The Authorized Version (AV)

This article by Brother James Stanton, addressing the process and mechanics of how the AV came about, appeared in the April 1990 Sanctuary-Keeper under his editorship. Readers will note his notations at the end including his high regard for the Authorized Version (KJV) which he describes as the primary translation used by "Protestants and Christadelphians."

THE AUTHORIZED VERSION has been the great Bible of the English speaking peoples of the world for 379 years. It is also called the King James Version because its publication was undertaken at the command of that king. When he ascended the throne there were two strong parties in the church, the bishops and the Puritans. Two versions of the Bible were in common use, the Bishops ' (printed in 1568) by the clergy, and the Geneva by the people. The attack made upon all Protestant versions of the Bible by the Rheims New Testament had started a lively conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and in 1589 William Fulke, a staunch Protestant, had printed the Bishops' Version and the Rheims Version side by side with the Catholic notes and his replies to them.

The Puritans complained to James about things in the church, and James called a conference at Hampton Court Palace for January 14, 16, and 18, 1604 (another source says 1603). Among the questions discussed was that of Bible translation, and as an outcome of the conference it was decided to make a new translation from the Hebrew and Greek. By July 22, 1604, a selection of fifty four of the best scholars had been made, and on that date the king sent a letter to Bancroft, Bishop of London, asking him to inform the other bishops and seek their aid in getting the benefit of suggestions from any who had special skill in Hebrew and Greek. Though the king mentioned fifty four, it is only known that forty seven (seven of them supposedly died before the work commenced - Adam Clarke) actually took part in the work, and there is considerable doubt as to the identity of some of them.

The workers were divided into six companies of which two met at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster, each company dealing with a separate portion of the Bible. The whole was afterward reviewed in London by a committee appointed from the six companies, and finally by Bishop Bilson of Winchester and Dr. Miles Smith. The workers received no financial remuneration, but were promised preferment as occasion should arise - some actually were promoted.

The names of the persons, the places where employed, the proportion of work allotted to each company and the rules laid down by King James for their direction are taken chiefly from Mr. Fuller's Church History, Book x., p. 44, & c. Dr. Reynolds, who was to work with one of the Oxford companies, made this request in the Hampton Court conference, and King James made a reply:

Dr. Reynolds: "May your Majesty be pleased that the Bible be new translated, such as are extant, not answering the original?" (Here he gave a few examples.)

Bishop of London: "If every man's humour might be followed, there would be no end of translating."

The King: "I profess I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for a uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned in both universities, then reviewed by the bishops, presented to the privy council, lastly ratified by royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and no other."

The bishop of London in this, as in every other case, opposed Dr. Reynolds, till he saw that the project pleased the king, and that he appeared determined to have it executed. In consequence of this resolution, the following learned and judicious men were chosen for the execution of the work. (The names and stations of the 47 individuals selected for this work are omitted from this republication. - Editor)

Westminster: 10 men; The Pentateuch and historical books to 2 Kings
Westminster: 7 men; The Epistles
Cambridge: 8 men; Chronicles to the Song of Solomon
Cambridge: 7 men; The Apocrypha
Oxford: 7 men; Isaiah to Malachi
Oxford: 8 men; The Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Revelation

"Now, for the better ordering of their proceedings, his Majesty recommended the following rules, by them to be most carefully observed:

  1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
  2. The names of the prophets, and the holy writers, with their other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.
  3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, viz., the word Church not to be translated Congregation, &c.
  4. When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of 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 thinks good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.
  9. As any one company hath despatched 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 review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any places, to send them word thereof, note the places, and therewithal send their 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 in the land, for his judgment in 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 as, being skilful in the tongues, have 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 Hebrew and Greek in each university.
  14. These translations to be used, when they agree better with the text than the Bishops' Bible, viz., TINDAL'S, MATTHEWS', COVERDALE'S, WHITCHURCH, GENEVA.

The character of James I as a scholar has been greatly underrated. In the Hampton Court conference he certainly showed a clear and ready comprehension of every subject brought before him, together with extensive reading and a remarkably sound judgment. For the best translation into any language we are indebted under God to King James, who was called a hypocrite by those who had no religion, and a pedant by persons who had not half his learning. Both piety and justice require that, while we are thankful to God for the gift of his word, we should revere the memory of the man who was the instrument of conveying the water of life through a channel by which its purity has been so wonderfully preserved. As to politics, he was, like the rest of the Stuart family, a tyrant.

Those who have compared most of the European translations with the original have not scrupled to say that the English translation of the Bible, made under the direction of King James I, is the most accurate and faithful of the whole. Nor is this its only praise; the translators have seized the very spirit and soul of the original, and expressed this almost everywhere with pathos and energy. Besides, our translators have not only made a standard translation, but they have made their translation the standard of our language; the English tongue in their day was not equal to such a work, "but God enabled them to stand as upon Mount Sinai," to use the expression of a learned friend, "and crane up their country's language to the dignity of the originals, so that after the lapse of 200 years [more than 300 now] the English Bible is with very few exceptions, the standard of the purity and excellence of the English tongue. The original from which it was taken is, alone, superior to the Bible translated by the authority of King James."

It has been supposed by some that the work was not actually begun until 1607, but there seems to be evidence that from the time of the appointment of the companies in 1604 the members were engaged upon it in some degree. Fuller in his Church History says concerning the death of Mr. Lively, chairman of one of the Cambridge companies, in 1605, "The untimely death of Mr. Edward Lively, much weight of the work lying on his skill in the Oriental tongues, happening about this time (happy that servant whom his Master, when he cometh, findeth so doing) not a little retarded their proceedings. However the rest vigorously, though slowly, proceeded in their hard, heavy, and holy task, nothing offended with the censures of the impatient people, condemning their delays, though indeed but due deliberation, for laziness."

In 1611 the new version was published. It was indeed a most beautifully printed volume. It was printed by Robert Barker, who had considerable experience in printing editions of the earlier versions. The original title page has been altered by various publishers down through the years, and the dedication to King James (The Epistle Dedicatorie) which occupies about two full pages is seldom printed now. The dedication was written by Dr. Miles Smith. There was also an extensive prefatory section, "The Translators to the Reader," which takes up about twenty one pages, written in Old English "Many other things we might giue thee warning of (gentle Reader) if wee had not exceeded the measure of a Preface aireadie, &c."

The Authorized Version is so well known and appreciated that it seems strange to believe that it took a long time to win its way into the favor of the people (the Geneva Version was printed until 1644). Changes in spelling and to some extent in wording were made from time to time, and eventually the Apocrypha was omitted, so that the present Authorized Version differs considerably, though not substantially, from that of 1611. It has come to be recognized as the finest specimen of English literature; in fact, it is the model after which the best in English literature has been patterned.

Most of the above information is taken from John W. Lea's" The Book of Books and Its Wonderful Story" and the General Preface to Adam Clarke's "Clarke's Commentary," Volume I. We would be remiss if we failed to remark that Providence oversaw this work. Although the forty-seven men who labored to produce this translation were not divinely inspired, the Divine Hand controlled them in such a way as to produce a good translation, one that made clear the message of salvation through Christ and the relevant history and prophecy aligned to it.

Proposition XXXI of our Statement of Faith says, "That the Scriptures, composing the book currently known as the Bible, are the only source now extant of knowledge concerning God and His purposes, and that they were given wholly by the unerring inspiration of God in the writers, and that such errors as have since crept in are due to transcription or translation." This Proposition was added to the Statement of Faith following the controversy on Inspiration in 1885. Many translations have appeared since 1611, but the King James remains the primary translation used by both Protestants and Christadelphians. Ecclesias should have a rule that all readings from the stand are to be from the King James Version. It is a "second language" to us, even the uplifting and lofty language of the Old English, one that we have familiarized ourselves with, and one that should become more and more familiar as we await the apocalypse of our Lord and Saviour.

Editor (Jim Stanton)

(Our thanks to Brother Aaron Schofield for his suggestion of this article and his assistance in its preparation for publication.)

"The translation was extraordinarily well done because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in different stages of culture, but the word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes. In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully artistic result ... they made a translation so magnificent that to this day the common human Britisher or citizen of the United States of North America accepts and worships it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God."

George Bernard Shaw

(The Men Behind the King James Version, by G. S. Paine; Baker Book House; Grand Rapids, Mich.; 1959, 1977ed., pp. 182-183)