The King James Bible superseded other versions for 300 years
Elizabeth was succeeded by James I, as the throne passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts. One of the first things done by the new king was the calling of the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604 "for the hearing, and for the determining of things pretended to be amiss in the church." Here were assembled bishops, clergymen, and professors, along with four Puritan divines. Although Bible revision was not on the agenda, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, John Reynolds, "moved his Majesty, that there might be a new translation of The Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry the eighth, and Edward the sixth, were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original."
The king shrewdly saw that a new translation could unify the church which would suit his ends.
He observed that he:
"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 an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other."
Accordingly, a resolution was established:
"That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service."
In July of 1604, James wrote to Bishop Bancroft that he had appointed 54 men who were the best biblical scholars and linguists of their day. In the preface to their completed work it says, "There were many chosen, that were greater in other men's eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise. Again, they came or were thought to come to the work, learned, not to learn." Others were sought out, "so that our said intended translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom."
Only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work and they were organized into six small groups that met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Fifteen general rules were provided for the guidance of the translators. They had at their disposal all the previous English translations and many sources they could refer to. If you would like to see the rules they follow on the next page.
When the work of the six were groups were completed, two men each from the Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford companies spent nine months at Stationers’ Hall in London to review the work of the six groups.
The completed work was issued in 1611, the complete title page reading:
"THE HOLY BIBLE, containing the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment.
Appointed to be read in Churches. Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie. AD. 1611."
A letter of dedication from the translators to King James recalled the King's desire that "there should be one more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue." The translators expressed that they were "poor instruments to make GOD'S holy Truth to be yet more and more known" while at the same time recognising that Catholic priests sought to keep the people in ignorance and darkness.
After a slow start the Authorised Version became more popular than all previous versions of The Bible. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. Many subsequent versions of The Bible were less popular, for the Authorized Version was the recognised version until the advent of the Revised Version of 1884 and subsequent modern translations.
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