete Bible was published in 1970. From this point there is a rash of versions, paraphrases and inventions. Three versions are worth listing:


THE NASB The completed New American Standard Bible was published in 1971 (with portions published from 1960). It was based on the American Standard Bible of 1901, with generally conservative principles of revision but a commitment to more contemporary English and reference to “the latest available manuscripts”. THE NIV The complete New International Version was published in 1978 in the United States; and in the United Kingdom in 1979 with English spellings, units of measure and some idiomatic variations. (John’s Gospel was the first portion published in 1973.) This was a new translation rather than a revision, with reference to available texts and the objective of using English suitable for private and public reading. THE NKJV The earliest portions of the New King James Version or Revised Authorised Version appeared in 1979 with the complete Bible being published in 1982. This is a revision of the King James or Authorised Version of 1611, with some modernisation of the English but with an outspoken commitment to “complete equivalence” with the Textus Receptus.


Appendix 3: GENDER IN TRANSLATIONS English translations have traditionally included a masculine rendering when the Greek or Hebrew is neuter. In other words, “he” or similarly male pronouns are used in English translations where the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts use words that have no indication of male or female. Typical is John 3:3 which, in the King’s Bible, is translated “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The word translated as “man” is in fact neuter and quite general – it means “anyone” or “one”. Accordingly the New King James Version adopts gender-neutral language, rendering the verse, “… unless one is born again …”. The effect is pompous, but pomposity is a preferred style in the NKJV. It stands aloof from both the formality of the King’s Bible and the language of the “plough-man” which was Tyndale’s standard. Nevertheless the attempt here to improve on the King’s Bible by unambiguously representing neuter in Greek represents a good translation principle. This would deserve only passing comment were it not for the fact that it relates to the manner in which extreme and ill-informed comments can so easily pervert sane and sensible discussion about Bible versions. In 1998 Hodder & Stoughton, the English publishers of the New International Version, announced the release of an “inclusive language version” of the NIV. Opposition forced it off the market for a time. But what is of interest is the nature of the opposition. A concerted lobby group who willingly accepted the “inclusive language” of the New King James Version


were vitriolic in uninformed opposition to the “inclusive language” NIV. There are sound grounds for rejecting the NIV “inclusive version”. “People do not live on bread alone”312 is not the same as “Man does not live on bread alone,” 313 and in any case the conventional translation best represents the original. This sort of fiddling with the text is not good translation. Nor should we overlook the fact that God has chosen to reveal himself in masculine terms and that he has given humanity a masculine generic term with deliberation: Genesis 1:27 clearly indicates both that men and women are to be subsumed under the term “man” and that the application of that term relates directly to man’s being in God’s image. This is specifically endorsed in Genesis 5:2. To tamper with or deny “man” as a generic term for humans, or to assert we can feminise God’s self-revelation, or to ignore that there is significance in “generic man’s” image bearing, is to deny God’s self-revelation. But there were those who condemned the new version because, they said, it “neutered reference to God.” In fact, this was not the case.314 Hodder & Stoughton’s undertaking for that version was to retain all masculine language used in the original languages in reference to God. Those who could accept the New King James Version’s gender-neutral rendition of John 3:3 discredited themselves by rejecting another gender-neutral version on exaggerated reasons. It is simply not good enough to reject one version on grounds that it denigrates the Godhead by using neutered language but accept another that does the same (albeit at different places). Nor is it good enough to reject a version because 312

The Bible Catalogue 1998 Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1998, p5 Luke 4:4 314 … unlike some versions that impose feminist or other agendas on the translation process. Versions that change God’s self-revelation in masculine terms to be neuter or gender-inclusive hold both God and his Word in contempt. 313


the English appears to be less orthodox without demonstrating that it is less faithful to the Greek. There are those too who denigrate a version because the publishers also publish other less-reputable Bible versions. Hodder and Stoughton (they argue) have published such-and-such a version which is clearly unsound, and therefore other versions they publish must be contaminated. This really is rather sad! It would be hard to find a version that is not “contaminated by association” in this way. Certainly the publishers of the King’s Bible and the NKJV have published versions of those Bibles that lack integrity. This sort of “character assassination” of publishers does nothing to help the debate. It is true however, that various modified versions of most popular translations are now on the market. One can buy “Men’s Bibles”, Women’s Bibles”, “Children’s Bibles” and so on, where the language has been adapted or various commentaries and helps inserted, to suit the target readership. Commentaries have an invaluable place in Christian literature: changing the text of the Bible to “suit” a particular audience is deplorable. There is no place for changing God’s self-revelation to make it acceptable or useful for a particular group. Such changes have nothing to do with translation into a particular language. But the purpose of this Appendix is not to explore all attacks on the Bible’s integrity but to examine the way in which one particular issue was twisted by unprincipled – or at best mistaken – rhetoric. Too often the debate about Bible versions is coloured by halftruths, vitriol, imbalance and ignorance. This case illustrates too well how a right decision (to reject the version) can be made for the wrong reasons (imagined sins), increasing confusion and prejudice on the way.


BIBLIOGRAPHY A. Selected Bibliography of Key Works Carson, Don A The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism Baker, Grand Rapids, 1979 A clear and very helpful discussion of the main points of contention. Carson’s call for sensible evaluation of the issues and the exercise of grace among Christians is timely. David Daniell The Bible in English Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003, and William Tyndale: A Biography Yale University Press, London, 1994 (now available in paperback) Both are brilliantly written with absorbing detail, exquisite use of the English language and an occasional tasteful touch of humour. Tyndale is essential reading for anyone interested in the English Bible, English history or Christian biography. The Bible, a massive work of over 900 pages, will stand for many years as the definitive work on the Bible in English: individual chapters stand on their own as an informative and entertaining evening’s reading, yet it can be used as a reference work or read with ease and benefit from cover to cover. These two books make a strong case for insisting all English history be written by masters of English literature. No Christian should be without Tyndale, no library without The Bible. Lewis Lupton History of the Geneva Bible Vol XXIII Olive Tree, London, 1992 Vol XXIV Olive Tree, London, 1993 Vol XXV Olive Tree, London, 1994 These are the concluding volumes of a hand-written limited edition history of the Geneva Bible, one volume written and published each year by the author until the series was complete. They are gems, exuding a love of God’s word, full of detail and insight, mines of information and source documents, rare collectors’ pieces on account both of their content and their unique typography.


Martin, Robert Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989 Booklet. A clear, typical defence of the King James Version: unconvincing. Alister McGrath In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible Hodder & Stoughton, London, (2001) paperback 2002. A lively, readable and well documented detailed history of the writing and publication of the King’s Bible. A theme running from the first sentence throughout the book that “the King James Bible must be seen as a major force in the shaping of standard English” (p258) may be over stated – a debate on this between McGrath and C S Lewis would have been interesting. Strongly recommended. Adam Nicolson God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible Harper Collins, New York, 2003. Racy, readable, unreliable and not infrequently misleading. One is reminded of a travelogue written by someone who has never been to the place described: having been enticed to visit some exotic location, guidebook in hand, the bewildered reader recognizes significant landmarks but finds the detail of the text does not match the place. Almost none of his frequent quotations is referenced, and little information exclusive to this book is sourced. The cover illustration epitomises an economy with accuracy: behind the title “God’s Secretaries” is pictured a council of 17th century notables at a table. One might suppose this to be a gathering of “God’s Secretaries”, the writers of the King James Bible; but no, the illustration is of a totally unrelated gathering in 1604 of English and Spanish ambassadors debating an international treaty.


B. Full Bibliography of Works Cited The Bible Catalogue 1998 Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1998 The Holy Bible – New International Version, International Bible Society, New York, 1983 (1978) The Holy Bible – Revised Authorised Version or New King James Version Bagster, London, 1982 The Translators to the Reader – being a reprint of The Original Preface to the Authorised Version of 1611 The Trinitarian Bible Society, London, 1911 Bettenson, Henry Documents of the Christian Church , Second edition, Oxford University Press, London, 1965 (1963, 1943) Brown, T H Thou versus You in J P Thackway (ed) Archaic or Accurate The Bible League, Salisbury, undated Calvin, John Commentary on Genesis, Banner of Truth, London, 1965 Carden, Allan Puritan Christianity in America Baker, Grand Rapids, 1990 Carson, Don A Exegetical Fallacies Baker, Grand Rapids, 1993 (1984) Carson, Don A The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism Baker, Grand Rapids, 1979 Chacko, E T By His Singular Care and Providence a tract published by The Westminster Tradition Singapore, 1993 Comfort, P W Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament Baker, Grand Rapids, 1990 Daniell, David The Bible In English Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003 Daniell, David William Tyndale – A Biography Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994 Drakakis, J York Notes on Much Ado About Nothing Longman, Harlow, 1980 Edwards, Brian Nothing But the Truth Evangelical Press, Darlington, 1993 Hammond, Gerald English Translations of the Bible in R Alter & F Kermode (Eds) The Literary Guide to the Bible Belknap/Harvard UP, Cambridge (Mass) 1990 (1987) Hendriksen, William New Testament Commentary – Philippians Banner of Truth, London, 1962 Hendriksen, William New Testament Commentary – The Gospel of Luke Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1979 Hendriksen, William New Testament Commentary Mark Banner of Truth, Edinburgh 1976


Hill, Christopher The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 Sphere, London 1969 (1961) James, HM the King Speech to Hampton Court Conference James, HM the King Basilicon Doron James, HM the King On the Divine right of Kings Kenyon, J P The Stuarts Fontana/Collins, London 1970 (1958) Lamont, William Godly Rule Macmillan, London, 1969 Lewis, C S The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1967 (1950) Lupton, Lewis History of the Geneva Bible Volumes XXIII, XXIV, XXV Olive Tree, London, 1992-4 MacArthur, John Re-examining the Eternal Sonship of Christ Grace To You – The Old Curiosity Shop, November 1999 (web-page statement at Martin, Robert Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1989 McGrath, Alister In the Beginning Hodder & Stoughton, London 2001 Metzger, Bruce M The Text of the New Testament Second Ed, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1968 Metzger, Bruce The Bible in Translation Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001 Newgrass, Edgar An Outline of Anglo American Bible History, Batsford, London 1958 Owen, John Works Book VI, 1678 (Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1967) Pool-Connor, E J Evangelicalism in England Henry E Walter, Worthing 1966 (revised from 1951 edition) Reymond, Robert A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1998 Ryken, Leland The Word of God in English Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill, 2002 Smith, P The Life and Letters of Martin Luther Hodder, London, 1993 (1911) Tranter, Nigel Poetic Justice Hodder & Stoughton, London 1997 (1996) Tumin, Stephen Great Legal Disasters Book Club Associates, London, 1984 (1983)


Wales, HRH The Prince of, December 19, 1989, Speech at the Presentation of the Thomas Cranmer Schools Prize, St James’ Church, Garlickhythe, London, as reported by the Reader’s Digest, Auckland, Vol 143, No 859, November, 1993 Weeks, Noel The Sufficiency of Scripture Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1998 Willson, David King James VI & I Jonathan Cape, London, 1966 (1956)


INDEX Abbot..................................... George.........................138 Aglionby..........................139 Alexander.............................. William of Menstrie....140 American Colonies......21, 22 American Standard Version .....................................183 Andrewes............................... Lancelot...............134, 146 Andrews................................. Roger...........................139 Anglican. .14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 31, 32, 42, 44, 59, 61, 92, 111, 114, 135, 136, 142 Anglicanism...16, 17, 18, 19, 30, 32 Apocrypha.....28, 57, 63, 94, 137, 138, 141 Arminian....15, 134, 135, 139 Augustine.....26, 35, 125, 130 Bancroft.............64, 139, 142 Baptism................38, 74, 132 Baptists....14, 16, 18, 38, 62, 74, 138 Barlow.......................58, 135

Basilicon Doron...42, 46, 51, 191 Beza.............................70, 71 Bilson.........74, 124, 138, 142 Bing.................................139 bishop 25, 51, 52, 61, 62, 63, 100, 104 bishoprick........................142 bishopricke..........64, 92, 142 Bishops’ Bible....................... Bishops' Translation.....14, 15, 19, 21, 60, 63, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 86, 182 Bois..................................141 Boyes...............................141 Branthwait.......................141 Broughton..........................19 Buckingham.......................47 Bunyan...............................22 Burge...............................139 Calvin......................161, 181 Carson65, 66, 67, 69, 70, 83, 93, 105, 108, 109 Catholic. . .15, 20, 23, 27, 28, 31, 44, 53, 54, 58, 60, 61, 63, 67, 68, 71, 73, 74, 77, 80, 91, 92, 113, 134, 146, 155, 161, 182


Catholics..14, 15, 17, 23, 50, 58, 133, 146 Chaderton........................139 Charles I............20, 138, 140 Chatterton........................139 Church................................... cf Congregation 38, 60, 91, 97, 99, 132 Colonies.............................22 Comma Johanneum...........69 Complete Equivalence........... See Formal Equivalence .................................148 congregation. .38, 61, 74, 91, 97, 99, 100, 132 copyright......................26, 64 Coverdale.......19, 57, 58, 181 Cromwell...........................20 d’Aubigny..........................47 Daniell 14, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 31, 32, 38, 61, 80, 81, 86, 98, 99, 100, 101, 104, 121, 123, 164, 165, 166, 168 Dewport...........................141 Dillingham.......................140 Divine Right......................50 Divine Right of Kings.......51 Downes....................141, 142 Duport..............................141 dynamic equivalence. 36, 38, 81, 89, 148, 149 Edes.................................139

Edwards...19, 69, 82, 96, 115 elder.........25, 37, 52, 99, 100 Elizabeth..17, 27, 50, 53, 75, 140, 145 Elizabethan Settlement 17, 42 Erasmus...31, 61, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 92, 121 Estienne.............................70 Evangelical....15, 16, 19, 25, 29, 133 Evangelicals.................16, 17 Fawkes.......................54, 111 formal equivalence....36, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 83, 91, 126, 142, 143, 144 Gender.............................185 Geneva Bible. 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 29, 30, 31, 37, 41, 57, 58, 62, 63, 74, 132, 138, 166, 167, 169, 174, 181, 182, 188, 191 Great Bible..........19, 57, 181 Hampton Court....25, 42, 43, 53, 55, 56, 132, 134, 135, 137, 138, 139 Harmer.....................139, 142 Harrison...........................140 Hendriksen.....76, 85, 92, 93, 159, 160 Henry.....................................


King Henry VIII.....19, 21, 27, 57, 181 Hill.....................................45 Hodder & Stoughton 18, 185, 186, 190 Hutten..............................139 Knox..........................54, 181 Lake.................................142 Laud...................20, 141, 165 Lewis. 80, 95, 103, 104, 105, 147, 149, 189 Lively...............................139 Lupton 19, 29, 56, 57, 58, 74, 80, 133, 134, 135, 137, 139, 140 Lupton, Lewis............80, 137 Luther....................69, 96, 97 MacArthur.......................107 Macbeth...........................111 Marginal Notes....14, 27, 28, 29, 41, 58, 61, 62, 83, 90, 91, 129, 171 Martin..............36, 70, 72, 86 Matthew Bible...................57 Matthew’s Bible..............181 McGrath...18, 20, 21, 32, 37, 82, 84, 89, 103, 112, 121, 122, 123, 166, 167, 189 Metzger......36, 66, 69, 70, 71 Millenarian Petition...........24 Millenary Petition..43, 45, 56 More......................................

Thomas........................100 NASB.................................... New American Standard Bible........................184 New England...............19, 25 New English Bible...........183 Newspaper Language......118 Nicaea.................................... Council of....................106 NIV........................................ New International Version 37, 76, 78, 89, 109, 117, 118, 119, 153, 154, 156, 157, 158, 159, 175, 184, 185, 186 NKJV..................................... New King James Version . .85, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 116, 117, 118, 119, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 175, 184, 185, 187 only begotten. 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 149, 162 Overall................................... John.............................134 Owen.....................35, 84, 85 Parliament18, 23, 24, 48, 49, 50, 54, 55, 126


Prayer Book...14, 18, 21, 22, 57, 58, 132, 141 Presbyterian...41, 45, 53, 54, 55, 56, 136 Protestant. 14, 15, 16, 23, 27, 28, 41, 44, 49, 50, 134, 138, 139, 147, 166 Puritan 17, 18, 20, 23, 25, 26, 30, 38, 41, 43, 49, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58, 63, 64, 74, 102, 132, 133, 134, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 166, 190 Puritanism....18, 25, 135, 166 Puritans....14, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 30, 37, 41, 42, 43, 44, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 74, 132, 134, 136, 137, 138, 141, 142, 146 Quakers....................110, 111 Radclife...........................141 Raleigh.....................109, 110 Ratcliffe...........................141 Ravis................................138 Reformation.....15, 31, 41, 98 Reims Bible.....................182 Revised Standard Version .....................................183 Revised Version..............183 Reymond...........................33 Reynolds....................57, 137

Rheims New Testament...63, 74, 77 Richardson.......................139 Romantic Movement............. Romanticism..................10 Ryken.................................82 Ryken, Leyland.................82 Savile...............................139 Scotland...41, 42, 45, 48, 49, 52, 53, 54, 141 Shakespeare.....55, 103, 110, 111, 182 Shaw...................................... G B..............................147 Smith. . .74, 92, 97, 124, 137, 142, 191 Spain..................................50 Spalding...........................139 Textus Receptus....9, 63, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 93, 97, 142, 143, 144, 154, 184 Thirty Nine Articles...........17 Thou, Thee, Thine. 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115 Tyndale....14, 19, 20, 21, 22, 31, 32, 37, 60, 61, 74, 77, 78, 80, 81, 83, 87, 91, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 120, 121, 123, 145, 148, 165, 181, 183, 185, 190


Vulgate 32, 60, 63, 161, 180, 182 Wales, HRH Prince of.......33 Ward................................141 Warde..............................141

Weeks 33, 34, 119, 120, 121, 122 Westcot and Hort...............67 Willson....25, 39, 40, 41, 43, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 Wycliffe...............14, 96, 180




A King’s Bible BY


The King James or Authorised Version is one of the great Bible translations, loved and effectively used by generations of English speaking Christians. Yet a collection of myths surrounds it, directly affecting the way the Bible is read and God worshiped. A King’s Bible examines those myths in the context of the fascinating story of 17th Century national and church upheavals, and the variegated characters and skills of the men who made the translation. Even the rich language of the King’s Bible was shaped by that context, and is shrouded in the myths that influence attitudes to Bible translations. A King’s Bible unravels the myths, language and history of the King James Bible to help English readers make a sensible evaluation of its relative merits and with a clear conscience choose and use a Bible they can understand.

ISBN 0-908806-17-5 200

A King's Bible