400th Anniversary of the KJB
(English Authorized Version)
“The apple of my eye”; “A man after God’s own heart”; “Don’t cast your pearls before swine”; “At their wits end.” These and a multitude of additional sayings have entered the English speaking cultures worldwide from one book. They show the great impact that one book, the Bible, and more specifically, the English Authorized Version, has had in the lives of English speaking people. The English Authorized Version is more commonly known to us and throughout history as the King James Bible.
The King James Bible has united kingdoms and divided kingdoms. It has been accepted overtly and promoted covertly. It has inspired authors, play writers, housewives and athletes. The King James Bible has shaped the English Language and it has been a tool to teach the English Language. Many authorities would consider it the finest work in English Literature.
For almost its entire existence, it has outsold any other work. Only in the last 30 years have other versions begun to surpass it in annual sales. No work of the Bible will likely every pass it in total sales.
Only in the most recent generation are there a significant number of children being raised who are unfamiliar with the KJB. Yet, their language, the expressions they use, the version of the Bible they read from and the world they live in, has all been impacted by this monumental work.
The year 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Few people know its history, yet this work has been a major part of their lives and their history. The history of the bringing forth of the KJB is a fascinating history of political intrigue and religious conflicts; yet, an ultimate uniting of followers of differing factions. A uniting under a single task to which all who participated in could agree. The history of the KJB is definitely a story that identifies the Providence of God. God is at work in all that occurs. There are times, however, that special acts seem to take place that, if they had not, the resulting historical events would never have taken place. This is the case for the coming about of the KJB. When the full history of that momentous event is considered, though the intrigues and designs of men are clearly evident, the hand of God cannot be denied.
The King James Bible was the result of 7 years of work involving 47 scholars working at times individually and in 6 separate committees. That alone is astounding, especially when one considers the factions within the Church of England ranging from committed Anglican to ardent Puritan. However, to start the story at that point, would be to miss so much of what had occurred previously to bring the history of England and its state church to that point.
One could begin the history of the King James Bible with King James I, the reigning King of England at that time and the one who approved, sanctioned and had the ultimate oversight of the plan. This would be a better point of origin for this story. However, to begin with his reign, which started less than a year before the idea was conceived, would again miss many great opportunities to see God’s Hand at work. For, you see, how James became the king of England is a story in which the Hand of Providence shows clearly. Additionally, to understand James as King can only come about through understanding his background and upbringing, which is a fascinating story in and of itself.
The make-up of religion in England at the turning of the 16th to the 17th century was quite unique. The primary Church was the Church of England, the State church. However, within this Church was a growing and influential faction of individuals called Puritans. The Puritans were gravely concerned with the external ceremonial aspects of the worship in the Anglican Church and wished to purify the Church of these and bring it back to what they saw as the more simple and pure worship of the early Church. Those that were impatient with the attempts at purifying the Church of England had taken a further step and separated from the Church. These Separatists met in homes and pursued “individual reformation with our tarrying for any.” They
also experienced the wrath of the Church and State causing many to flee England and some to journey to America as our early Pilgrim settlers. There was also in England a strong Catholic subculture. This group also had an influence upon what was happening in England in both the Church and the State.
In England, the king is head of both State AND Church. This unique united headship was what King James inherited. This dual headship had been formed almost 100 years before James was offered the English crown. Though the beginning of the Church of England would serve as a good starting point, to begin our story there would leave out one last and crucial element. An element that shows the dedication of committed Godly men and the mysterious, yet majestic workings of the Providence of God.
You see, the history of the making of the King James Bible is certainly a part of the history of the Political movements of England. It is also most certainly part and partial of the history of the Religious developments in that country. But, more than any of these streams of historical events, the history of the making of the King James Bible is the history of individual men responding to the call of God to bring the Word of God to the eyes and ears of every individual. The history of the King James Bible is His Story – God’s Story – of causing His Word to begin covering the
earth as the waters cover the sea.
Where do we begin? We begin with the life and work of one, solitary man – a man who heard and responded to God’s call to bring His Word to the common person of England, a man who risked his life to make that call a reality. This man preceded the event we are celebrating by more than 200 years. Yet, it is to John Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation we must turn to appropriately begin the relating of the history of the making of the King James Bible.
John Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire, England in 1328 and grew to become an excellent scholar at Oxford College. There, at Oxford, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in theology and later his doctorate of divinity. He was a serious student of God’s Word, believing that it contained all truth and was to be the final authority in the Christian’s life. As a result, this belief led him to positions that were contrary to the Catholic Church. He did not hold the Church as the final authority because that was the place of Scripture. He did not hold that the Pope was the head
of the Church, because that was the place of Christ. And, he believed in a type of separation of spheres of jurisdiction between Church and State. The Church should be over the state in matters spiritual and the state was over the Church in matters temporal.
These and other positions held by Wycliffe put him at odds with the Catholic Church and he was eventually forced out of his influential position at Oxford and into a small country Parrish. But, what men had meant for the purpose of silencing Wycliffe’s voice, God determined for the advancement of His Word. For, it was under these conditions that Wycliffe could give his full attention to the ultimate conclusion that flowed from his conviction that the Word of God is the final authority in the Christian’s life. What was that conclusion? It was this, put the Word of God into the hands of people.
At that time, God’s Word was read, spoken and explained in Latin, a language few commoners understood. The little they knew of the worship of God was the ceremonial formalities of worship and the little scripture spoken of in English. Few could read English, let alone Latin. Wycliffe was determined to change this. So, he set about translating the Holy Scriptures into English from the Latin Vulgate Scriptures of St. Jerome. He began with the Gospel of John.
However, putting the Bible into English was not enough, for, as I mentioned, few could even read their own language. Thus, Wycliffe had to have a greater plan involving a number of helpers. These helpers came in the form of individuals that were called Lollards. The Lollards would carry out into the communities portions of Scripture that Wycliffe had translated into English. Wherever they could get people to gather, they would share the Scriptures with them in their own language. Even more importantly, however, they would find eager and bright individuals and teach them to read. In this way, their efforts were multiplied as those individuals could continue sharing God’s Word with their friends and neighbors even after Wycliffe’s Lollards moved on to other communities.
Thus, the Wycliffe Bible of 1382 became the first of the English translations. Being the first such translation, then, the Wycliffe Bible is in a very real sense the origin of the King James Bible.