Vol.IV No.V Pg.4
June 1967

Story Of The Text 5

Robert F. Turner

"How We Got Our Bible" is, in the minds of many people, "How We Got The King James Version." Of course this is far from true, but I would not lessen the extremely important place the KJ has played in presenting the text.

In 1604 King James I of England attended a conference to hear arguments of the Puritans for changes in church services. He was told the Puritans could not conscientiously use the Prayer Book because it cited "corrupt translations" of God's word. These citations were from the Great Bible, 1539; and the Bishop's Bible, 1568. The Puritans favored the Geneva Bible, 1560; but the King disliked this version because of the marginal notes which he declared "very partial, untrue, seditious..." Hence, King James determined to sponsor a new translation "to be read in Churches."

He appointed 54 scholars (although a list of only 47 is preserved; the others may have died or resigned) and strictly charged them with their task. Fifteen rules (greatly digested, rft) included: --- (1) Follow Bishop's Bible, as original text permits; (2) Retain established ecclesiastical words; (3) No marginal notes except to explain Heb. or Gk. words; (4) Use the Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, Great or Geneva (other English Bibles, rft) wording when they agree better with the Heb. and Gk. text than does the Bishop's Bible.

We do not know for certain just what Heb. and Gk. texts were used in this work, but the Greek was likely the 1633 Elzevir edition of Stephen's 1550 "royal edition" with corrections by Beza (1598) and later known as the "Textus Receptus." There were four Hebrew Bibles available with Massoretic text, and various Polyglots. (This is a "many-tongued" arrangement of texts, usually with several versions side-by-side.) Although valuable manuscripts have since been found, these scholars had ample material to produce a Bible substantially correct.

These scholars were divided into 6 groups. Each man made his own translation of the portion assigned him, and then passed it on to be reviewed by each member of his group. When one group finished a book, a copy was sent to each of the other 5 groups for independent criticism. Thus each book went through the hands of all the men. The entire version, thus amended, was then placed before a committee of six to iron out any differences of opinion and put on finishing touches. The KJ Bible thus changed the whole pattern of Bible translation, moving far beyond the "one man" or "one church" editions to become the product of the finest Hebrew and Greek scholars the English-speaking peoples then knew.

Miles Smith, one of the translators, wrote a "Preface" to the KJ versions, explaining the WHY and HOW of this masterpiece. Called "The Translators To The Reader," this should be required reading for every serious Bible scholar. For a time it was put at its proper place -- at the beginning of the KJ version -- but has now been removed, for various reasons, and few Bible readers seem to know of its existence. Revised Versions will continue to be needed, but only fools ridicule the majestic KJ Bible.