The Origin of the Title “The Authorized Version” for the KJV

I have long thought that the proper term for the King James Version is “the Authorized Version.” At times, I’ve wondered if that title isn’t more of a British title, since most Americans prefer “King James Version” or simply the “King James Bible.” But I recently read a historical essay by David Bebbington, professor of History at the University of Stirling, Scotland, in which he points out the fact that the King James Version was not always known as “The Authorized Version.” Bebbington’s essay, “The King James Bible in Britain from the Late Eighteenth Century,” appears in a collection of important historical essays published by Baylor University Press (2011) under the title, The King James Bible and the World It Made (edited by David Lyle Jeffrey).

Bebbington argues convincingly that the King James Bible did not enjoy universal acclaim in the eighteenth century until the very end of that period. In a post at my personal blog, I excerpted Bebbington’s conclusion, which argues that “the enthusiasm for the translation of 1611 rose and fell with the growth and decay of Romantic sensibility.” In the excerpt provided below, I would like to quote his description of how the title “the Authorized Version” came to be used for the King James Bible.

A fourth explanation of the rising tide of admiration for the translation of 1611 was its redefinition as “the Authorized Version.” The title emerged for the first time in a debate provoked by the creation of the [British and Foreign] Bible Society. Whereas the society’s evangelical supporters considered the new agency a bulwark of the existing social order, the High Church party thought it a sinister development. It threatened the work of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the established Anglican organization for circulating the Scriptures. Furthermore, the timing was unfortunate. During 1804, the year of the society’s foundation, Napoleon’s forces were poised to invade the country, and in the heightened alarm, the equal presence of Dissenters alongside Churchmen on the society’s committee seemed poentially subversive. Had not Dissenters once killed an English king, Charles I? Thomas Sikes, the High Church vicar of Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, warned that, when the production of the sacred text was being entrusted to “sectaries,” nobody could be confident that they would not tamper with the translations. In order to calm such fears, John Owen, one of the society’s secretaries, replied that the organization was limited to producing versions “printed by authority.” When an opponent pointed out that this restriction had not been stated formally, the society hastened in May 1805 to revise its constitution so as to read, “The only copies in the languages of the United Kingdom to be circulated by the Society, shall be the authorised version, without note or comment.” Thus the phrase “the authorized version” was launched on the world as an apologetic device for the Bible Society. By 1819 the phrase had been heard so often that it crept for the first time into the Times newspaper, though still with a lowercase “a,” showing that it was not yet a title. The steady growth of the usage is documented in the number of times in each subsequent decade the phrase occurred in the Times: 1820s, 7; 1830s, 41; 1840s, 61; 1850s, 91. By the last of these decades, the expression was starting to be capitalized, demonstrating that it had emerged as a title. Thereafter “the Authorized Version” became the standard term for the 1611 Bible in Britain, where the phrase “King James Bible” was hardly ever used. The new title surrounded this particular text, as it was originally intended to do, with an aura of unique legitimacy. It helped forward the process by which the version became embedded more deeply in the national culture. (pg. 53-54)

You can pick up a copy of this book at any of the following online retailers: CBD, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Baylor University Press.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Baylor University Press for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

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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]

Christianity Today on the Legacy of the King James Bible


The latest issue of Christianity Today features a cover story on the influence of the King James Bible. Mark Noll, the noted evangelical historian, authored the article entitled: “A World Without the King James Version: Where we would be without the most popular English Bible ever”.

The article explores an interesting question. Along the way you will learn things you didn’t know about the KJV. Here’s an excerpt which reveals that the problem of multiple and competing Bible translations is no new problem. Be sure to read the entire article, and check out this interesting quiz.

From about 1650 to 1960, when Protestants memorized the Twenty-third Psalm, they would always recite the last verse this way: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” But if the KJV had not become the favored translation, the memorized words would have depended on translation preference.

For at least 50 years after the KJV’s completion in 1611, various editions of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, were just as popular. Geneva’s adherents liked the down-home flavor of the translation and its helpful marginal notes. They would have memorized, “Doubtless kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall remain a long season in the house of the Lord.” Protestants who wanted to connect with their Catholic neighbors would have memorized this, from the Douay-Rheims translation: “And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.”

But Bible readers who wanted to use an officially authorized text—which the KJV never was—would have memorized the Bishops’ Bible of 1568: “Truly felicity and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of God for a long time.”

Of course, Protestants would have continued memorizing Scripture even with several popular translations in existence. But they would have done so privately, sincepublic recitation with several translations could be haphazard—much like it is today. And we would have lost some small sense of connectedness in the church and the broader culture.

~cross posted from my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed

Jack Moorman on Revelation 16:5

In the recent James White — Jack Moorman debate on King James Onlyism, White brought up Rev. 16:5 as containing a phrase in the King James Version with no manuscipt support at all. It was added on the basis of conjectural emendation, he claimed. Several times in the debate he went back to that point, and Moorman kept saying he dealt with it already in one of his books.

Well, here’s the only section in Jack Moorman’s books that I know of which deals with Rev. 16:5. This is from When the KJV Departs from the So-Called “Majority’ Text: with Manuscipt Digest by Jack A. Moorman (published by The Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ 1988). This is from pg. 102. I’ve tried to reproduce the format as shown in his book (my copy is the second edition).

Revelation 16:5
AV        which art, and wast, and shalt be
HF CR                                    … the Holy One

                                                                     Beza.

The KJV reading is in harmony with the four other places in Revelation where this phrase is found.
1:4 “him which is, and which was, and which is to come”
1:8 “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”
4:8 “Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”
11:17 “Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come”
Indeed Christ is the Holy One, but in the Scriptures of the Apostle John the title is found only once (1 John 2:20), and there, a totally different Greek word is used. The Preface to the Authorised Version reads:

“with the former translations diligently compared and revised”

The translators must have felt there was good reason to insert these words though it ran counter to much external evidence. They obviously did not believe the charge made today that Beza inserted it on the basis of “conjectural emendation”. They knew that they were translating the Word of God, and so do we. The logic of faith should lead us to see God’s guiding providence in a passage such as this.

[AV = Authorized Version/King James Bible, HF = Hodges/Farstad Majority Text, CR = Critical Text (specifically the NA26/UBS3)]

When I first encountered this reasoning for maintaining the King James reading, I was troubled. He lists no witnesses except for Beza’s text. At the time, I was still of the KJV only persuasion, the TR Only variety. I wondered why Moorman disagreed with E.F. Hills a learned King James Version defender who admitted that Rev. 16:5 was a conjectural emendation. Later I learned that Beza actually tells us in his textual notes that this is a conjectural emendation inserted based on his presumption that John would be consistent with other similar phrases (which Moorman quotes above).

Well, since that time, I’ve come to see this as one of the clearest errors in the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus. Neither accepted version of the Textus Receptus contains this error. The 1550 Stephanus edition, prized in England as “the standard”, and the Elzevir’s text of 1633 preferred on the continent (of Europe), both do not contain this reading. Update: Actually the 1550 Stephanus, the standard in Europe, does not have Beza’s reading. The 1633 Elzevir’s text does, but the earlier 1624 Elzevir’s and all later Elzevir’s editions (1641-1678) go back to the Stephanus reading. I am unclear as to how much more preference was given to the 1633 text over the 1624, edition. H.C. Hoskier says the 1624 text is better, see Appendix C of his A Full Account and Collation of the Greek Cursive Codex Evangelium here). None of the previous English versions that the KJV translators referred to had this reading. The Latin didn’t have it either. In another post I have detailed the only possible, barest shred of evidence, a citation in one Latin commentary which may contain this reading. Beza is ignorant of that commentary however.

My point in bringing this up here is to show that I’m not so certain that Moorman has really dealt with this text. This is circular reasoning at its worst. This mentality belies the motivation behind many KJV Onlyists, which I believe White correctly pinpointed in the debate. It is the desire for a standard text. That’s a commendable desire, but it doesn’t excuse sloppy handling of evidence. By the way, this doesn’t mean that the TR isn’t a great text (most TRs don’t have this error). It also doesn’t impugn the Majority Text, as it obviously doesn’t have this reading.

Now I’m ready to stand corrected if in later copies of this book, Moorman actually added more evidence or took out his circular arguments. But at least in this version of the book, his arguments were quite poor indeed.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 4)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period. The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”. He explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence. Bauder shows that these arguments are really illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and part 2 dealt with “the appeal to faith”. Part 3, covered “the appeal to reason”. Now we’re picking it back up at “the appeal to evidence”.

For this argument, I’m going to quote Kevin Bauder at length and then chime in some of my own thoughts.

The third illusion that attends the King James-Only position involves the evaluation of the actual evidence. King James-Only advocates are extremely reluctant to allow the empirical evidence to stand on its own merits. On the one hand, they are fond of insisting that “the majority rules” in textual matters. On the other hand, they are very careful about what they allow to count as a majority. For example, if all manuscripts of the ancient translations of the New Testament are counted, then manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus form a distinct minority. Moreover, according to the actual manuscript evidence, the manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus are not in the majority even of Greek manuscripts until the fourth century or even later. If the theory that “the majority rules” is correct, then the next two questions are, Majority of what? and, Majority from when?

The King James-Only movement can survive only by deploying a highly prejudicial definition of the word majority. Its defenders insist that very late Greek manuscripts be included in this majority but that very early translations be excluded from it. They revise history to explain the paucity of manuscripts that support the Textus Receptus before the fourth century. In fact, historical revisionism is a mainstay of the King James-Only argument. Their carefully reworked history is filled with heretics who deliberately miscopied the Scriptures; churches that rejected Alexandrian manuscripts; ecumenical councils that endorsed the Byzantine tradition; secret plots of Jesuits, Masons, Nazis, and Communists; and a variety of other irresponsible speculations, none of which can be shown to have happened. (pg. 160)

I’ve previously made similar points about the nebulous idea of “majority”. In my Majority Rules: Fact or Fiction? series I delved into this. Also, the Greek support for the TR wasn’t really a majority of manuscripts until the 9th Century, per James White.

The impression I got in my experience of King James Onlyism was that the “evidence” and the role of “the majority of manuscripts” was quite important. That is what made the whole theory appeal to me as solid. When I found out that often King James Onlyists manipulated the evidence to suit their cause, I started down the disillusionment path.

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 3)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period. The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”. He explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence. Bauder shows that these arguments are really illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and part 2 dealt with “the appeal to faith”. Now in part 3, we come to “the appeal to reason”.

Bauder has in mind a specific argument that KJV Onlyists use in relation to preservation. They claim that “verbal inspiration… is useless unless it is followed by exactness in verbal preservation”. I have seen KJV Only materials which claim that verbal preservation (also known as perfect preservation), is a direct corollary of verbal inspiration. Bauder is quick to affirm verbal inspiration, but does not affirm perfect preservation. “While this argument from reason sounds plausible at first hearing,” he says, “it actually runs counter to God’s dealings in Scripture.” (pg. 158)

Bauder makes the case that this demand that perfect inspiration requires perfect preservation does not stand up to Scripture itself. First, he shows that not all of God’s spoken words were recorded in Scripture. Pre-flood instructions on sacrifices, the seven thunders of Revelation (Rev. 10:1-4), and Jesus’ words that aren’t recorded in Scripture (John 21:25) all are evidence that perfect words of God can be given and yet not preserved.

Bauder’s second line of argumentation here deals with the written words of Scripture comparing the actual record we have in Scripture with the KJV Onlyists requirement of perfect preservation. Bauder finds that the testimony of Scripture doesn’t support perfect preservation. His thoughts are worth repeating at length.

Even with regard to written words, it is demonstrably true that when someone’s spoken words were later recorded in Scripture, the “exact” words spoken were not necessarily the very words that were used in Scripture. For example, when the Gospel writers recorded words that Jesus had spoken during His lifetime, these authors, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, recorded the essence of Jesus’ words, not His exact words. This observation must be true because the recounting of Jesus’ words by the Gospel writers do not exactly agree (compare, for example, Matt. 13:1-13 with Mark 4:1-13 word for word). We affirm wholeheartedly that the Gospel writers were accurately employing the exact words that God wanted them to use to record Jesus’ speech under the perfect, supervisory ministry of the Holy Spirit. However, we also know that the Holy Spirit intended for these writers to record the essence of Jesus’ speech, not His exact words, for that is what they did. Also, remember that Jesus and His disciples frequently quoted the Old Testament (OT) in other than exact words. They sometimes quoted the Septuagint, the Masoretic text, a free rendition, or a combination thereof. In God’s method of propagating truth, it is apparent from the text of Scripture itself that He allowed some degree of latitude for the accurate and authoritative communication of that truth apart from the perfect preservation of all of the exact words in one particular place; and this latitude is observable even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (pt. 159, bold emphasis mine)

He then gave one final example from Scripture. “In one case,” he said, “the entire written revelation of God survived in a single manuscript that was hidden from public view (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15).”

From this, Bauder makes the following conclusion about “the appeal to reason”:

…In all of the cases enumerated herein, God gave specific, verbal revelation, but He did not necessarily see fit to preserve all of the words and exactly the words in a publicly accessible form. The doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy (which are absolute truths) and the King James-Only proponents’ postulate of perfect preservation (which is dubious speculation) are certainly not inextricable corollaries.

All parties to this debate acknowledge that God has superintended the choice of the precise words that would be used to communicate His truth. To accept this fact, however, is not to concede that God is obligated to preserve every word through which His truth has been revealed. He might preserve some words and He might permit some to be lost, depending upon His own purpose. The appeal to reason is not a sufficient ground for the King James-Only argument.

What Bauder has done here is extremely important, in my view. He goes to Scripture itself to see how important the preservation of the specific wording of a text is. When one can see parallel accounts in the OT and NT which do not line up perfectly in word order and precise wording, and when one sees quotations of other texts which are not word perfect, why shouldn’t one conclude that a certain latitude is permissible here, that minor variations among translations of Scripture do not affect their authority?

The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 2)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period.  The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of one of the editors, Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”.  Bauder explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence.  Bauder illustrates how these arguments really are illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and now we get to the first of the theological arguments for KJV Onlyism.

The first illusion is the appeal to faith. According to its leading defenders, the King James-Only movement is fundamentally a “faith position.” Genuine, biblical faith, however, must rest in the promise of God. To be believed, the promise of God must be clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture itself. The question is not whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve His Word. King James-Only advocates go much further. They insist that God has preserved His words and preserved them exactly in a singular, identifiable, and accessible form. So the question is whether the Bible contains a promise that God will preserve, word for word, the text of the original documents of Scripture in a particular manuscript, textual tradition, printed text, or version. As this book has shown, the Bible contains no promise whatsoever that includes the preservation of all the words of the autographa (without addition or deletion) in a single, publicly accessible source. Without such a promise, the appeal to faith does not rest in the promise of God, but in the untestable and unverifiable speculation of the King James-Only advocates themselves. Until they can produce a Scripture that (properly and contextually understood) does promise all that they assert, they have no legitimate right to appeal to faith.

(Bolded emphasis mine. Excerpted from pg. 158, One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder; Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2001.)

?This is the rub in my opinion.  The various texts that apply to a doctrine of preservation, do not make the explicit claim that all the words of Scripture will be preserved in an accessible form.  For at least 1500 years, most KJV Onlyists allow that the words of Scripture weren’t together in a printed text or version that is accessible too.  Especially when one considers what E.F. Hills points out that several of the TR passages are preserved in the Latin language texts rather than the Greek language texts, and the New Testament was purified when the two streams were brought together.