Many times God uses the incidental, the unexpected, and even the seemingly evil things of life to perform mighty wonders for His church. Who would ever have expected that the words of a little Jewish maiden would lead to the conversion of Naaman the Leper? Who would ever have thought that the evil deeds committed by Joseph’s brothers would have resulted in the preservation of Israel in the time of famine? But so it was in the wondrous providence of God.
So it was also in the production of the King James Version of the Bible. This version, used of God in such a mighty way, had its beginnings in a very unexpected and incidental way—yea, in the midst of great disappointment on the part of some of God’s people.
Four Puritans, along with fourteen representatives of the Church of England, were gathered together at Hampton Court for an ecclesiastical conference in January, 1604. The Puritans had many objections concerning the English church as it was than established. They were hoping that their new king, James I, would so guide the church of God in England that there would be further reformation of the church. In fact, they had already met him on his way to London where he was to receive the English crown and had presented him with a petition stating their grievances. The petition was signed by about a thousand clergymen and therefore called the “Millenary Petition.” It was on account of that petition that James had called the conference “to hear and determine things pretended to be amiss in the Church.”
It did not go so well for the Puritans, however. Not only were they in the minority at the conference, but King James, rather than sympathizing with them, supported the cause of the bishops of the church. In the midst of their struggle Dr. John Reynolds, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, suddenly petitioned the king “that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original.” This motion of the Puritan leader evidently was not something that he had planned but something that was introduced incidentally in order to keep from losing all ground at the conference.
This is confirmed by the Translators’ Preface to the Reader which is found in the first edition of the King James Version. There we read, “. . . the very historical truth is that upon the importunate petitions of the Puritans, at his Majesty’s coming to the crown, the conference at Hampton Court having been appointed for hearing their complaints; when by force of reason they were put from all other grounds, 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.”
The Puritans did object to the translations of the “Great Bible” and the “Bishops’ Bible” which were quoted in the Prayer Book, but they did not feel that much of a need for a new translation. They were content with their “Geneva Bible” and its Calvinistic notes. The motion for a new translation was incidental to them. In fact, if it were up to them, there probably would not be a King James Version.
On the other hand, the bishops were not immediately in favor of a new translation either. Bishop Bancroft of London expressed his opposition this way: “If every man’s humor should be followed, there would be no end of translating.” Indeed, the bishop made a very good point. That is exactly what we have today with all of the new versions. Thus neither party in the Church of England was zealous for a new translation.
It was the king’s zeal and enthusiasm for the project that caused the work to be undertaken and that saw the work through the end. In the Dedication to the King, found in most of our King James Version Bibles, we read this concerning the king: “. . . your Majesty did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require.” Indeed, the king seems to have been the driving force behind the grand undertaking.
Yet we make a mistake if we attribute his zeal to totally good motives. It may have been that he had a genuine interest in the Scriptures. He is said to have done some translating of the Bible himself. Most, however, attribute his zeal to an ambition to advance his own cause and glory. He disliked greatly the marginal notes of the “Geneva Bible,” which he thought encouraged disobedience to kings, and therefore wanted a new translation to replace it. He was shrewd enough to see that a new translation, which was acceptable to all, would do much to enhance his own glory.
We must conclude from all of this, therefore, that our King James Version of the Bible, as to its source, is not a “Puritan Bible,” nor an “Anglican Bible,” and no, not even a “King James Bible.” How could a Bible which is so great and which has been used of the Lord for hundreds and hundreds of years be merely the product of an incidental suggestion or the zeal of mixed motives? No! It is God’s Bible. It was conceived in His Divine mind, brought into being by the wondrous working of His providence, and all motivated by His great love for His church. This Bible is the result of the almighty work of God. Even the translators acknowledge that it was God who had put the zeal for a new translation into the heart of the king. They exhort us, “Let us rather bless God from the ground of our heart, for working this religious care in him, to have the translations of the Bible maturely considered of and examined.” God in His providence took the incidental remarks of a Puritan, the zeal of a king for his throne, and in the midst of the opposition of bishops, gave to His church a Bible that has been her blessing and strength for three hundred and seventy years.
Some men praise it for its pure English and forceful style, others for its beauty and majesty, and still others for its masterful translation. It is all of that and morel But even more important, we must see the King James Version as the Bible which God has providentially given to His English speaking church. It is the Word of God—that is, a faithful translation of the inspired originals which have been providentially preserved by God in the thousands of manuscripts which have come down to us. Thus we can be assured that with this Bible we have the authoritative Word of God.
In the providence of God, although all other seemed little concerned about a new translation, the suggestion of Dr. Reynolds was fixed in the mind of the king. In due season that suggestion ripened into personal enthusiasm on the part of the king and also on the part of those he appointed to take charge of this great undertaking. Bishops and Puritans alike with great zeal and dedication were ready to begin their tasks. By June 30, 1604 (six months after the Hampton Court Conference), fifty-four men had been approved as translators of the new version, and a plan of procedure had been set down. Bishop Bancroft, entrusted with the general management of the work, was busy making all the necessary preparations.
The translators were formed into six companies: two meeting at Westminster, two at Cambridge, and two at Oxford. Genesis through II Kings was translated by the first Westminster company, I Chronicles through Ecclesiastes by the first Cambridge company, and Isaiah through Malachi by the first Oxford company. The second Oxford company translated the four Gospel accounts, Acts, and Revelation. The second Westminster company did Romans through Jude. The Apocrypha was done by the second Cambridge company.
Not that the Apocrypha was considered to be the Word of God. It was translated and bound with the Bible, but the King James Version translators did not count it as God’s Word. In that they differed from the Roman Catholics. The fact that the Apocryphal books were separated out of the Old Testament and put after it indicates that they did not consider it to be part of the Bible. In later editions it was dropped all together.
(to be continued)