The Learned Men
“Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark” – Dr Miles Smith, The Translators To The Reader
How did the learned men achieve their mark, who were they and how well fitted were they for their task?
First, we must know what happened at Hampton Court in January 1604.
The Hampton Harrier - The King that played the Puritan
The Puritans(2) were Church of England clergymen who held strongly to the English Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The English Reformation followed the break with Rome by Henry VIII(3). After the break, the Church in England gradually became the Church of England.
The Puritans wanted all traces of Catholicism removed from the English Church so when King James 1st came to the throne in 1603, the Puritans presented him with the so-called Millenary Petition(4), because it had 1,000 signatures.
The king convened a conference at Hampton Court in January 1604 for the church leaders to hear the Puritans’ grievances. One of these grievances was the perceived need for a new bible.
The Puritans’ leader was Dr John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Rainolds said to the king “May your Majesty be pleased to direct that the Bible be now translated, such versions as are extant not answering to the original.”
We will see later why Rainolds used the term “the original.”
The king replied “I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English, but I think that of Geneva is the worst.”
The Geneva Bible had been translated in Geneva, Switzerland in 1560 with the help of English Puritan exiles. The historian Gustavus Paine explains that it was not the text of the Geneva Bible that James objected to. Paine states:
“Some of the marginal notes in the Geneva version...disturbed him: they seemed to scoff at kings. If the Bible threatened him, it must be changed. Away with all marginal notes! And indeed...many [were] based on dogma now outworn. James may have had some right on his side; he was far from witless.”
John Rainolds stood his ground and the petition for the new bible was granted.
Paine states “So clever was [James’s] handling of the meeting that, although he…actually threatened to harry [the Puritans] out of the land, he appeared to some observers to lean towards them. Indeed, the dean of the chapel said that on that day the king played the Puritan…after all the talk ended, it seemed [the Puritans] had…only one gain: the new Bible [but William] Tyndale’s prayer was now answered in full: James 1 had ordered what Tyndale died to do.”
William Tyndale was a brilliant Bible translator whom Catholics had burnt at the stake in 1536 for his work on the scriptures. Just before he died Tyndale had prayed “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Through James 1st and John Rainolds, God had answered His martyr’s prayer.
With James having granted the Puritan’s petition, the next step was to choose the translators. The ones eventually chosen could be summed up as:
High Church, Low Church - White male C of E Protestants
The king charged them with appointing the men to compile the new bible and by the end of summer 1604 they had selected a total of 47 scholars for the work.
As indicated, these 47 scholars were both high and low churchmen(7).
The high churchmen favored a fixed and formal style of worship service and believed firmly in the overall authority of the bishop or most high-ranking clergyman of a particular area, or diocese.
The low churchmen were less formal with respect to worship services and less willing to accept the absolute authority of a diocesan bishop. The low churchmen included the Puritans like John Rainolds. They made up almost a quarter(8) of the scholars. Gustavus Paine states:
“There were among [the translators] no Roman Catholics, Jews or women. They were male Protestants, roughly or smoothly within the Church of England, and as such they thought in certain grooves. The marvel is that they did so well…
“But…for the new Bible the strife between [high and low] factions would be healthy. The Bible has always thrived on turmoil.”
It can safely be said that in reality, God had chosen the right men, at the right time, as we see from their unparalleled scholarship.
“Hebrew at his fingers’ ends” - Unparalleled scholars
“As to the capability of those men, we may say again, that, by the good providence of God, their work was undertaken in a fortunate time. Not only had the English language…then ripened to its full perfection, but the study of Greek, and of the oriental tongues [including Hebrew], and of rabbinical [Jewish] lore, had then been carried to a greater extent in England than ever before or since. This particular field of learning has never been so highly cultivated among English divines [scholars] as it was at that day…All the colleges of Great Britain and America, even in this proud day of boastings, could not bring together the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety for the great undertaking.”
The situation has not changed in 150 years. Dr Donald Waite is the Director of The Bible For Today organization in the USA. In 1992, he had been a teacher of Greek, Hebrew, Bible Speech and English for over 35 years, including teaching at seminary level.
Dr Waiteix(9) wrote extensively on the scholarship of the King James translators. He then stated categorically that he knew enough about the Hebrew and Greek languages to know that he could not have qualified to be one of the King James translators.
Dr Waite said that in 1992 and he still holds to that statement.
So who did qualify?(10) Here are some of King’s men.
Dr John Rainolds
The man who petitioned the king was appointed the Regius or Royal Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1585. Rainolds was noted as a distinguished Greek and Hebrew scholar and it was said that “his memory and reading were near to a miracle.”
John Rainolds died in 1607 at the age of 58. By then, he was President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was succeeded by Dr John Spencer, then aged 48, who was another of the translators.
Dr John Spencer
Dr Spencer was elected Greek lecturer at Corpus Christi College at the age of 19, which speaks volumes for his scholarly ability. His wife, it should be noted, was a great-niece of Thomas Cranmer(11), former Archbishop of Canterbury, whom the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor burnt at the stake in 1556 for his Protestant testimony.
Many of the King James translators were, in fact, children or youths during the reign of Catholic Mary, aka ‘Bloody’ Mary. Dr Gail Riplinger writes:
“The KJV translators were born and lived their adult lives with a frightfully close view of the persecuting shadow of bloody Queen Mary 1…as small children, [they] could have seen their friends’ parents go to the stake. Children were sometimes forced to watch their own parents burn or to set them on fire themselves.”
Scenes such as those must have made a terrible impression on the young boys’ minds. That is one reason why the King James translation is in no way Papist, in spite of later criticisms to the contrary.
Dr Miles Smith
Dr Smith was appointed Bishop of Gloucester in 1612. He wrote the preface to the 1611 Bible, The Translators To The Reader and The Epistle Dedicatory found in the front of the Authorized Version. It was said of Dr Smith that “He had Hebrew at his fingers’ ends; and he was so conversant with Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, [Oriental languages related to the Old Testament] that he made them as familiar to him as his native tongue.”
Dr John Bois
Dr Bois was a Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, to which he was admitted at the age of 14. He was able to read Hebrew at the age of 5. He was also a distinguished Greek scholar and sometimes devoted himself to his studies in the university library from 4 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night.
Such was John Bois’s reverence for the word of God that he would stand while studying, reading or translating the scriptures.
Dr Lancelot Andrewes
Dr Andrewes was Bishop of Winchester and Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth 1st. She was “that bright Occidental Star” as Dr Miles Smith described her in The Epistle Dedicatory. It was said of Dr Andrewes that “His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic...was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christendom.”
Lancelot Andrewes has been criticized as being too high church to be a fit translator but Gustavus Paine(12) states “While Andrewes valued a high ritual, he never forced it on others…He had a wide knowledge of scholars throughout England and good judgment in weighing their talents. In short, this thoughtful [man] possessed the traits [of character] most useful in choosing the men to make over the English Bible and in welding them into a working unit.”
Dr Richard Kilbye
Dr Kilbye became Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford in 1610. He was an excellent Greek and Hebrew scholar. After the 1611 Bible was published, he heard a young preacher give three reasons why a particular word in the 1611 Bible should have been translated differently. Dr Kilbye afterwards explained to the young preacher how he and others had considered all three reasons “and found thirteen more considerable reasons why it was translated as now printed.”
Such were some of the learned men. Briefly, what did they have to work with and how did they carry out their task?
Materials and Methods
The materials the King James translators had to work with included(13) all preceding English and foreign language Bibles. Among these sources were the Bishops’ Bible, translated during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st and the Puritans’ Geneva Bible.
The translators also had the Jesuit New Testament in English produced at Rheims in France in 1582.
In addition, they had all the printed Greek texts of the time, numbering 15, 6 Hebrew Old Testaments and “a great mass” of Greek manuscripts.
They also had the texts of ancient Bibles such as the Old Latin(14) that dated from the 2nd Century A.D., or very close to the time when the New Testament was written. These were the Waldensian Bibles of the Vaudois, the people of the valleys in Northern Italy. The King’s men had 6 of their Bibles.
That was why John Rainolds could refer to the original text of the scriptures at Hampton Court. He and his colleagues had texts that were first written at almost the same time as the original writings.
In addition, the King James translators had the 4th century Latin Vulgate Bible of Jerome, the official bible of the Catholic Church.
They also obtained selected readings from two fairly early Greek manuscripts(15) called Codex or Book A, of the 5th century and Codex B, of the 4th century. Codex A was at the time located in Alexandria, Egypt and Codex B is the well-known Vaticanus manuscript located in the Vatican Library. Codex B and another 4th century codex named Aleph, after the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, form the main Greek basis for the Latin Vulgate(16). Aleph is also called Sinaiticus because it was found in 1844 in St Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery(17) at the foot of Mount Sinai. Codex B and Codex Aleph are the manuscripts referred to on pages 1024 and 1073 of the 1990 Edition of the New International Version.
With the Jesuit Rheims New Testament, the Latin Vulgate and readings from Codex A and Codex B, the King’s men therefore had access to virtually all the variations from the 1611 Holy Bible that are now found in the new versions.
As American researcher Norman Ward has said, “The translators of 1611 had substantially the same selection of readings from which to choose as did the revisers of 1881, 1952, 1973 and 1979.”
Concerning the methods by which the King James translators worked, Bishop Bancroft, with the help of Lancelot Andrewes and others, set down 15 rules for the work(18). Dr Benjamin Wilkinson(19) gives an overview of how the King’s men put these rules into practice:
“Thus, when one company had come together, and had agreed on what should stand, after having compared their work, as soon as they had completed any one of the sacred books, they sent it to each of the other companies to be critically reviewed. If a later company, upon reviewing the book, found anything doubtful or unsatisfactory, they noted such places, with their reasons, and sent it back to the company whence it came. If there should be a disagreement, the matter was finally arranged at a general meeting of the chief persons of all the companies at the end of the work.
“It can be seen by this method that each part of the work was carefully gone over at least fourteen times. It was further understood that if there was any special difficulty or obscurity, all the learned men of the land could be called upon by letter for their judgment. And finally each bishop kept the clergy of his diocese notified concerning the progress of the work, so that if any one felt constrained to send any particular observations, he was notified to do so.”
Dr Donald Waite(20) has said that the translators’ method had never been used before in Bible translation and has never been used since.
He concludes that this method is certainly superior to any other.
We move now briefly to consider the welter of criticisms that have been leveled at the 1611 Holy Bible.
(To be continued)
To Read the introduction Click here
4) Final Authority by William P. Grady, Grady Publications, 1993, Chapters IX, X
The Men Behind the KJV by Gustavus S. Paine, Baker Book House, 1977, Chapter 1
Translators Revived by Alexander McClure, Reprint of the 1858 Edition, Maranatha Bible Society, Michigan, Introductory Narrative and biographical sketches
Which Bible? edited by Dr David Otis Fuller, 5th Edition, Grand Rapids International Publications, 1975, The Learned Men by Terence H. Brown, pp 13ff
Gipp’s Understandable History of the Bible by Samuel C. Gipp, Th. D., Daystar Publishing, 2004, Chapter 9.
‘O Biblios’ The Book by Alan O’Reilly, Covenant Publishers, Chapters 11, 12
Author’s note: The repeated citation of my own work in this treatise is not intended as either a promotion of that work or to detract from the work of other authors cited in my own work. The repeated citations of ‘O Biblios’ in this treatise are mainly for ease of reference.
King James And His Translators and The Hidden History Of The English Scriptures by Gail Riplinger, A.V. Publications Corp., 2011
King James, His Bible And Its Translators by Dr Laurence M. Vance, Vance Publications, 2006
7) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church edited by E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1977
8) The Bible Babel by Dr Peter S. Ruckman, Bible Baptist Bookstore, 1981, p 17
9) Defending The King James Bible by Rev D. A. Waite, Th.D., Ph.D., The Bible For Today Press, 1992, p 87
10) ‘O Biblios’ The Book, Chapter 4
Which Bible, pp 13ff
Translators Revived, biographical sketches
In Awe of Thy Word by G.A. Riplinger, A.V. Publications Corp., 2003, Chapters 16, 25
12) The Men Behind the KJV, pp 20-21.
13) ‘O Biblios’ The Book, pp 26-27, Ibid., Chapter 10, Section 10.1, King James, His Bible And Its Translators, Essay Four, Which Bible?, p 212, kjv.benabraham.com/html/chapter-2.html
14) Which Bible?, p 208, kjv.benabraham.com/html/chapter-2.html
16) Final Authority, Chapters VIII, XIII, ‘O Biblios’ The Book, Section 10.1
17) Hazardous Materials by G. A. Riplinger, A.V. Publications Corp., 2008, Chapter 20
18) The Men Behind the KJV, pp 70-71
19) Which Bible?, p 257, kjv.benabraham.com/html/chapter-5.html
20) Defending The King James Bible, pp 88-89