Call for A New Translation
When King James ascended the throne of England in 1603 he was presented with a petition from the Puritans raising questions about the English translations of the Bible currently in use. The Puritans wanted to "purify" the Church of England; further ridding it of "popish ceremonies" and grounding its doctrine in Scripture rather than the clergy. A conference was called at Hampton Court in 1604 to hear the matter. King James became interested in producing a new translation, though not for the reasons the Puritans cited. James saw a need for a translation that would unify the Church of England, and justify its ecclesiology. The translation work was to be done by university scholars, reviewed by bishops, and ratified by the king himself.


 

The Translation Process
King James appointed six panels of translators (about fifty men) to revise and translate the Old Testament, Apocrypha (which was at the time included in most Bibles), and the New Testament. The completed work was reviewed by a group of twelve, consisting of two men from each panel, after which the work was sent to bishops and leading churchmen for approval. Among the translators were some of the finest scholars of the day.

The Bishops’ Bible was used as the primary English basis for this revision/translation. It was also examined in the light of Hebrew and Greek documents, as well as compared with all other contemporary translations in various European languages. The work began in 1607, and in 1611 the new Bible was published. The resulting Authorized Version was dedicated to King James. It would not commonly be referred to as the King James Version until the early 19th century.


 

Further Development
The Authorized Version was printed three times during the year of initial publication. The early editions contained a significant number of misprints and variations in wording and spelling. During the course of time the spelling in the earlier editions was modified, the chapter summaries were reduced, and the marginal references expanded. Revisions were made in 1613, 1629, and 1638, but it was the revisions made at Cambridge in 1762 and at Oxford in 1769 that modernized its spelling so that it may be read with relative ease in our day. By the mid-19th century the King James Version was virtually unchallenged as the sole translation used in Protestant churches.


 

Legacy
The King James Bible casts a long shadow over the development of the English language. But far greater than the literary significance has been the religious significance of this translation. The King James Bible has been the standard translation for millions for several hundred years. Yet just as the King James translators improved on a good thing, making God’s word accessible to all, further translation and revision work continues. Beginning in the late 19th century other English translations have arisen, taking advantage of newly discovered original-language Bible texts, and further developments in understanding the language, history, and culture of Bible times.


Read The Translators to the Reader, a preface to the King James Bible.

Read the dedication to King James I.


 

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