The Proposal of John Reynolds - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle
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Out of the year 1611 one of the most beloved and widely used translations of the Bible emerged, The King James Version. Since then, the King James Version has long been admired throughout the centuries. It seems there is an attraction to its poetical arrangement and uplifting tone of phraseology. Most people are convinced that the language used, which is sixteenth century English, could actually be the most beautiful sounding language of all. But where did this beloved treasure come from? Who wrote it? Was it a man named King James? Was he actually a king? It may be helpful to understand the answers to these questions for our personal edification and help to others. As to not belabor these questions, let us find out what the real story is behind this version of the Bible.
The King James Version was born out of a need to still the voices of godly ministers who relied heavily on the Geneva Bible and the exceptionally well written notes in the margins which taught that Christians should not obey corrupt Kings who ordered them to obey even in wicked instances. The Bishop’s Bible, the Great Bible, the Tyndale Bible and the Coverdale Bible could be found in various churches, yet for a generation they had not been revised nor had they been reprinted. The Geneva bible has been the favorite of Puritans for 50 years, and found its final revision in 1599. King James, though, being the wicked man he was, did not want the notes of the Geneva Bible circulated as far and wide as they had. He desired another translation to be made without notes.
When Queen Elizabeth died, on March 24, 1603, the crown of England passed to a man named James I, who had already worn the crown of Scotland for thirty-seven years as James VI. Some months after his coming to England, James summoned a conference of churchmen and theologians at Hampton Court “for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the church”. Nothing much came about from the Hampton Court conference, which was held in January of 1604, except (and a notable exception it was) the resolution that a translation should be made of the whole Bible. This new translation was to be as close to original Hebrew and Greek as it could possibly come. Then from the point of completion, this new Bible was to be used in all the churches as its’ approved text. But why? The Geneva Bible had served the reformational mind-set with great fervor. Why did James want another translation made?
Three reasons prompted King James I to make a new translation. One reason was the “back to the Bible” movement trying to recapture the true meaning of scripture as a result of the Reformation, and the King desired to ride that soap box as a way to “identify with the people” as best he could. The second reason was the scholarship which was beginning to become prominent during the Renaissance. Being a King during the reign of scholarship was always something that has been noted in history. It was another way King James would be “remembered.” Thirdly, the King detested the current bible. The most beloved bible was the Geneva Bible. It was the favorite of Puritans and almost every home had one. But the Geneva Bible had something the other bibles had not previously had – extensive notes reflecting reformation thought. This was dangerous to the King because of his immoral lifestyle. (He was a very corrupt king, and a sodomite as well.) The Geneva Bible extensively spoke against corrupt kings. King James did not favor this at all. So he desired a new translation without notes.
The proposal for a new translation came from Dr. John Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, a leader of the Puritan side in the Church of England, and one of the greatest scholars of his day. Reynold’s proposal caught King James’ fancy and he set in order the machinery to bring about the translation. King James himself took a leading part in organizing the work of translation. Six panels of translators, (54 in all), had the work divided up between them; the Old Testament was entrusted to three panels, the New Testament to two, and the Apocrypha to one. Two of the panels met at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. The qualifications of the King’s translators and the guide rules set up assured the best revision possible at the time. Some of the guide rules for format were as follows: “it was laid down that the old ecclesiastical words were to be kept, (“church” and not “congregation” for example). Marginal notes were to be used only to explain Hebrew and Greek words, and to draw attention to parallel passages. Words necessary to complete the sense of meaning were to be printed in distinctive type. The existing chapter and verse divisions were to be retained, and new headings were to be supplied for the chapters.” Some of the workers died before the completed text and others were found to replace them. A letter speaks of fifty-four translators, however, only forty-eight names have been preserved.
What ancient texts did they work with? They had the Complutensian Polygot of 1517, published at Complutum, now in Alcala de Hanares, Spain, and they had the Antwerp Polygot, 1569-1572. These gave the Hebrew and Greek texts with versions in other tongues added. Of course they had the Latin Vulgate, though that was suspect because it was popish and uninspired. With some fragments of early church scrolls, they had countless comments by the early church fathers and ancient scholars. Often they referred to Saint Chrysostom, (347-407 A.D.), whose works Sir Henry Saville had begun to edit, with the help from Andrew Downes and John Bois. Another reference authority was the Geneva scholar, Theodore Beza, (1519-1605 A.D.).
The outcome was not a bible literally translated from the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, but a redaction of the Geneva bible (20%) and the Bishop’s Bible (80%) but all without notes. Some of the more difficult passages were translated from the original, but most of the Bible was cutting and pasting from the other sources.
After the final draft was completed by the fifty-four scholars, a concluding committee of twelve reviewed what the lower committees had prepared, and then Bishop Thomas Bilson and Dr. Miles Smith added the finishing touches. By 1609 the whole revision was ready for the public. Though the King contributed no money to its production, and though no record of an official authorization of the finished product survives, if such were ever given, the Bible became to be known as the King James Version. Miles Smith, Canon of Hereford, later to be known as the Bishop of Gloucestor, and Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, saw it through the press, and Miles Smith composed the informative preface, “The Translators to the Readers.” The title of this new translation was: “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 Majesties speciall commandment. Appointed to be read in the Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. Anno Dom. 1611.” The New Testament Bore a different title: “The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Newly translated out of the Originall Greeke; and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by His majesties speciall Commandment. Imprinted at London by Robert Baker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. Anno Dom. 1611. cum Privilegio.”
Though the King James Bible was never “authorized” by King James, it was called the authorized King James Version nevertheless. “Many stood up against the King James Version. Dr. Hugh Boughton, a distinguished scholar recognized by John Lightfoot, said “The late Bible…was sent to me to censure: which bred in me a sadness that will grieve me while I breathe, it is ill done. Tell His Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches…The new edition crosseth me. I require it to be burnt.” Even John Lightfoot, in 1629, objected to the Apocrypha being placed in the canon. The King James Version went through fifteen printings in the first three years. It seems many disagreed with its translation and the committees were forced to revise it over and over again. The first major revision being some months after the 1609 version and the authorized version (1611) came two years after.
It was not until 1662 that the King James Version was beginning to be used in Churches. The popularity of the King James Version today has grown exceedingly compared to its very unpopular beginning years. People are constantly quoting that erroneous statement “the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus and Paul, it is good enough for me!” It is easy to see the dedication to such a beautiful translation in the King’s English, though any church historian knows that Paul or Jesus never carried it around with them. Why is it that so many cling to such a “sacred” translation? To see one obvious reason is to observe the fact that it is popular. Another reason would be the poetical structure and the flowing words which come out with grace as one reads. People say that the first Bible one reads is the one he or she falls in love with. As the King James Bible became a “fad” in England as a result of the King’s desire to rid his court with the Geneva notes, people began to find its appeal more and more.
Yet, many think the Kings English far too outdated. To state such an example would be to observe the odd sentences used throughout the King James Version. Such as, “To brake his skull-Judges 9:53, Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing-Psalm 5:6, The noise thereof sheweth concerning it, the cattle also concerning the vapour-Job 36:33, and also, Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels-II Corinthians 6:12. There are also various words which are seemingly foreign to most twentieth century readers. Such as, “ouches of gold”-Exodus 28:11, “collops of fat”-Job 15:27, “Wimples”-Isa. 3:22, and “cast clouts” in Jer. 38:12. What does all this mean to the modern reader? It means that those who are fanatics concerning this translation are going to spend long hours trying to decipher the English text. Would it not be more sensible to decipher the Greek or Hebrew than to spend the time trying to figure out what sixteenth century English says? Possibly. Of course there will be forever the numerous “traditional” King James adherers, and they shall have their own opinion about the meaning of scripture. The traditionalists sometimes forget that new texts and fragments appear and add to the more concise meaning to scripture rendering it a better translation than its’ predecessor. Yet even as such staunch readers hold fast to the King James Version of 1611, to their surprise they have been readily deceived. They actually carry a translation rewritten about 158 years later! The King James Version underwent a flutter of minor revisions until a final revision was brought about by Dr. Benjamin Blaney in 1769. This revision was not authorized. Not until 1881 was an official revision done. Even for the traditionalist, the actual English of 1611 would be a task in deciphering in itself. Yet, it must be agreed upon that once these archaic terms are overcome, the translation read quite nicely.
In saying all of this, I must emphatically assert that the KJV bible is an excellent translation since it is simply a recompilation of the Geneva Bible and the Bishops Bible. It is unfortunate that the Geneva Bible is not readily available today, although facsimile versions abound. Of the translations which are available today I would certainly choose to read the KJV over most, if not all.