One to Unite the Divided…

Eventually, a certain tolerance returned to England, and so too the printing and distribution of the Geneva Bible as well. Due to its controversial marginal notes, known for condemning the establishment of the day, many of the Anglican leaders desired a new Bible, not only to emulate the accuracy and success of the Geneva Bible, but also to replace the aging Great Bibles of decades past…

By 1568, their desires had come to pass with the advent of the Bishop’s Bible, often referred to as the “rough draft of the King James Bible.” Unfortunately for the establishment, the Bishop’s Bible never enjoyed the enthusiasm seen in the Geneva Bible, and its use was largely limited to the pulpits of the English churches. All the while, across the land Geneva Bibles found lasting places in the homes of the populace, becoming the first family Bibles.

As told in the 1841 book “An Historical Account of the English Versions of the Scriptures,” in 1604, shortly after his ascent to the throne, a petition prepared by over a thousand ministers was delivered to the new king, James I, in the hopes of addressing a number of church issues. In response, King James I assembled delegates representing both a thousand ministers and the Anglican clergy. Among the matters discussed was a suggestion to replace the Bishop’s Bibles with a new translation.

By that time, English believers had typically divided themselves amongst two Bibles; the Bishop’s Bible at church, and the Geneva Bible at home. Like the Geneva Bible, this new translation was to adhere to the highest level of detail and precision, and would include marginal notes for referencing Scripture. It would differ from it however in its lack of the extensive and divisive commentary. This was to be, in the King’s eyes, the version to once again unite Anglicans and puritans under a single Scripture, the “translation to end all translations.”

The work to be done on this newest translation was immense, taking no less than seven years from start to finish. Building upon Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, no less than 54 of the best scholars of the time were tasked to craft what many would come to consider the best English translation of the Scriptures in history.

Among those uncanny minds was the lingual juggernaut Lancelot Andrewes, who was known to be fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, Arabic, and over a dozen contemporary languages. Another example is John Spencer, who, at the age of 19, was elected Greek lecturer at Corpus Christi College in Oxford University. These are but two of the fifty-four intellectual giants called to the task at hand, and their experience, knowledge, and wisdom would transcend all expectations.

Lancelot Andrewes
Engraved portrait from the frontispiece to a 17th century volume of sermons

Fragmented into several groups, each given responsibility over a separate portion of the Scriptures, the first two years of their work was dedicated to private research. Later, from 1607 to 1609, the independent research was compiled and the final work saw printed completion in 1611. Their masterpiece considered much of the good work that preceded it including Tyndale’s New Testament, the Coverdale and Matthew Bibles, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and even a selection of an authorized Catholic translation, the Rheims New Testament. The superior scholarship of this King James Bible was unprecedented, and shortly after its placement within the pulpits of churches across the land came efforts to make it more accessible, printing smaller versions for individual usage. In time, the King James Bible became the most popular version, reigning undisputed for centuries and seeing more printings than any other book in history, with estimates of over a billion produced since 1611.

034 - Translations Through the Years
Translations through the Years


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