Written by: John Sernaque
This will be the fourth part of a series of articles outlining the history of the Bible. These articles will point you to the most accurate translation of the Bible, and will help you to avoid the many spurious translations which exist today. This series of articles are based on the book “The King James Bible and Modern Translations” written by Vance Ferrell. Let’s pick up where we left off.
The Catholic Reaction (1543-1547)
Thomas Cromwell led out in getting Bibles printed and widely circulated. Although he was very highly placed in the English government, he fell into disfavor because of his efforts to destroy Catholic shrines and images, as well as taking over of abbeys and monasteries. He even destroyed a few Catholic churches. He had made the same mistake as the French Protestants who wanted to produce strong public protest against Catholics, and only brought death to themselves amid a Catholic uprising. Great Controversy, 217:2; 224:3-227.1. This led to an uprising of Catholics and Henry VIII feared for his throne. In reaction to this, Cromwell was executed and Bibles were publicly burned by the hundreds. Only the Great Bible was spared and it was only to be read by the upper classes. The decree was: “no laboring men or women should read to themselves or to others, publicly or privately, any part of the Bible, under pain of imprisonment.” Bishop Tunstall immediately retracted his name from the front of the Great Bible.
Edward VI (1547-1553)
This young king was devoted to the Bible. During his six- and one-half years reign, the English Bible was reprinted for 35 editions of the New Testament and 13 of the Old. Edward began his reign by decreeing that Bibles be made available in every church for people to read. Reformers who had fled to England returned.
Bloody Mary (1553-1559)
Upon the death of Edward, Mary Tudor came to the throne. She was the daughter of Henry’s wife, Catherine. Mary was a fanatical papist. She began a reign of terror. Archbishop Cranmer and John Rogers, along with hundreds of others, were burned at the stake for the crime of loving the Bible. Miles Coverdale barely escaped. Other Reformers also fled. It was on February 4, 1555 that prisoner John Rogers was warned to prepare himself for the fire. When he was brought to the place of his execution in Smithfield, one of the sheriffs asked him if he would change his religion to save his life. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” “He died bathing his hands in the flames as if it had been in cold water.” J.R. Green, A Short History of the English People, p.372. These people laid down their lives for the Bible. Over 300 Christians were burned at the stake in Smithfield, near London. So horrible was the reign of “Bloody Mary” that everyone, including the Catholics, hated her. After five years of horror, Mary died a miserable death on November 17, 1558. The murders of so many Christians had left her nearly insane.
The Geneva Bible (1560)
Christian scholars who had fled from Mary’s wrath gathered in Geneva, Switzerland. There were no political or religious restrictions in Geneva. There they formed a committee to prepare a new translation of the Bible. Biblical scholar Theodore Beza lived there. Working with him were John Knox, William Whittingham, and Miles Coverdale. They labored six years to produce the Geneva Bible. Whittingham supervised the work. For the first time, the English Bible was divided into verses. Also, Whittingham added words in italics to complete the sense when words were not in the Greek. Both practices carried over in the King James Bible. This was the first English Bible to have Ezra through Malachi translated from the Hebrew. The New Testament was basically identical to Tyndale’s. When completed, it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth neither promoted nor opposed the Geneva Bible, and it was widely sold for decades. But the Great Bible continued to be the Bible read from the pulpit.
Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603)
Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in November 1558. Protestantism was once again in favor and she clearly promoted the Protestant cause. The persecution by Bloody Mary aroused a reaction that made England forever Protestant. During her 41-year reign, Bibles were published in abundance.
The Bishops’ Bible (1568)
In 1563, Archbishop Parker called for a committee to produce a new Bible. Because nine of the revisers were bishops, it was called the Bishops’ Bible. This Bible never gained the favor of the people. The last edition of the Bishops’ Bible was in 1606.
James I (1566-1625)
On the death of Elizabeth in 1603, James came to the throne and was crowned James I. James did not provide a pleasant home for believers in Christ. For this reason, the Mayflower sailed to America in 1621, ten years after the King James Bible was published. The event that helped James to side with the Protestants was the Catholics attempt to blow him up, known as the “Gunpowder Plot.” On October 26, 1605, a letter was delivered to Lord Chamberlain Monteagle, warning him to stay away from the opening session of parliament on November 5. All the members of parliament would be in Westminster Palace that day. The note was sent to him by his Catholic relative, Francis Tresham. Monteagle took the note to the King’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, who woke James out of bed and showed it to him. King James launched a major investigation. Four Roman Catholics (Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy, John Wright, and Guy Fawkes), led by papist Robert Catesby, had taken an oath to assassinate King James and everyone else in parliament. Their pledge was sealed at a communion service by Jesuit priest, John Gerard. The opening of parliament kept being postponed.
The conspirators now counseled with two other Catholic priests. They were Oswald Greenway and Henry Garnet, Provincial of the English Jesuits. They decided to warn the few pro-Catholic members to stay away. On the evening of November 4, at midnight, investigators discovered the presence of Guy Fawkes standing outside the cellar door of Westminster Palace. They searched the cellar and found, hidden beneath a large pile of faggots (a bundle of sticks or twigs bound together as fuel) and coal, beneath the very spot where James would be standing in but a few hours, thirty- six barrels of gunpowder. They searched Fawkes and found in his pockets a tinder box and matches. At 1 am, Fawkes was summoned to face the council in the king’s bedchamber at Whitehall Palace. Fawkes was emotionally unmoved, only expressing regret that he had failed to blow up the king and his Protestant followers. When the authorities went after Catesby, Percy, and Wright, they were met with gunfire and the three conspirators were killed. Fawkes and other conspirators stood trial on January 27, 1606, to be hanged that week. To this day, the British celebrate “Guy Fawkes Day” as a day they slew the Catholics who wanted to kill their king. It had been in January of 1604 that King James decided to have a large group of scholars to begin work on a new translation of the Bible. That project was just getting started when the Gunpowder Plot was discovered on the evening of November 4, 1605.
Authorization of the King James Bible
On January 14,16, and 18 1604, a conference was held as the King did not like the fact that the Geneva Bible had not been prepared and printed in England. He saw that he now had an opportunity to provide his subjects with a Bible that would be truly English, totally translated and printed on English soil. King James ordered the translation to be made: “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.” - Decree of King James, quoted in McClure, Translators Revised, p.59. After the conference, a diligent search was made for scholars. By July, King James had announced his selection of 54 of the nation’s best scholars to work on the project. The project began in 1607. The revisers were divided into six groups, each to work on a specific section of the Bible. The Old Testament group translated from the Hebrew and the New Testament translated from the Greek. For the New Testament, the translators used the Erasmus, Stephenus, and Beza Greek Texts. For the Old Testament, they used the Hebrew manuscripts, which surpassed any English translation. The outcome and fact remain that 90% of Tyndale’s words were left intact by the translators. John Foxe wrote: “Before Tyndale’s day, the English versions of the Bible had been but translations of a translation, being derived from the Vulgate or older Latin versions. Tyndale, for the first time, went back to the original Hebrew and Greek. ...he embodied that truth...in so noble a translation...deemed wise by scholars and revisers to make but few changes in it.” John Foxe, Foxes’ Christian Martyrs of the World, p. 362. But not everyone liked the King James Bible. For 50 years, it waged a fight with the Geneva Bible, but eventually completely took the field.
In later years, several revisions were made, but solely to correct earlier printer’s errors. In 1769, Dr. Benjamin Blayney’s revision was valuable for the modernization of spelling, punctuation, expression, and elimination of printer’s errors. The 1769 Blayney revision is the King James Bible we use today. Still, the King James Bible was the last English Bible translation based on the Majority Text. Not since 1611 has another been made. All modern English translations are primarily or wholly based on the Westcott-Hort/Nestle Text, which in turn is based on a few variant manuscripts. Even the NEW King James Version includes a fair amount of Nestle-Aland Text in it. It is true that the King James Bible does add words which are not in the Greek Text. However, it places these words in italics for clarity of text, not to change the context or meaning. Modern versions also add words, but does not place these words in italics. There was no uniform spelling when the King James Bible was first printed. It was actually the King James that helped set our basic English in concrete. But spelling and punctuation still kept changing down to our time today. However, the true text of the 1611 Authorized King James Version remains unaffected throughout corrective changes. Critics state that as the Apocrypha is included in the King James that the translators believed these to be inspired writings. This is not the case at all. The translators did not want it included, but the king asked that it be included. So, they placed the Apocryphal books by themselves in between the Testaments. The translators listed seven reasons why the apocryphal books were to be rejected as part of the inspired canon.
To be continued in the next article, Part 5.