When James I. came to the throne of England he found the Established Church in a sadly divided state. There were Conformists, who were satisfied with things as then found, and were willing to conform to existing usages; and there were Puritans, who longed for a better state of things, and were determined to have it. These parties appealed to the king, and the Puritans had great hopes that he would favor their side. In October, 1603, James therefore called a conference, to meet in Hampton Court Palace, in the coming January, "for hearing and for the determining things pretended to be amiss in the Church." So far as the objects chiefly sought were concerned, this Conference was a failure, but there began the movement for the version of the English Bible, now so widely accepted.
There were present on that occasion the leading divines, lawyers and laymen of the Church of England. Among them was Dr. John Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. On the second day of the conference, this gentleman, in the course of discussion, suggested to the king, that a new version was exceedingly desirable, because of the many errors in the version then in use. That suggestion led to the action which, after some little delay, inaugurated measures for King James' version.
The Churchly party resisted the movement for a time, because they suspected some Puritan mischief to be behind it. On the other hand, the Puritan party pressed immediate action; and the king so managed affairs as to please both sides, and finally to secure their hearty cooperation. He very decidedly favored the proposition of the Puritans, but at the same time he pronounced the Genevan version to be the worst of all in the English language, and thereby pleased the Conformist party.
Arrangements for this version were completed by the appointment of fifty-four learned men, who were also to secure the suggestions of all competent persons, that, as the king put it, "our said translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom." This attitude of the king, the removal of their first suspicions, and the undoubted merits of the case, brought about a hearty acquiescence on the part of those who had at first opposed the movement. His Majesty's instructions to the translators were these:
"1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
"2. The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, accordingly as they are vulgarly used.
"3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, as the word church, not to be translated congregation.
"4. When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place and the analogies of faith.
"5. The division of chapters to be altered either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.
"6. No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed, in the text.
"7. Such quotations of places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit reference of one Scripture to another.
"8. Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter or chapters; and, having translated or amended them severally by himself where he thinks good, all to meet together to confirm what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.
"9. As any one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner, they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously; for his Majesty is very careful on this point.
"I0. If any company, upon the review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any places, to send them word thereof, to note the places, and therewithal to send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting, which is to be of the chief persons of each company, at the end of the work.
"11. When any place of special obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land for his judgment of such a place.
"12. Letters to be sent from every bishop to the rest of his clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as, being skillful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind, to send their particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford, according as it was directed before in the king's letter to the archbishop.
"13. The directors in each company to be the Deans of Westminster and Chester, for Westminster, and the king's professors in Hebrew and Greek in the two universities.
"14. These translations to be used, when they agree better with the text than the Bishops' Bible: Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's [Rogers'], Whitchurch's [Cranmer's], Geneva."
15. By a later rule, "three or four of the most ancient and grave divines, in either of the universities, not employed in translating, to be assigned to be overseers of the translation, for the better observation of the fourth rule."
Only forty-seven of the men appointed for this work are known to have engaged in it. These were divided into six companies, two of which met at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. They were presided over severally by the Dean of Westminster and by the two Hebrew Professors of the Universities.
To the first company, at Westminster (ten in number), was assigned the Old Testament as far as 2 Kings; the second company (seven in number) had the Epistles. The first company at Cambridge (numbering eight) had 2 Chronicles to Ecclesiastes; the second company (numbering seven) had the Apocryphal books. To the first Oxford company (seven in number) were assigned the prophetical books, from Isaiah to Malachi; to the second (eight in number) were given the four Gospels, the Acts and the Apocalypse, or Revelation.
A few of the principal men among those learned translators were these:
Dr. Launcelot Andrewes, Dean of Westminster, presided over the Westminster company. Fuller says of him: "The world wanted learning to know how learned this man was, so skilled in all (especially Oriental) languages, that some conceive he might, if then living, almost have served as an interpreter-general at the confusion of tongues." He became successively Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester. Born 1555, died 1626.
Dr. Edward Lively, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, and thus at the head of the Cambridge company, was eminent for his knowledge of Oriental languages, especially of Hebrew. He died in 1605, having been Professor of Hebrew for twenty-five years. His death was a great loss to the work which he had helped to begin, but not to complete.
Dr. John Overall was made Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1596, and in 1604 was Dean of St. Paul's, London. He was considered by some the most scholarly divine in England. In 1614 he was made Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry. He was transferred to the See of Norwich in 1618. Born 1559, died 1619.
Dr. Adrian de Saravia is said to have been the only foreigner employed on the work. He was born in Artois, France; his Father was a Spaniard, and his mother a Belgian. In 1582 he was Professor of Divinity at Leyden; in 1587 he came to England. He became Prebend of Canterbury, and afterward Canon of Westminster. He was noted for his knowledge of Hebrew. Born 1531, died 1612.
William Bedwell, or Beadwell, was one of the greatest Arabic scholars of his day. At his death he left unfinished MSS. of an Arabic Lexicon, and also of a Persian Dictionary.
Dr. Laurence Chadderton was for thirty-eight years Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge, and well versed in Rabbinical learning. He was one of the few Puritan divines among the translators. Born 1537; died 1640, at the advanced age of one hundred and three.
Dr. John Reynolds, who first suggested the work, was a man of great attainments in Hebrew and Greek. He died before the revision was completed, but worked at it during his last sickness as long as his strength permitted. Born 1549, died 1607.
Dr. Richard Kilbye, Oxford Professor of Hebrew, was reckoned among the first Hebraists of his day. Died 1620.
Dr. Miles Smith was a student of classic authors from his youth, was well acquainted with the Rabbinical learning, and well versed in Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic. He was often called a "walking library." Born about 1568, died 1624.
John Boyse, or Bois, at six years of age could write Hebrew elegantly. He was for twelve years chief lecturer in Greek at St. John's College, Cambridge. Bishop Andrewes, of Ely, made him a prebend in his church in 1615. He was one of the most laborious of all the revisers. Born 1560, died 1643.
Sir Henry Saville was warden of Merton College, Oxford, for thirty-six years. He devoted his fortune to the encouragement of learning, and was himself a fine Greek scholar. Born 1549, died 1622.
Dr. Thomas Holland was Regius Professor of. Divinity in Exeter College, Oxford, and also Master of his college. He was considered a prodigy in all branches of literature. Born 1539, died 1612.
Some work upon the revision was, in all probability, begun soon after the appointment of the committees. Vigorous effort was, however, delayed till about 1607, for what reason is unknown.
When the translators had finished their work, a copy each was sent from Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster to London, where two from each place, six in all, gave it a final revision, and Dr. Miles Smith and Bishop Wilson superintended the work as it passed through the press. The former wrote the Preface, which is entitled, "The Translators to the Reader."
The expenses of the work were not borne by the king, who pleaded poverty, but by voluntary contributions from bishops and others who had fat livings. The king, however, rewarded the translators by bestowing good livings on them as vacancies occurred, and by ecclesiastical promotion.
The work was given to the public in 1611, in a folio volume printed in black letter, the full title as follows:
"The | HOLY | BIBLE, | Conteyning the Old Testament, | AND THE NEW, | Newly Translated out of the Original | tongues: & with the former Translations | diligently compared and revised by his | Maiesties special Comandement. | Appointed to be read in Churches | Imprinted at London by Robert | Barker, Printer to the Kings | most excellent Maiestie | Anno Dom. 1611."
The same year, the New Testament, in 12mo, was issued, and in 1612, the entire Bible in 8vo, and in Roman type. The Genevan Bible, however, had a firm hold on the popular heart, and it required the lifetime of a generation to displace it.
This "Authorized Version" never was authorized by royal proclamation, by order of Council, by act of Parliament or by vote of Convocation. Whether the words "appointed to be read in churches" were used by order of the editors, or by the will of the printer, is unknown. The original manuscripts of this work are wholly lost, no trace of them having been discovered since about 1655.
The title-page speaks of this version as being "with the former translations diligently compared and revised." In their address to the readers, the translators themselves say: "Truly, 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 principal good one." Speaking of this acknowledgment, Dr. Krauth, of the present version committee, says: "Without this confession, the Authorized Version would tell its own story. It is only necessary to compare it with the older versions, to see that with much that is original, with many characteristic beauties, in some of which no other translation approaches it, it is yet in the main a revision. Even its original beauties are often the mosaic of an exquisite combination of the fragments of the older. Comparing it with the English exemplars it follows, we must say it is not the fruit of their bloom, but the ripeness of their fruit."
The singular fact has been brought to light within a few years that in the year 1611 there were two distinct folio editions of this Bible published. There are some copies extant where the sheets from the two are combined; and some, where the title-page of 1611 is prefixed to the later editions. The two editions of 1611 had distinctive titles, though it is said that in some cases these were interchanged; one being a wood-cut which had been used before in the earlier Bishops' Bible, and the other an elegant copperplate. Each of them has also errors and readings peculiar to itself. One edition has, for instance, "Judas" instead of "Jesus" in Matt. xxvi., 36; the other has a part of the verse repeated in Exod. xiv., 10, making what printers call "a doublet." In Gen. x., 16, one copy reads the "Emorite," and the other the "Amorite." One has in Ruth iii., 15, "He went into the city;" the other has, "She went into the city." This led to their being designated, the great He Bible, and the great She Bible.
King James made great promises concerning his new version. He said at the outset that it "should be ratified by royal authority, and adopted for exclusive use in all the churches." The title-page set forth that the work was by "His Maiesties special Commandement;" also that it is "appointed to be read in churches;" and finally, that it comes from the press of "Robert Barker, printer to the King's most excellent Maiestie." All this parade seems to guarantee some civil force to urge the new version into general use, but so far as can be learned from history, the book was left to win its way upon its merits alone. Indeed it was not until 1661, that the Epistles and the Gospels in the Prayer Book, were changed, the authorized text superseding that of the Bishops' Bible. The Psalms in the Prayer Book, from the "Bible of largest volume in English," have not been superseded to this day.
The Rev. Dr. Talbot W. Chambers, himself one of the revisers of the Old Testament Company, has very beautifully and truly said of the King James' Version as follows: "The merits of the Authorized Version, in point of fidelity to the original, are universally acknowledged. No other version, ancient or modern, surpasses it, save, perhaps, the Dutch, which was made subsequently, and profited by the labors of the English translators. But a version may be faithful without being elegant. It may be accurate without adequately representing the riches of the language in which it is made. The glory of the English Bible is that while it conveys the mind of the Spirit with great exactness, it does this in such a way that the book has become the highest existing standard of our noble tongue. Lord Macaulay calls it a stupendous work, which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power."
Mr. Huxley, whose tendency to superstitious reverence will not be suspected, has said of this version: "It is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form." The style used in this version was unique. It was not the English of that day, either spoken or written. Indeed, Mr. Marsh, in his "Lectures on the English Language" asserts, that the dialect used was not at any period "the actual current book language, nor the colloquial speech of the English people."
The fact concerning the style of this version is, that from the earliest effort at English version each succeeding translator improved upon his predecessors, taking his best points continually, so that in the end the chief excellence of each appeared. King James' version, therefore, combines the beautiful and felicitous expression of all who went before it.
As a final testimony to the excellence of the King James' version we may quote from Dr. F. W. Faber, who says: "Who will say that the uncommon beauty and marvelous English of the Protestant Bible is not one of the great strongholds of heresy in this country? It lives on the ear, like music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells, which the convert hardly knows how he can forego. Its felicities often seem to be almost things rather than words. It is part of the national mind, and the anchor of national seriousness. Nay, it is worshiped with a positive idolatry, in extenuation of whose grotesque fanaticism its intrinsic beauty pleads availingly with the man of letters and the scholar. The memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its verses. The power of all the griefs and trials of a man are hid beneath its words. It is the representative of his best moments, and all that there has been about him of soft and gentle, and pure and penitent and good, speaks to him forever out of his Protestant Bible. It is a sacred thing which doubt has never dimmed and controversy never soiled."