At the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, held between the English bishops and Puritan leaders and presided over by King James the First, Dr John Rainolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and the leading Puritan divine, suggested that a new English translation of the Bible be prepared. Richard Bancroft, the Bishop of London, concurred, and King James ordered the translation be prepared. A body of translators was formed, including professors of Hebrew and Greek in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and other leading scholars of the day, some fifty in all. Both churchmen and Puritans were represented. The translators were organized into six companies, two which sat at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. Their instructions were to take the earlier Bishops’ Bible as their basis, to consult all earlier versions, including the (Roman Catholic) Douay-Rheims New Testament and the (Reformed) Geneva Bible, to retain the old ecclesiastical terms (such as “church” for “congregation” and “baptism” for “washing”), and to exclude all marginal notes, unless required to explain some Hebrew or Greek word.
Each company worked separately at first, with a special portion of the Bible assigned to them. Their work was then sent to all the other companies for criticism, and final settlement of the text was made at a general meeting of the chief members of all the companies, with scholars with particular expertise being called in to consult on cases of particular difficulty. William Tyndale’s translation influenced the text through various version down to the Bishops’ Bible, fixing the overall tone of the translation, which is also indebted to the translations attributed to Wycliffe and his followers.
The work was begun in 1607 and took almost three years to complete. The completed text was first published on May 2, 1611. On the titlepage are the words, “Appointed to be read in Churches”, but the version was never otherwise formally “authorized”. The text underwent deliberate and accidental revision (principally in spelling – some changes creating changes in the meaning of the text – and punctuation) until the Oxford edition of 1769, which became accepted as the standard text. This is still, with very little change, the received text that we read as the King James Version.
The text was not known as the Authorized Version until the early 19th century. The designation King James Bible dates from the late 18th century, and Kings James’ Version (or King James Version) from the early 19th century. The 1611 translation was until that time known simply as the English Bible, or the new translation, or the 1611 translation.
The Preface, probably written by Dr Miles Smith, a resident canon of Hereford Cathedral and subsequently Bishop of Gloucester, explains the translators’ purpose:
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 (for then the imputation of Sixtus [Pope Sixtus the Fifth] had been true in some sort, that our people had been fed with gall of dragons instead of wine, with whey instead of milk): 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.
The Preface further tells us that the revisers, who had the Hebrew and Greek texts before them, steered a middle course between “the scrupulosity of the Puritans” and the “obscurity of the Papists”, avoiding as well “newfangleness” of expression and wording.
It remaineth that we commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of his grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening out wits that we may understand his word, enlarging our hearts, yea, correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, yea, that we may love it to the end.
prepared from various sources, including
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and
The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (King James Version)
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
O eternal Word of God limitless and free, yet handed down to us through careful human speech, telling salvation’s story in the homely and glorious words of our own mother tongue: translate what we hear and read into lives that speak your truth afresh in this generation, that many may come to love you our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The second collect is taken from the King James Bible Trust’s website, and was written by Janet Morley.