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The “Bishops’ Bible,” was an English translation of the Bible produced under the authority of the established Church of England in 1568, whose bishops were offended by the Geneva Bible, the notes of which were decidedly Calvinistic in tone.  Since the “Great Bible,” the only authorized version in use in the Anglican Church, was considered deficient because it was translated from the (Roman Catholic bible) “Latin Vulgate,” a new translation was authorized by the Anglican bishops and came to be known as the “Bishops’ Bible.”  It was substantially revised in 1572, and this revised edition was to be prescribed as the base text for the “Authorized King James Version” of 1611, which became the standard for the “Church of England.”


Under the direction of Queen Elizabeth I, who had no love for the Puritans and their Calvinistic doctrine, the archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, himself a scholar, took on the task of coming up with an alternative to the “Geneva Bible.”  Portions of the text were assigned to various revisers, the majority of whom were bishops.  In spite of their prejudice against the “Geneva Bible” because of its blatant advocacy of lay elders and church leaders -- as opposed to the clergy-led paradigm embraced by the Anglican hierarchy --the “Geneva Bible” was the basis for the “Bishops’ Bible,” although the offending anti-episcopal notes were removed.  No doubt this is partly why the “Bishops’ Bible” never achieved the support among the common people enjoyed by the “Geneva Bible.”






The original Old Testament writings were in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.  Jerome (5th Century) translated the Bible into Latin, called the “Vulgate,” or better, “Latin Vulgate.”  It then become the official Roman Catholic bible.  The “Council of Trent,” in 1546, met to consider doctrines.  From that was published a list of Books, which were to be considered “Canonical,” that is, to be included in the Bible.


This list included the 39 books of the Old Testament, plus 7 Apocryphal books, plus the New Testament 27 Books.  The Jews, however, do not accept the 7 Apocrypha as Canonical; nor the New Testament of course.  For the Jewish Bible is limited to the Old Testament.


The Greek translation of these books is known as the “Septuagint,” which is the Old Testament translated into Greek instead of Hebrew.  It is the oldest known translation of any large literary work and the most widely used translation of any ancient writing.  It is thought to have originated toward the end of the 3rd century B.C., or the beginning of the 2nd century B.C.  The earliest reference to this work dates to around B.C. 132.  The “Masoretic” translations came later in the first five centuries A.D.


Wycliffe translated the Bible into the English language in about 1400 A.D.  “Wycliffe's Bible” had been translated from the Latin text, which contained many errors.  It had never been printed, and the cost of manuscript copies was so great that few but wealthy men or nobles could procure it.  Furthermore, being strictly proscribed by the church, it had had a comparatively narrow circulation.


William Tyndale’s translation mostly followed the “Textus Receptus” Manuscript (also known as the “Majority Text”), and therefore, it was heavily relied upon by the “KJV” translators.  In 1516, a year before the appearance of Martin Luther’s theses, Erasmus published his Greek and Latin version of the New Testament.  Now for the first time the Word of God was printed in the original tongue.  In this work many errors of former versions were corrected, and the sense was more clearly rendered.  It led many among the educated classes to a better knowledge of the truth, and gave a new impetus to the work of reform.  But the common people were still, to a great extent, kept from God’s Word.  Tyndale was to complete the work of Wycliffe in giving the Bible to his countrymen.






Authorized by the King of England, King James, he wanted to have as accurate a translation as possible, and which could be printed and widely circulated to everyone.  At least sixty men were directly involved in the translation of the “King James Bible.”  Most were Translators, while a few were project overseers, revisers and editors.  Some served in several roles.


However, King James was very careful in his selection of these men.  They were so diverse, in that they were of many different denominations, and argued about which manuscript was the best.  King James knew this, and knew that they did not agree upon most subjects.  And that was his plan.  That they would have to get together, decide to translate, and translate only, not based upon their perspective doctrinal thoughts, but based upon the best evidence of each Manuscript used (over 2,500; which each Manuscript was very close to each other; with only a few scribal notes and penmanship errors).  Thus, the reader would only receive what was originally written (intended), and not what someone decided to determine what was written (doctrinal conceptual ideas).  To get all 60 translators to agree upon the correct translation of each sentence is quite a marvel that the “KJV” was even finished at all.


All of the translators were members of the “Church of England.”  Even so, their religious views ran the gamut.  Some were ardent “Puritans,” others staunch defenders of the religious establishment.  Some believed in pre-destination and limited salvation as taught by John Calvin, while others believed in self-determination and universal access to Heaven as taught by Jacobus Arminius.


All of the translators were university graduates.  Oxford and Cambridge claimed nearly equal numbers of Translators as alumni.  All of the translators, except one, were ordained “Church of England” priests.  While several of the translators had traveled to the Continent, only one had ventured to the New World (USA).  A majority of the translators were married men (38 of 60) with families.  Most of the translators spent a significant portion of their career associated with their colleges and universities as fellows, involved in teaching and administration.  As fellows, they were not allowed to marry.  As a result, many delayed marriages until they had established themselves in church office away from the university.


When the translation commenced in 1604-1605, the majority of the translators were older than 30.  22 were in their forties, 16 men were in their thirties, 15 in their fifties, and 3 were in their sixties, while 3 were in their twenties.  Nine of the translators died before the “KJV” was published in 1611.


They all had a familiarity with the ancient languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and often many more.  They came on the historical scene at a time when the knowledge of early Biblical texts and language was exploding.  Such a flowering of interest and expertise was unique.  Bible historian, Gordon Campbell, has observed:  “The population from which scholars can now be drawn is much larger than in the seventeenth century, but it would be difficult now to bring together a group of more than fifty scholars with the range of languages and knowledge of other disciplines that characterized the KJV Translators.”  “Bible -- The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 Oxford, Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press 2010.”


For such a diverse group, they worked together in harmony during a generally contentious time.  Thousands of doctrines, concepts and ideas were flying around during that period in time.  The task was to ignore all, put their own preconceived ideas behind them, and only translate, not dictate.  For the most part, this was accomplished.


Though almost all were well known within the religious and academic community of the time, their involvement in the translation went largely unnoticed by the public.  Their individual and group effort was not the subject of historical inquiry until many years after the fact.  As a result, little information about the process of translation survived.  The lives of the translators and sometimes their very identity became obscured with time.  In certain instances, the place of their birth and burial is unknown, and their family circumstance in doubt.  But few could name even one translator, let alone sixty.  Such was the extent they went to, to “Only Translate.”


In a final note, the “King James Version” that we have and read today is not the 1611 edition, nor the second 1611 edition; which corrected the errors of the first printing.  But the version of the “KJV” today is the 1827 version, which was brought up to American English of its time.  See my Bible Study:  “BIBLE, VERSIONS EASIER TO READ.”


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