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A STUDY OF THE
KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE
AND ITS INFLUENCE ON LIFE
CLELAND BOYD McAFEE, D.D.
I. PREPARING THE WAY–THE ENGLISH BIBLE BEFORE KING JAMES II. THE MAKING OF THE KING JAMES VERSION; ITS CHARACTERISTICS III. THE KING JAMES VERSION As ENGLISH LITERATURE IV. THE INFLUENCE OF THE KING JAMES VERSION ON ENGLISH LITERATURE
V. THE KING JAMES VERSION–ITS INFLUENCE ON ENGLISH AND AMERICAN HISTORY
VI. THE BIBLE IN THE LIFE OF TO-DAY
THE lectures included in this volume were prepared at the request of the Brooklyn
Institute of Arts and Sciences, and were delivered in the early part of 1912, under its
auspices. They were suggested by the tercentenary of the King James version of the Bible. The plan adopted led to a restatement of the history which prepared for the version, and of that which produced it. It was natural next to point out its principal characteristics as a piece of literature. Two lectures followed, noting its influence on literature and on history. The course closed with a statement and argument regarding the place of the Bible in the life of to-day.
The reception accorded the lectures at the time of their public delivery, and the discussion which ensued upon some of the points raised, encourage the hope that they may be more widely useful.
It is a pleasure to assign to Dr. Franklin W. Hooper, director of the Institute, whatever credit the work may merit. Certainly it would not have been undertaken without his kindly urgency. CLELAND BOYD McAFEE.
Brooklyn, New York, May, 1912.
PREPARING THE WAY–THE ENGLISH BIBLE BEFORE KING JAMES
THERE are three great Book-religions– Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism. Other religions have their sacred writings, but they do not hold them in the same regard as do these three. Buddhism and Confucianism count their books rather records of their faith than rules for it, history rather than authoritative sources of belief. The three great Book-religions yield a measure of authority to their
sacred books which would be utterly foreign to the thought of other faiths.
Yet among the three named are two very distinct attitudes. To the Mohammedan the language as well as the matter of the Koran is
sacred. He will not permit its translation. Its original Arabic is the only authoritative tongue in which it can speak. It has been translated into other tongues, but always by adherents of other faiths, never by its own believers. The Hebrew and the Christian, on the other hand, but notably the Christian, have persistently sought to make their Bible speak all languages at all times.
It is a curious fact that a Book written in one tongue should have come to its largest power in other languages than its own. The Bible means more to-day in German and French and English than it does in Hebrew and Chaldaic and Greek– more even than it ever meant in those languages. There is nothing just like that in literary history. It is as though Shakespeare should after a while become negligible for most readers in English, and be a master of thought in Chinese and Hindustani, or in some language yet unborn.
We owe this persistent effort to make the Bible speak the language of the times to a conviction that the particular language used is not the great thing, that there is something in it which gives it power and value in any tongue. No book was ever translated so often. Men who have known it in its earliest tongues have realized that their fellows would not learn these earliest tongues, and they have set out to make it speak the tongue their fellows did know. Some have protested that there is impiety in making it speak the current tongue, and have insisted that men should learn the earliest speech, or at least accept their knowledge of the Book from those who did know it. But they have never stopped the movement. They have only delayed it.
The first movement to make the Scripture speak the current tongue appeared nearly three centuries before Christ. Most of the Old Testament then existed in Hebrew. But the Jews had scattered widely. Many had gathered in Egypt where Alexander the Great had founded the city that bears his name. At one time a third of the population of the city was Jewish. Many of the people were passionately loyal to their old religion and its Sacred Book. But the current tongue there and through most of the civilized world was Greek, and not Hebrew. As always, there were some who felt that the Book and its original language were inseparable. Others revealed the disposition of which we spoke a moment ago, and set out to make the Book speak
the current tongue. For one hundred and fifty years the work went on, and what we call the Septuagint was completed. There is a pretty little story which tells how the version got its name, which means the Seventy–that King Ptolemy Philadelphus, interested in collecting all sacred books, gathered seventy Hebrew scholars, sent them to the island of Pharos, shut them up in seventy rooms for seventy days, each making a translation from the Hebrew into the Greek. When they came out, behold, their translations were all exactly alike! Several difficulties appear in that story, one of which is that seventy men should have made the same mistakes without depending on each other. In addition, it is not historically supported, and the fact seems to be that the Septuagint was a long and slow growth, issuing from the impulse to make the Sacred Book speak the familiar tongue. And, though it was a Greek translation, it virtually displaced the original, as the English Bible has virtually displaced the Hebrew and Greek to-day. The Septuagint was the Old Testament which Paul used. Of one hundred and sixty-eight direct quotations from the Old Testament in the New nearly all are from the Greek version–from the translation, and not from the original.
We owe still more to translation. While there is accumulating evidence that there was spoken in Palestine at that time a colloquial Greek, with which most people would be familiar, it is yet probable that our Lord spoke neither Greek nor Hebrew currently, but Aramaic. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures, of course, as any well- trained lad did; but most of His words have come down to us in translation. His name, for example, to His Hebrew mother, was not Jesus, but Joshua; and Jesus is the translation of the Hebrew Joshua into Greek. We have His words as they were translated by His disciples into the Greek, in which the New Testament was originally written.
By the time the writing of the New Testament was completed, say one hundred years after Christ, while Greek was still current speech, the Roman Empire was so dominant that the common people were talking Latin almost as much as Greek, and gradually, because political power was behind it, the Latin gained on the Greek, and became virtually the speech of the common people. The movement to make the Bible talk the language of the time appeared again. It is impossible to say now when the first translations into Latin were made. Certainly there were some within two centuries after Christ, and by 250 A.D. a whole Bible in Latin was in circulation in the Roman Empire. The translation
of the New Testament was from the Greek, of course, but so was that of the Old Testament, and the Latin versions of the Old Testament were, therefore, translations of a translation.
There were so many of these versions, and they were so unequal in value, that there was natural demand for a Latin translation that should be authoritative. So came into being what we call the Vulgate, whose very name indicates the desire to get the Bible into the vulgar or common tongue. Jerome began by revising the earlier Latin translations, but ended by going back of all translations to the original Greek, and back of the Septuagint to the original Hebrew wherever he could do so. Fourteen years he labored, settling himself in Bethlehem, in Palestine, to do his work the better. Barely four
hundred years (404 A.D.) after the birth of Christ his Latin version appeared. It met a storm of protest for its effort to go back of the Septuagint, so dominant had the translation become. Jerome fought for it, and his version won the day, and became the authoritative Latin translation of the Bible.
For seven or eight centuries it held its sway as the current version nearest to the tongue of the people. Latin had become the accepted tongue of the church. There was little general culture, there was little general acquaintance with the Bible except among the educated. During all that time there was no real room for a further translation. One of the writers says: “Medieval England was quite unripe for a Bible in the mother tongue; while the illiterate majority were in no condition to feel the want of such a book, the educated minority would be averse to so great and revolutionary a change.” When a man cannot read any writing it really does not matter to him whether books are in current speech or not, and the majority of the people for those seven or eight centuries could read nothing at all. Those who could read anything were apt to be able to read the Latin.
 Hoare, Evolution of the English Bible, p. 39.
These centuries added to the conviction of many that the Bible ought not to become too common, that it should not be read by everybody, that it required a certain amount of learning to make it safe reading. They came to feel that it is as important to have an authoritative interpretation of the Bible as to have the Bible itself. When the movement began to make it speak the new English tongue, it provoked the most violent opposition. Latin had been good enough for a millennium; why cheapen the Bible by a translation? There had grown up a feeling that Jerome himself had been inspired. He had been canonized, and half the references to him in that time speak of him as the inspired translator. Criticism of his version was counted as
impious and profane as criticisms of the original text could possibly have been. It is one of the ironies of history that the version for which Jerome had to fight, and which was counted a piece of impiety itself, actually became the ground on which men stood when they fought against another version, counting anything else but this very version an impious intrusion!
How early the movement for an English Bible began, it is impossible now to say. Certainly just before 700 A.D., that first singer of the English tongue, Caedmon, had learned to paraphrase the Bible. We may recall the Venerable Bede’s charming story of him, and how he came by his power of interpretation. Bede himself was a child when Caedmon died, and the romance of the story makes it one of the finest in our literature. Caedmon was a peasant, a farm laborer
in Northumbria working on the lands of the great Abbey at Whitby. Already he had passed middle life, and no spark of genius had flashed in him. He loved to go to the festive gatherings and hear the others sing their improvised poems; but, when the harp came around to him in due course, he would leave the room, for be could not sing. One night when he had slipped away from the group in shame and had made his rounds of the horses and cattle under his care, he fell asleep in the stable building, and heard a voice in his sleep bidding him sing. When he declared he could not, the voice still bade him sing. “What shall I sing?” he asked. “Sing the first beginning of created things.” And the words came to him; and, still dreaming, he sang his first hymn to the Creator. In the morning he told his story, and the Lady Abbess found that he had the divine gift. The monks had but to translate to him bits of the Bible out of the Latin, which he did not understand, into his familiar Anglo-Saxon tongue, and he would cast it into the rugged Saxon measures which could be sung by the common people. So far as we can tell, it was so, that the Bible story became current in Anglo-Saxon speech. Bede himself certainly put the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon. At the Bodleian Library, at Oxford, there is a manuscript of nearly twenty thousand lines, the metrical version of the Gospel and the Acts, done near 1250 by an Augustinian monk named Orm, and so called the Ormulum. There were other metrical versions of various parts of the Bible. Midway
between Bede and Orm came Langland’s poem, “The Vision of Piers Plowman,”
which paraphrased so much of the Scripture.
Yet the fact is that until the last quarter of the fourteenth century there was no prose version of the Bible in the English language. Indeed, there was only coming to be an English
language. It was gradually emerging, taking definite shape and form, so that it could be distinguished from the earlier Norman French, Saxon, and Anglo-Saxon, in which so much of it is rooted.
As soon as the language grew definite enough, it was inevitable that two things should come to pass. First, that some men would attempt to make a colloquial version of the Bible; and, secondly, that others would oppose it. One can count with all confidence on these two groups of men, marching through history like the animals into the ark, two and two. Some men propose, others oppose. They are built on those lines.
We are more concerned with the men who made the versions; but we must think a moment of the others. One of his contemporaries, Knighton, may speak for all in his saying of Wiclif, that he had, to be sure, translated the Gospel into the Anglic tongue, but that it had thereby been made vulgar by him, and more open to the reading of laymen and women than it usually is to the knowledge of lettered and intelligent clergy, and “thus the pearl is cast abroad and trodden under the feet of swine”; and, that we may not be in doubt who are the swine, he adds: “The jewel of the Church is turned into the common sport of the people.”
But two strong impulses drive thoughtful men to any effort that will secure wide knowledge of the Bible. One is their love of the Bible and their belief in it; but the other, dominant then and now, is a sense of the need of their own time. It cannot be too strongly urged that the two great pioneers of English Bible translation, Wiclif and Tindale, more than a century apart, were chiefly moved to their work by social conditions. No one could read the literature of
the times of which we are speaking without smiling at our assumption that we are the first who have cared for social needs. We talk about the past as the age of the individual, and the present as the social age. Our fathers, we say, cared only to be saved themselves, and had no concern for the evils of society. They believed in rescuing one here and another there, while we have come to see the wisdom of correcting the conditions that ruin men, and so saving men in the mass. There must be some basis of truth for that, since we say it so confidently; but it can be much over-accented. There were many of our fathers, and of our grandfathers, who were mightily concerned with the mass of people, and looked as carefully as we do for a corrective of social evils. Wiclif, in the late fourteenth century, and Tindale, in the early sixteenth, were two such men. The first English translations of the Bible were fruits of the social impulse.
Wiclif was impressed with the chasm that was growing between the church and the people, and felt that a wider and fuller knowledge of the Bible would be helpful for the closing of the chasm. It is a familiar remark of Miss Jane Addams that the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy. Wiclif believed that the cure for the evils of religion is more religion, more intelligent religion. He found a considerable feeling that the best things in religion ought to be kept from most people, since they could not be trusted to understand them. His own feeling was that the best things in religion are exactly the things most people ought to know most about; that people had better handle the Bible carelessly, mistakenly, than be shut out from it by any means whatever. We owe the first English translation to a faith that the Bible is a book of emancipation for the mind and for the political life.
John Wiclif himself was a scholar of Oxford, master of that famous Balliol College which has had such a list of distinguished masters. He was an adviser of Edward III. Twenty
years after his death a younger contemporary (W. Thorpe) said that “he was considered by many to be the most holy of all the men of his age. He was of emaciated frame, spare, and well nigh destitute of strength. He was absolutely blameless in his conduct.” And even
that same Knighton who accused him of casting the Church’s pearl before swine says that in philosophy “he came to be reckoned inferior to none of his time.”
But it was not at Oxford that he came to know common life so well and to sense the need for a new social influence. He came nearer to it when he was rector of the parish at Lutterworth. As scholar and rector he set going the
two great movements which leave his name in history. One was his securing, training, and sending out a band of itinerant preachers or “poor priests” to gather the people in fields and byways and to preach the simple truths of the Christian religion. They were unpaid, and lived by the kindness of the common people. They came to be called Lollards, though
the origin of the name is obscure. Their followers received the same name. A few years
after Wiclif’s death an enemy bitterly observed that if you met any two men one was sure to be a Lollard. It was the “first time in English history that an appeal had been made to the people instead of the scholars.” Religion was to be made rather a matter of practical life than of dogma or of ritual. The “poor priests” in their cheap brown robes became a mighty religious force, and evoked opposition from the
Church powers. A generation after Wiclif’s death they had become a mighty political force in the controversy between the King and the Pope. As late as 1521 five hundred Lollards were arrested in London by the bishop. Wiclif’s purpose, however, was to reach and help the common people with the simpler, and therefore the most fundamental, truths of religion.
 Muir, Our Grand Old Bible, p. 14.
The other movement which marks Wiclif’s name concerns us more; but it was connected with the first. He set out to give the common people the full text of the Bible for their common use, and to encourage them not only in reading it, if already they could read, but in learning to read that they might read it. Tennyson
compares the village of Lutterworth to that of Bethlehem, on the ground that if Christ, the Word of God, was born at Bethlehem, the Word of Life was born again at Lutterworth. The translation was from the Vulgate, and Wiclif probably did little of the actual work himself, yet it is all his work. And in 1382, more than five centuries ago, there appeared the first complete English version of the Bible. Wiclif made it the people’s Book, and the English people were the first of the modern nations to whom the Bible as a whole was given in their own familiar tongue. Once it got into their hands they have never let it be taken entirely away.
 “Not least art thou, thou little Bethlehem In Judah, for in thee the Lord was born; Nor thou in Britain, little Lutterworth, Least, for in thee the word was born again.” –Sir John Oldcastle.
Of course, all this was before the days of printing, and copies were made by hand only. Yet there were very many of them. One hundred and fifty manuscripts, in whole or in part, are extant still, a score of them of the original version, the others of the revision at once undertaken by John Purvey, Wiclif’s disciple. The
copies belonging to Edward VI. and Queen Elizabeth are both still in existence, and both show much use. Twenty years after it was completed copies were counted very valuable, though they were very numerous. It was not uncommon for a single complete manuscript copy of the Wiclif version to be sold for one hundred and fifty or two hundred dollars, and Foxe, whose Book of Martyrs we used to read as children, tells that a load of hay was given for the use of a New Testament one hour a day.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of this gift to the English people. It constitutes the standard of Middle English. Chaucer and Wiclif stood side by side. It is true that Chaucer himself accepted Wiclif’s teaching, and some of the wise men think that the “parson” of whom he speaks so finely as one who taught the lore of Christ and His apostles twelve, but first followed it himself, was Wiclif. But the version had far more than literary influence; it had tremendous power in keeping alive in England that spirit of free inquiry which is the only safeguard of free institutions. Here was the entire source of the Christian faith available for the judgment of common men, and they became at once judges of religious and political dogma. Dr. Ladd thinks it was not the reading of the Bible which produced the Reformation; it was the Reformation itself which procured the reading of the Bible. But Dr. Rashdall and Professor Pollard and others are right when they
insist that the English Reformation received less from Luther than from the secret reading of the Scripture over the whole country. What we call the English spirit of free inquiry was fostered and developed by Wiclif and his Lollards with the English Scripture in their hands. Out of it has grown as out of no other one root the freedom of the English and American people.
 What Is the Bible?, p. 45.
This work of Wiclif deserves the time we have given it because it asserted a principle for the English people. There was much yet to be done before entire freedom was gained. At Oxford, in the Convocation of 1408, it was solemnly voted: “We decree and ordain that no man hereafter by his own authority translate any text of the Scripture into English, or any other tongue, by way of a book, pamphlet, or other treatise; but that no man read any such book, pamphlet, or treatise now lately composed in the time of John Wiclif … until the said translation be approved by the orderly of the place.” But it was too late. It is always too late to overtake a liberating idea once it gets free. Tolstoi tells of Batenkoff, the Russian nihilist, that after he was seized and confined in his cell he was heard to laugh loudly; and, when they asked him the cause of his mirth, he said that he could not fail to be amused at the absurdity of the situation. “They have caught me,” he said, “and shut me up here; but my ideas are out yonder in the streets and in the fields, absolutely free. They cannot overtake them.” It was already too late, twenty years after Wiclif’s version was available, to stop the English people in their search for religious truth.
In the century just after the Wiclif translation, two great events occurred which bore
heavily on the spread of the Bible. One was the revival of learning, which made popular again the study of the classics and the classical languages. Critical and exact Greek scholarship became again a possibility. Remember that Wiclif did not know Greek nor Hebrew, did not need to know them to be the foremost scholar of Oxford in the fourteenth century. Even as late as 1502 there was no professor of Greek at the proud University of Erfurt when Luther was a student there. It was after he became a doctor of divinity and a university professor that he learned Greek in order to be a better Bible student, and his young friend Philip Melancthon was the first to teach Greek in the University. But under the influence of Erasmus and his kind, with their new insistence on classical learning, there came necessarily a new appraisal of the Vulgate as a translation of the original Bible. For a thousand years there had been no new study of the original Bible languages in Europe. The Latin of the Vulgate had become as sacred as the Book itself. But the revival of learning threw scholarship back on the sources of the text. Erasmus and others published versions of the Greek Testament which were disturbing to the Vulgate as a final version.
 McGiffert, Martin Luther.
The other great event of that same century was the invention of printing with movable type. It was in 1455 that Gutenberg printed his first book, an edition of the Vulgate, now called the Mazarin Bible. The bearing of the invention on the spread of common knowledge is beyond description. It is rather late to be praising the art of printing, and we need spend little time doing so; but one can see instantly how it affected the use of the Bible. It made it worth while to learn to read–there would be something to read. It made it worth while to write–there would be some one to read what was written.
One hundred years exactly after the death of Wiclif, William Tindale was born. He was eight years old when Columbus discovered America. He had already taken a degree at Oxford, and was a student in Cambridge when Luther posted his theses at Wittenburg. Erasmus either was a teacher at Cambridge when
Tindale was a student there, or had just left. Sir Thomas More and Erasmus were close
friends, and More’s Utopia and Erasmus’s Greek New Testament appeared the same year, probably while Tindale was a student at Cambridge.
But he came at a troubled time. The new learning had no power to deepen or strengthen the moral life of the people. It could not make religion a vital thing. Morality and religion were far separated. The priests and curates were densely ignorant. We need not ask Tindale what was the condition. Ask Bellarmine,
a cardinal of the Church: “Some Years before the rise of the Lutheran heresy there was almost an entire abandonment of equity in ecclesiastical judgments; in morals, no discipline; in
sacred literature, no erudition; in divine things, no reverence; religion was almost extinct.” Or ask Erasmus, who never broke with the Church: “What man of real piety does not perceive with sighs that this is far the most corrupt of all ages? When did iniquity abound with more licentiousness? When was charity so cold?” And, as a century before, Wiclif had felt the social need for a popular version of the Bible, so William Tindale felt it now. He saw the need as great among the clergy of the time as among the laity. In one of his writings he says: “If you will not let the layman have the word of God in his mother tongue, yet let the priests have it, which for the great part of them do understand no Latin at all, but sing and patter all day with the lips only that which the heart understandeth not.” So bad was the case that it was not corrected within a whole generation. Forty years after Tindale’s version was published, the Bishop of Gloucester, Hooper by name, made an examination of the clergy of his diocese. There were 311 of them. He found 168, more than half, unable to repeat the Ten Commandments; 31 who did not even know where they could be found; 40 who could not repeat the Lord’s Prayer; and nearly as many who did not know where it originated; yet they were all in regular standing as clergy in the diocese of Gloucester. The need was keen enough.
 Obedience of a Christian Man.
About 1523 Tindale began to cast the Scriptures into the current English. He set out to
London fully expecting to find support and encouragement there, but he found neither. He found, as he once said, that there was no room in the palace of the Bishop of London to translate the New Testament; indeed, that there was no place to do it in all England. A wealthy London merchant subsidized him with the munificent gift of ten pounds, with which he went
across the Channel to Hamburg; and there and elsewhere on the Continent, where he could be hid, he brought his translation to completion. Printing facilities were greater on the Continent than in England; but there was such opposition to his work that very few copies of the several editions of which we know can still be found. Tindale was compelled to flee at one time with a few printed sheets and complete his work on another press. Several times copies of his books were solemnly burned, and his own life was frequently in danger.
There is one amusing story which tells how money came to free Tindale from heavy debt and prepare the way for more Bibles. The Bishop of London, Tunstall, was set on destroying copies of the English New Testament. He
therefore made a bargain with a merchant of Antwerp, Packington, to secure them for him. Packington was a friend of Tindale, and went to him forthwith, saying: “William, I know thou art a poor man, and I have gotten thee a merchant for thy books.” “Who?” asked Tindale. “The Bishop of London.” “Ah, but
he will burn them.” “So he will, but you will have the money.” And it all came out as it was planned; the Bishop of London had the books, Packington had the thanks, Tindale had the money, the debt was paid, and the new edition was soon ready. The old document, from which I am quoting, adds that the Bishop thought he had God by the toe when, indeed, he found afterward that he had the devil by the fist.
 Pollard, Records of the English Bible, p. 151.
The final revision of the Tindale translations was published in 1534, and that becomes the notable year of his life. In two years he was put to death by strangling, and his body was burned. When we remember that this was
done with the joint power of Church and State, we realize some of the odds against which he worked.
Spite of his odds, however, Tindale is the real father of our King James version. About eighty per cent. of his Old Testament and ninety per cent. of his New Testament have been transferred to our version. In the Beatitudes, for
example, five are word for word in the two versions, while the other three are only slightly
changed. Dr. Davidson has calculated that nine-tenths of the words in the shorter New Testament epistles are Tindale’s, and in the longer epistles like the Hebrews five-sixths are his. Froude’s estimate is fair: “Of the translation itself, though since that time it has been many times revised and altered, we may say that it is substantially the Bible with which we are familiar. The peculiar genius which breathes through it, the mingled tenderness and majesty, the Saxon simplicity, the preternatural grandeur, unequaled, unapproached, in the attempted improvements of modern scholars, all are here, and bear the impress of the mind of one man, William Tindale.”
 The fourth reads in his version, “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness”; the seventh, “Blessed are the maintainers of peace”; the eighth, “Blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake.”
 History of England, end of chap. xii.
We said a moment ago that Wiclif’s translation was the standard of Middle English. It is time to add that Tindale’s version “fixed our standard English once for all, and brought it finally into every English home.” The revisers of 1881 declared that while the authorized version was the work of many hands, the foundation of it was laid by Tindale, and that the
versions that followed it were substantially reproductions of Tindale’s, or revisions of versions which were themselves almost entirely based on it.
There was every reason why it should be a worthy version. For one thing, it was the first translation into English from the original Hebrew and Greek. Wiclif’s had been from the
Latin. For Tindale there were available two new and critical Greek Testaments, that of Erasmus and the so-called Complutensian, though he used that of Erasmus chiefly. There was also available a carefully prepared Hebrew Old Testament. For another thing, it was the first version which could be printed, and so be subject to easy and immediate correction and revision. Then also, Tindale himself was a great scholar in the languages. He was “so skilled in the seven languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French, that, whichever he spoke, you would suppose it was his native tongue.” Nor was his spirit in the work controversial. I say his “spirit in the work” with care. They were controversial times, and Tindale took his share in the verbal warfare. When, for example, there was objection to making any English version because
“the language was so rude that the Bible could not be intelligently translated into it,” Tindale replied: “It is not so rude as they are false liars. For the Greek tongue agreeth more with the English than with the Latin, a thousand parts better may it be translated into the English than into the Latin.” And when a high church dignitary protested to Tindale against making the Bible so common, he replied: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth a plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” And while that was not saying much for the plowboy, it was saying a good deal to the dignitary. In language, Tindale was controversial enough, but
in his spirit, in making his version, there was no element of controversy. For such reasons as these we might expect the version to be valuable.
 Herman Buschius.
 This will mean the more to us when we realize that the literary men of the day despised the English tongue. Sir Thomas More wrote his Utopia in Latin, because otherwise educated men would not deign to read it. Years later Roger Ascham apologized for writing one of his works in English. Putting the Bible into current English impressed these literary men very much as we would be impressed by putting the Bible into current slang.
All this while, and especially between the time when Tindale first published his New Testament and the time they burned him for doing so, an interesting change was going on in England. The King was Henry VIII., who was by no means a willing Protestant. As Luther’s work appeared, it was this same Henry who wrote the
pamphlet against him during the Diet of Worms, and on the ground of this pamphlet, with its loyal support of the Church against Luther, he received from the Roman pontiff the title “Defender of the Faith,” which the kings of England still wear. And yet under this king this strange succession of dates can be given. Notice them closely. In 1526 Tindale’s New Testament was burned at St. Paul’s by the Bishop of London; ten years later, 1536, Tindale himself was burned with the knowledge and connivance of the English government; and yet, one year later, 1537, two versions of the Bible in English, three-quarters of which were the work of Tindale, were licensed for public use by the King of England, and were required to be made available for the people! Eleven years after the
New Testament was burned, one year after Tindale was burned, that crown was set on his work! What brought this about?
Three facts help to explain it. First, the recent years of Bible translation were having their weight. The fugitive copies of the Bible were doing their work. Spite of the sharp opposition fifty thousand copies of Tindale’s various editions had actually been published and circulated. Men were reading them; they were approving them. The more they read, the less reason they saw for hiding the Book from the people. Why should it not be made common and free? There was strong Lutheran opinion in the universities. It was already a custom for English teachers to go to Germany for minute scholarship. They came back with German Bibles in Luther’s version and with Greek Testaments, and the young scholars who were being raised up felt the influence, consciously or unconsciously, of the free use of the Bible which ruled in many German universities.
The second fact that helps to explain the sudden change of attitude toward the Bible is this: the people of England were never willingly ruled from without, religiously or politically. There has recently been a considerable controversy over the history of the Established
Church of England, whether it has always been an independent church or was at one time officially a part of the Roman Church. That is a matter for ecclesiastical history to determine. The foundation fact, however, is as I
worded it a moment ago: the people of England were never willingly ruled from without, religiously or politically. They were sometimes
ruled from without; but they were either indifferent to it at the time or rebellious against
it. Those who did think claimed the right to think for themselves. The Scotch of the north were peculiarly so, but the English of the south claimed the same right. There has always been an immense contrast between the two sides of the British Channel. The French people during all those years were deeply loyal to a foreign religious government. The English people were never so, not in the days of the fullest Roman supremacy. They always demanded at least a form of home government. That made England a congenial home for the Protestant spirit, which claimed the right to independent study of the sources of religion and independent judgment regarding them. It was only a continuance of the spirit of Wiclif and the Lollards. The spirit in a nation lives long, especially when it is passed down by tradition. Those were not the days of newspapers. They were instead the days of great meetings, more important still of small family gatherings, where the memory of the older men was called into use, and where boys and girls drank in eagerly the traditions of their own country as expressed in the great events of their history. Newspapers never can fully take the place of those gatherings, for they do not bring men together to feel the thrill of the story that is told. It must be remembered that the entire population of England at that time was only about three millions. And that old spirit of independence was strongly at work in the middle-class villages and among the merchants, and they were a ruling and dominant class. That was second, that in those ten years there asserted itself the age-long unwillingness of the English people to be ruled from without.
The third fact which must be taken into account to explain this remarkable change of
front of the public English life is Henry VIII. himself. There is much about him that no country would willingly claim. He was the most habitual bridegroom in English history; he had an almost confirmed habit of beheading his wives or otherwise ridding himself of them. Yet many traits made him a typical outstanding Englishman. He had the characteristic spirit of independence, the resentment of foreign control, satisfaction with his own land, the feeling that of course it is the best land. There are no people in the world so well satisfied with their own country as the people of England or the British Isles. They are critical of many things in their own government until they begin to compare it with other countries; they must make their changes on their own lines. The pamphlet of Henry VIII., which won him the title of Defender of the Faith, praised the pope; and, though Sir Thomas More urged him to change his expressions lest he should live to regret them, he would not change them. But that was while the pope was serving his wishes and what he felt was England’s good.
There arose presently the question, or the several questions, about his marriage. It sheds no glory on Henry VIII. that they arose as they did; but his treatment of them must not be mistaken. He was concerned to have his marriage to Anne Boleyn confirmed, and there are
some who think he was honest in believing it ought to be confirmed, though we need not believe that. What happened was that for the
first time Henry VIII. found that as sovereign of England he must take commands from a foreign power, a power exercising temporal sovereignty exactly as he did, but adding to it a claim to spiritual power, a claim to determine his conduct for him and to absolve his people from
loyalty to him if he was not obedient. It arose over the question of his divorce, but it might have arisen over anything else. It was limitation on his sovereignty in England. And he let it be seen that all questions that pertain to England were to be settled in England, and not
in another land. He would rather have a matter settled wrong in England than settled right elsewhere. That is how he claimed to be
head of the English Church. The people back of him had always held to the belief that they were governed from within, though they were linked to religion from without. He executed their theory. That assertion of English sovereignty came during the eventful years of which
we are speaking.
Here, then, are our great facts. First, thoughtful opinion wanted the Bible made available, and at a convention of bishops and university men the King was requested to secure the issuance of a proper translation. Secondly, the
people wanted it, the more because it would gratify their English instinct of independent judgment in matters of religion. Thirdly, the King granted it without yielding his personal religious position, in assertion of his human sovereignty within his own realm.
So England awoke one morning in 1537 to discover that it had a translation of the Bible two of them actually, open to its use, the very thing that had been forbidden yesterday! And that, one year after Tindale had been burned in loyal France for issuing an English translation! Two versions were now authorized and made available. What were they? That of Miles Coverdale, which had been issued secretly two years before, and that known as the “Matthew” Bible, though the name has no significance, issued within a year. Details are not to our purpose. Neither was an independent work, but was made largely from the Latin and the German, and much influenced by Tindale.
Coverdale was a Yorkshire man like Wiclif, feminine in his mental cast as Tindale was masculine. Coverdale made his translation because
he loved books; Tindale because he felt driven to it. But now the way was clear, and other editions appeared. It is natural to name one or two of the more notable ones.
There appeared what is known as the Great Bible in 1539. It was only another version made by Coverdale on the basis of the Matthew version, but corrected by more accurate knowledge. There is an interesting romance of its
publication. The presses of England were not adequate for the great work planned; it was to be a marvel of typography. So the consent of King Francis was gained to have it printed in France, and Coverdale was sent as a special ambassador to oversee it. He was in dread of the Inquisition, which was in vogue at the time, and sent off his printed sheets to England as rapidly as possible. Suddenly one day the order of confiscation came from the Inquisitor-General. Only Coverdale’s official position as representing the King saved his own life. As for the
printed sheets on which so much depended, they seemed doomed. But in the nick of time a dealer appeared at the printing-house and purchased four great vats full of waste paper which he shipped to England–when it was found that the waste paper was those printed sheets. The presses and the printers were all loyal to England, and the edition was finally completed. The Great Bible was issued to meet a decree that each church should make available in some convenient place the largest possible copy of the
whole Bible, where all the parishioners could have access to it and read it at their will. The version gets its name solely from the size of the volume. That decree dates 1538, twelve years after Tindale’s books were burned, and two years after he was burned! The installation of these great books caused tremendous
excitement–crowds gathered everywhere. Bishop Bonner caused six copies of the great volume to be located wisely throughout St. Paul’s. He found it difficult to make people leave them during the sermons. He was so often interrupted by voices reading to a group, and by the discussions that ensued, that he threatened to have them taken out during the service if people would not be quiet. The Great Bible appeared in seven editions in two years, and
continued in recognized power for thirty years. Much of the present English prayer-book is taken from it.
But this liberty was so sudden that the people naturally abused it. Henry became vexed
because the sacred words “were disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every ale-house.” There had grown up a series of wild ballads and ribald songs in contempt of “the old faith,”
while it was not really the old faith which was in dispute, but only foreign control of English faith. They had mistaken Henry’s meaning. So Henry began to put restrictions on the use of the Bible. There were to be no notes or annotations in any versions, and those that existed were to be blacked out. Only the upper classes were to be allowed to possess a Bible. Finally, the year before his death, all versions were prohibited except the Great Bible, whose cost and size precluded secret use. The decree led to another great burning of Bibles in 1546– Tindale, Coverdale, Matthew–all but the Great Bible. The leading religious reformers took flight and fled to European Protestant towns like Frankfort and Strassburg. But the Bible remained. Henry VIII. died. The Bible lived on.
Under Edward VI., the boy king, coming to the throne at nine and dying at fifteen, the regency with Crammer at its head earned its bad name. But while its members were shamelessly despoiling churches and enriching themselves they did one great service for the Bible. They cast off all restrictions on its translation and publication. The order for a Great Bible in every church was renewed, and there was to be added to it a copy of Erasmus’s paraphrase of the four gospels. Nearly fifty editions of the Bible, in whole or in part, appeared in those six years.
And that was fortunate, for then came Mary –and the deluge. Of course, she again gave in the nominal allegiance of England to the Roman control. But she utterly missed the spirit of the people. They were weary with the excesses of rabid Protestantism; but they were by no means ready to admit the principle of foreign control in religious matters. They might have been willing, many of them, that the use of the Bible should be restricted, if it were done by their own sovereign. They were not willing that another sovereign should restrict them. So the secret use of the Bible increased. Martyr fires were kindled, but by the light of them the people read their Bibles more eagerly. And this very persecution led to one of the best of the early versions of the Bible, indirectly even to the King James version.
The flower of English Protestant scholarship was driven into exile, and found its way to Frankfort and Geneva again. There the spirit of scholarship was untrammeled; there they found material for scholarly study of the Bible, and there they made and published a new version of the Bible in English, by all means the best that had been made. In later years, under Elizabeth, it drove the Great Bible off the field by sheer power of excellence. During her reign sixty editions of it appeared. This was the version called the Genevan Bible. It made several changes that are familiar to us. For one thing, in the Genevan edition of 1560 first appeared our familiar division into verses. The chapter division was made three centuries earlier; but the verses belong to the Genevan version, and are divided to make the Book suitable for responsive use and for readier reference. It was taken in large part from the work of Robert Stephens, who had divided the Greek Testament into verses, ten years earlier, during a journey which he was compelled to make between Paris and Lyons. The Genevan version also abandoned the old black letter, and used the Roman type with which we are familiar. It had full notes on hard passages, which notes, as we shall see, helped to produce the King James version. The work itself was completed after the accession of Elizabeth, when most of the religious leaders had returned to England from their exile under Mary.
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
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.
THE MAKING OF THE KING JAMES VERSION; ITS CHARACTERISTICS
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. 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.
 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.” 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
 History of England, chap. i.
 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.” 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.”
 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.”
 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.
The version did not at once supersede the Genevan and the Bishops’; but it was so
incomparably better than either that gradually they disappeared, and by sheer excellence it took the field, and it holds the field to-day in spite of the numerous supposedly improved versions that have appeared under private auspices. It holds the field, also, in spite of the excellent revised version of 1881 made by authority, and the more excellent version issued in 1901 by the American Revision Committee, to-day undoubtedly the best version in existence, considered simply as a reproduction of the sense
of the original. And for reasons that may later appear, the King James version bids fair to hold the field for many years to come.
When we turn from the history of its making to the work itself, there is much to say. We may well narrow our thought for the remainder of the study to its traits as a version of the Bible.
I. Name this first, that it is an honest version. That is, it has no argumentative purpose. It is not, as the scholars say, apologetic. It is simply an out-and-out version of the Scripture, as honestly as they could reproduce it.
There were Puritans on the committee; there were extreme High Churchmen; there were
men of all grades between. But there is nowhere any evidence that any one was set on
making the Bible prove his point. There were strong anti-papal believers among them; but they made free use of the Douai version, and, of course, of the Vulgate. They knew the feeling that Hugh Broughton had toward them;
but they made generous use of all that was good in his work. They were working under a royal warrant, and their dedication to King James, with its absurd and fulsome flattery, shows what they were capable of when they thought of the King. But there is no twist of a text to make it serve the purposes of royalty. They might be servile when they thought of King James; but there was not a touch of servility in them when they thought of the Scripture itself. They were under instruction not to abandon the use of ecclesiastical terms. For instance, they were not to put “congregation” in place of “church,” as some Puritans wanted to do. Some thought that was meant to insure a High Church version; but the translators did not understand it so for a moment. They understood it only to safeguard them against making a partisan version on either side, and to help them to make a version which the people could read understandingly at once. It was not to be a Puritan
Book nor a High Church Book. It was to be an honest version of the Bible, no matter whose side it sustained.
Now, if any one thinks that is easy, or only a matter of course, he plainly shows that he has never been a theologian or a scholar in a contested field. Ask any lawyer whether it is easy to handle his authorities with entire impartiality, whether it is a matter of course that he will let them say just what they meant to say when his case is involved. Of course, he will seek to do it as an honest lawyer, but equally, of course, he will have to keep close watch on himself or he will fail in doing it. Ask any historian whether it is easy to handle the original documents in a field in which he has firm and announced opinions, and to let those documents speak exactly what they mean to say, whether they support him or not. The greater historians will always do it, but they will sometimes do it with a bit of a wrench.
Even a scholar is human, and these men sitting in their six companies would all have to meet this Book afterward, would have their opinions tried by it. There must have been times when some of them would be inclined to salt the mine a little, to see that it would yield what they would want it to yield later. So far as these men were able to do it, they made it say in English just what it said in Hebrew and Greek. They showed no inclination to use it as a weapon in their personal warfare.
One line of that honest effort is worth observing more closely. When points were open to
fair discussion, and scholarship had not settled them, they were careful not to let their version