Study of the King James Bible Part 2

Elizabeth herself was not an ardent Protestant, not ardent at all religiously, but an ardent Englishwoman. She understood her people, and while she prided herself on being the "Guardian of the Middle Way," she did not make the mistake of submitting her sovereignty to foreign supervision. Probably Elizabeth always counted herself personally a Catholic, but not politically subject to the Roman pontiff. She had no wish to offend other Catholic powers; but she was determined to develop a strong national spirit and to allow religious differences to exist if they would be peaceful. The dramatic scene which was enacted at the time of her coronation procession was typical of her spirit. As the procession passed down Cheapside, a venerable old man, representing Time, with a little child beside him representing Truth--Time always old, Truth always young-- presented the Queen with a copy of the Scriptures, which she accepted, promising to read them diligently.

Presently it was found that two versions of the Bible were taking the field, the old Great Bible and the new Genevan Bible. On all accounts the Genevan was the better and was driving out its rival. Yet there could be no hope of gaining the approval of Elizabeth for the Genevan Bible. For one thing, John Knox had been a party to its preparation; so had Calvin. Elizabeth detested them both, especially Knox. For another thing, its notes were not favorable to royal sovereignty, but smacked so much of popular government as to be offensive. For another thing, though it had been made mostly by her own people, it had been made in a foreign land, and was under suspicion on that account. The result was that Elizabeth's archbishop, Parker, set out to have an authorized version made, selected a revision committee, with instructions to follow wherever possible the Great Bible, to avoid bitter notes, and to make such a version that it might be freely, easily, and naturally read. The result is known as the Bishops' Bible. It was issued in Elizabeth's tenth year (1568), but there is no record that she ever noticed it, though Parker sent her a copy from his sick-bed. The Bishops'

Bible shows the influence of the Genevan Bible in many ways, though it gives no credit for that. It is not of equal merit; it was expensive, too cumbersome, and often unscholarly.

Only its official standing gave it life, and after forty years, in nineteen editions, it was no longer published.

Naming one other English version will complete the series of facts necessary for the consideration of the forming of the King James version. It will be remembered that all the English versions of the Bible thus far mentioned were the work of men either already out of favor with the Roman pontiff, or speedily put out of favor on that account. Thirty years after his death; Wiclif's bones were taken up and burned; Tindale was burned. Coverdale's version and the Great Bible were the product of the period when Henry VIII. was under the ban. The Genevan Bible was the work of refugees, and the Bishops' Bible was prepared when Elizabeth had been excommunicated. That fact seemed to many loyal Roman churchmen to put the Church in a false light. It must be made clear that its opposition was not to the Bible, not even to popular use and possession of the Bible, but only to unauthorized, even incorrect, versions. So there came about the Douai version, instigated by Gregory Martin, and prepared in some sense as an answer to the Genevan version and its strongly anti-papal notes. It was the work of English scholars connected with the University of Douai. The New Testament was issued at Rheims in 1582, and the whole Bible in 1609, just before our King James version. It is made, not from the Hebrew and the Greek, though it refers to both, but from the Vulgate. The result is that the Old Testament of the Douai version is a translation into English from the Latin, which in large part is a translation into Latin from the Greek Septuagint, which in turn is a translation into Greek from the Hebrew. Yet scholars are scholars, and it shows marked influence of the Genevan version, and, indeed, of other English versions. Its notes were strongly anti-Protestant, and in its preface it explains its existence by saying that Protestants have been guilty of "casting the holy to dogs and pearls to hogs."

The version is not in the direct line of the ascent of the familiar version, and needs no elaborate description. Its purpose was controversial; it did not go to available sources; its English was not colloquial, but ecclesiastical.

For example, in the Lord's Prayer we read: "Give us this day our supersubstantial bread,"

instead of "our daily bread." In Hebrews xiii: 17, the version reads, "Obey your prelates and be subject unto them." In Luke iii:3, John came "preaching the baptism of penance." In Psalm xxiii:5, where we read, "My cup runneth over," the Douai version reads, "My chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly it is."

There is a careful retention of ecclesiastical terms, and an explanation of the passages on which Protestants had come to differ rather sharply from their Roman brethren, as in the matter of the taking of the cup by the people, and elsewhere.

Yet it is only fair to remember that this much answer was made to the versions which were preparing the way for the greatest version of them all, and when the time came for the making of that version, and the helps were gathered together, the Douai was frankly placed among them. It is a peculiar irony of fate that while the purpose of Gregory Martin was to check the translation of the Bible by the Protestants, the only effect of his work was to advance and improve that translation.

At last, as we shall see in our next study, the way was cleared for a free and open setting of the Bible into English. The way had been beset with struggle, marked with blood, lighted by martyr fires. Wiclif and Purvey, Tindale and Coverdale, the refugees at Geneva and the Bishops at London, all had trod that way.

Kings had fought them or had favored them; it was all one; they had gone on. Loyal zest for their Book and loving zeal for the common people had held them to the path. Now it had become a highway open to all men. And right worthy were the feet which were soon treading it.



EARLY in January, 1604, men were making their way along the poor English highways, by coach and carrier, to the Hampton Court Palace of the new English king. They were coming from the cathedral towns, from the universities, from the larger cities. Many were Church dignitaries, many were scholars, some were Puritans, all were loyal Englishmen, and they were gathering in response to a call for a conference with the king, James I. They were divided in sentiment, these men, and those who hoped most from the conference were doomed to complete disappointment. Not one among them, not the King, had the slightest purpose that the conference should do what proved to be its only real service. Some of the men, grave and earnest, were coming to present their petitions to the King, others were coming to oppose their petitions; the King meant to deny them and to harry the petitioners. And everything came out as it had been planned. Yet the largest service of the conference, the only real service, was in no one's mind, for it was at Hampton Court, on the last day of the conference between James and the churchmen, January 18, 1604, that the first formal step was taken toward the making of the so-called Authorized Version of the English Bible. If there are such things as accidents, this great enterprise began in an accident. But the outcome of the accident, the volume that resulted, is "allowed by all competent authorities to be the first, [that is, the chief] English classic," if our Professor Cook, of Yale, may speak; "is universally accepted as a literary masterpiece, as the noblest and most beautiful Book in the world, which has exercised an incalculable influence upon religion, upon manners, upon literature, and upon character," if the Balliol College scholar Hoare can be trusted; and has "made the English language," if Professor March is right. The purpose of this study is to show how that accident occurred, and what immediately came from it.

With the death of Elizabeth the Tudor line of sovereigns died out. The collateral Stuart line, descending directly from Henry VII., naturally succeeded to the throne, and James VI. of Scotland made his royal progress to the English capital and became James I. of England.

In him appears the first of that Stuart line during whose reign great changes were to occur. Every one in the line held strongly to the dogma of the divine right of kings, yet under that line the English people transferred sovereignty from the king to Parliament.[1] Fortunately for history, and for the progress of popular government, the Stuart line had no forceful figures in it. Macaulay thinks it would have been fatal to English liberty if they had been able kings. It was easier to take so dangerous a weapon as the divine right of kings from weak hands than from strong ones. So it was that though James came out of Scotland to assert his divine and arbitrary right as sovereign, by the time Queen Anne died, closing the Stuart line and giving way to the Hanoverian, the real sovereignty had passed into the hands of Parliament.

[1] Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts.

But the royal traveler, coming from Edinburgh to London, is interesting on his own account--interesting at this distance. He is thirty-seven years old, and ought to be in the beginning of his prime. He is a little over middle height; loves a good horse, though he is an ungainly rider, and has fallen off his horse three or four times during his royal progress; is a heavy drinker of the liquors of the period, with horribly coarse, even gross manners. Macaulay is very severe with him. He says that "his cowardice, his childishness, his pedantry, his ungainly person and manners, his provincial accent, made him an object of derision. Even in his virtues and accomplishments there was something eminently unkingly."[1] It seemed too bad that "royalty should be exhibited to the world stammering, slobbering, shedding unmanly tears, trembling at the drawn sword, and talking in the style alternately of a buffoon and of a pedagogue." That is truly not an attractive picture. But there is something on the other side. John Richard Green puts both sides: "His big head, his slobbering tongue, his quilted clothes, his rickety legs stood out in as grotesque a contrast with all that men recalled of Henry and Elizabeth as his gabble and rhodomontade, his want of personal dignity, his buffoonery, his coarseness of speech, his pedantry, his contemptible cowardice. Under this ridiculous exterior, however, lay a man of much natural ability, a ripe scholar with a considerable fund of shrewdness, of mother wit and ready repartee."[2]

[1] History of England, chap. i.

[2] Short History of the English People, chap. viii, sec. ii.

Some good traits he must have had. He did win some men to him. As some one has said, "You could love him; you could despise him; you could not hate him." He could say some witty and striking things. For example, when he was urging the formal union of Scotland and England, and it was opposed, he said: "But I am the husband, and the whole island is my wife. I hope no one will be so unreasonable as to suppose that I, that am a Christian king under the Gospel, should be a polygamist and husband to two wives."[2] After the conference of which we have been speaking, he wrote to a friend in Scotland: "I have had a revel with the Puritans and have peppered them soundly."

As indeed he had. Then, in some sense at least, "James was a born theologian." He had studied the Bible in some form from childhood; one of the first things we hear of his doing is the writing of a paraphrase on the book of the Revelation.

In his talk he made easy and free use of Scripture quotations. To be sure, his knowledge, on which he prided himself unconscionably, was shallow and pedantic. Henry IV. of France, one of his contemporaries, said that he was "the wisest fool in Christendom."

[2] Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts, p. 107.

Now, it was this man who was making his royal progress from Edinburgh to London in March, 1603, nearly a year before the gathering of men which we were observing at the opening of this study. Many things happened on the journey besides his falling off his horse several times; but one of the most significant was the halting of the progress to receive what was called the Miliary Petition, whose name implies that it was signed by a thousand men--actually somewhat less than that number--mostly ministers of the Church. The Petition made no mention of any Bible version, yet it was the beginning of the events which led to it. Back of it was the Puritan influence. It asked for reforms in the English Church, for the correction of abuses which had grown under Elizabeth's increasing favor of ritual and ceremony.

It asked for a better-trained ministry, for better discipline in the Church, for the omission of so many detailed requirements of rites and ceremonies, and for that perennially desired reform, shorter church services!

Very naturally the new King replied that he would take it up later, and promised to call a conference to consider it. And this he did.

The conference met at Hampton Court in January, 1604, and it was for this that the men were coming from many parts of England. The gathering was held on the 14th, 16th, and 18th of the month. Its sole purpose was to consider that Miliary Petition; but the King called to it not only those who had signed the Petition, but those who had opposed it. He had no notion of granting any favor to it, and from the first he gave the Puritans rough treatment. He told them he would have none of their non- conformity, he would "make them conform or harry them out of the land." Someone suggested that since this was a Church matter there be called a Synod, or some general gathering fitted to discuss and determine such things, rather than leave it to a few Church dignitaries. For the purposes of the petitioners it was a most unfortunate expression. James had just come from Scotland, where the Presbyterians were with their Synod, and where Calvinism was in full swing. He was much in favor of some elements of Calvinism; but he could not see how all the elements held together. Predestination, for example, which offends so many people to-day, was a precious doctrine to King James, and he insisted that his subjects ought to see how clearly God had predestined him to rule over them!

But he could not tolerate the necessary logical inference of Calvinism that all men must be equal before God, and so men can make and unmake kings as they need to do so, the matter of king or subject being purely an incidental one. He remembered the time when Andrew Melville, one of the Scotch ministers, had plucked him by his royal sleeve and called him "God's silly vassal" right to his face. So, when some one said "Synod" it brought the King up standing. He burst out: "If that is what you mean, if you want what the Scotch mean by their Synod and their Presbytery, then I tell you at once that I will have none of it.

Presbytery agrees with monarchy very much as God agrees with the devil. If you have no bishop, you will soon have no king." He was perfectly right, with reference to the kind of king he meant. These things were to be settled, he meant, by authority, and not by conference.

That is the point to which Gardiner refers when he says that "in two minutes James sealed his own fate and that of England forever."[1]

[1] History of England, 1603-42.

After that there was only a losing fight for the petitioners. They had touched a sore spot in James's history. But it was when they touched that sore spot again that they started the movement for a new version of the Bible.

It was on the second day of the conference, January 16th, that Dr. Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who represented the moderate Puritan position, and, like many moderate men, was rather suspected by both extreme wings, instanced as one of the hardships of the Puritans that they were compelled to use the prayer-book of the time, and that it contained many mistranslations of Scripture, some of which he quoted. Now, it so happens that the errors to which he referred occur in the Bishops' and the Great Bible, which were the two authorized versions of the time, but are all corrected in the Genevan version. We do not know what point he was trying to make, whether he was urging that the Genevan version should supplant these others, or whether he was calling for a new translation. Indeed, we are not sure that he even mentioned the Genevan version. But James spoke up to say that he had never yet seen a Bible well translated into English; but the worst of all he thought the Genevan to be. He spoke as though he had just had a copy given him by an English lady, and had already noted what he called its errors. That was at the very least a royal evasion, for if there was any Book he did know it was the Genevan version. He had been fairly raised on it; he had lived in the country where it was commonly used. It had been preached at him many and many a time. Indeed, he had used it as the text for that paraphrase of the Revelation of which we spoke a moment ago.

And he knew its notes--well he knew them-- knew that they were from republican Geneva, and that kingly pretensions had short shrift with them. James told the conference that these notes were "very partial, untrue, seditious, savoring too much of traitorous and dangerous conceits," supporting his opinion by two instances which seemed disrespectful to royalty.

One of these instances was the note on Exodus 1:17, where the Egyptian midwives are said to have disobeyed the king in the matter of destroying the children. The note says: "Their disobedience to the king was lawful, though their dissembling was not." James quoted that, and said: "It is false; to disobey the king is not lawful, and traitorous conceits should not go forth among the people."

Some of the High Church party objected that there were translations enough already; but it struck James's fancy to set them all aside by another version, which he at once said he would order. It was to be made by the most learned of both universities, then to be revised by the bishops and other Church dignitaries, then presented to the Privy Council, and finally to be passed upon by himself. There is the echo of some sharp Scotch experiences in his declaration that there were to be no marginal notes in that new version.

When they looked back on the conference, the Puritans felt that they had lost everything, and the High Church people that they had gained everything. One of the bishops, in a very servile way, and on his knee, gave thanks to God for having given the country such a king, whose like had never been seen since Christ was on earth. Certainly hard times were ahead for the Puritans. The King harried them according to his word. Within sixteen years some of them landed at Plymouth Rock, and things began to happen on this side. That settlement at Plymouth was the outcome of the threat the King had made at the Hampton Court conference.

But looking back one can see that the conference was worth while for the beginning of the movement for the new version. The King was true to his word in this line also, and before the year was out had appointed the fifty-four best Bible scholars of the realm to make the new version. They were to sit in six companies of nine each, two at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. The names of only forty-seven of them have come down to us, and it is not known whether the other seven were ever appointed, or in what way their names have been lost. It must be said for the King that the only principle of selection was scholarship, and when those six groups of men met they were men of the very first rank, with no peers outside their own numbers--with one exception, and that exception is of some passing interest. Hugh Broughton was probably the foremost Hebrew scholar of England, perhaps of the world, at the time, and apparently he was not appointed on the committee. Chiefly, it seems to have been because he was a man of ungovernable temper and utterly unfitted to work with others. Failure to appoint him, however, bit and rankled, and the only keen and sharp criticism that was passed on the version in its own day was by Hugh Broughton. He sent word to the King, after it was completed, that as for himself he would rather be rent to pieces by wild horses than have had any part in the urging of such a wretched version of the Bible on the poor people.

That was so manifestly pique, however, that it is only to be regretted that the translation did not have the benefit of his great Hebrew knowledge. John Selden, at his prime in that day, voiced the feeling of most scholars of the times, that the new translation was the best in the world and best gave the sense of the original.

We do not know much of the personnel of the company. Their names would mean very little to us at this distance. All were clergymen except one. There were bishops, college principals, university fellows, and rectors. Dr.

Reynolds, who suggested it in the first place, was a member, though he did not live to see the work finished. This Dr. Reynolds, by the way, was party to a most curious episode. He had been an ardent Roman Catholic, and he had a brother who was an equally ardent Protestant.

They argued with each other so earnestly that each convinced the other; the Roman Catholic became a Protestant, and the Protestant became a Roman Catholic! Dr. Lancelot Andrewes, chairman of one of the two companies that met at Westminster, was probably the most learned man in England. They said of him that if he had been present at the tower of Babel he could have interpreted for all the tongues present.

The only trouble was that the world lacked learning enough to know how learned he was.

His company had the first part of the Old Testament, and the simple dignity of the style they used shows how scholarship and simplicity go easily together. Most people would consider that the least satisfactory part of the work is the second section, running from I Chronicles to Ecclesiastes. A convert from another faith, who learned to read the Bible in English, once expressed to a friend of my own his feeling that except for the Psalms and parts of Job, there seemed to be here a distinct letting-down of the dignity of the translation. There is good excuse for this, if it is so, for two leading members of the company who had that section in charge, both eminent Cambridge scholars, died very early in the work, and their places were not filled. The third company, sitting at Oxford, were peculiarly strong, and had for their portion the hardest part of the Old Testament--all the prophetical writings. But they did their part with finest skill. The fourth company, sitting at Cambridge, had the Apocrypha, the books which lie between the Old and the New Testaments for the most part, or else are supplemental to certain Old Testament books. Their work was rather hastily and certainly poorly done, and has been dropped out of most editions. The fifth company, sitting at Oxford, with great Greek scholars on it, took the Gospels, the Acts, and the Revelation. This company had in it the one layman, Sir Henry Savile, then the greatest Greek scholar in England. It is the same Sir Henry Savile who heard, on his death-bed in 1621, that James had with his own hands torn from the Journal of Parliament the pages which bore the protest in favor of free speech in Parliament. Hearing it, the faithful scholar prayed to die, saying: "I am ready to depart, the rather that having lived in good times I foresee worse." The sixth company met at Westminster and translated the New Testament epistles.

It was the original plan that when one company had finished its part, the result should go to each of the other companies, coming back with their suggestions to the original workers to be recast by them. The whole was then to be reviewed by a smaller committee of scholars to give it uniformity and to see it through the press. The records are not extant that tell whether this was done in full detail, though we may presume that each section of the Scripture had the benefit of the scholarship of the entire company.

We know a good deal of the method of their work. We shall understand it better by recalling what material they had at hand. They were enabled to use the result of all the work that had been done before them. They were instructed to follow the Bishops' Bible wherever they could do so fairly; but they were given power to use the versions already named from Wiclif down, as well as those fragmentary versions which were numerous, and of which no mention has been made. They ransacked all English forms for felicitous words and happy phrases. It is one of the interesting incidents that this same Hugh Broughton, who was left off the committee and took it so hard, yet without his will contributed some important matter to the translation, because he had on his own authority made translations of certain parts of the Scripture. Several of our capital phrases in the King James version are from him. There was no effort to break out new paths. Preference was always given to a familiar phrase rather than to a new one, unless accuracy required it. First, then, they had the benefit of all the work that had been done before in the same line, and gladly used it.

In addition, they had all other versions made in the tongues of the time. Chiefly there was Luther's German Bible, already become for the German tongue what their version was destined to be for the English tongue. There were parts of the Bible available in Spanish, French, and Dutch. They were kept at hand constantly for any light they might cast on difficult passages.

For the Old Testament there were very few Hebrew texts. There had been little critical work yet done on them, and for the most part there were only different editions running back over the centuries. We have little more than that now, and there is almost no new material on the Old Testament since the days of the King James translators. There was, of course, the Septuagint, the Greek translation from the Hebrew made before Christ, with the guidance it could give in doubtful places on the probable original. And finally there was the Vulgate, made into Latin out of the Greek and Hebrew.

This was all the Old Testament material they had, or that any one could have in view of the antiquated original sources.

The New Testament material was more abundant, though not nearly so abundant as to-day. There were few manuscripts of the early days to which they could refer; but there were the two great critical versions of the New Testament in Greek, that by Erasmus and the Complutensian, which had made use of the best manuscripts known. Then, finally again, there was the Vulgate.

We must stop a moment to see what was the value of the Vulgate in this work. It is impossible to reckon the number of the early New Testament manuscripts that have been lost.

In the earlier day the Scriptures were transmitted from church to church, and from age to age, by manuscripts. Many of them were made as direct copies of other manuscripts; but many were made by scribes to whom the manuscripts were read as they wrote, so that there are many, though ordinarily comparatively slight, variations among the manuscripts which we now know. More manuscripts are coming to light constantly, manuscripts once well known and then lost. Many of them, perhaps many earlier than we now have, must have been familiar to Jerome four hundred years after Christ. When, therefore, there is a plain difference between the Vulgate and our early Greek manuscripts, the Vulgate may be wrong because it is only a translation; but it may be right because it is a translation of earlier manuscripts than some of ours.

It is steadily losing its value at that point, for Greek manuscripts are all the time coming to light which run farther back. But we must not minimize the value of the Vulgate for our King James translation.

With all this material the scholars of the early seventeenth century set to work. Each man in the group made the translation that seemed best to him, and together they analyzed the results and finally agreed on the best. They hunted the other versions to see if it had been better done elsewhere. The shade of Tindale was over it all. The Genevan version was most influential. The Douai had its share, and the Bishops' was the general standard, altered only when accuracy required it. On all hard passages they called to their aid the appropriate departments of both universities. All scholars everywhere were asked to send in any contributions, to correct or criticize as they would. Public announcement of the work was made, and all possible help was besought and gladly accepted.

Very faithfully these greatest scholars of their time wrought. No one worked for money, and no one worked for pay, but each for the joy of the working. Three years they spent on the original work, three years on careful revision and on the marginal references by which Scripture was made to throw light on Scripture.

Then in six months a committee reviewed it all, put it through the press, and at last, in 1611, with the imprint of Robert Barker, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, the King James version appeared. The name Authorized Version is not a happy one, for so far as the records go it was never authorized either by the King or the bishop; and, even if it were, the authority does not extend beyond the English Church, which is a very small fraction of those who use it. On the title-page of the original version, as on so many since, is the familiar line, "Appointed to be Read in Churches," but who made the appointment history does not say.

Chapter end

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