KING JAMES AND THE SCRIPTURES

by Robert Stephens
(hebrew names and the term "scriptures" restored througout)

The King James Scriptures are the most printed book in the world. No other publication can challenge that. At least one part of the Scriptures has been printed in more than 1,760 languages. There are literally hundreds of translations of the Scriptures in the English language alone. The King James, or Authorized version as it was also called, was not a translated out of the original Greek and Hebrew, but was the product of at least six previous translations. Contrary to naive notions of some, it was not unearthed in the sands of Palestine, already bound in black leather, on India paper with gold edges, and dedicated to King James. It took men of courage and faith who gave their lives so that we might have the Scriptures in our own language. The Word of Yahweh was written by an estimated 36 to 40 human writers, inspired by Yahweh to record the books of the Scriptures. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the language of the Israelite people, with a few portions written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek; a common language of the day.

None of the original documents are in existence today. The original copies, called autographs, were printed on papyrus scrolls or parchments of animal skins, and have long since rotted or decayed. So how can we be sure that the Scriptures we have today is the same as the originals? The scriptures have been preserved through the centuries by ancient scribes who made handwritten copies of the scriptures on long scrolls of vellum or animal skins. These copies were always carefully checked for mistakes, and any sections containing mistakes were destroyed. This was to ensure that no mistakes would be carried on to future copies. Although none of the original manuscripts have been found, there have been a large number of very early copies found, and these all agree with remarkable precision and exactness.

The first translation of the Old Testament was from Hebrew to Greek. This translation, called the Septuagint, took place in the third century B.C. by seventy Hebrew scholars for the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Certain Jews made the fifth day of Tebeth (on which the Septuagint appeared) a day of mourning, because they thought Yahweh could only be approached in Hebrew. This translation became the "Scriptures" of Yahshua's followers during the time of the Messiah.

Damasus, the Bishop of Rome, commissioned Eusebius Heironymus, better known as Jerome, to revise older Latin versions of the Scriptures. His work became known as the Vulgate, or "common" Scriptures because it was written in the common Latin of the people. The Latin Vulgate became the predominant translation in Europe and the only official scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church. Later It became necessary to translate the Hebrew-Greek Scriptures into a common tongue as the Yahweh's faith had spread into new lands. Not everyone could read Latin. For the majority of the world, their only knowledge of the Scriptures was from sermons and stories of the parish priests, religious plays in the market places, religious paintings, and stained glass windows which decorated the churches.

The first English translation was sponsored by John Wycliffe, an opponent of the papacy who believed that people should be governed by the Scriptures alone. Two .of his associates worked to translate the Latin Vulgate into English. This became known as the Wycliffe Scriptures. The Church authorities viewed this as a threat to their power. Readers and distributors of Wycliffe's Scriptures were severely punished, Wycliffe himself was burned at the stake. But for a century and a half, Wycliffe's Scriptures were the only English translation of the Scriptures. Later, an Englishman named William Tyndale saw the need for an English translation based not on the Latin Vulgate, but upon the original languages. By this time the printing press had been invented, so it was no longer necessary to make all copies by hand. Tyndale's New Testament was completed in 1526. It was meant to make the Scriptures intelligible and easier for the common layman to understand. Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. The Coverdale, which was a revision of Tyndale's work, was completed in 1535 by Miles Coverdale, an associate and fellow scholar. Another revision of Tyndale's work was published in 1535 by John Matthew. It became known as the Matthew's Scriptures. The Great Scriptures, the Bishop's Scriptures, and the many revisions of the King James are all essentially based on the Matthew's Scriptures. Another called the Great Scriptures, was later published. It was chiefly a revision of Matthew's Scriptures, without the notes and comments placed in the margin by John Rogers. The Great Scriptures were the first and only Scriptures authorized to be read in the Church of England.

After the short reign of Edward VI, Mary Tutor, a devout Catholic came to the throne. She ordered the death of hundreds of Protestants, including John Rogers (Matthew's Scriptures) and forced many English Protestants to seek refuge in Switzerland. While there, some zealous Puritans in Geneva under the leadership of John Knox produced another version of the English Scriptures which was taken from both the Great Scriptures and the Tyndale. It was known as the Geneva Scriptures. It was the first "Modern" version of the Scriptures; the first to divide chapters into verses, and the first to put into italics the words not from the Hebrew or Greek, but necessary in English. It would take the King James edition almost a century to surpass it in popularity.

After Queen Elizabeth I succeed Mary Tutor to the throne, she reinstated the reading of the Great Scriptures in the church. The Geneva Scriptures, although more popular, was viewed by the Church as being partisan to Puritans. A revision was sought, and in 1568, the Bishops Scriptures were published. This edition was responsible for many of the Latinisms that are found in today's English Scriptures. The Bishop's Scriptures were, however, a compromise. It was a dignified and "safe" version, intended for public reading. Words viewed as offensive were altered. Marginal notes were removed.

In the end of Elizabeth's reign, an act of parliament was made for the purpose of a new translation of the Scriptures. Nothing ever became of this draft, until after her death when she was seceded by James 1, as the throne passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts. One of the first things done by the new king was the calling of the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604, to resolve church matters. Although not on the agenda, the issue of Scripture preference was brought up. The Bishops Scriptures were unpopular to many. Scriptures was needed which would meet the approval of the whole church. King James himself was annoyed by the marginal notes and commentaries in the Geneva Scriptures; notes which were critical of the divine right of Kings. A resolution was made:

"That a translation be made of the whole Scriptures, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service."

The King selected fifty-four men who were the best scholars and linguists of their day. Of the men nominated, only forty-seven are known to have taken part in the work of translation. There were fifteen general rules that were given for the translators to follow. The Bishops' Scriptures was to be followed and "as little altered as the truth of the original". The translators were to use the Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Scriptures, and the Geneva Scriptures when they agreed better with the Hebrew and Greek text than did the Bishops'. The old ecclesiastical words were to be kept. No marginal notes were to be added, but only for the explanation of certain Hebrew and Greek words which could not be explained in the text.

Although the Bishops' Scriptures were intended by the King to be the baseline for the new Scriptures, the translators followed more closely to the wording of the Geneva Scriptures; which was able to interpret difficult passages more precisely. They copied freely, not only from earlier English editions, but from foreign translations. The forty-seven men selected were divided into six groups, each one responsible for a separate section. The work was completed in two years and nine months. A final editing committee, composed of two men from each of the six companies, reviewed the entire work, and prepared it for publication. The King called for the project to be reviewed by the bishops of the church and then presented to the Privy Council, and finally to be ratified by his royal authority. Outside of this statement, there is no record that there was any official action of Parliament, King James, or the Church taken to declare the King James Version the "Authorized Version" of the Church of England.

It's publication, in 1611, did not meet with immediate success. The Geneva Scriptures would, for another eighty years, be the most popular edition of the Scriptures. It caught on slowly, but eventually would become "The Scriptures" in the minds of many. It was later revised, a total of seven times, to make necessary changes in spelling, as the English language is constantly changing.

There are hundreds of translations of the scriptures. Some are of value, while others do great damage to great truths Yahweh intended for his word to convey. But because of it's unmatched literary beauty and loyalty to the cause of inspiration the King James Scriptures has been and probably will continue to be most treasured copy of the Word of Yahweh in the minds of uncounted millions.

Works Cited

Greenslade, S.L. The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1963

Winrod, Gerald B. Facts About the Bible. Wichita, Kansas: Defender Publishers, 1954

Griffin, Jerry "How we got the Bible," Bible Advocate. Sept., Oct, and Nov 1983.

"The Difference a Translation Makes" Christian History. 1994, Vol.13 Issue 3, p16, 2p, 4bw

Internet References

http://www.netc.com/~gok/bible20.html

http://www.bibles.net



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