Great care was taken to give the translators guidelines to follow in their work of translating. If all these men were going to work together as a harmonious whole, they would need some very strict rules to follow. The scheme for the entire work was set down in the form of fifteen specific rules. To name just a few: 1) The “Bishops’ Bible,” the official version of the church, was to be as little altered as the truth of the originals permitted. 2) There were to be no marginal notes with the exception of explanations of Hebrew and Greek words. 3) There also were to be Scripture references in the margin. According to Scrivener, there were 8,422 marginal notes in the 1611 edition of the King James Version. In succeeding editions, thousands more were added. 4) Proper names were to be as near to the common usage as possible. 5) Old ecclesiastical words such as “Church” were to be used. 6) Words with varying interpretations were to be rendered in accordance with patristic tradition and the analogy of faith. 7) Other translations were to be consulted such as Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, the “Great Bible,” and the “Geneva Bible.”

Along with such rules as these, the procedure that was to bring together into one work the translations of all these various men and companies, was strictly set down for them. First of all, each translator was to work individually on a translation of the section. After that was done, each man’s work was brought to his company as a whole. Evidently the head of the company would read the passage from the “Bishops’ Bible.” Whenever one of the translators wanted something changed or had something to say about the translation, he would present his own work. In this way the work of each was compared with the others and the company as a whole worked out one translation. When each book of the Bible was finished, they would send it to each of the other five companies to be reviewed. If the latter companies found anything objectionable, they would note such places and send it back to the originating company with their reasons. If there was a disagreement, it was to be settled by an editing committee later. If there was a passage that was especially difficult, all the learned men of the land could be called upon to make a judgment. 

According to England’s delegates to the Synod of Dordt, after each company had finished their work they sent it to a committee comprised of two men from each company which reviewed and revised the whole work. Last of all, Thomas Bilson and Miles Smith put on the finishing touches and saw it through the press. 

It must be noted in particular that the work was done very carefully. They did not rush themselves. They say in the Translators’ Preface, “Neither did we run over the work with that posting haste that the Septuagint did, if that be true which is reported of them, that they finished it in 72 days; neither were we barred or hindered from going over it again having once done it, like St. Jerome.. . .” These men were not afraid to go over their work again and again until they were satisfied that they had attained the best possible translation. If they followed the procedure which was laid down for them, each part of the work must have been closely scrutinized at least fourteen times. 

They understood very well the nature of the book they were translating and therefore took great pains to do it right. Some of the translators began their work as soon as they were appointed in 1604. The entire body was engaged in the work by 1607. The new version was finally published in 1611 from the press of Robert Barker, who retained the right of printing for nearly a hundred years. Thus you can see that some men diligently labored six or seven years, while the main body worked for three or four years. 

It must be noted further that the King James Version translators were very concerned to have an accurate translation of the originals. They proclaim on the title page, “Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New: newly translated out of the original tongues. . . .” That proclamation is true. For these men have given us, for the most part, a word-for-word translation of the originals. They did not follow the principle of dynamic equivalence (whereby you translate the ideas rather than the words), as do most of the modern translators. Thus they have produced a very accurate and faithful translation as far as the original words are concerned. 

They were so concerned about it that they even took over the very phraseology of the Hebrew. We find in our Bibles all kinds of Hebrew expressions and concepts that are not natural to the English way of speaking. In fact, it can even be said that the English of the King James Version is not the English of the 17th century, nor of any century. It is an English that is unique, for it is biblical English—an English formed by the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible. It is biblical English because the translators were more interested in being faithful to the originals than in making their translation in the street language of the day, as do translators today. 

That they sought an accurate translation is further indicated by the fact that they italicized every word that did not have a corresponding word in the original. How many modern Bible versions do that? Moreover, to insure the fact that the reader understands the meaning of certain original words, they added 4,223 marginal notes that gave the literal meaning of the original word, and 2,738 notes with alternate translations. The result is that in the King James Version we have an accurate translation that puts the others to shame. 

In the 3rd place we must note the fact that the translators gave the King James Version a majestic quality that raises it high above all other translations. They recognized God to be God—a God of glory and majesty. Therefore they were careful to translate His word in such a way that it would be filled with His majesty. That is another reason why the English of the King James Version is not the English of the 17th century. The translators deliberately chose words and phrases that were no longer used in general conversation even in their day, in order that they might set it apart from all others. All you have to do is compare the language of the Dedication to King James at the front of your Bible with the Bible text itself, and you will see the difference immediately. 

They tell us that the King James Version is no longer useful because its language has become obsolete, but what they do not realize is that its language is not a type of English that was ever spoken anywhere. Oh, it was such that the people could understand it, but it was, nevertheless, a particular language deliberately chosen to make the King James Version a version that reflects the reverence and respect which is due unto its Divine Author. In that respect, they succeeded too, for there is no version that even comes close to the beauty and majesty of the King James Version.


The particular English of this version is also due to the fact that the King James Version is at the same time both a new translation and a revision of previous translations. It is indeed a new translation that goes back to the original languages. The translators had editions of both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament available to them. Miles Smith writes, “If you ask what they had before them, truly it was the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the Greek of the New.” The age in which they lived was bursting with knowledge. Since the fall of Constantinople (1453), the West had been flooded with scholars, and knowledge had increased tremendously. There was renewed interest in the ancient tongues, and as a result the originals were there for them to use.

The Hebrew text had been remarkably preserved by God. At the time the translators were ready to begin their work, they had no fewer than ten printed editions of the Hebrew Old Testament available to them. There was the Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes, published in 1517, which contained the Hebrew text (the fifth complete O.T.) as well as the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint translations of it. They had four editions by Daniel Bomberg (1516-17, 1516-17, 1521, 1525-28). The last of these was popular with the Reformers. The “Standard Edition” was considered to be that of Jacob ben Chayim-the Second Rabbinic Bible. Besides these, there was the Antwerp Polyglot (1572) with the Hebrew text of Arius Montanus, and the Latin interlinear translation of Pagninus. 

The Greek text was readily available in the Complutensian Polyglot (1514), the five editions of Erasmus (1516-1535), the four editions of Robert Stephanus (1546-1551), and the ten editions of Theodore Beza (1560-1598). They also contained the editions of Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), and Plantin (1572). 

There can be no doubt, therefore, that the King James Version translators went back to the primary sources. Thus they could ask the reader, “If truth be (is) to be tried by these tongues (the originals) then whence should a translation be made, but out of them.” Indeed, they recognized the fact that the final authorities in this work were the Hebrew and the Greek texts. 

Yet, the King James Version is not a totally new work. In terms of literary units (phrases and clauses), the King James Version is about thirty-nine percent new translation. Sixty-one percent of the phrases are taken over from older English versions. In fact, the King James Version can be considered the fifth revision of the work of William Tyndale, who first translated the New Testament from the Greek. Before Tyndale there was the translation of John Wycliffe (1380) and the translation of John Purvey, but they were translated from the Latin Bible. Tyndale was the first to go back to the original languages. 

The first revision of Tyndale was done by John Rogers and is called the “Matthew’s Bible” (1537). Under the auspices of Thomas Cromwell, Myles Coverdale revised the “Matthew’s Bible” to produce the “Great Bible” (1539). In 1560 the Protestants in exile at Geneva produced the “Geneva Bible” which was the third revision of Tyndale. Finally in 1568 the English bishops prepared what is known as the “Bishops’ Bible,” which was the version from which the translators were to make their revisions, according to the command of King James. 

In actuality they used all of these versions plus many other translations such as the German and French Bibles as well as many commentaries such as Calvin’s and Beza’s. In their own words, “Neither did we think much to consult the translators or commentaries, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch. . . .” Of all the English versions used, more of the phrases and clauses found in the King James Version come from the “Geneva Bible” than any other-about 19 percent. While it is said that five-sixths to nine-tenths of the general content comes from the translation of William Tyndale. 

(to be continued)