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The King James Bible (KJV) and the King James Bible (KJB), and the Authorized Version, is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611 by the sponsorship of King James VI and I. The 80 books of the King James Version include 39 books of the Old Testament, an intertestamental section containing 14 books of what Protestants consider the Apocrypha, and 27 books of the New Testament. Noted for its “majesty of style,” the King James Version has been described as one of the most important books in English culture and a driving force in the shaping of the English-speaking world.
The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is an English translation of the Bible that was commissioned by King James I of England in 1604 and completed in 1611. It is considered one of the most important and influential translations of the Bible in the English language and has had a significant impact on the development of the English language and literature.
The translation of the KJV was carried out by a team of 54 scholars, who were selected and appointed by King James I to produce a new translation of the Bible that would be suitable for use in the Church of England. The scholars were given strict guidelines to follow in the translation process, and were required to adhere to a formal, archaic style of English that was considered more suitable for use in worship.
The KJV was the first English translation of the Bible to be produced using the principles of formal equivalence, which sought to translate the original Hebrew and Greek text as closely as possible while still preserving the meaning and structure of the original. This approach resulted in a translation that was more accurate and faithful to the original text but also more difficult for many people to understand. This is the one thing the King James Version still has correct. It is a fair trade to get a text written on an 11th-12th grade level that is more difficult to understand rather than an interpretive translation, where the reader receives what the translators think God meant by the words that the authors used.
Despite its archaic style and sometimes difficult language, as well as the many dozens of corrupt readings in the New Testament that were based on the Greek Text the Textus Receptus by Desiderius Erasmus, the KJV has remained popular and widely used for more than 400 years. It is still considered a standard translation of the Bible by King James Version fans and what is known as King James Version Onlyists in many Christian denominations and continues to be reprinted and distributed around the world.
The KJV was first printed by John Norton and Robert Barker, who both held the post of the King’s Printer, and was the third translation into the English language approved by the English Church authorities: The first had been the Great Bible, commissioned in the reign of King Henry VIII (1535), and the second had been the Bishops’ Bible, commissioned in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1568). In Geneva, Switzerland, the first generation of Protestant Reformers produced the Geneva Bible of 1560 from the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures, which was influential in the writing of the Authorized King James Version.
In January 1604, King James convened the Hampton Court Conference, where a new English version was conceived in response to the problems of the earlier translations perceived by the Puritans, a faction of the Church of England.
James gave the translators instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. The translation was done by 6 panels of translators (47 men in all, most of whom were leading biblical scholars in England) who had the work divided up between them: the Old Testament was entrusted to three panels, the New Testament to two, and the Apocrypha to one. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the text of the Authorized Version replaced the text of the Great Bible for Epistle and Gospel readings (but not for the Psalter, which substantially retained Coverdale’s Great Bible version), and as such was authorized by Act of Parliament.
By the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version had become effectively unchallenged as the English translation used in Anglican and other English Protestant churches, except for the Psalms and some short passages in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English-speaking scholars. With the development of stereotype printing at the beginning of the 19th century, this version of the Bible had become the most widely printed book in history, almost all such printings presenting the standard text of 1769 extensively re-edited by Benjamin Blayney at Oxford, and nearly always omitting the books of the Apocrypha. Today the unqualified title “King James Version” usually indicates this Oxford standard text.
The title of the first edition of the translation, in Early Modern English, was “THE HOLY BIBLE, Conteyning the Old Teſtament, AND THE NEW: Newly Tranſlated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Tranſlations diligently compared and reuiſed, by his Maiesties ſpeciall Cõmandement.” The title page carries the words “Appointed to be read in Churches,” and F. F. Bruce suggests it was “probably authorised by order in council” but no record of the authorisation survives “because the Privy Council registers from 1600 to 1613 were destroyed by fire in January 1618/19.”
For many years, it was common not to give the translation any specific name. In his Leviathan of 1651, Thomas Hobbes referred to it as “the English Translation made in the beginning of the Reign of King James.” A 1761 “Brief Account of the various Translations of the Bible into English” refers to the 1611 version merely as “a new, compleat, and more accurate Translation,” despite referring to the Great Bible by its name, and despite using the name “Rhemish Testament” for the Douay–Rheims Bible version. Similarly, a “History of England,” whose fifth edition was published in 1775, writes merely that “[a] new translation of the Bible, viz., that now in Use, was begun in 1607, and published in 1611.”
King James’s Bible is used as the name for the 1611 translation (on a par with the Genevan Bible or the Rhemish Testament) in Charles Butler’s Horae Biblicae (first published in 1797). Other works from the early 19th century confirm the widespread use of this name on both sides of the Atlantic: it is found both in a “Historical sketch of the English translations of the Bible” published in Massachusetts in 1815 and in an English publication from 1818, which explicitly states that the 1611 version is “generally known by the name of King James’s Bible.” This name was also found as King James’ Bible (without the final “s”): for example in a book review from 1811. The phrase “King James’s Bible” is used as far back as 1715, although in this case it is not clear whether this is a name or merely a description.
The use of Authorized Version, capitalized and used as a name, is found as early as 1814. For some time before this, descriptive phrases such as “our present, and only publicly authorised version” (1783), “our Authorized version” (1731, 1792), and “the authorized version” (1801, uncapitalized) are found. A more common appellation in the 17th and 18th centuries was “our English translation” or “our English version,” as can be seen by searching one or other of the major online archives of printed books. In Britain, the 1611 translation is generally known as the “Authorized Version” today. The term is somewhat of a misnomer because the text itself was never formally “authorized,” nor were English parish churches ever ordered to procure copies of it.
King James’ Version, evidently a descriptive phrase, is found being used as early as 1814. “The King James Version” is found, unequivocally used as a name, in a letter from 1855. The next year, King James Bible, with no possessive, appears as a name in a Scottish source. In the United States, the “1611 translation” (actually editions following the standard text of 1769, see below) is generally known as the King James Version today.
Earlier English Translations
The followers of John Wycliffe undertook the first complete English translations of the Christian scriptures in the 14th century. These translations were banned in 1409 due to their association with the Lollards. The Wycliffe Bible pre-dated the printing press, but it was circulated very widely in manuscript form, often inscribed with a date that was earlier than 1409 in order to avoid the legal ban. Because the text of the various versions of the Wycliffe Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and because it also contained no heterodox readings, the ecclesiastical authorities had no practical way to distinguish the banned version; consequently, many Catholic commentators of the 15th and 16th centuries (such as Thomas More) took these manuscripts of English Bibles and claimed that they represented an anonymous earlier orthodox translation.
In 1525, William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther, undertook a translation of the New Testament. Tyndale’s translation was the first printed Bible in English. Over the next ten years, Tyndale revised his New Testament in the light of rapidly advancing biblical scholarship and embarked on a translation of the Old Testament. Despite some controversial translation choices, and in spite of Tyndale’s execution on charges of heresy for having made the translated Bible, the merits of Tyndale’s work and prose style made his translation the ultimate basis for all subsequent renditions into Early Modern English. With these translations lightly edited and adapted by Myles Coverdale in 1539, Tyndale’s New Testament and his incomplete work on the Old Testament became the basis for the Great Bible. This was the first “authorised version” issued by the Church of England during the reign of King Henry VIII. When Mary I succeeded to the throne in 1553, she returned the Church of England to the communion of the Catholic faith, and many English religious reformers fled the country, some establishing an English-speaking colony in Geneva. Under the leadership of John Calvin, Geneva became the chief international center of Reformed Protestantism and Latin biblical scholarship.
These English expatriates (live outside their native country) undertook a translation that became known as the Geneva Bible. This translation, dated to 1560, was a revision of Tyndale’s Bible and the Great Bible on the basis of the original languages. Soon after Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, the flaws of both the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible (namely, that the Geneva Bible did not “conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy”) became painfully apparent. In 1568, the Church of England responded with the Bishops’ Bible, a revision of the Great Bible in the light of the Geneva version. While officially approved, this new version failed to displace the Geneva translation as the most popular English Bible of the age—in part because the full Bible was only printed in lectern editions of prodigious size and at a cost of several pounds. Accordingly, Elizabethan lay people overwhelmingly read the Bible in the Geneva Version—small editions were available at a relatively low cost. At the same time, there was a substantial clandestine importation of the rival Douay–Rheims New Testament of 1582, undertaken by exiled Catholics. This translation, though still derived from Tyndale, claimed to represent the text of the Latin Vulgate.
In May 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Columba’s Church in Burntisland, Fife, at which proposals were put forward for a new translation of the Bible into English. Two years later, he ascended to the throne of England as James I.
Considerations for a New Version
The newly crowned King James convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. That gathering proposed a new English version in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England. Here are three examples of problems the Puritans perceived with the Bishops and Great Bibles:
First, Galatians iv. 25 (from the Bishops’ Bible). The Greek word susoichei is not well translated as now it is, bordereth neither expressing the force of the word, nor the apostle’s sense, nor the situation of the place. Secondly, psalm cv. 28 (from the Great Bible), ‘They were not obedient;’ the original being, ‘They were not disobedient.’ Thirdly, psalm cvi. 30 (also from the Great Bible), ‘Then stood up Phinees and prayed,’ the Hebrew hath, ‘executed judgment.’
Instructions were given to the translators that were intended to use Formal Equivalence (literal translation philosophy) and limit the Puritan influence on this new translation. The Bishop of London added a qualification that the translators would add no marginal notes (which had been an issue in the Geneva Bible). King James cited two passages in the Geneva translation where he found the marginal notes offensive to the principles of divinely ordained royal supremacy: Exodus 1:19, where the Geneva Bible notes had commended the example of civil disobedience to the Egyptian Pharaoh showed by the Hebrew midwives, and also II Chronicles 15:16, where the Geneva Bible had criticized King Asa for not having executed his idolatrous ‘mother,’ Queen Maachah (Maachah had actually been Asa’s grandmother, but James considered the Geneva Bible reference as sanctioning the execution of his own mother Mary, Queen of Scots). Further, the King gave the translators instructions designed to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. Certain Greek and Hebrew words were to be translated in a manner that reflected the traditional usage of the church. For example, old ecclesiastical words such as the word “church” were to be retained and not to be translated as “congregation.” The new translation would reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and traditional beliefs about an ordained clergy.
James’ instructions included several requirements that kept the new translation familiar to its listeners and readers. The text of the Bishops’ Bible would serve as the primary guide for the translators, and the familiar proper names of the biblical characters would all be retained. If the Bishops’ Bible was deemed problematic in any situation, the translators were permitted to consult other translations from a pre-approved list: the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. In addition, later scholars detected an influence on the Authorized Version from the translations of Taverner’s Bible and the New Testament of the Douay–Rheims Bible. For this reason, the flyleaf of most printings of the Authorized Version observes that the text had been “translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by His Majesty’s special commandment.” As the work proceeded, more detailed rules were adopted as to how variant and uncertain readings in the Hebrew and Greek source texts should be indicated, including the requirement that words supplied in English to ‘complete the meaning’ of the originals should be printed in a different type face.
The task of translation was undertaken by 47 scholars, although 54 were originally approved. All were members of the Church of England, and all except Sir Henry Savile were clergy. The scholars worked in six committees, two based in each of the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and Westminster. The committees included scholars with Puritan sympathies, as well as high churchmen. Forty unbound copies of the 1602 edition of the Bishops’ Bible were specially printed so that the agreed changes of each committee could be recorded in the margins. The committees worked on certain parts separately, and the drafts produced by each committee were then compared and revised for harmony with each other. The scholars were not paid directly for their translation work; instead, a circular letter was sent to bishops encouraging them to consider the translators for appointment to well-paid livings as these fell vacant. Several were supported by the various colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, while others were promoted to bishoprics, deaneries and prebends through royal patronage.
The committees started work towards the end of 1604. King James VI and I, on 22 July 1604, sent a letter to Archbishop Bancroft asking him to contact all English churchmen requesting that they make donations to his project.
Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. Whereas we have appointed certain learned men, to the number of 4 and 50, for the translating of the Bible, and in this number, divers of them have either no ecclesiastical preferment at all, or else so very small, as the same is far unmeet for men of their deserts and yet we in ourself in any convenient time cannot well remedy it, therefor we do hereby require you, that presently you write in our name as well to the Archbishop of York, as to the rest of the bishops of the province of Cant.[erbury] signifying unto them, that we do well and straitly charge everyone of them … that (all excuses set apart) when a prebend or parsonage … shall next upon any occasion happen to be void … we may commend for the same some such of the learned men, as we shall think fit to be preferred unto it … Given unto our signet at our palace of West.[minister] on 2 and 20 July, in the 2nd year of our reign of England, France, and of Ireland, and of Scotland xxxvii.
They had all completed their sections by 1608, the Apocrypha committee finishing first. From January 1609, a General Committee of Review met at Stationers’ Hall, London to review the completed marked texts from each of the six committees. The General Committee included John Bois, Andrew Downes and John Harmar, and others known only by their initials, including “AL” (who may be Arthur Lake), and were paid for their attendance by the Stationers’ Company. John Bois prepared a note of their deliberations (in Latin) – which has partly survived in two later transcripts. Also surviving of the translators’ working papers are a bound-together set of marked-up corrections to one of the forty Bishops’ Bibles—covering the Old Testament and Gospels, and also a manuscript translation of the text of the Epistles, excepting those verses where no change was being recommended to the readings in the Bishops’ Bible. Archbishop Bancroft insisted on having a final say making fourteen further changes, of which one was the term “bishopricke” in Acts 1:20.
- First Westminster Company, translated Genesis to 2 Kings: Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, Hadrian à Saravia, Richard Clarke, John Layfield, Robert Tighe, Francis Burleigh, Geoffrey King, Richard Thomson, William Bedwell;
- First Cambridge Company, translated 1 Chronicles to the Song of Solomon: Edward Lively, John Richardson, Lawrence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Roger Andrewes, Thomas Harrison, Robert Spaulding, Andrew Bing;
- First Oxford Company, translated Isaiah to Malachi: John Harding, John Rainolds (or Reynolds), Thomas Holland, Richard Kilby, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Daniel Fairclough, William Thorne;
- Second Oxford Company, translated the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation: Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, Richard Eedes, Giles Tomson, Sir Henry Savile, John Peryn, Ralph Ravens, John Harmar, John Aglionby, Leonard Hutten;
- Second Westminster Company, translated the Epistles: William Barlow, John Spenser, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins, Michael Rabbet, Thomas Sanderson (who probably had already become Archdeacon of Rochester);
- Second Cambridge Company, translated the Apocrypha: John Duport, William Branthwaite, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Samuel Ward, Andrew Downes, John Bois, Robert Ward, Thomas Bilson, Richard Bancroft.
The original printing of the Authorized Version was published by Robert Barker, the King’s Printer, in 1611 as a complete folio Bible. It was sold looseleaf for ten shillings, or bound for twelve. Robert Barker’s father, Christopher, had, in 1589, been granted by Elizabeth I the title of royal Printer, with the perpetual Royal Privilege to print Bibles in England. Robert Barker invested very large sums in printing the new edition and consequently ran into serious debt, such that he was compelled to sub-lease the privilege to two rival London printers, Bonham Norton and John Bill. It appears that it was initially intended that each printer would print a portion of the text, share printed sheets with the others, and split the proceeds. Bitter financial disputes broke out, as Barker accused Norton and Bill of concealing their profits. In contrast, Norton and Bill accused Barker of selling sheets properly due to them as partial Bibles for ready money. There followed decades of continual litigation and consequent imprisonment for debt for members of the Barker and Norton printing dynasties, while each issued rival editions of the whole Bible. In 1629 the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge successfully managed to assert separate and prior royal licenses for Bible printing for their own university presses—and Cambridge University took the opportunity to print revised editions of the Authorized Version in 1629 and 1638. The editors of these editions included John Bois and John Ward from the original translators. This did not, however, impede the commercial rivalries of the London printers, especially as the Barker family refused to allow any other printers access to the authoritative manuscript of the Authorized Version.
Two editions of the whole Bible are recognized as having been produced in 1611, which may be distinguished by their rendering of Ruth 3:15; the first edition reading, “he went into the city,” whereas the second reads, “she went into the city,” these are known colloquially as the “He” and “She” Bibles.
The original printing was made before English spelling was standardized and when printers, as a matter of course, expanded and contracted the spelling of the same words in different places so as to achieve an even column of text. They set v for initial u and v, and u for u and v everywhere else. They used long ſ for non-final s. The glyph j occurs only after i, as in the final letter in a Roman numeral. Punctuation was relatively heavy and differed from current practice. When space needed to be saved, the printers sometimes used ye for the (replacing the Middle English thorn, Þ, with the continental y), set ã for an or am (in the style of scribe’s shorthand), and set & for and. On the contrary, on a few occasions, they appear to have inserted these words when they thought a line needed to be padded. Later printings regularized these spellings; the punctuation has also been standardized, but it still varies from current usage norms.
The first printing used a blackletter typeface instead of a roman typeface, which itself made a political and a religious statement. Like the Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible, the Authorized Version was “appointed to be read in churches.” It was a large folio volume meant for public use, not private devotion; the weight of the type mirrored the weight of establishment authority behind it. However, smaller editions and roman-type editions followed rapidly, e.g., quarto roman-type editions of the Bible in 1612. This contrasted with the Geneva Bible, which was the first English Bible printed in a roman typeface (although black-letter editions, particularly in folio format, were issued later).
In contrast to the Geneva Bible and the Bishops’ Bible, which had both been extensively illustrated, there were no illustrations at all in the 1611 edition of the Authorized Version, the main form of decoration being the historized initial letters provided for books and chapters – together with the decorative title pages to the Bible itself, and to the New Testament.
In the Great Bible, readings derived from the Vulgate but not found in published Hebrew and Greek texts had been distinguished by being printed in smaller roman type. In the Geneva Bible, a distinct typeface had instead been applied to distinguish text supplied by translators or thought needful for English grammar but not present in the Greek or Hebrew; and the original printing of the Authorized Version used roman type for this purpose, albeit sparsely and inconsistently. This results in perhaps the most significant difference between the original printed text of the King James Bible and the current text. When, from the later 17th century onwards, the Authorized Version began to be printed in roman type, the typeface for supplied words was changed to italics, and this application being regularized and greatly expanded. This was intended to de-emphasize the words.
The original printing contained two prefatory texts; the first was a formal Epistle Dedicatory to “the most high and mighty Prince” King James. Many British printings reproduce this, while most non-British printings do not.
The second preface was called Translators to the Reader, a long and learned essay that defends the undertaking of the new version. It observes the translators’ stated goal, that they “never thought from the beginning that [they] should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark.” They also give their opinion of previous English Bible translations, stating, “We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession, (for we have seen none of theirs [Catholics] of the whole Bible as yet) containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.” As with the first preface, some British printings reproduce this, while most non-British printings do not. Almost every printing that includes the second preface also includes the first. The first printing contained a number of other apparatus, including a table for the reading of the Psalms at matins and evensong, a calendar, an almanac, and a table of holy days and observances. Much of this material became obsolete with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by Britain and its colonies in 1752, and thus modern editions invariably omit it.
So as to make it easier to know a particular passage, each chapter was headed by a brief précis of its contents with verse numbers. Later, editors freely substituted their own chapter summaries or omitted such material entirely. Pilcrow marks are used to indicate the beginnings of paragraphs except after the book of Acts.
The Authorized Version was meant to replace the Bishops’ Bible as the official version for readings in the Church of England. No record of its authorization exists; it was probably affected by an order of the Privy Council, but the records for the years 1600 to 1613 were destroyed by fire in January 1618/19, and it is commonly known as the Authorized Version in the United Kingdom. The King’s Printer issued no further editions of the Bishops’ Bible, so necessarily the Authorized Version replaced it as the standard lectern Bible in parish church use in England.
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the text of the Authorized Version finally supplanted that of the Great Bible in the Epistle and Gospel readings—though the Prayer Book Psalter nevertheless continues in the Great Bible version.
The case was different in Scotland, where the Geneva Bible had long been the standard church Bible. It was not until 1633 that a Scottish edition of the Authorized Version was printed—in conjunction with the Scots coronation in that year of Charles I. The inclusion of illustrations in the edition raised accusations of Popery from opponents of the religious policies of Charles and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. However, an official policy favored the Authorized Version, and this favor returned during the Commonwealth—as London printers succeeded in re-asserting their monopoly on Bible printing with support from Oliver Cromwell—and the “New Translation” was the only edition on the market. F. F. Bruce reports that the last recorded instance of a Scots parish continuing to use the “Old Translation” (i.e., Geneva) as being in 1674.
The Authorized Version‘s acceptance by the general public took longer. The Geneva Bible continued to be popular, and large numbers were imported from Amsterdam, where printing continued up to 1644 in editions carrying a false London imprint. However, few, if any, genuine Geneva editions appear to have been printed in London after 1616, and in 1637 Archbishop Laud prohibited their printing or importation. In the period of the English Civil War, soldiers of the New Model Army were issued a book of Geneva selections called “The Soldiers’ Bible.” In the first half of the 17th century, the Authorized Version is most commonly referred to as “The Bible without notes,” thereby distinguishing it from the Geneva “Bible with notes.” There were several printings of the Authorized Version in Amsterdam—one as late as 1715, which combined the Authorized Version translation text with the Geneva marginal notes; one such edition was printed in London in 1649. During the Commonwealth, a commission was established by Parliament to recommend a revision of the Authorized Version with acceptably Protestant explanatory notes, but the project was abandoned when it became clear that these would nearly double the bulk of the Bible text. After the English Restoration, the Geneva Bible was held to be politically suspect and a reminder of the repudiated Puritan era. Furthermore, disputes over the lucrative rights to print the Authorized Version dragged on through the 17th century, so none of the printers involved saw any commercial advantage in marketing a rival translation. The Authorized Version became the only current version circulating among English-speaking people.
A small minority of critical scholars were slow to accept the latest translation. Hugh Broughton, who was the most highly regarded English Hebraist of his time but had been excluded from the panel of translators because of his utterly uncongenial temperament, issued in 1611 a total condemnation of the new version. He especially criticized the translators’ rejection of word-for-word equivalence. He stated that “he would rather be torn in pieces by wild horses than that this abominable translation (KJV) should ever be foisted upon the English people.” Walton’s London Polyglot of 1657 disregards the Authorized Version (and indeed the English language) entirely. Walton’s reference text throughout is the Vulgate. The Vulgate Latin is also found as the standard text of scripture in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan of 1651, indeed Hobbes gives Vulgate chapter and verse numbers (e.g., Job 41:24, not Job 41:33) for his head text. In Chapter 35: ‘The Signification in Scripture of Kingdom of God,‘ Hobbes discusses Exodus 19:5, first in his own translation of the ‘Vulgar Latin,’ and then subsequently as found in the versions he terms“… the English translation made in the beginning of the reign of King James,” and “The Geneva French” (i.e., Olivétan). Hobbes advances detailed critical arguments why the Vulgate rendering is to be preferred. For most of the 17th century, the assumption remained that, while it had been of vital importance to provide the scriptures in the vernacular for ordinary people, nevertheless, for those with sufficient education to do so, Biblical study was best undertaken within the international common medium of Latin. It was only in 1700 that modern bilingual Bibles appeared in which the Authorized Version was compared with counterpart Dutch and French Protestant vernacular Bibles.
In consequence of the continual disputes over printing privileges, successive printings of the Authorized Version were notably less careful than the 1611 edition had been—compositors freely varying spelling, capitalization and punctuation—and also, over the years, introducing about 1,500 misprints (some of which, like the omission of “not” from the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” in the “Wicked Bible,” became notorious). The two Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638 attempted to restore the proper text—while introducing over 200 revisions of the original translators’ work, chiefly by incorporating into the main text a more literal reading originally presented as a marginal note. A more thoroughly corrected edition was proposed following the Restoration, in conjunction with the revised 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but Parliament then decided against it.
By the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version was effectively unchallenged as the sole English translation in current use in Protestant churches and was so dominant that the Catholic Church in England issued in 1750 a revision of the 1610 Douay–Rheims Bible by Richard Challoner that was very much closer to the Authorized Version than to the original. However, general standards of spelling, punctuation, typesetting, capitalization, and grammar had changed radically in the 100 years since the first edition of the Authorized Version. All printers in the market were introducing continual piecemeal changes to their Bible texts to bring them into line with current practice—and with public expectations of standardized spelling and grammatical construction.
Over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version supplanted the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Vulgate as the standard version of Scripture for English-speaking scholars and divines. It indeed came to be regarded by some as an inspired text in itself—so much so that any challenge to its readings or textual base came to be regarded by many as an assault on Holy Scripture.
In the 18th century there was a serious shortage of Bibles in the American colonies. To meet the demand, various printers, beginning with Samuel Kneeland in 1752, printed the King James Bible without authorization from the Crown. To avert prosecution and detection of an unauthorized printing, they would include the royal insignia on the title page, using the same materials in its printing as the authorized version produced, which were imported from England.
The standard Text of 1769
By the mid-18th century, the wide variation in the various modernized printed texts of the Authorized Version, combined with the notorious accumulation of misprints, had reached the proportion of a scandal, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both sought to produce an updated standard text. First of the two was the Cambridge edition of 1760, the culmination of 20 years’ work by Francis Sawyer Parris, who died in May of that year. This 1760 edition was reprinted without change in 1762 and in John Baskerville’s fine folio edition of 1763. This was effectively superseded by the 1769 Oxford edition, edited by Benjamin Blayney, though with comparatively few changes from Parris’s edition, but which became the Oxford standard text and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings. Parris and Blayney sought consistently to remove those elements of the 1611, and subsequent editions that they believed were due to the vagaries of printers while incorporating most of the revised readings of the Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638, and each also introducing a few improved readings of their own. They undertook the mammoth task of standardizing the wide variation in punctuation and spelling of the original, making many thousands of minor changes to the text. In addition, Blayney and Parris thoroughly revised and greatly extended the italicization of “supplied” words not found in the original languages by cross-checking against the presumed source texts. Blayney seems to have worked from the 1550 Stephanus edition of the Textus Receptus rather than the later editions of Theodore Beza that the translators of the 1611 New Testament had favored; accordingly, the current Oxford standard text alters around a dozen italicizations where Beza and Stephanus differ. Like the 1611 edition, the 1769 Oxford edition included the Apocrypha. However, Blayney tended to remove cross-references to the Books of the Apocrypha from the margins of their Old and New Testaments wherever these had been provided by the original translators. It also includes both prefaces from the 1611 edition. Altogether, the standardization of spelling and punctuation caused Blayney’s 1769 text to differ from the 1611 text in around 24,000 places.
The 1611 and 1769 texts of the first three verses from I Corinthians 13 are given below.
 1. Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels, and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I haue the gift of prophesie, and vnderstand all mysteries and all knowledge: and though I haue all faith, so that I could remooue mountaines, and haue no charitie, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestowe all my goods to feede the poore, and though I giue my body to bee burned, and haue not charitie, it profiteth me nothing.
 1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
There are a number of superficial edits in these three verses: 11 changes of spelling, 16 changes of typesetting (including the changed conventions for the use of u and v), three changes of punctuation, and one variant text—where “not charity” is substituted for “no charity” in verse two, in the erroneous belief that the original reading was a misprint.
A particular verse for which Blayney’s 1769 text differs from Parris’s 1760 version is Matthew 5:13, where Parris (1760) has
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be troden under foot of men.
Blayney (1769) changes ‘lost his savour’ to ‘lost its savour’ and troden to trodden.
For a period, Cambridge continued to issue Bibles using the Parris text. Still, the market demand for absolute standardization was now such that they eventually adapted Blayney’s work but omitted some of the idiosyncratic Oxford spellings. By the mid-19th century, almost all printings of the Authorized Version were derived from the 1769 Oxford text—increasingly without Blayney’s variant notes and cross references, and commonly excluding the Apocrypha. One exception to this was a scrupulous original-spelling, page-for-page, and line-for-line reprint of the 1611 edition (including all chapter headings, marginalia, and original italicization, but with Roman type substituted for the black letter of the original), published by Oxford in 1833. Another important exception was the 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible, thoroughly revised, modernized and re-edited by F. H. A. Scrivener, who for the first time, consistently identified the source texts underlying the 1611 translation and its marginal notes. Scrivener, like Blayney, opted to revise the translation where he considered the judgement of the 1611 translators had been faulty. In 2005, Cambridge University Press released its New Cambridge Paragraph Bible with Apocrypha, edited by David Norton. It followed in the spirit of Scrivener’s work, attempting to bring spelling to present-day standards. Norton also innovated with the introduction of quotation marks while returning to a hypothetical 1611 text, so far as possible, to the wording used by its translators, especially in the light of the re-emphasis on some of their draft documents. This text has been issued in paperback by Penguin Books.
From the early 19th century, the Authorized Version has remained almost completely unchanged—and since, due to advances in printing technology, it could now be produced in very large editions for mass sale, it established complete dominance in public and ecclesiastical use in the English-speaking Protestant world. Academic debate through that century, however, increasingly reflected concerns about the Authorized Version shared by some scholars: (a) that subsequent study in oriental languages suggested a need to revise the translation of the Hebrew Bible—both in terms of specific vocabulary and also in distinguishing descriptive terms from proper names; (b) that the Authorized Version was unsatisfactory in translating the same Greek words and phrases into different English, especially where parallel passages are found in the synoptic gospels; and (c) in the light of subsequent ancient manuscript discoveries, the New Testament translation base of the Greek Textus Receptus could no longer be considered to be the best representation of the original text.
Responding to these concerns, the Convocation of Canterbury resolved in 1870 to undertake a revision of the text of the Authorized Version, intending to retain the original text “except where in the judgment of competent scholars such a change is necessary.” The resulting revision was issued as the Revised Version in 1881 (New Testament), 1885 (Old Testament), and 1894 (Apocrypha); but, although it sold widely, the revision did not find popular favor, and it was only reluctantly in 1899 that Convocation approved it for reading in churches.
By the early 20th century, editing had been completed in Cambridge’s text, with at least 6 new changes since 1769 and the reversing of at least 30 of the standard Oxford readings. The distinct Cambridge text was printed in the millions, and after the Second World War, “the unchanging steadiness of the KJB was a huge asset.”
F. H. A. Scrivener and D. Norton have both written in detail on editorial variations which have occurred through the history of the publishing of the Authorized Version from 1611 to 1769. In the 19th century, there were effectively three main guardians of the text. Norton identified five variations among the Oxford, Cambridge and London (Eyre and Spottiswoode) texts of 1857, such as the spelling of “farther” or “further” in Matthew 26:39.
In the 20th century, variation between the editions was reduced to comparing the Cambridge edition to the Oxford edition. Distinctly identified Cambridge readings included “or Sheba,” “sin,” “clifts,” “vapour,” “flieth,” “further,” and a number of other references. In effect, the Cambridge edition was considered the current text in comparison to the Oxford edition. These are instances where both Oxford and Cambridge have now diverged from Blayney’s 1769 Edition. The distinctions between the Oxford and Cambridge editions have been a major point in the Bible version debate and a potential theological issue, particularly in regard to the identification of the Pure Cambridge Edition.
Cambridge University Press introduced a change at 1 John 5:8 in 1985, reversing its longstanding tradition of printing the word “spirit” in lower case by using a capital letter “S.” A Rev. Hardin of Bedford, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Cambridge inquiring about this verse, and received a reply on 3 June 1985 from the Bible Director, Jerry L. Hooper, claiming that it was a “matter of some embarrassment regarding the lower case ‘s’ in Spirit.”
In obedience to their instructions, the translators provided no marginal interpretation of the text, but in some 8,500 places a marginal note offers an alternative English wording. The majority of these notes offer a more literal rendering of the original, introduced as “Heb,” “Chal” (Chaldee, referring to Aramaic), “Gr” or “Lat.” Others indicate a variant reading of the source text (introduced by “or”). Some of the annotated variants derive from alternative editions in the original languages or from variant forms quoted in the fathers. More commonly, though, they indicate a difference between the literal original language reading and that in the translators’ preferred recent Latin versions: Tremellius for the Old Testament, Junius for the Apocrypha, and Beza for the New Testament. At thirteen places in the New Testament a marginal note records a variant reading found in some Greek manuscript copies, in almost all cases reproducing a counterpart textual note at the same place in Beza’s editions. A few more extensive notes clarify Biblical names and units of measurement or currency. Modern reprintings rarely reproduce these annotated variants—although they are to be found in the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. In addition, there were originally some 9,000 scriptural cross-references in which one text was related to another. Such cross-references had long been common in Latin Bibles, and most of those in the Authorized Version were copied unaltered from this Latin tradition. Consequently, the early editions of the KJV retain many Vulgate verse references—e.g., in the numbering of the Psalms. At the head of each chapter, the translators provided a short précis of its contents, with verse numbers; these are rarely included in complete form in modern editions.
Also, in obedience to their instructions, the translators indicated ‘supplied’ words in a different typeface; but there was no attempt to regularize the instances where this practice had been applied across the different companies; and especially in the New Testament, it was used much less frequently in the 1611 edition than would later be the case. In one verse, 1 John 2:23, an entire clause was printed in roman type (as it had also been in the Great Bible and Bishop’s Bible), indicating a reading then primarily derived from the Vulgate, albeit one for which the later editions of Beza had provided a Greek text.
In the Old Testament, the translators render the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) by “the LORD” (in later editions in small capitals as LORD), or “the LORD God” (for YHWH Elohim, יהוה אלהים), except in four places by “IEHOVAH.” However, if the Tetragrammaton occurs with the Hebrew word adonai (Lord) then it is rendered not as the “Lord LORD” but as the “Lord God.” In later editions, it appears as “Lord god” with “god” in small capitals, indicating to the reader that God’s name appears in the original Hebrew.
For the Old Testament, the translators used a text originating in the editions of the Hebrew Rabbinic Bible by Daniel Bomberg (1524/5), but adjusted this to conform to the Greek LXX or Latin Vulgate in passages to which Christian tradition had attached a Christological interpretation. For example, the Septuagint reading “They pierced my hands and my feet” was used in Psalm 22:16 (vs. the Masoretes‘ reading of the Hebrew “like lions my hands and feet”). Otherwise, however, the Authorized Version is closer to the Hebrew tradition than any previous English translation—especially in making use of the rabbinic commentaries, such as Kimhi, in elucidating obscure passages in the Masoretic Text; earlier versions had been more likely to adopt LXX or Vulgate readings in such places. Following the practice of the Geneva Bible, the books of 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras in the medieval Vulgate Old Testament were renamed ‘Ezra’ and ‘Nehemiah’; 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras in the Apocrypha being renamed ‘1 Esdras’ and ‘2 Esdras.’
For the New Testament, the translators chiefly used the 1598 and 1588/89 Greek editions of Theodore Beza, which also present Beza’s Latin version of the Greek and Stephanus‘ edition of the Latin Vulgate. Both of these versions were extensively referred to, as the translators conducted all their discussions in Latin. F. H. A. Scrivener identifies 190 readings where the Authorized Version translators depart from Beza’s Greek text, generally in maintaining the wording of the Bishops’ Bible and other earlier English translations. In about half of these instances, the Authorized Version translators appear to follow the earlier 1550 Greek Textus Receptus of Stephanus. For the other half, Scrivener was usually able to find corresponding Greek readings in the editions of Erasmus or in the Complutensian Polyglot. However, in several dozen readings, he notes that no printed Greek text corresponds to the English of the Authorized Version, which in these places derives directly from the Vulgate. For example, at John 10:16, the Authorized Version reads “one fold” (as did the Bishops’ Bible, and the 16th-century vernacular versions produced in Geneva), following the Latin Vulgate “unum ovile.” In contrast, Tyndale had agreed more closely with the Greek, “one flocke” (μία ποίμνη). The Authorized Version New Testament owes much more to the Vulgate than does the Old Testament; still, at least 80% of the text is unaltered from Tyndale’s translation.
Unlike the rest of the Bible, the translators of the Apocrypha identified their source texts in their marginal notes. From these it can be determined that the books of the Apocrypha were translated from the Septuagint—primarily, from the Greek Old Testament column in the Antwerp Polyglot—but with extensive reference to the counterpart Latin Vulgate text, and to Junius’s Latin translation. The translators record references to the Sixtine Septuagint of 1587, which is substantially a printing of the Old Testament text from the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, and also to the 1518 Greek Septuagint edition of Aldus Manutius. They had, however, no Greek texts for 2 Esdras, or for the Prayer of Manasses, and Scrivener found that they here used an unidentified Latin manuscript.
The translators appear to have otherwise made no first-hand study of ancient manuscript sources, even those that—like the Codex Bezae—would have been readily available to them. In addition to all previous English versions (including, and contrary to their instructions, the Rheimish New Testament, which in their preface they criticized), they made wide and eclectic use of all printed editions in the original languages then available, including the ancient Syriac New Testament printed with an interlinear Latin gloss in the Antwerp Polyglot of 1573. In the preface, the translators acknowledge consulting translations and commentaries in Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.
The translators took the Bishops’ Bible as their source text, and where they departed from that in favor of another translation, this was most commonly the Geneva Bible. However, the degree to which readings from the Bishops’ Bible survived into the final text of the King James Bible varies greatly from company to company, as did the propensity of the King James translators to coin phrases of their own. John Bois’s notes of the General Committee of Review show that they discussed readings derived from a wide variety of versions and patristic sources, including explicitly both Henry Savile’s 1610 edition of the works of John Chrysostom and the Rheims New Testament, which was the primary source for many of the literal alternative readings provided for the marginal notes.
Variations in Recent Translations
A number of Bible verses in the King James Version of the New Testament are not found in more recent Bible translations, where these are based on modern critical texts. In the early seventeenth century, the Greek source texts of the New Testament, which were used to produce Protestant Bible versions, were mainly dependent on late Byzantine text type manuscripts. They also contained minor variations, which became known as the Textus Receptus. With the subsequent identification of much earlier manuscripts, most modern textual scholars value the evidence of manuscripts that belong to the Alexandrian family as better witnesses to the original text of the biblical authors, without giving it, or any family, automatic preference.
Style and Criticism
A primary concern of the translators was to produce an appropriate Bible, dignified and resonant in public reading. Although the Authorized Version’s written style is an important part of its influence on English, research has found only one verse—Hebrews 13:8—for which translators debated the wording’s literary merits. While they stated in the preface that they used stylistic variation, finding multiple English words or verbal forms in places where the original language employed repetition, in practice they also did the opposite; for example, 14 different Hebrew words were translated into the single English word “prince.”
In a period of rapid linguistic change, the translators avoided contemporary idioms, tending instead towards forms that were already slightly archaic, like verily, and it came to pass. The pronouns thou/thee and ye/you are consistently used as singular and plural, respectively, even though by this time you was often found as the singular in general English usage, especially when addressing a social superior (as is evidenced, for example, in Shakespeare). For the possessive of the third person pronoun, the word its, first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1598, is avoided. The older his is usually employed, as for example at Matthew 5:13: “if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”; in other places of it, thereof or bare it are found. Another sign of linguistic conservatism is the invariable use of -eth for the third person singular present form of the verb, as at Matthew 2:13: “the Angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dreame.” The rival ending -(e)s, as found in present-day English, was already widely used by this time (for example, it predominates over -eth in the plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe). Furthermore, the translators preferred which to who or whom as the relative pronoun for persons, as in Genesis 13:5: “And Lot also which went with Abram, had flocks and heards, & tents” although who(m) is also found.
The Authorized Version is notably more Latinate than previous English versions, especially the Geneva Bible. This results in part from the academic stylistic preferences of a number of the translators—several of whom admitted to being more comfortable writing in Latin than in English—but was also, in part, a consequence of the royal proscription against explanatory notes. Hence, where the Geneva Bible might use a common English word, and gloss its particular application in a marginal note, the Authorized Version tends rather to prefer a technical term, frequently in Anglicized Latin. Consequently, although the King had instructed the translators to use the Bishops’ Bible as a base text, the New Testament in particular owes much stylistically to the Catholic Rheims New Testament, whose translators had also been concerned to find English equivalents for Latin terminology. In addition, the translators of the New Testament books transliterate names found in the Old Testament in their Greek forms rather than in the forms closer to the Old Testament Hebrew (e.g., “Elias” and “Noe” for “Elijah” and “Noah,” respectively).
While the Authorized Version remains among the most widely sold, modern critical New Testament translations, differ substantially from it in a number of passages, primarily because they rely on source manuscripts not then accessible to (or not then highly regarded by) early-17th-century Biblical scholarship. In the Old Testament, there are also many differences from modern translations that are based not on manuscript differences but on a different understanding of Ancient Hebrew Vocabulary or grammar by the translators. For example, in modern translations, it is clear that Job 28:1-11 is referring throughout to mining operations, which is not at all apparent from the text of the Authorized Version.
The King James Version contains several alleged mistranslations, especially in the Old Testament where the knowledge of Hebrew and cognate languages was uncertain at the time. Among the most commonly cited errors is in the Hebrew of Job and Deuteronomy, where Hebrew: רֶאֵם, romanized: Re’em with the probable meaning of “wild-ox, aurochs,” is translated in the KJV as “unicorn”; following in this the Vulgate unicornis and several medieval rabbinic commentators. The translators of the KJV note the alternative rendering, “rhinocerots” [sic] in the margin at Isaiah 34:7. On a similar note Martin Luther’s German translation had also relied on the Latin Vulgate on this point, consistently translating רֶאֵם using the German word for unicorn, Einhorn. Otherwise, the translators are accused on several occasions to have mistakenly interpreted a Hebrew descriptive phrase as a proper name (or vice versa); as in 2 Samuel 1:18 where ‘the Book of Jasher’ Hebrew: סֵפֶר הַיׇּשׇׁר, romanized: sepher ha-yasher properly refers not to a work by an author of that name, but should rather be rendered as “the Book of the Upright” (which was proposed as an alternative reading in a marginal note to the KJV text).
Despite royal patronage and encouragement, there was never any overt mandate to use the new translation. It was not until 1661 that the Authorized Version replaced the Bishops’ Bible in the Epistle and Gospel lessons of the Book of Common Prayer, and it never did replace the older translation in the Psalter. In 1763 The Critical Review complained that “many false interpretations, ambiguous phrases, obsolete words, and indelicate expressions … excite the derision of the scorner.” Blayney’s 1769 version, with its revised spelling and punctuation, helped change the public perception of the Authorized Version to a masterpiece of the English language. By the 19th century, F. W. Faber could say of the translation, “It lives on the ear, like music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells, which the convert hardly knows how he can forego.”
The Authorized Version has been called “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language,” “the most important book in English religion and culture,” and “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world.” David Crystal has estimated that it is responsible for 257 idioms in English; examples include feet of clay and reap the whirlwind. Furthermore, prominent atheist figures such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have praised the King James Version as being “a giant step in the maturing of English literature” and “a great work of literature,” respectively, with Dawkins then adding, “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.”
The King James Version is one of the versions authorized to be used in the services of the Episcopal Church and other parts of the Anglican Communion, as it is the historical Bible of this church.
Other Christian denominations have also accepted the King James Version. The King James Version is used by English-speaking Conservative Anabaptists, Methodists of the conservative holiness movement, and certain Baptists. In the Orthodox Church in America, it is used liturgically and was made “the ‘official’ translation for a whole generation of American Orthodox.” The later Service Book of the Antiochian archdiocese, in vogue today, also uses the King James Version. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to use its own edition of the Authorized Version as its official English Bible.
Although the Authorized Version’s preeminence in the English-speaking world has diminished—for example, the Church of England recommends six other versions in addition to it—it is still the most used translation in the United States, especially as the Scofield Reference Bible for Evangelicals. However, over the past forty years, it has been gradually overtaken by modern versions, principally the New International Version (1973) and the New Revised Standard Version (1989), the latter of which is seen as a successor to the King James Version.
The Authorized Version is in the public domain in most of the world. However, in the United Kingdom, the right to print, publish and distribute it is a royal prerogative, and the Crown licenses publishers to reproduce it under letters patent. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the letters patent are held by the King’s Printer, and in Scotland, by the Scottish Bible Board. The office of King’s Printer has been associated with the right to reproduce the Bible for centuries, the earliest known reference coming in 1577. In the 18th century, all surviving interests in the monopoly were bought out by John Baskett. The Baskett rights descended through a number of printers. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the King’s Printer is now Cambridge University Press, which inherited the right when they took over the firm of Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1990.
Other royal charters of similar antiquity grant Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press the right to produce the Authorized Version independently of the King’s Printer. In Scotland, the Authorized Version is published by Collins under license from the Scottish Bible Board. The terms of the letters patent prohibit any other than the holders, or those authorized by the holders, from printing, publishing or importing the Authorized Version into the United Kingdom. The protection that the Authorized Version, and also the Book of Common Prayer, enjoy is the last remnant of the time when the Crown held a monopoly over all printing and publishing in the United Kingdom. Almost all provisions granting copyright in perpetuity were abolished by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, but because the Authorized Version is protected by royal prerogative rather than copyright, it will remain protected, as specified in CDPA s171(1)(b).
Within the United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press permits the reproduction of at most 500 verses for “liturgical and non-commercial educational use,” provided that their prescribed acknowledgment is included, the quoted verses do not exceed 25% of the publication quoting them and do not include a complete Bible book. For use beyond this, the Press is willing to consider permission requested on a case-by-case basis, and in 2011 a spokesman said the Press generally does not charge a fee but tries to ensure that a reputable source text is used.
Translations of the books of the biblical Apocrypha were necessary for the King James version, as readings from these books were included in the daily Old Testament lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer. Protestant Bibles in the 16th century included the books of the Apocrypha—generally, following the Luther Bible, in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments to indicate they were not considered part of the Old Testament text—and there is evidence that these were widely read as popular literature, especially in Puritan circles; The Apocrypha of the King James Version has the same 14 books as had been found in the Apocrypha of the Bishops’ Bible; however, following the practice of the Geneva Bible, the first two books of the Apocrypha were renamed 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras, as compared to the names in the Thirty-nine Articles, with the corresponding Old Testament books being renamed Ezra and Nehemiah. Starting in 1630, volumes of the Geneva Bible were occasionally bound with the pages of the Apocrypha section excluded. In 1644, the Long Parliament forbade the reading of the Apocrypha in churches, and in 1666 the first editions of the King James Bible without the Apocrypha were bound.
The standardization of the text of the Authorized Version after 1769, together with the technological development of stereotype printing, made it possible to produce Bibles in large print runs at very low unit prices. For commercial and charitable publishers, editions of the Authorized Version without the Apocrypha reduced the cost while increasing market appeal to non-Anglican Protestant readers.
With the rise of the Bible societies, most editions have omitted the whole section of Apocryphal books. The British and Foreign Bible Society withdrew subsidies for Bible printing and dissemination in 1826, under the following resolution:
That the funds of the Society be applied to the printing and circulation of the Canonical Books of Scripture, to the exclusion of those Books and parts of Books usually termed Apocryphal;
The American Bible Society adopted a similar policy. Both societies eventually reversed these policies in light of 20th-century ecumenical efforts on translations, the ABS doing so in 1964 and the BFBS in 1966.
King James Only Movement
The King James Only Movement advocates the belief that the King James Version is superior to all other English translations of the Bible. Most adherents of the movement believe that the Textus Receptus is very close, if not identical, to the original autographs, thereby making it the ideal Greek source for the translation. They argue that manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, on which most modern English translations are based, are corrupted New Testament texts. One of them, Perry Demopoulos, was a director of translating the King James Bible into Russian. In 2010, the Russian translation of the KJV of the New Testament was released in Kyiv, Ukraine. In 2017, the first complete edition of a Russian King James Bible was released. In 2017, a Faroese translation of the King James Bible was released as well.
SOME INSIGHTS FOR THE KING JAMES VERSION ONLYIST MOVEMENT
There is 90 percent agreement between the Alexandrian text type that make up modern Bible translation since 1881 and the Byzantine text types behind the King James Bible.
We are to believe in absolute inerrancy only of the originals and an excellent literal translation. Hundreds of thousands of textual variants exist in the 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts, and most are found in the 4,000+ Byzantine texts. So, we as Christians do not believe in miraculous preservation because the copyists were not inspired, as were the authors. What we do believe in is miraculous restoration. Since 1611 we have found thousands of manuscripts, some dating within decades of the originals. So, that was the hope of the KJV translators fulfilled. We also have a much, much greater understanding of the Hebrew and especially the Koine Greek NT manuscripts. We have discovered 500,000 NT papyri that have given us a greater understanding of the Greek language. We have had hundreds of world-renowned textual scholars from the 1700s to the present who have helped restore the critical Greek New Testament to a mirror-like reflection of the original. And the Hebrew language was better understood, but we have gained many thousands of manuscripts there too. So, we have everything the translators of the 1611 KJV had only dreamt of and hoped would happen.
The King James Version Onlyists are well known for providing much misinformation. The King James Version Onlyist KJVO, Textus Receptus Onlyists TRO, and Byzantine Onlyists BO have their talking points like Democratic politicians. None is ever true. They remind us of Agnostic Dr. Bart Ehrman, giving the reader numbers and information that seems good on the surface, but the moment you dig, misinformation is everywhere.
Let me show you how statistics can be made to misinform and give you the wrong picture. In the United States, blacks make up 14% of the population, yet they make up 70% of the prison population. If I left that there, you might think, “My goodness, almost all blacks are criminals.” But here is the other piece of the pie for clarification. When a white and black defendant goes before the court for almost the exact same thing, the black would be sentenced to prison the first time, and the white would be given probation repeatedly. Also, for 40+ years, cocaine use (whites) received less punishment than crack cocaine (blacks). I had two years of criminal law before switching to religion. Now let’s dissect misinformation in this post. But first, let me warn you most KJVOs are not set back by facts. They simply ignore them and throw out talking points until you just give up, and they declare victory.
KJVO WROTE: The papyri are a mixed bag. They often contradict each other. But many of the early readings are what is found in the King James Bible when it differs from the Vatican supervised, ever changing Critical Text versions. [He also states with his chart that the Papyrus agrees more with the Textus Receptus.]
RESPONSE: There is 90 percent agreement between the Alexandrian and Byzantine text types. Raise your hand if you know what that means. Yes, the agreement is Alexandrian readings because they predate the Byzantine text by almost 300 years. The Alexandrian text is the earliest and most accurate. The early copyists who would produce what would become the Byzantine text in Syrian Antioch would, over time, add to the Greek text, which is where you find that 10% disagreement. More on this below. The 90% agreement means that it is easy for a KJVOist to say, “hey, see, there are Byzantine readings in the early Alexandrian manuscripts.” No, those are Alexandrian readings that are also in the Byzantine text that you did not change. So, the agreement chart above is just comical. They are just picking to readings that the Byzantine scribes never altered, which are in a manuscript that predates the Byzantine text by hundreds of years. Now, to save time and just talk about P75, a big manuscript that dates to 175-225 A.D.
The discovery of P75 in the 1950s proved to be the catalyst for correcting the misconception that early copyists were predominately unskilled. Either literate or semi-professional copyists produced the vast majority of the early papyri, and some were copied by professionals. The few poorly copied manuscripts simply became known first, giving an impression that was difficult for some to discard when the enormous amount of evidence surfaced that showed just the opposite. Of course, the discovery of P75 has also had a profound effect on New Testament textual criticism because of its striking agreement with Codex Vaticanus. P75 dates 150 years before Codex Vaticanus (300-330 A.D.) and is a mirror-like image of Vaticanus. It does not agree 33 times with Vaticanus. It agrees hundreds of times, almost all of the time. There are 25 Greek NT papyri manuscripts that date to the second century [200-300 A.D.], which means within decades of the originals.
In the case of the New Testament papyri manuscripts, our early evidence for the Greek New Testament, size is irrelevant. They range from centimeters encompassing a couple of verses to a codex with many books of the New Testament. But all of them add something significant. And often, monumental. It can be from support for an original reading to establishing which family of manuscripts were the earliest. A tiny fragment that may date to about 100-150 A.D. or 150-200 A.D. that is established as belonging to the Alexandrian family gives us credence that the Alexandrian text is the earliest form of the text. In addition, it validates our two greatest vellum codices: Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Early on, the supporters of the Byzantine text tried to argue that the Byzantine manuscripts were the earliest and the most accurate. In addition, they claimed the Alexandrian family had removed material from the New Testament. Well, this was debunked when the 20th century arrived because of all the 144 Papyrus Greek NT manuscripts and all of those dating to the first three centuries after the first century, none are of the Byzantine family, and the rest are Alexandrian, with a couple being Western. The argument from the Alexandrian supporters that the Byzantine was later, and their scribes added to the Bible, was true. The general rule, the earlier the manuscript, the more accurate. So, the early papyri can validate the original reading for almost all of our textual variants.
KJVO: He refers to the Critical text, the Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies’ “ever-changing Critical Text versions.”
RESPONSE: The 1881 Westcott and Hort Greek NT and the Nestle-Aland 28th edition Greek text of 2012 are 99.5 percent in agreement. So, that tiny percentage over 130 years is nothing but correction based on new manuscript evidence found in the 20th century. What else does this show? The argument from the KJVOists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that the great Codex Sinaiticus (330-360) and especially the great Codex Vaticanus (300-330) was not as good as Westcott and Hort claimed. Well, after discovering over 139 papyri manuscripts, many dating within decades of the originals, hardly anything changed to the WH text after 130 years. And the changes between NA 26-28 and UBS 4-5 editions were a mere few words. We are still finding more evidence today.
The 1611 King James Version was a revision of multiple English Bibles from the 1500s: Tyndale’s Bible, Coverdale’s Bible, Matthew’s Bible, Taverner’s Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishops’ Bible. The 1611 King James Bible translators stated in the Preface that they knew others would revise their work too (1) as more manuscripts came to light and (2) translators had a better understanding of biblical Hebrew and Greek. How many versions of the King James are there? Eventually, five different editions of the King James Version were produced in 1611, 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. It is the 1769 edition which is most commonly cited as the King James Version (KJV). The next major revision of the English Bible came in 1881, 1885 Revised Version) and 1901 American Standard Version. Over 30,000 changes were made, of which more than 5,000 represent differences between the Greek text used for the Revised Version and that used as the basis of the King James Version. Most of the other changes were made in the interest of consistency or modernization.
Further, significant revisions only considering literal translations have been the 1952 Revised Standard Version, the 1960-2020 New American Standard Bible, the 2001 English Standard Version, and the 2022 Updated American Standard Version. We do not need the originals. We do not need those original documents. The Bible was miraculously restored, not miraculously preserved as some would like us to believe.
Herein, we will clear up many misunderstandings and misconceptions about the English Bible translations. The Church accepted them. And even if they had been, that would make no difference as to their validity. The Church accepted a Pope, transubstantiation, praying to Mary, and hundreds of other False doctrines. So, just because something is accepted or rejected by a group means nothing. Evidence is what everything means. The majority of something means nothing and is no evidence. The good condition argument is just weak, really. You have Byzantine MSS almost as early in good condition. You are using weak arguments. Vaticanus has its name because there is where it was housed.
You have all papyri that date 200 years before the oldest codices, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and 400+ years before the oldest Byzantine text, and some only decades from the originals. They are all Alexandrian text-type; this tells us which text is correct.
Now, the Church, like a cult, worshiped the Byzantine text, like the Septuagint was favored before that by the Jews and then the Christian. The Textus Receptus was worshiped, then the KJV was worshiped, and you could be killed to say otherwise. So, it took brave men to even put discrepancies in footnotes for hundreds of years. It was until Karl Lachman, Tregelles, Tischendorf and Westcott, and Hort that you could print a text different than the T.R. Many textual scholars from the 1700s forward started seeing the problems, and more MSS were found each century.
The Stephanus TR (1550) became the standard form of the Greek NT text in England. It became a literary sensation. This, together with its inexpensive price, resulted in its becoming the first Bible bestseller. Nevertheless, none of the editions differed greatly from Froben’s Erasmus text. Luther used the 1519 edition of Erasmus.
There are about 93 differences between the Stephanus 1550 and the Beza 1598. These differences are minor. They are NOTHING when we look at the nearly 6,000 differences, many being quite substantial, between the Alexandrian Critical Text and the Textus Receptus.
KJVO and TRO, and BTO Questions
(1) If God’s Word is only found in the 1611 KJV, where was God’s Word from 100 A.D.—1610 A.D.?
(2) How many textual errors (differences) are in the Byzantine manuscripts used to make the Textus Receptus, which is behind the KJV?
(3) How many textual errors (differences) are in the handful of Byzantine manuscripts used to make the Textus Receptus, which is behind the KJV?
(4) If there are no textual differences in the 4,000 Byzantine texts (which there are), what was the Word of God before the fifth-century Byzantine text of Codex Alexandrinus (400-440 A.D.)? Only the Western and the Alexandrian family texts existed in the third and fourth centuries, and only the Alexandrian in the second century. So, God allowed errors by the copyists of the Alexandrian and Western manuscripts but miraculously inspired the thousands of Byzantine copyists from 400 to 1455 A.D.?
(5) The Byzantine Advocates (the text behind the T.R.) acknowledge there are differences between the Byzantine text and the Textus Receptus, and Textus Receptus Advocates believe there are differences between the T.R. and the Byzantine text. So, where is the miraculous preservation of Scripture?
(6) The TROIST and the KJVOIST argue that the New Testament original is found in the majority of the manuscripts, which is the Byzantine. However, there is a problem, there was no Byzantine text for the first four centuries, and the Byzantine text did not become the majority of the manuscripts until the 9th century. So, what was the New Testament Text before the 9th century when the Byzantine came to be the majority, and until then, the Alexandrian was the majority?
(7) Which is inerrant, the Latin Vulgate Erasmus, used to make some of the Textus Receptus or the Byzantine texts?
 What was the inerrant word of God in the second and third centuries A.D. before the development of the Byzantine text?
(9) You say scribes/copyists do not make changes to the text intentionally and unintentionally, so how do you explain the copyists who write in the margins that a previous copyist made changes? How do you explain the differences in the manuscripts?
(10) Speaking of the Textus Receptus, which of the four editions by Desiderius Erasmus do you prefer (1519, 1522, 1527, 1535), or the four editions of Robert Estienne (Stephanus) (1503– 1559), or the nine editions by Théodore Beza (1519– 1605)? How did the term Textus Receptus come about? How did the Greek text develop from Desiderius Erasmus to Robert Estienne to Théodore Beza, and did any of the editions have a critical apparatus with variants, and did any of these men consult any Alexandrian manuscripts?
(11) Suppose the KJVOist advocates are correct and the copyists for the Byzantine text DID NOT make all of the additions to the Greek text, but rather the Alexandrian copyists removed them. Why do the 140+ papyri manuscripts discovered in the 1930s—the 1950s date with decades of the originals, 200 years before the 4th-century Alexandrian Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and 350 years before the earliest 5th-century Byzantine text looks just like the Alexandrian manuscripts?
(12) THE PREFACE to the 1611 KJV by the translators says the KJV was a revision of the 16th-century translations of Coverdale, Tyndale, the Great Bibles, and others. The translators said they expect new revisions of their KJV translation when more manuscripts come to light, and if there was an improved understanding of Hebrew and Greek, there should be revisions. Were those translators wrong?
(13) What do you do with the fact that the KJV has 1,000 different words that do not mean today what they meant in 1611, even having the opposite meaning? Our understanding of Hebrew and Greek has astronomically improved since 1611. There have been thousands of manuscripts discovered since 1611, and we now have 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts and numerous ones dating within decades of the originals. And the 1611 KJV translators said in the 1611 PREFACE that a new revision should be made upon such circumstances. So, why reject efforts to do so with the 1881 English Revised Version (ERV), the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), the 1952 Revised Standard Version (RSV), the 1995 New American Standard Bible (NASB), the 2001 English Standard Version (ESV), and the forthcoming Updated American Standard Version (UASV)? Are not these revisions simply following the instructions of the 1611 KJV translators?
(14) Why is the earlier Byzantine text more similar to the Alexandrian text in that it differs from the later Byzantine text in roughly 3000 places?
“The manuscript evidence, as found in the major majuscule codices [Vaticanus and Sinaiticus], and then confirmed by early papyri [esp. P66 (150 C.E.) and P75 (175-225 C.E.)], points to the Alexandrian text type as the earliest (and a very stable) textual witness.” Stanley E. Porter. How We Got the New Testament (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 64). Baker Publishing Group.
THE FOUR FAVORITE ARGUMENTS OF KJVOIST LEADERS DEBUNKED
Bible scholar David Fuller brings us the first argument in his book, Which Bible, where he writes, “Burgon regarded the good state of preservation of B (Codex Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Codex Sinaiticus) in spite of their exceptional age as proof not of their goodness but of their badness. If they had been good manuscripts, they would have been read to pieces long ago. We suspect that these two manuscripts are indebted for their preservation, solely to their ascertained evil character …. Had B (Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Sinaiticus) been copies of average purity, they must long since have shared the inevitable fate of books which are freely used and highly prized; namely, they would have fallen into decadence and disappeared from sight. Thus, the fact that B and ALEPH are so old is a point against them, not something in their favour. It shows that the Church rejected them and did not read them. Otherwise, they would have worn out and disappeared through much reading.”
Thus, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, leading representatives of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts, are in such great condition because they are full of errors, alterations, additions, and deletions, so they would have had little chance of wear and tear, never having been used by true believers. This argument is simply the weakest and most desperate that this author has ever heard. First, many of the papyrus Alexandrian manuscripts are in terrible shape, some being 200 years older than codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which would mean that they must have been read very often by true believers. Second, a number of old Byzantine and Western manuscripts are in good condition as well, which by this argument would indicate that they are also guilty of never having been read because they were full of errors, alterations, additions and deletions, so they would have had little chance of wear and tear. Third, the size of Sinaiticus with the Old Testament, the New Testament, and apocryphal books, among other books would have weighed about 50+ lbs. This book was not read in the same manner that Christians would read their Bibles today. The same would be true of Codex Vaticanus as well. Fourth, both were written on extremely expensive and durable calfskin. Fifth, the period of copying the Byzantine text type was c. 330 – 1453 C.E. and it progressed into the most corrupt period for the Church (priests to the popes: stealing, sexual sins, torture, and murder); so much so, it ends with the Reformation. Thus, the idea of true believers wearing out manuscripts is ludicrous. Sixth, the Bible was locked up in Latin. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5th century to make the Bible accessible to all, became a means of keeping God’s Word hidden. Almost all Catholic priests were biblically illiterate, so one wonders who were these so-called true believers and how were they reading God’s Word to the point of wearing it out. For centuries, manuscripts were preserved, even when the Catholic priests could no longer understand them.
Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their second argument maintained that the Byzantine text was used by the Church for far more centuries, which proved its integrity, as God would never allow the Church to use a corrupt text. B. F. Westcott wrote, “A corrupted Bible is a sign of a corrupt church, a Bible mutilated or imperfect, a sign of a church not yet raised to complete perfection of the truth.” (The Bible in the Church, 1864, 1875) The reader can determine for himself or herself if it is mere coincidence that as the Church grew corrupt, the most corrupt manuscript of all grew right along with it for a thousand years.
As was stated earlier, Lucian produced the Syrian text, renamed the Byzantine text. About 290 C.E., some of his associates made various subsequent alterations, which deliberately combined elements from earlier types of text, and this text was adopted about 380 C.E. At Constantinople, it became the predominant form of the New Testament throughout the Greek-speaking world. The text was also edited, with harmonized parallel accounts, grammar corrections, and abrupt transitions modified to produce a smooth text. This was not a faithfully accurate copy. As we had just learned earlier under the corruption period, after Constantine legalized Christianity, giving it equal status with the pagan religions, it was much easier for those possessing manuscripts to have them copied. In fact, Constantine had ordered 50 copies of the whole of the Bible for the Church in Constantinople. Over the next four centuries or so, the Byzantine Empire and the Greek-speaking Church were the dominant factors as to why this area saw their text becoming the standard. It had nothing to do with it being the better text, i.e., the text that more accurately reflected the original. From the eighth century forward, the corrupt Byzantine text was the standard text and had displaced all others; it makes up about 95 percent of all manuscripts that we have of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their third argument continued with the belief that it would be foolish to set aside thousands of manuscript witnesses (the Byzantine text-type) for a few supposedly early manuscript witnesses (the Alexandrian text-type). But in truth, the majority of anything does not automatically mean that it is the best or even correct. Today we can easily produce thousands of copies of a faulty manuscript with a machine, and every copy displays the same errors. If we were to hand-copy the same manuscript a thousand times, obvious errors probably would be corrected in many copies, but new errors would be introduced, many of them probably the result of a well-intended “correction.” A textual criticism principle that has been derived from this observation is that manuscripts should be weighed (i.e. for value), not counted.
In their fourth argument, Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener maintained that the Byzantine text-type was actually older and superior to the Alexandrian text-type. To refute this, we can go back to our patristic quotations, which reveal the Alexandrian text-type as earlier than the Byzantine text-type. Greenlee writes, “The fallacy in this argument was that the antiquity of a ‘Syrian’ (i.e., Byzantine) reading could be shown only when the Byzantine text was supported by one of the pre-Byzantine texts, which proved nothing in favor of the Byzantine, since W.H. maintained that Syrian readings were largely derived from the pre-Syrian texts. That the traditional text was intrinsically superior was more nearly a matter of subjective opinion; but extensive comparison of text-types has left most scholars convinced that the late text [Byzantine] is in general inferior, not superior.”