The King James Version of the Bible (IV)

Note: Articles IV and V of Rev. Houck’s series on the King James Version were inadvertently placed in the wrong order. Number IV, which follows, should have preceded the article which appeared in the last issue. We apologize for this error.

A BIBLE OF THE REFORMATION 

If we carefully consider these sources of our Bible, then it becomes clear that there is something very special about it. Of all the English versions available today, the King James Version is the only one which can be called a “Reformation Bible.” This Bible in a very real way came out of the Reformation of the 16th century. 

This is true first of all from the point of view of the Greek text. The Greek text which underlies this Bible is the text which was recognized and used by the Reformers. In fact, it was even edited by them. Robert Stephanus (Estienne), whose fourth edition of the Greek New Testament was very influential in the translation of the King James Version, was a strong adherent of the Reformed faith. Forsaking Rome and embracing the faith of the Reformation, he gave up his position as royal printer in order that he might publish Reformed literature. He fled from Paris to Geneva, that great Reformation city, where he printed his 4th edition of the Greek New Testament. He also published several of the writings of John Calvin. 

The Reformer, Theodore Beza, was even more influential than Stephanus. Scrivener, in his Parallel Greek-English edition of the New Testament, demonstrates that the King James Version translators primarily used Theodore Beza’s fifth edition (1598) of the Greek New Testament. He indicates that out of the thousands and thousands of words in the New Testament, they deviated from Beza only about one hundred and ninety times. Moreover, they not only used his Greek text but relied heavily upon his Latin translation of it. Therefore Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin at Geneva, a great Reformer himself, was a leading influence upon our King James Version. 

It must be noted on the other hand that with but two exceptions there is not another version available today which is based upon the text of Stephanus and Beza, commonly called the “Received Text.” All others, except the New King James Version and the King James II, are based on the critical text of Westcott and Hort, which omits and changes thousands of words. For instance, in all other versions you will find the following passages either omitted or questioned: 1) The descent of the angel into the pool of Bethesda (John 5); 2) the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6); 3) the woman taken in adultery (John 7); 4) the last 12 verses of Mark 16; and many others. But the text of the King James Version is the text used by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and our fathers of the Synod of Dordt. 

It is not true either that these Reformers did not know of the existence of this rival text. We are told that they used the “Received Text” because it was all they had. That is not true. While they did not have the thousands of manuscripts that we have today, they did know of this corrupt text as it was represented in some of the manuscripts that were available to them. They, however, rejected that text for the “Received Text”—the text which is supported by 80 to 90 percent of all the manuscripts we have today. That is the text of the King James Version. For that reason alone, we must reject all modern versions. 

The King James Version is a Bible of the Reformation also from the point of view of the English versions of which it is a revision. William Tyndale, whose translation is reflected in nine tenths of the King James Version, was a child of the Reformation. He had embraced the faith of the Reformation and had even been with Luther and Melancthon at Wittenberg. In fact, Tyndale also made use of Luther’s German New Testament (1522) in his translation work. Thus Martin Luther influenced him greatly. It is no wonder that he could reply to a Roman Catholic priest, “I defy the pope and all his laws . . . . if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do!” Tyndale’s own enlightenment had come from the Word of God and, therefore, he desired others to see that same light of the Gospel. 

John Rogers, who is responsible for the “Matthew’s Bible,” is another who embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. We read concerning him, “that he cast off the heavy yoke of popery, perceiving it to be impure and filthy idolatry and joined himself with them two (Tyndale and Coverdale) in that painful and most profitable labor of translating the Bible into the English tongue.” Rogers moved to Wittenberg and there he associated with the Lutheran divines, particularly Melancton. He even translated four of Melancthon’s books into English. In harmony with his convictions, he added to the Bible prefaces and notes out of Martin Luther’s works. These notes were “strongly antipapal.”

Myles Coverdale, who influenced the King James Version through his own Bible (1535), the “Matthew’s Bible” to which he contributed one third, and the “Great Bible” which is a revision of his own work and that of Tyndale, was a strong supporter of the faith of the Reformation. He moved from England to Germany where he was for a while the minister of a Lutheran congregation. He corresponded with John Calvin and later moved to Geneva where he was elder in the English Church there. 

Both Thomas Cranmer and Cromwell, who supported Coverdale in his work, turned to the true faith. Cranmer especially supported the efforts of the Reformers. He was strengthened by the council of such Reformers as Peter Martyr, Bernardo Ochino, Martin Bucer, and Melancthon. 

The “Geneva Bible,” which influenced the King James Version more than any of the others, was produced in the Reformation city of Calvin and Beza. Its translators were all exiles who had fled England and Scotland because of persecution for their Reformation doctrines. Associated with this version are such men as John Knox (the Scottish Reformer), Myles Coverdale, Thomas Cole, Christopher Goodman, John Pullain, William Whittingham, Thomas Samson, Anthony Gilby, Lawrence Tomson, and others. Thomas Samson, after his own conversion in London, was used of the Lord to lead John Bradford (the English Reformer) to the Reformed faith. Anthony Gilby is the translator of the commentaries of Calvin and Beza. He made these great men accessible to thousands of English readers. Christopher Goodman was the life-long friend of John Knox. He was also co-pastor with him of the English congregation at Geneva. William Whittingham succeeded Knox as the pastor of the English congregation in 1559. He was also a contributor to the metrical version of the Psalms which accompanied many editions of the Bible. 

Even the translators of the King James Version itself had rejected popery. They were influenced greatly by the Reformation both on the continent and in England. In fact, these men considered Theodore Beza to be the chief authority in religious matters. They relied upon his judgment in matters of exposition as well as the Greek text. Many of the translators were themselves very Calvinistic. Miles Smith, who was a member of the third translation company, one of the revisers of the whole, the final editor with Bishop Bilson, and the author of the preface to the reader, was a “severe Calvinist.” Surely his influence upon the King James Version was great. Besides Smith, Lawrence Chaderton, John Reynolds, Thomas Holland, Daniel Fairclough, George Abbot, John Harmar, and Samuel Ward were all Calvinists. If we knew more about the other translators we would, no doubt, find even more Calvinists. 

It is clear, therefore, that the King James Version both as a revision of previous translations and as a new translation, is the product of the Reformation. One is amazed by the fact that the translators of this Bible and its predecessors were almost all involved in the Reformation of the church. The King James Version, therefore, is the product of the mighty power of God’s grace. For surely it was God’s grace alone that stood behind the Reformation. God, in reforming His church, put within the hearts of these men a longing to have the Holy Scriptures in the native tongue. Thus the translators of the King James Version exclaim, “Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernal; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water.” Indeed, the King James Version is the product of a God-given desire to see God’s Word, in all of its reforming power, in the hands of the people, that they might know and experience the glorious light of the gospel. Of all the English versions available today, the King James Version alone has claim to the name “Reformation Bible.”

A BIBLE FOR WHICH MEN DIED 

It is not strange, therefore, that this Bible comes down to us today stained with the blood of the martyrs. For the men behind the English Bible were of such strong conviction, by the grace of God, that they would suffer imprisonment and death rather than renounce their faith in the Bible as God’s infallible Word and as their sole authority for life and doctrine. Indeed, the persecution was very great. It is not strange that the Roman church should seek to do all in its power to stop the translation of the Scriptures. She recognized that one of the leading causes of the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. Therefore she persecuted the editors, translators, and promoters of the King James Version and its predecessors. 

We see this antagonism already in connection with the original languages. An ignorant and illiterate monk is reported to have said, “There was now a new language discovered called Greek, of which people should beware, since it was that which produced all the heresies; that in this language was come forth a book called the New Testament, which was now in everybody’s hands, and was full of thorns and briers; that there was also another language now started up which they call Hebrew, and that they who learned it were turned Hebrews.” This monk was by no means alone in his convictions. At this time, the monks and priests were so ignorant that they could read no Greek, Hebrew, or even Latin. Yet they considered the Latin Vulgate to be the only true Bible. 

The Roman Catholics did not look kindly upon the editions of the Greek New Testament which began to come off the presses. In 1514 Erasmus, the first editor of the Greek New Testament, was told not to publish his Greek text. Some in the Roman church considered it an open condemnation of the Latin Vulgate. Robert Stephanus, who gave us four editions of the Greek New Testament, had to flee Paris and settle in Geneva because of persecution.