The "Authorized Version" of 1611

Exactly 400 years ago (1603), following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James I became King of England. It was this James who gave the necessary impetus to the translation of the Bible which bears his name.

Arms wrapped around the Bible in an embrace. "Have you ever heard someone speak of `The Authorized Version of the Bible?' Did their tone of voice indicate that they believed that the King James Version (subtitled The Authorized Version) was the only translation which God ever authorized? Have they sometimes spoken as though the English of 1611 was the language in which Paul wrote? Probably you have heard these and other similar sentiments expressed. There is a considerable amount of emotional attachment to the translation. Indeed, the King James version has become the Bible to many people. Unfortunately, most of these people do not know the story behind its writing."1

To put James I in a more recognizable historical perspective, let us begin with the man Christopher Columbus. His voyage to the Americas (Bahamas) in the last decade of the 15th century was financed by Emperor Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella had a daughter, Catherine of Aragon, who became the first wife of King Henry VIII of England. Elizabeth, mentioned above, was King Henry's second daughter by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. This James succeeded Elizabeth on the English throne and was, previous to coming to the throne, James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots.

King on his throne In the summer of 1611, as King James was on his way to London to receive the English Crown, an event occurred which ultimately led to the version of the Bible which bears his name. The Puritan clergy met him on the road and presented him with a petition of grievances. This confrontation led the King to call a conference, "for hearing and for the determining of things pretended to be amiss in the church."2 "The Puritans were members of the Church of England and their underlying interest was that the Church be purified of unnecessary remnants of Roman Catholicism."3 "While this version is called the Authorized Version, no act of Parliament was ever passed approving it. King James vigorously promoted such an undertaking but there was no subsequent royal endorsement."4 It will be of interest in passing to note that the first permanent English colony in America was established in Virginia in 1607. It was named Jamestown in honor of James I.

On July 22, 1604, the King announced the appointment of 54 men as translators. These translators were divided into six groups; two at Westminster, two at Cambridge, two at Oxford. "The revisions were governed by 15 rules, the gist of a few of them being (1) The Bishops' Bible shall be followed and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit; (2) The old ecclesiastical words shall be retained; (3) The chapter divisions shall not be changed, unless very necessary; (4) No marginal notes at all, except explanation of Hebrew and Greek words which cannot be briefly and fitly expressed in the text; (5) Whenever the Tyndale, Matthew, Cloverdale, the Great Bible, or the Geneva agrees better with the text than the Bishops' Bible, they are to be used."5

Moreover, the translation was to agree with the theology of King James. Thus because he did not believe in immersion as the New Testament mode of baptism, he did not allow the Greek word to be translated--that is, for each Greek letter the corresponding English letter was used."6 For example, the Greek word baptisma was translated as baptism.

"A generation ago, few people asked, `which version of the Bible is best?' The Authorized, or King James Version, had been the most popular and widely read Bible for 350 years. But an explosion of English Bible translations over the past 40 years has challenged the long reign of the KJV. And the question, `Which version of the Bible is best?' is now a common concern. It is a question not easily answered. For every Bible translation there is someone who will say it is the best of all possible versions. And the search for the best version is crowded with `experts,' loaded with opinion, choked with rhetoric, confused by misused terminology, and short of objective information. In fact, there is no `best' translation. Even the New Testament writers translated from several versions of the Old Testament."7

By no stretch of the imagination does the above cover the history of the origin and development of this treasured version of the English Bible; you must look elsewhere for "the rest of the story." Hopefully, this brief sketch will create an increased interest in further research of not only the "Authorized Version," but all versions; those in current use and those which came before.

Bible near a bouquet We all would do well to remember a promise of God concerning His Word. "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing where to I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11). Amen!

1. Book Alive, John W. Tresch, Jr., and Kathryn Griffin, page 29.
3,6. Ibid, p. 30
2,4. New King James Version, Holy Bible, Publisher's Forward, 1982
5. General Biblical Introduction, H. S. Miller, M.A., p. 364
7. Which Bible Translation is Best for Me?, John R. Koblenberger, p 1.

--via World Bible School Newsletter, May/June 2003

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, SepOct03.