KING JAMES AND THE SCRIPTURES
by Robert Stephens
(hebrew names and the term "scriptures" restored
The King James Scriptures are the most printed book in the world. No other
publication can challenge that. At least one part of the Scriptures has
been printed in more than 1,760 languages. There are literally hundreds
of translations of the Scriptures in the English language alone. The King
James, or Authorized version as it was also called, was not a translated
out of the original Greek and Hebrew, but was the product of at least six
previous translations. Contrary to naive notions of some, it was not unearthed
in the sands of Palestine, already bound in black leather, on India paper
with gold edges, and dedicated to King James. It took men of courage and
faith who gave their lives so that we might have the Scriptures in our
own language. The Word of Yahweh was written by an estimated 36 to 40 human
writers, inspired by Yahweh to record the books of the Scriptures. The
Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the language of the Israelite people,
with a few portions written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in
Greek; a common language of the day.
None of the original documents are in existence today. The original copies,
called autographs, were printed on papyrus scrolls or parchments of animal
skins, and have long since rotted or decayed. So how can we be sure that
the Scriptures we have today is the same as the originals? The scriptures
have been preserved through the centuries by ancient scribes who made handwritten
copies of the scriptures on long scrolls of vellum or animal skins. These
copies were always carefully checked for mistakes, and any sections containing
mistakes were destroyed. This was to ensure that no mistakes would be carried
on to future copies. Although none of the original manuscripts have been
found, there have been a large number of very early copies found, and these
all agree with remarkable precision and exactness.
The first translation of the Old Testament was from Hebrew to Greek. This
translation, called the Septuagint, took place in the third century B.C.
by seventy Hebrew scholars for the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt.
Certain Jews made the fifth day of Tebeth (on which the Septuagint appeared)
a day of mourning, because they thought Yahweh could only be approached
in Hebrew. This translation became the "Scriptures" of Yahshua's followers
during the time of the Messiah.
Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, commissioned Eusebius Heironymus, better known
as Jerome, to revise older Latin versions of the Scriptures. His work became
known as the Vulgate, or "common" Scriptures because it was written in
the common Latin of the people. The Latin Vulgate became the predominant
translation in Europe and the only official scriptures of the Roman Catholic
Church. Later It became necessary to translate the Hebrew-Greek Scriptures
into a common tongue as the Yahweh's faith had spread into new lands. Not
everyone could read Latin. For the majority of the world, their only knowledge
of the Scriptures was from sermons and stories of the parish priests, religious
plays in the market places, religious paintings, and stained glass windows
which decorated the churches.
The first English translation was sponsored by John Wycliffe, an opponent
of the papacy who believed that people should be governed by the Scriptures
alone. Two .of his associates worked to translate the Latin Vulgate into
English. This became known as the Wycliffe Scriptures. The Church authorities
viewed this as a threat to their power. Readers and distributors of Wycliffe's
Scriptures were severely punished, Wycliffe himself was burned at the stake.
But for a century and a half, Wycliffe's Scriptures were the only English
translation of the Scriptures. Later, an Englishman named William Tyndale
saw the need for an English translation based not on the Latin Vulgate,
but upon the original languages. By this time the printing press had been
invented, so it was no longer necessary to make all copies by hand. Tyndale's
New Testament was completed in 1526. It was meant to make the Scriptures
intelligible and easier for the common layman to understand. Tyndale was
strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. The Coverdale, which was a revision
of Tyndale's work, was completed in 1535 by Miles Coverdale, an associate
and fellow scholar. Another revision of Tyndale's work was published in
1535 by John Matthew. It became known as the Matthew's Scriptures. The
Great Scriptures, the Bishop's Scriptures, and the many revisions of the
King James are all essentially based on the Matthew's Scriptures. Another
called the Great Scriptures, was later published. It was chiefly a revision
of Matthew's Scriptures, without the notes and comments placed in the margin
by John Rogers. The Great Scriptures were the first and only Scriptures
authorized to be read in the Church of England.
After the short reign of Edward VI, Mary Tutor, a devout Catholic came
to the throne. She ordered the death of hundreds of Protestants, including
John Rogers (Matthew's Scriptures) and forced many English Protestants
to seek refuge in Switzerland. While there, some zealous Puritans in Geneva
under the leadership of John Knox produced another version of the English
Scriptures which was taken from both the Great Scriptures and the Tyndale.
It was known as the Geneva Scriptures. It was the first "Modern" version
of the Scriptures; the first to divide chapters into verses, and the first
to put into italics the words not from the Hebrew or Greek, but necessary
in English. It would take the King James edition almost a century to surpass
it in popularity.
After Queen Elizabeth I succeed Mary Tutor to the throne, she reinstated
the reading of the Great Scriptures in the church. The Geneva Scriptures,
although more popular, was viewed by the Church as being partisan to Puritans.
A revision was sought, and in 1568, the Bishops Scriptures were published.
This edition was responsible for many of the Latinisms that are found in
today's English Scriptures. The Bishop's Scriptures were, however, a compromise.
It was a dignified and "safe" version, intended for public reading. Words
viewed as offensive were altered. Marginal notes were removed.
In the end of Elizabeth's reign, an act of parliament was made for the
purpose of a new translation of the Scriptures. Nothing ever became of
this draft, until after her death when she was seceded by James 1, 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, to resolve church matters. Although not on the agenda, the issue
of Scripture preference was brought up. The Bishops Scriptures were unpopular
to many. Scriptures was needed which would meet the approval of the whole
church. King James himself was annoyed by the marginal notes and commentaries
in the Geneva Scriptures; notes which were critical of the divine right
of Kings. A resolution was made:
"That a translation be made of the whole Scriptures, 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."
The King selected fifty-four men who were the best scholars and linguists
of their day. Of the men nominated, only forty-seven are known to have
taken part in the work of translation. There were fifteen general rules
that were given for the translators to follow. The Bishops' Scriptures
was to be followed and "as little altered as the truth of the original".
The translators were to use the Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great
Scriptures, and the Geneva Scriptures when they agreed better with the
Hebrew and Greek text than did the Bishops'. The old ecclesiastical words
were to be kept. No marginal notes were to be added, but only for the explanation
of certain Hebrew and Greek words which could not be explained in the text.
Although the Bishops' Scriptures were intended by the King to be the baseline
for the new Scriptures, the translators followed more closely to the wording
of the Geneva Scriptures; which was able to interpret difficult passages
more precisely. They copied freely, not only from earlier English editions,
but from foreign translations. The forty-seven men selected were divided
into six groups, each one responsible for a separate section. The work
was completed in two years and nine months. A final editing committee,
composed of two men from each of the six companies, reviewed the entire
work, and prepared it for publication. The King called for the project
to be reviewed by the bishops of the church and then presented to the Privy
Council, and finally to be ratified by his royal authority. Outside of
this statement, there is no record that there was any official action of
Parliament, King James, or the Church taken to declare the King James Version
the "Authorized Version" of the Church of England.
It's publication, in 1611, did not meet with immediate success. The Geneva
Scriptures would, for another eighty years, be the most popular edition
of the Scriptures. It caught on slowly, but eventually would become "The
Scriptures" in the minds of many. It was later revised, a total of seven
times, to make necessary changes in spelling, as the English language is
There are hundreds of translations of the scriptures. Some are of value,
while others do great damage to great truths Yahweh intended for his word
to convey. But because of it's unmatched literary beauty and loyalty to
the cause of inspiration the King James Scriptures has been and probably
will continue to be most treasured copy of the Word of Yahweh in the minds
of uncounted millions.
Greenslade, S.L. The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the
Reformation to the Present Day. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press,
Winrod, Gerald B. Facts About the Bible. Wichita, Kansas: Defender Publishers,
Griffin, Jerry "How we got the Bible," Bible Advocate. Sept., Oct, and
"The Difference a Translation Makes" Christian History. 1994, Vol.13
Issue 3, p16, 2p, 4bw
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