District 186 || District School Sites || Teacher Resources

Elizabethan England

The King James Bible

by Dexter Barbee

James I (1566-1625) was the first Stuart king of England. He became James VI of Scotland in 1567 when his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, gave up the throne. When James's cousin Elizabeth I died in 1603, he became King James I of England and ruled both England and Scotland until his death. James's son, Charles l, succeeded him.

James believed in the divine right of kings and queens, the belief that kings and queens get the right to rule from God, rather than from the people. He set up a strong royal government in Scotland, but the English Parliament opposed his attempt to rule as absolute monarch in England. This dispute over who should have power continued under Charles I and led to the English Civil War in 1642.

James supported the Anglican Church and sponsored a translation of the Bible that is now known as the King James or Authorized Version. In 1604, King James authorized a committee of about 50 scholars to prepare a revision of earlier English translations of the Bible. Only 47 were known to have taken part in the actual translation. These men were the best Biblical scholars and linguists of their day.

The translators were organized into six groups and met at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on I Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelations.

The King James Version of the Bible appeared in 1611. No important English translations of the Bible appeared for more than 200 years after the publication of the King James Version. It was the most widely used translation in the English-speaking world.

In the early 1600's, the Catholic Church forbade anyone but priests to read the Bible. But under James, the new "Authorized Version" had just been published, and for the first time everyone could read the Bible or hear it read.

The King James Version was a landmark in the development of English prose. Its elegant yet natural style had enormous influence on English-speaking writers. There were no newspapers and not many books in English that were of concern to simple people, and in its new and splendid translation into what was then the most up-to-date English, the Bible was soon the most popular book in English.

By the mid-1800's, scholars and religious leaders were calling for fresh translations of the Bible. Scholars had more accurate knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek Biblical texts and so uncovered many errors in the texts used by the King James revisers. Scholars had also gained more knowledge of other ancient Near Eastern languages, which added to their understanding of the Biblical languages. In addition, the English language itself had changed greatly over the years. Many words in the King James Version no longer had the same meaning or were even understood by readers of the Bible.

In 1870, the Church of England decided to revise the King James Version. The revised New Testament appeared in 1881, the Old Testament in 1885, and the Apocrypha in 1895. But the early popularity of the translation, called the Revised Version, did not last. Most individuals and churches still preferred the King James Version.

 

Works Consulted

"Bible (The King James Version)." World Book INFORMATION FINDER. Version 2.5 CD-ROM. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1994.

This article is very informative. It discusses why King James had the Bible revised to the English language. It also elaborates on why the King James Version was later revised in the 19th century.

"English Literature (Prose Writings)." World Book INFORMATION FINDER. Version 2.5 CD-ROM. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1994.

This article provides little information on the history and creation of the King James Bible. It discusses how the King James Version of the Bible changed English prose for the better. It also stated that the Bible's natural style had an enormous influence on English-speaking writers.

"Hampton Court Conference." World Book INFORMATION FINDER. Version 2.5 CD- ROM. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1994.

This article gives limited information on the King James Bible. The article is mostly about the Hampton Court Conference, a meeting called in 1604 by King James I to settle disputes between bishops and religious reformers called Puritans over matters of ceremony and discipline in the Church of England. The conference lasted three days and led to a few minor changes in the Book of Common Prayer. This action resulted in the King James Version of the Bible.

*Parker, Michael St. John. Britain's Kings and Queens. Eastleigh (England): Pitkin Pictorials Ltd., 1974.

Williams-Ellis, Amabel and F.J. Fisher. Story of English Life. New York: Coward- McCann, Inc., 1936.

This book gave little information on James I, although pages184-185 were very helpful. This section briefly talks about the King James Version and how it affected English life in the 1600's.

*Source for visuals.

Historical Figures and Events /Everyday Life/Arts and Architecture/Shakespeare and His Theatrre/About this Site / Links