Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible

I stumbled upon this video tribute to the King James Bible, made by the folks at St. Helen’s Church in London. It looks at the history of the King James Bible and seeks to answer these questions:

Was the King James Version the first translation into English? (1:08)
Was the King James Version King James’ idea? (3:00)
Who was the King James Version against? (5:30)
Was the King James Version a fresh translation? (7:40)
Was the King James Version the most popular Bible of its time? (10:48)?

A Short History of the KJV from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

[HT: Adrian Warnock]

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The New Testament 1526 Edition, Translated by William Tyndale

In the realm of English Bible translation, one name stands supreme. William Tyndale is the man most responsible for the English Bibles we use today. The King James Version owes a great debt to William Tyndale, very often borrowing Tyndale’s expressions, phrasing and insight into how to use short, concise English words to convey the meaning of the original Greek New Testament. Some say upwards of 85 percent of the words in the King James Bible originate from Tyndale’s work. Later English Bibles owe an indirect debt to Tyndale through their continued dependence on the King James Version’s phrasing, often borrowed from Tyndale.

In England perhaps more than any other area in Europe, the Reformation was birthed from the presence of the vernacular Bible. John Wycliffe’s Bible, various translations from the Latin under his name, had a wide impact on England. But a mere ten years after Erasmus offered the first printed Greek New Testament, William Tyndale gave his English New Testament to the English people. While Tyndale himself was strangled and burned in 1536, only 4 years later his prayer for England was answered. Tyndale’s last words are reported to have been: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” In 1538, Thomas Cromwell under the authority of the King called for a publicly available translation and by 1539 the first authorized English Bible, the Great Bible, was made available to Tyndale’s beloved England.

Of Tyndale’s original 1526 New Testament, only three copies survive today. One of those three is in beautiful condition and was purchased by the British Library for more than one million pounds in 1994. Hendrickson Publishers has a beautiful hardback edition with a full color fascimile reproduction of this 1526 Tyndale treasure. The original size of the Tyndale edition was a small octavo size made for the pocket and the Hendrickson reprint is 6.6 x 4.9 x 1.6 inches and matches that smaller feel. The copied pages are very clear, the colorful first letters of chapters and paragraph breaks come through as brilliant as the original with gold lettering and all. Several full color pictures of the various NT authors appear at the beginning of the various books in the New testament, and these miniature portraits are vivid and clear. What’s striking is how high the quality is of this 16th Century printing. The lack of verses is also interesting to a modern eye, as they didn’t exist until 1550.

The book includes a helpful introduction by David Daniell, author of William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press, 2001). Daniell illustrates Tyndale’s masterful command of English and contrasts his work with the Wycliffe Bibles that we still possess today. After the ten page introduction, which helpfully offers a few pointers in making sense of the block, Black Letter print type and out-dated orthography, the fascimile reproduction is given. There are no long treatises explaining Scripture nor any marginal explanations. A small intro of a few lines exists on the only surviving title page of the 1526 edition. And a brief two page “To the Reader” colophon concludes the text.

Tyndale is reported to have once remarked to a “learned man”, “I defy the Pope and all his laws… if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of scripture than thou dost.” God saw fit to bless Tyndale’s desire and bring it to pass. Today we are incredibly blessed in large part due to his sacrifice. This edition of Tyndale’s work brings this wonderful history closer to home and allows one to examine the very first English New Testament translated from the original Greek language. I will close this review with the concluding paragraph from Tyndale’s “To the Reader,” but I am cheating and using someone else’s interpretation of Tyndale’s English. I took the following from this source.

Them that are learned Christianly, I beseech: forasmuch as I am sure, and my conscience beareth me record, that of a pure intent, singly and faithfully I have interpreted it, as far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge and understanding that the rudeness of the work now at the first time offend them not, but that they consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was helped {holp} with English of any that had interpreted the same or such like things in the Scripture beforetime. Moreover, even very necessity and cumbrance (God is record) above strength which I will not rehearse, lest we should seem to boast ourselves, caused that many things are lacking which necessarily are required. Count it as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to come (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out if ought be added superfluously, and add to if ought be overseen thorow negligence, and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used and shew how the Scripture useth many words which are wother wise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavor ourselves, as it were, to seeth [[meaning, boil or cook]] it better, and to make it more apt for the weak stomachs; desiring them that are learned and able, to remember their duty, and to help thereunto, and to bestow unto the edifying of Christ’s body (which is the congregation of them that believe) those gifts which they have received of God for the same purpose. The grace that cometh of Christ be with them that love him.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Hendrickson Publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

You can pick up a copy of this book at Amazon.com or through Hendrickson, direct.

Reformation Era Bibles from Hendrickson Publishers

      

Most students of the King James Bible are familiar with the history of English Bible translation. They have heard of William Tyndale and his sacrifice in bringing us the New Testament in English, the first translation from the Greek ever in our language. Tyndale paid for his love of the Bible with his death and burning at the stake in 1536.

After Tyndale, there was the Coverdale Bible and then Matthew’s Bible, the first Bible actually endorsed by the nation of England. The jewel of the Reformation was of course, the Geneva Bible with its controversial study notes. This Bible reigned supreme for a hundred years or so.

The King James Bible took its place and gradually stole the hearts of all Englishmen. It is undoubtedly the finest translation of the bunch and continues to be used widely to this day.

I remember a little over ten years ago, when I had the privilege of opening an early printing of the King James Version — a 1612 text, I believe. I got to handle a 1535 Tyndale New Testament and see authentic pages from a 1611 King James. I was with a group of college students visiting the Rare Book Reading Room in the library at Colgate University. I still get shivers thinking about that experience. I got to see the “f”-s used as “s”-s, the “y” abbreviation used for “the”, and the strange Gothic block print, which is very hard to read. But that wasn’t what thrilled me. Thinking of the treasure of the Bible and the sacrifice of those who gave it to us, was what made that moment so special.

The next best thing to seeing the original Bibles yourself, is having a reprint edition. I have treasured a 1611 edition reprint from Hendrickson Publishers for several years now. The font is more friendly to the eye, than the original 1611 font, but other than that all the orthography is original. Seeing the marginal notes and reading the KJV translation of the Apocrypha are some of the unique pleasures that reading from the 1611 edition offers. Occasionally, comparing that edition with a more modern KJV will also reveal a place where later KJV’s improved the text (or possibly departed from it) — which appeals to my critical eye.

Hendrickson Publishers now has a commemorative 400th Anniversary edition, of the 1611 Bible. I will be giving away one copy of that Bible here on our site in the next few weeks. Details will be forthcoming. Hendrickson also has special reprint editions of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, Matthew’s 1537 Bible, and the 1560 edition of the Geneva Bible. Throughout the next month I’ll be posting a brief review of each of these historic Bibles, leading up to the special giveaway of the 1611 Anniversary Edition, King James Bible.

Were the Early Fundamentalists King James Only?

Jason S, one of the contributors here, answers this question over at Re-Fundamentals.org. After marshaling several quotations from a variety of early Fundamentalists, Jason concludes with the following:

Whatever else may be said about the Scriptures (and there is much to say), we must state the the issue of translations was not a fundamental issue among the early Fundamentalists. Though they weighed in heavily against the RSV, the early Fundamentalists were not King James Only. That was not a fundamental issue to them. They were more interested in inspiration, authority, inerrancy, as well as the other fundamentals of the faith. We can conclude that the early Fundamentalists believed that God’s Word was to be found in every honest and faithful translation of the Scriptures.

I encourage you to go read the whole post.

The King James Translators & the Septuagint (LXX)

It seems this has been a recurring theme on our blog of late, but discussions here and elsewhere have been focusing in on this point: Did Jesus and the Apostles use the Septuagint in their ministries and in quoting from the Old Testament? I was recently reminded that the translators of the King James Bible, themselves would answer “yes”. See their words below from “The Translators to the Reader“.

While God would be known only in Jacob, and have his Name great in Israel, and in none other place, while the dew lay on Gideon’s fleece only, and all the earth besides was dry; then for one and the same people, which spake all of them the language of Canaan, that is, Hebrew, one and the same original in Hebrew was sufficient. But, when the fulness of time drew near, that the Sun of righteousness, the Son of God should come into the world, whom God ordained to be a reconciliation through faith in his blood, not of the Jew only, but also of the Greek, yea, of all them that were scattered abroad; then lo, it pleased the Lord to stir up the spirit of a Greek Prince (Greek for descent and language) even of Ptolemy Philadelph King of Egypt, to procure the translating of the Book of God out of Hebrew into Greek. This is the translation of the Seventy Interpreters, commonly so called, which prepared the way for our Saviour among the Gentiles by written preaching, as Saint John Baptist did among the Jews by vocal. For the Grecians being desirous of learning, were not wont to suffer books of worth to lie moulding in Kings’ libraries, but had many of their servants, ready scribes, to copy them out, and so they were dispersed and made common. Again, the Greek tongue was well known and made familiar to most inhabitants in Asia, by reason of the conquest that there the Grecians had made, as also by the Colonies, which thither they had sent. For the same causes also it was well understood in many places of Europe, yea, and of Africa too. Therefore the word of God being set forth in Greek, becometh hereby like a candle set upon a candlestick, which giveth light to all that are in the house, or like a proclamation sounded forth in the market place, which most men presently take knowledge of; and therefore that language was fittest to contain the Scriptures, both for the first Preachers of the Gospel to appeal unto for witness, and for the learners also of those times to make search and trial by. It is certain, that that Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction; and who had been so sufficient for this work as the Apostles or Apostolic men? Yet it seemed good to the holy Ghost and to them, to take that which they found, (the same being for the greatest part true and sufficient) rather than by making a new, in that new world and green age of the Church, to expose themselves to many exceptions and cavillations, as though they made a Translation to serve their own turn, and therefore bearing witness to themselves, their witness not to be regarded. This may be supposed to be some cause, why the Translation of the Seventy was allowed to pass for current. Notwithstanding, though it was commended generally, yet it did not fully content the learned, no not of the Jews. For not long after Christ, Aquila fell in hand with a new Translation, and after him Theodotion, and after him Symmachus; yea, there was a fifth and a sixth edition, the Authors whereof were not known. These with the Seventy made up the Hexapla and were worthily and to great purpose compiled together by Origen. Howbeit the Edition of the Seventy went away with the credit, and therefore not only was placed in the midst by Origen (for the worth and excellency thereof above the rest, as Epiphanius gathered) but also was used by the Greek fathers for the ground and foundation of their Commentaries. Yea, Epiphanius above named doth attribute so much unto it, that he holdeth the Authors thereof not only for Interpreters, but also for Prophets in some respect; and Justinian the Emperor enjoining the Jews his subjects to use especially the Translation of the Seventy, rendereth this reason thereof, because they were as it were enlightened with prophetical grace. Yet for all that, as the Egyptians are said of the Prophet to be men and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit [Isa 31:3]; so it is evident, (and Saint Jerome affirmeth as much) that the Seventy were Interpreters, they were not Prophets; they did many things well, as learned men; but yet as men they stumbled and fell, one while through oversight, another while through ignorance, yea, sometimes they may be noted to add to the Original, and sometimes to take from it; which made the Apostles to leave them many times, when they left the Hebrew, and to deliver the sense thereof according to the truth of the word, as the spirit gave them utterance. This may suffice touching the Greek Translations of the Old Testament.

So we have a clear admission by orthodox Protestant scholars of the early seventeenth Century, that the LXX was used by Christ and the apostles. Subsequent scholarship has given additional insights into this, and confirms the notion that Greek translations of the Old Testament books were often used by the Apostles and quoted from in the New Testament. For more evidence on this point, see this comparison of NT quotes and the LXX vs. the Hebrew. See also this Trinitarian Bible Society (which incidentally only publishes the KJV for its English Bible) article on the value of the Septuagint [HT: Pavlos].