Did King James Write the English Bible?

The KJV was not actually a translation but one of a series of revisions. It began with the Greek New Testament of Desiderius Erasmus, in which he harmonized 5 or 6 of the Greek manuscripts available to him at the time. He rushed it into print in order to beat competitors.

William Tyndale began an English translation using Erasmus’s text along with some help from Martin Luther. Tyndale was later burned at the stake. The process of translation continued for about a century and included the Bishop’s Bible, mentioned further below.

Other than the Bishop’s Bible, the Geneva Bible was best known. It contained extensive marginal notes, many of them attributed to Theodore Beza, a radical follower of John Calvin and onetime teacher of Jacobus Arminius. The Calvinistic notes were considered divisive if not heretical by others.

The intelligensia in England proposed a new version. Many experts today doubt that King James I ever saw the product, but he did set forth a list of stipulations, as follows:

  1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
  2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
  3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
  4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
  5. The Division of the 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 thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts 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 in this Point.
  10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the 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 Judgement 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 skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
  13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
  14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.
  15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.

Six committees were formed, to meet separately at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. The groups that edited Exodus met at Westminster. There are 47 men in all who are known to have participated. I think I have a complete list somewhere, but I can only find a partial list on my computer at the moment:

Lancelot Andrews
John Overall
Robert Tighe
William Bedwell
Edward Lively
Lawrence Chaderton
Francis Dillingham
Thomas Harrison
John Harding
John Reynolds
Henry Saville
Miles Smith
Richard Bancroft
George Abbot
Thomas Ravis
Thomas Bilson

Many of these were bishops. There is a legend that William Shakespeare was one of the “translators,” but that is considered apocryphal.

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2 Comments on “Did King James Write the English Bible?”

  1. A nice article. One could have gone further. The KJV New Testament is 90% Tyndale’s NT. He was burnth at the stake for translating the scriptures into English.

    King James may not have seen the finished work now called the KJV or Authorized Version, even though it was NEVER aurthorized to be read in the Church. However, KJ did do a translation of the Psalms himself(not those in the KJV) and they were 1st published in 1631. I have a copy (facsimile) and I like them better than anyother Psalms I have read and I have read more than 600 translations of the Psalms.

    By the way, you mentioned the Geneva Bible. As most don’t know the Geneva Bible was in compution with the KJV. The Geneva went through 140 editions and was published until 1644, 33 yrs after the 1st KJV dated 1611.

    Another tibit for your readers. There were two 1st editions of the KJV published in 1611. One was called the “He” Bible (because of an error at Ruth 3:14) and this copy was the 1st edition 1st printing. The Other, 1st edition 2rn printing (by a different publisher) was called the “She” Bible for the “He” in Ruth 3:14 was changed to “She”.

    One last tibit, the KJV we purchase today, is not the same KJV in the 1600s. The 1611 KJV was revised in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1683 and the final revision was in 1769. The KJC we buy today is the 1769 edition.

    I do have to add one more tiobit which I feel is important. The KJV from 1611 all the way up til; 1877 contained the Apocrypha. The KJV translators felt they should be included in the canon and included them in the calendar of daily scriptures to be read and included them in the table of prayers. They are cross-reference in the OT and the NT which they are quoted. The Jews did not include them for they could not find them written in Hebrew only in Greek. Some have now been found in Hebrew from the find at the Dead Sea (the Dead Sea Scrolls).

  2. biblequestion says:

    According to Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Making of the English New Testament (U. Chicago, 1925), p. 44, some printings of the KJV omitted the Apocrypha beginning in 1629; but those which omitted them were not authentic. Moreover, in 1615 Archbishop Abbott had decreed a year’s imprisonment for selling Bibles without the Apocrypha. (I remember reading elsewhere that an edition w/o Apocrypha was produced in 1620 at the behest of the Puritans, who rejected them.)

    Regardless, Goodspeed’s book contains many more nuggets of trivia in regard to the KJV and the English Bible in general.

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