KJV @400 – a story of biblical proportions
2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Following are some items from the Dunham Bible Museum’s special exhibit for the occasion. The Museum also held a special conference KJV@ 400, whose lectures can be accessed online.
No one in 1611 could have imagined the global importance the English language would have 400 years later – neither King James who authorized the new translation of the Bible into English nor the fifty-four translators themselves. When the King James Version was first published in 1611, there were four million English speaking people, all living on the island nation of Great Britain, at the edge of Europe. Today, 400 years later, English is a global language with two billion English speaking people and seventy nations with English as the majority language. Wherever English speakers have gone on the globe – and into space – they have taken with them the King James Version of the Bible.
English Bibles Before King James
“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, … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one …” Translation to the Reader, Preface to the King James Version
The English Bible translation commissioned by King James was not a totally new translation, but based upon 80 years of English Bible translation, beginning with William Tyndale. Each of the English translations made after Tyndale’s ground-breaking work built upon the preceding translations.
1395, Wycliffite Bible
Medieval scholar John Wycliffe and his followers were the first to translate the entire Bible into English. They translated from the Latin Vulgate, since Greek was virtually unknown in medieval England. Scholars debate the extent Wycliffe’s translation might have influenced William Tyndale 130 years later.
William Tyndale was the first to translate the New Testament into English from the Greek. Tyndale’s execution for heresy in 1536 prevented him completing his translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Tyndale’s work is foundational to all later English translations. 80% of the King James Version is Tyndale’s translation.
Myles Coverdale printed the first complete English Bible. He used Tyndale’s New Testament translation and translated the Old Testament from German or Latin translations, since he knew no Hebrew. Coverdale’s translation of the psalms continues to be used in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer.
1537, Matthew’s Bible
John Rogers published a complete English Bible using Tyndale’s New Testament, Tyndale’s unpublished translation from the Hebrew of the Old Testament from Genesis through II Chronicles. Rogers used Coverdale’s translation for the rest of the Old Testament. Rogers issued the Bible under the pseudonym “Thomas Matthew,” since a Bible connected with Tyndale’s name was not allowed in England. To honor William Tyndale, Rogers had the initials “WT” printed in large letters at the end of the book of Malachi in the Old Testament.
When a copy of this Bible was shown to Henry VIII, he permitted it to go forth among the people. This was the first Bible to circulate freely among the people since the time of John Wycliffe.
1539, The Great Bible
The Great Bible was commissioned by Henry VIII and was the first authorized edition of the Bible in English. This was usually published as a large pulpit Bible to be used in the churches. Miles Coverdale edited the Bible, which is basically a revision of Matthew’s Bible. The scene on the title page shows King Henry VIII giving the Bible to the church leaders, who in turn give it to the people.
1560, Geneva Bible
Translated in Geneva by English exiles from Queen Mary’s England, this Bible was the first English Bible translation from the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Though a very popular translation among the people, it was not used in the official services of the Church of England. Its notes and commentary were unacceptable to the government and church officials.
1569, Bishops’ Bible
Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth, headed a group of bishops in making this translation for use in church services.
Before coming to the English throne in 1603, King James had been King James VI of Scotland, where the Geneva Bible was in use. James had come to thoroughly disdain the Geneva Bible. He felt the study notes were subversive of kingly authority. He was very pleased to commission a new Bible translation to replace the Geneva Bible favored by the Puritans.
The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, James by the Grace of God, King of Great Britaine, France and Ireland, Defender of the faith, &c. London, Robert Barker and John Bill, 1616
Though King James commissioned the English translation of the Bible which now bears his name, he did none of the translation work himself. His Workes, however, do include some paraphrases and commentaries on Scripture. Among these were a paraphrase on the book of Revelation, meditations from Chronicles, and a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer. He also began, though never completed, a translation of the book of Psalms.
- The Bishops’ Bible should be followed, as far as the original texts permitted
- No marginal notes would be added, except for explanations of the Hebrew or Greek words or Scriptural references
- Other translations could be used if they agreed better with the original text than the Bishops’ Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthews, Coverdale’s, Great Bible, and Geneva
- Spelling of names and chapter and verse divisions should remain as were commonly used
- Older ecclesiastical words were to be kept, e.g. church rather than congregation
The Rules also included the procedures the companies were to follow:
- Each translator in a company would individually revise or translate the same chapter or chapters. The company would then meet together, discuss, and agree upon an accepted translation.
- Once the company had completed one book, it should send it to the other companies, which were to seriously consider the work. If a company had some disagreements about the translation, they sent their reasons to the general committee.
- A general committee, consisting of the chief person of each company, considered the entire work at the end of the translation period.
- If a passage was especially obscure, learned men in the land were to be consulted. The companies worked on the translation from 1604-1608. In 1609, the General Committee of Review met to review the marked texts from each company. He entire translation was read outline in the Committee, which undoubtedly contributed to the stylistic excellence of the final work. After nine months of review, the work was sent to the printer.
XCVI sermons by the Right Honourable and Reverend Father in God, Lancelot Andrewes. London, 1629, 1st edition
This collection of 96 of the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, chief of the King James translators, was made after his death in 1626, at the request of King Charles I. Andrewes, who had been chaplain to Queen Elizabeth and continued an important ecclesiastical advisor to King James I, was known for the eloquence of his sermons.
The Holy Bible containing the Old Testament and the New. Printed by Robert Barker, London, 1602
This 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible was the same edition used by the King James translators. The first of King James’ instructions to the translators, probably written by Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft, specified that “the ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.” King’s printer Richard Barker delivered 40 unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible to the 6 companies of translators. The translators recorded their annotations and revisions in these copies.
The Title Page
- The Trinity is symbolically represented at the top of the page:
- The Hebrew Tetragrammaton, the word for God, is above all
- The dove represents the Holy Spirit
- Jesus is the Lamb that was slain, the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world
- The apostles Peter and Paul, leaders of the New Testament church, are seated on either side of the Lamb, with the other apostles standing in the background
- The border underneath the apostles pictures the tents of each of the twelve tribes of Israel
- Four seated figures who are writing, two on either side of Peter and Paul and two at the bottom, are the 4 Gospel writers, each with their symbol in the background:
- Matthew – the angel
- Mark – the lion
- Luke – the ox
- John – the eagle
- On either side of the title plate are Moses and Aaron, leaders from the Old Testament
- At the bottom of the page is the symbolic pelican feeding her young with her own blood, a symbol from the Middle Ages of the Eucharist and the Death of Christ for our sins. This also was the symbol of Corpus Christi College, where the Puritan John Rainolds was President. At the Hampton Court Conference, Rainolds had presented the need for a new translation of the Bible to King James; he had also chaired the committee which translated the books of Isaiah through Malachi.
The subtitle given to The Holy Bible tells much about the new translation: “Newly translated out of the Originall tongues & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised by his Majesties speciall Commandment.”
- 2 columns of text (Double columns reduced the length of the lines, making them easier to read.)
- Printed in black letter or Gothic typeface (Though more difficult to read than roman type, to many the Gothic type was more reverent.)
- Headers of each page, with the chapter number, name of book, and summary of page
- Chapter summary before each chapter
- Most verses began on a new line, with the verse number displayed.
- Small roman type for words without an equivalent in the original language
- Notes and references are textual and free from doctrinal or theological disputes.
- Scriptural cross references
- Decorated initial letters for each chapter and a decorated headpiece for each book
- No illustrations in the text
Decorative initials and headings for each book often had a vine motif, such as at the opening of Genesis. The amount of type neede dto print the King James version was enormous, and sometimes printer Robert Barker used decorated initials with pagan motifs from other works, such as the following:
The 1611 King James Bible included a Dedication to King James, and a preface “To the Reader.” The preface gave the history and method used in Bible translation as well as encouragement in the study of the Scriptures. The work of translating the Scriptures was described as “that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we might look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water … Indeed without translation into the vulgar [common] tongue [language], the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) without a bucket or something to draw with.”
He or She?
From 1611 to 1614, there were two series of editions of the new translation printed, differing in minor typography throughout. The two series indicate there were at least two separate printing presses used in printing the Bible. These two series are called the “He” Bibles and “She” Bibles, based upon the printing of Ruth 3:15. The first 1611 issue read “he went into the citie”; the second issue read “she went into the citie.” There were other differences in the issues as well, reflecting printing errors or variations from the numerous printing presses operated by Robert Barker during the large job of printing the King James Bible.
The Great “She” Bible. Printed by Robert Barker, London, 1613/1611
This Bible contains the characteristics typography of the “She” Bibles. The New Testament title page is dated 1611, while the general title page is dated 1613. Many of the leaves were printed in 1611, but the complete Bible itself was not published until 1613. Robert Barker routinely used remaining leaves from earlier Bible printings in later Bible editions.
In 1610, John Speed (1552?-1629), a tailor turned historian and mapmaker, obtained a 10-year patent to insert his Genealogies and map of Canaan in every edition of the King James Bible. The Genealogies Recorded in the Sacred Scriptures consisted of over thirty charts visually representing the genealogies in the Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve and concluding with Jesus Christ. The genealogies graphically reinforced the historicity of the text of Scripture.
The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Printed by Robert Barker, London, 1612.
First King James Version New Testament printed independently. The New Testament is bound together with the Book of Common Prayer, probably the 4th edition of 1604. The border of the title page resembles some editions of the Geneva and Bishops Bible, with emblems of the four Gospel writers and figures of Faith and Humility.
The Holy Bible, opened at the Apocrypha. Printed by Robert Barker, London, 1613.
This quarto edition of the King James Version contained the features of the larger folio versions, including the genealogies, map of Canaan, dedication to King James, and preface to the Reader.
Like all 17th century King James Bibles, it also contained fourteen books called “Apocrypha.” These were books not in the Hebrew Scripture, but included in the 2nd century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. These books had been part of the Latin Vulgate Bible, but Protestant Reformers did not consider them Scripture. Martin Luther was the first to separate the Apocryphal books from the rest of the Old Testament, placing them between the Old and New Testaments. Miles Coverdale followed Luther’s practice when he made his English Bible translation. The books were recognized as good to read, but not inspired Scripture.
The Apocryphal books were often omitted in 18th century Bibles. When they were printed, they were often in a smaller and different type to show they were not the same as Scripture. In 1826 he British and Foreign Bible Society decided to no longer include the Apocrypha in their editions of the King James Bible, and most other Bible publishers followed their example.
This is the third great folio of the King James Bible. The fold-out map of Canaan was printed by the English cartographer John Speed in 1611. The map shows the route of the Israelites as they went from Egypt to Canaan. The corners of the map have pictures of the tabernacle furnishings and the city of Jerusalem.
The “Wicked Bible”, Printed by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, London, 1631
This printing of the King James Bible is called he “Wicked Bible” because the word “not” was omitted from the seventh commandment in Exodus 20:14, causing the text to read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The printers were fined £300 (a year’s wages) for allowing the error to get into the printing, and they were ordered to destroy the entire printing of 1000 copies. Only 11 of these rare Bibles are known to exist today. Printer Robert Barker, licensed to print the King James Bible, was frequently in debt and in legal battles with other printers. There is a strong probability that this error was made intentionally by a saboteur in Barker’s shop under the instigation of a competitor.
Though not as notorious as this one, printing errors were fairly common in early printings of the King James Bible. Working under time constraints and trying to cut costs, compositors and proofreaders did not always give due diligence to their tasks.
The Annals of the World Deduced from the Origin of Time. James Ussher. London, 1658, 1st edition
In 1701, Bishop of London William Lloyd supervised publication of the first Bible with dates for the Biblical events in the margins. The dates were taken from Archbishop James Ussher’s chronology, found in his Annals of the World. For at least the next 250 years many Bibles continued to contain Ussher’s dates in their margins.
James Ussher’s Annals of the World was a mammoth scholarly enterprise. With has command of several ancient
languages and knowledge of both ancient history and the Bible, Ussher compiled a chronology or history of the world from the creation through the fall of Jerusalem to the Empreor Vespasian. Ussher dated the creation of the world to 4004 BC, a date consistent with the studies of other scholars of the day.
The Holy Bible. Printed by Thomas Baskett, Oxford, 1750
Additional features of this 1750 Bible include the BC or AD dates from Ussher’s chronology at the top of each margin, the Book of Common Prayer, and the metrical psalms.
King James Version with Geneva Notes Amsterdam, 1642
The first King James Version avowedly printed abroad was this edition printed in Amsterdam. Though King James clearly forbade his commissioned version to have notes, the Amsterdam publishers saw fit to place the very popular Geneva Bible notes with the King James Version.
Imagery on the title page includes the sacred name of God, the Lamb of God and the book with the 7 seals, a scene of man’s fall, Adam and Noah (the progenitors of the human race), and a child (the seed of the woman of Genesis 3:15) overcoming death and the serpent.
Pocket size Bible includes the Metrical Psalms by John Hopkins, which had also been bound with many editions of the Geneva Bible. The illustration on the title page contains sketches of Moses and Aaron with the Scripture at the top: “The Law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” At the bottom of the page is an engraving of London with the Thames flowing through and London Bridge.
The Holy Bible. Printed by John Field, Cambridge, 1660
This Bible was dedicated to King Charles II who came to the throne of England and restored the monarchy in 1660, ending the period of Oliver Cromwell’s rule and the Protectorate. The restoration of the monarchy brought with it a growing acceptance of the King James Bible, which had been translated under the direction of Charles’ grandfather, King James I.
The title page represents King Solomon on his thrown, as described in I Kings 10:18-20. The hopeful message was that Charles II’s reign would have the wisdom and prosperity of King Solomon.
“Vinegar Bible”, Printed by John Baskett, Oxford, 1717
This beautifully printed Bible is sometimes called “A Baskett-ful of Errors,” punning on the printer’s name. The Bible contained numerous typographical errors. The most notorious was the headline above Luke xx, which read “The parable of the vinegar” instead of “The parable of the vineyard.”
“Alexander the Corrector”
Alexander Cruden (1701-1770) first completed his famous Bible concordance in 1737. It was to be a “Dictionary and Alphabetical Index to the Bible; Very Useful to all Christians who seriously read and study the Inspired Writings.” Though an extremely learned gentleman, Cruden had bouts with insanity, which first began when he was disappointed in love, shortly after receiving his master of arts degree. At times he was confined in an asylum; at other times he functioned in society in spite of his eccentricities, which were usually humorous rather than harmful. He adopted the title of “Alexander the Corrector” and assumed the office of correcting the morals of the nation. He carried about a sponge with which he could remove all inscriptions or graffiti he thought contrary to good morals.
A Complete Concordance of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. Alexander Cruden, London, 1738, 1st edition
Alexander Cruden (1701-1770) meticulously listed every word in the King James Bible and the passages of Scripture where that word occurred – all before there were computers or even typewriters. This concordance or dictionary of the Bible was a great aid to studying the King James Bible. A condensation of Cruden’s concordance was later printed in many Bibles.
The Holy Bible. John Baskerville, Printer to the University: Cambridge, 1763
This Bible was the most outstanding production from the press of printer John Baskerville (1706-1775), one of England’s most outstanding printers. Simplicity, elegance, and clarity mark this fine volume. It is a great irony that such a beautiful Bible was produced by a man who was a confirmed atheist. Baskerville was a great friend of the American printer Benjamin Franklin, who visited Baskerville at his English estate. Baskerville developed a classical font which continues to be used and bears his name today.
Which King James Bible?
Printers somewhat routinely made changes when printing the King James Bible. Often a printer perpetuated an error when copying a Bible text from an earlier printer. Some changes modernized the spelling, updated puncutation marks, corrected previous typographical errors (or added new ones!), or changed the translation of a phrase based on recent scholarship’s interpretation of the text. Some printers wrote their chapter and page headings different from the first edition. Several important revisions were made in the King James Bible over the centuries, but by the early 19th century some ministers were complaining and wanted a return to the “original 1611 edition.” But, the language had changed, and the original 1611 was not really useable.
Holy Bible. Printed by Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel, Cambridge, 1638
The Cambridge Bible published in 1638 was carefully revised by a team of scholars. They corrected numerous typographical mistakes which had become standardized in editions of the King James Bible. They also made some clarifications of the translation based upon the Hebrew and Greek texts. This edition became the standard for future King James Bible printings for the next 120 years. The first Bible printed in Cambridge was a Geneva Bible printed in 1591. The University Press at Cambridge printed the first King James Bible in 1629. Today Cambridge University Press is the world’s largest Bible publisher.
Thomas Paris of Trinity College, Cambridge, diligently corrected the text of the King James Bible by removing printing errors, and standardizing punctuation and the use of italics. This Bible was the first to have standardized spelling, with Paris following the standard of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755. The 1762 Cambridge Bible included Ussher’s chronological notes and numerous marginal annotations with Scriptural references.
The Cambridge Bible of 1762, and the Oxford Bible of 1769, became standard editions of the King James Bible for the next century.
The Holy Bible, an exact reprint page for page of the Authorized Version published in the year 1611. Collingwood & Co., University Press; Oxford, 1833
When a number of ministers criticized the University Press for the changes which had been made in the King James Bible, the Delegates of Oxford’s University Press began an exact reprint in Roman letters of the original 1611 edition. 1611 editions were examined sheet be sheet and compared with other early editions, such as the 1613. Over 50 early Bibles were consulted to produce the facsimile. Most who saw the 1833 facsimile realized how impractical it would be to use the original 1611 edition in the 19th century.
The Cambridge Paragraph Bible of the authorized English Version, with the text revised by a collation of its early and other principal editions, the use of the italic type made uniform, the marginal references remodelled, and a critical introduction prefixed. F.H. Scrivener, ed. For the Syndics of the University Press, Cambridge, 1873
The Cambridge Paragraph Bible made numerous typographical changes to help readers understand the Scripture:
- The unbroken text was arranged in paragraphs according to the sense, eliminating numerous breaks in the text.
- Chapter and verse numbers were placed in the margins.
- The poetical and prose passages of Scripture were distinguished by different printed forms.
Translations after the King James Bible
The King James Bible continued to be the most prominent English Bible translation for well over 350 years and remains an important translation in use today. Two factors have led to the need for contemporary Bible translations:
- Over the centuries, the English language has changed both in the spelling and meaning of words, making the King James Bible difficult for many to understand.
- Discoveries of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts centuries older than those used by the King James translators allow scholars to translate from a more accurate Biblical text.
Some translations since the King James Bible, all which build upon the work of the 1611 translators, include the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Bible, the New English, the Jerusalem Bible the Living Bible, the Good News Bible the New International version, and the English Standard Version.
“The English Bible is the first of national treasures, and in its spiritual significance the most valuable thing that this world affords.” ~King George V, 1911
During the British Coronation Service, a Bible is presented to the new monarch with the words, “We present you with this book, the most valuable thing that the world affords. Here is wisdom: this is the royal law, these are the lively oracles of God.” These commemorative Bibles were published to commemorate coronations or special royal anniversaries:
- Bible commemorating sixty years of the reign of Queen Victoria, British and Foreign Bible Society, 1897
- Bible commemorating the Coronation of King Edward VIII, British and Foreign Bible Society, 1936
- Bible commemorating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, June 2, 1953
“No other book of any kind ever written in English – perhaps no other book ever written in any other tongue – has ever so affected the whole life of a people as this authorized version of the Scriptures has affected the life of the English-speaking peoples.” ~President Theodore Roosevelt, 1911
At his first inauguration in 1789, George Washington began the custom of taking the presidential oath with his hand on the Bible.
Messiah by George F. Handel, 1742
Many have with their first contact with the King James Bible through George F. Handel’s famous oratorio, Messiah. The libretto, entirely from the King James Bible and the Psalms from the Great Bible’s translation, is a selection of Scriptures presenting Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah or anointed one. The story of Jesus’ birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension all culminate in celebrating Christ’s final victory over sin and death.
Though the story deals with the life of Christ, most of the Scriptures are taken from the Old Testament books of Isaiah, Haggai, and Malachi. Handel’s powerful music, written in an amazing 24 days, has carried the prophetic words of the Scripture (and the King James Bible) around the world.
Out of this World: The Bible on the Moon
“The best all-round volume of literature you could take [to the moon] would be the Bible. I do plan to take one.” Edward White II, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo I
It was left to others to carry out Astronaut White’s plan. Apollo 1 exploded on the launch pad, January 27, 1967, killing all three astronauts.
Christmas Eve Bible Reading from the Moon, December 24, 1968
Christmas Eve, 1968, the crew of Apollo 8, James Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders, became the first humans to orbit the moon. The crew focused their camera on the lunar landscape and broadcast a message on TV back to “all the people of the Earth.” Each member of the crew read a portion of Genesis 1:1-10, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas; and God saw that it was good.” As the Apollo 8 crew circled the moon, they took brilliant photos of planet Earth, as well as the moon’s surface. On Christmas day, they took the famous photo of the Earthrise over the Moon.
Bible and the First Lunar Landing – Apollo XI
Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buz Aldrin were the first to land and walk on the moon.
After the Eagle, the lunar module, landed on the moon’s surface, Buzz Aldrin held a private communion service and read Jesus’ words from John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
The astronauts left an American flag on the moon and a silicon disk with messages from 74 global leaders. Pope Paul VI’s message included a quote from Psalm 8, which Aldrin also quoted on his return trip to earth: “When I look at the sky, which you have made, the moon and the stars which you set in their places – what is man that you think of him?”
Copy of a handwritten card containing Bible verses astronaut Buzz Aldrin wrote out to read during a communion he held aboard Apollo XI before disembarking and walking on the moon.
First Lunar Bible
February 5, 1971, this Holy Bible on microfilm was one of 101 copies taken to the moon by Apollo XIV Astronaut Edgar Mitchell during his nine hour and 17 minute moonwalk. The microfilm Bible contains all 1,245 pages of the King James Bible edition 715 published by World Publishing. It can be read with 200x magnification. On either side of the framed lunar Bible is a signed certificate of the authenticity of the Bible and photos of the Apollo 14 landing, and Edgar Mitchell presenting the Bibles to Rev. John Stout, founder of the Apollo Prayer League and organizer of the lunar Bible project.
The framed microfilm lunar Bible is etched with 24 karat gold and accented with pave diamonds and a Brazilian garnet. The horses on either side symbolize readiness in service. Holy leaves held in their mouths symbolize truth. The biblical shield is topped with a crown with the initials “APL” for the Apollo Prayer League, in whose name the Bible was carried by Astronaut Mitchell. The cross of Christ rises up from the crown embellished and passes vertically down through the entire piece transforming as it emerges beneath the shield into the powerful sword of the Spirit.
Jim Irwin of Apollo 15, at the Moon’s Appenine Mountains
The sunlit lunar mountains reminded Astronaut Irwin of a favorite Biblical passage in Psalm 121: “I look unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord.”