2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the greatest English work ever published–the Authorized Version of the Bible, otherwise known as the King James Version (KJV). The KJV has changed countless lives in the English-speaking world (including my own), bringing about conversions from sinful lives without Christ to a confession and belief that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It has shined pure light where there was nothing but darkness in the hearts of men. The rhythmic flow of the words and their poetic power have even been the envy of non-Christians who study literature and are awestruck by how well-written it is. But why should that be a surprise since they are the very words of the God who created our universe and all things in it?
There were several versions of the Bible in English that existed before the KJV, such as the Wycliffe Bible, Tyndale Bible, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible, and others. However, the English language was still in flux before King James, partly because of all of the wars in Europe which caused instability as to finalizing the boundaries of nations and kingdoms. Much of the warring was along religious lines as the Roman Catholic empire was looking to expand its territory and instigated wars for that purpose.
Church men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale in the 14th-17th centuries wanted Bibles to be available to every common English-speaking person. They were martyred for their endeavors because the religious establishment and government leaders who cowered under them felt threatened by the idea of a biblically literate population.
Then during the Reformation period, the Greek scholar/Cambridge professor/Roman Catholic priest, Desiderius Erasmus, travelled to libraries throughout Europe to compile the best Greek manuscripts of the Bible that he could find. After a thorough examination, comparison, and collation of the best Greek manuscripts of the Bible, he compiled his own edition of the Greek New Testament in 1516 which became the Textus Receptus. His wishes were that “…the weakest woman read the Gospels and Epistles of St. Paul… I would have those words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irishmen, but Turks and Saracens might read them. I long for the plowboy to sing them to himself as he follows the plow, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveler to beguile with them the dullness of his journey” (Durant, W., The Reformation, p. 285).
Erasmus’ works and hopes were contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church wanted and he openly expressed his disdain for the whole papist system. As a result, in 1559 Pope Paul IV added Erasmus’ writings to the Roman Catholic list of prohibited books.
In 1567, King James was crowned King James VI of Scotland and in 1603 he was crowned King James I of England. He was then the first monarch to unite Scotland, Ireland, and England into one kingdom that became known as the United Kingdom. The English language during this time was stabilized and King James, with some Christian leaders of the day, saw the need for the people throughout his kingdom to have a copy of an improved version of the scriptures in English. So in 1604, out of the Hampton Court Conference came the King’s commission of 54 Christian scholars from Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford to work on a new Bible version for the common man.
These translators consulted Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, the Masoretic text of Hebrew scriptures, and previous English Bible versions that were known to be reliable like Wycliffe’s Bible. Needless to say, the Jesuits and other Roman Catholics in Great Britain were livid over such an endeavor and devised the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, of which Guy Fawkes was a major player. Although Fawkes was glorified in the comic book V for Vendetta, he was no hero. He and others conspired in the Gunpowder Plot to light barrels of gunpowder in the basement of the Parliament building to blow up King James, the Parliament members, some of the KJV translators, and other Protestant leaders while Parliament was in session to take the government out of the hands of what they considered to be the Protestant plague of Great Britain. Their plot was discovered before they had the chance to execute it and they were tried, then put to death for their conspiracy.
The translators finished the masterpiece on May 2, 1611. They stated their purpose for the KJV in their Translators to the Reader statement– “Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavour, that our mark” (Translators to the Reader). English became a universal language as the explorers and colonists spanned the globe and eventually the KJV spread wherever they went, causing the gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached worldwide just as was prophesied and commanded by the Lord.
So those who recognize God’s hand in the affairs of men can see clearly how God established a kingdom, preserved a godly king, and lifted up godly men to continue his work in the Earth through the KJV. And not one jot or tittle has passed away from God’s word, proving that just as Peter said by the Holy Ghost in 1 Peter 1, the word of the Lord endureth forever. Even though counterfeits of God’s word have risen up in an attempt to overthrow God’s word in English, they have failed in their attempts. Our conversations in English continue to be enriched with phrases coming from the KJV like “iron sharpening iron,” “fly in the ointment,” “stumbling block,” “putting words in my mouth,” “signs of the times,” and “eat, drink, and be merry”, just to name a few.
Tonkin, Boyd, “Battles of a book: The King James Bible’s history of dissent and inspiration,” The Independent, December 31, 2010.
–posted by Harry A. Gaylord–