We have now arrived at the reign of James I of England and the events that led to the commissioning of the  translation of a Bible “Appointed to be Read in Churches” or, as we know it, the King James or the Authorised  Version. We will also see that while this work was steadily progressing, plots were hatched by the Catholics, the  most notorious of which was the Gunpowder Plot, aimed to replace James with a Catholic Monarch and bring  England again into the Roman Catholic fold. However God Himself was also working through these events for He  had determined that England would never again be part of Catholic Europe, and as England spread its Empire,  and therefore its language, the Word of God would go out into all the world.

The closest blood relation to the Tudors who  had reigned over England since 1485 was  James VI of Scotland, who was of the house  of Stuart. He was the great-grandson of Henry  VIII’s sister Margaret. She had been married to James IV of Scotland and their son became James V.  James V married and had a daughter, Mary, who became Mary Queen of Scots. She in turn had a son also named James and in turn he became James VI of Scotland. On the death of Elizabeth in England in 1603 he was invited to ascend the  throne of England as James I. His being both King of Scotland and of England led to the term ‘The  United Kingdom’, which we are familiar with.

James I of the United Kingdom

Mary, the mother of James, was a staunch Catholic  but through various intrigues she was forced to  abdicate in favour of her son James and flee from  Scotland, seeking protection from Elizabeth I.  However her intrigues with the Catholics, both in  England and abroad, aiming to obtain the English  throne finally led to her undoing and so Elizabeth  reluctantly had her executed in 1587.

James, though having a Catholic mother, had  been brought up in the Presbyterian environment  that prevailed in Scotland as a result of the  Reformation and in particular the work of John  Knox. James has been described as the most learned  man who ever occupied the British throne, being  fluent in Latin, French and English at the age of 10.

As James made his way south from Scotland  to London there was a swell of Puritan feeling  that now a King would ascend the throne who  would follow the Presbyterian ways and not those  existing ways of the Church of England with its  Archbishops, Bishops and Priests with all the formal

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regalia and ritual that went with that system. James  realised that resolving this problem would be a  major issue to be addressed on taking up the throne.

The Hampton Court meeting of 1604

James was a strong believer in ‘the Divine Right’ of  kings to rule, or the belief that God had appointed  kings to their position. He had written articles  on this theme while in Scotland and he certainly  would not be changing this idea now. Early in 1604,  less than a year after ascending the throne, James  decided it was time to address the religious issue.  A conference was convened at Hampton Court at  which both parties of the Church of England, the  Bishops group and the Puritan leaders, were called. In James’ words, “the learned and grave men of both  sides” were called to the conference. These men,  though from opposing points of view on the way  forward for the Church in England, were certainly  among the most capable and intellectually brilliant  men to put their position before the King. The end  result was that James favoured the continuation of  the Church of England with its bishops, rather than  the Presbyterian system in which each congregation  was overseen by the elders, or presbytery of that  community. James put his finger on the nub of the  issue when he strongly stated to Reynolds, who  was upholding the Puritan view regarding the  presbytery, “No bishops – no king!” He realised  that a king subject to a presbytery was always in  danger of being removed. To have a king subject  to the independent authority of elders of church  communities was a revolution waiting to happen.  He decided on the Church system as it stood,  with the King as head of the Church and the one  who appointed the Archbishop. The discussion  at Hampton on which way the Church would be  run was now concluded but one final decision was  made based upon a suggestion of Reynolds, the  spokesman for the Puritan party. He said that the  petitioning ministers he represented would like “one  only translation of ye byble to be authenticall and read  in ye churche”. The Bible used by the Puritans was  the Geneva Bible, which was anathema to James  as the marginal notes (and there were many) were  Calvinistic and Presbyterian in outlook. James saw  the possibility of replacing the Geneva Bible and  agreed to one uniform translation being made but  with this caveat, that no marginal notes should  be added. James explained what he desired in the  preparing of this  Bible.

  “His Highnesse  wished, that some  e s pe c i a l l pa i n s  should be taken in  that behalf for one  vniforme translation  … and this to be  done by the best  learned of both the  Vniversities, after  them to be reuiewed  by the Bishops, and  the chiefe learned  of the Church; from them to be presented to the Priuy  Councell; and lastly to bee ratified by his Royall  authority; to be read in the whole Church, and no other.

The King gave specific rules on certain points to  be followed in the translation. Rule 3 stated: “The  ould ecclesiasticall words to be kept viz. as the Word  Churche not to be translated Congregation etc.”  James was ensuring that the Church of England  was to follow the structure of the Roman Catholic  Church with archbishops and bishops with James  replacing the Pope as head of the Church in  England. Tyndale had translated the word “ecclesia”  as “congregation” throughout the New Testament as  he felt it gave a better sense to the word. “Ecclesia”  really mans a “called out” group of people. By using  the term “church” James believed he was minimising  the possibility of the Presbyterian ideas of church  governance being taken up in England.

Those familiar with The Ecclesial Guide will  recall that Clause 1 reads in part: “There is no exact  equivalent in English for this term Ecclesia. It means  an assembly of the called. ‘Church’ (by which it is  translated) has not this meaning, and has become  objectionable through association with un-apostolic  ideas and institutions. Consequently, the original  term has to be employed.” In the days of Robert  Roberts there was possibly a sharper abhorrence  of the Roman Catholic system by brethren and  sisters than there is today, as they were constantly  opposing its blasphemous teachings in lectures and  literature. Thus the term “the ecclesia” became the way  brethren spoke of our meetings, which has proven  to be a wise custom. Let us not slide into apathy  but maintain a vigilant opposition to Rome and her  teaching, carefully instructing our younger members to maintain this stand, so  they see clearly how God  views this wicked system  that is soon to be judged.

Rule 6 stated that there  were to be no marginal  notes apart from explaining  a Hebrew or Greek word.  Our margin in the kjv will  show these.

As 1604 moved along,  the work of organising  the translating groups or  companies was finalised  and the work began in  earnest. The work of  translation was divided into six companies with  eight translators and a director, making the total  team involved at the beginning 54. Each company  worked on different sections of the Bible, and when  finished they came together for final editing. It is  not our aim to follow this work through as there  are many books that have been written on this  process of translation that can be referred to for  fuller information.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605

One thing James did on coming to the throne was  to ease the fines Roman Catholics were to pay for  non-attendance of the Parish Church. This period  of toleration led to a flood of priests from Europe,  which in turn resulted in reimposing the fines.  Even before the Gunpowder Plot, two plots were  discovered which militant Jesuits were accused  of hatching as they continued their Counter  Reformation activities.

The Gunpowder Plot was a simple plan. The  conspirators were to blow up the House of Lords  at the opening of the session when the King  and the members of both Houses of Parliament  were assembled. They would capture James’ son  Charles, proclaim him king and then inform the  Roman Catholics of the success of the plot. A  room was rented on the ground floor and two  tons of gunpowder placed there in barrels. As  history records, after a message was sent telling  of the plot, the culprit caught was Guy Fawkes.  The other conspirators were subsequently rounded  up; some died resisting capture and the rest were  executed. As a matter of interest, a test has since  been carried out exploding the equivalent of two  tons of gunpowder to see if it actually would have  succeeded in demolishing the House of Lords. The  result showed that not only would it have done  exactly that, but it would have caused a fire ball to  sweep through part of London, destroying it also.  We may not realise that Fireworks Night came into  being through Parliament passing the Observance  of the 5th November Act of 1605, which made services  and sermons to commemorate the event an annual  feature of English life as a reminder of the Roman  Catholics’ evil plot. It became customary to burn  effigies of Guy Fawkes and let off fireworks that  night as the church bells were rung. It remained  in force until 1859, but as humanism with its seegood-  in-all-people took possession of men’s minds,  the inquisition and its horrors, the Smithfield Fires  of Queen Mary, and the Gunpowder Plot, all faded  into insignificance and were forgotten. But God  will not forget the brutality of that system. He will  judge the great whore, which corrupted the earth  with her fornication, and He will avenge the blood  of his servants at her hand (Rev 19:2).

The Douay–Rheims Bible translation of 1610

The Counter Reformation may not have been  able to remove James from the throne but it  continued its struggle against the Reformation  in England. What was deemed necessary was an  English Catholic Bible where the text and notes  would uphold Catholic tradition in the face of  the Protestant Reformation. The New Testament  portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582,  and the Old Testament portion was published by the University of Douai. In 1610 the two sections  were printed and sent to England for use by  Catholics. Let us realise that parallel with the  events of the Reformation there was always  the careful scheming of the Roman Catholic  Church and the Counter Reformation to  try to win back defectors and if that was not  possible to destroy those who deserted the  Church for the Reformation.

The Authorised Version appears in 1611

The translators continued their exacting task,  endeavouring to give the clearest meaning  of the original language as they worked  from the Hebrew and Greek and examined  the previous translations. In the spring of  1611, after the final editing, the completed  manuscripts were sent to the printers  where the exacting work of typesetting was  undertaken. Then after proofreading they  were printed and bound and the first edition  of the King James Bible became a reality.

It has been calculated that Tyndale’s  translation work had the greatest input to  the finished English version, with about 84%  of the sections Tyndale had translated being  used. Just pause for a moment to think what  this indicates. Fifty-four of the most eminent  linguistic scholars in England exercised their  learning in examining the original texts and  concluded that much of Tyndale’s work  could not be improved upon – Tyndale was  vindicated as an outstanding and accurate  translator who could convey the meaning  and flow of the original in the language of the  plough boy, the language of English speaking  people. The King James Version was not immediately  accepted as there were those who were familiar with  the Geneva and other versions and preferred to stay  with them. But within two decades the King James Version became the Bible of England, and soon after of Scotland also.

The King James Version won the day as The Word  of God in the English speaking world for 300 years.  There are some simple reasons why this was so.

  • It was read in churches to all who attended, and in those early days it was obligatory to attend church on Sunday. Thus the people  became familiar with the actual words of God  in their own language.
  • It was translated by renowned linguists who could give the clear textual emphasis and flow of the language.
  • The flowing rhythmic style they used made the text easy to commit to memory.
  • It did not contain the notes that had been in the Geneva Bible. Therefore readers were required to think through what was written themselves,  rather than accept others’ interpretations.  People were made to study the Bible – not use  a Study Bible prepared by others.
  • As it did not contain notes, all ‘Christians’, Catholics excepted, accepted it whether Church of England, Puritan or Nonconformist. It became the Bible used in discussion  between these groups.
  • It was not long before most homes had a copy and it became the standard reading for families in the evening and then the topic  of discussion. There were not the invasive  electronic gadgets bringing the world into  the home to distract in those days.
  • And finally, it is a translation completed by a group of men who genuinely were endeavouring to remain faithful to the  inspired Word of God and give its meaning  clearly to English readers.

The question that one may ask is, “Why is it  called ‘The Authorised Version’ as well as ‘The King  James Version’?” The title page of the King James  Version (many printings still have the wording of  the title page in them), states that it is “Appointed  to be read in Churches”. It was the King who stated  regarding the translation to be made that when the  final manuscript was completed it was “to bee ratified  by his Royall authority, to be read in the whole Church,  and no other”. Although the word ‘Authorised’ was not  used, it was understood that because it had the royal  sanction to be printed and then read in Churches it  was ‘authorised’ by King James.

Some concluding thoughts

Through these six articles we have followed events  over 230 years from the time of Wycliffe and his first  translation of the Bible into English to the time of  King James and the King James Version of the Bible.

We have tried to impress upon readers the  struggle that raged between the Roman Catholic  Church and the Reformation. If there had  never been an English Version of the Bible, the  Reformation would have faltered and failed in  England. We are 400 years removed from those days  of struggle for conscience sake that were made by  men of character and resolution. These were men  who saw the Roman Catholic Harlot for what she  really was – an abomination to God, because she  blasphemed His Name and was “drunken with  the blood of the saints”, who in the eyes of God  were “the salt of the earth”. They also saw that its  teachings did not convey the truth of His Word.  Though many of those who struggled against Rome  did not come to a full awareness of truth, they clearly  saw the identification marks given by Scripture of  the “Mother of Harlots”. This startling conclusion  compelled them to cut themselves off from the  Mother Church, but though separating from her,  they were unaware that they took many of her false  doctrines with them. They became her “daughters”,

as defined in Revelation. Others did continue to  seek the Truth of God’s Word and often were caused  to flee, not only from the persecution of Rome but  now also from the oppression of her “daughters”.  Is it a timely question to ask – “Where really  does the Christadelphian community stand in  relation to Rome and her daughters?” Do we, as  a community, have a very clear perception of the  corruption that this system has wrought against  the simple truths of the Word of God and the way  they should be lived?

If you have an Authorised Version, have you  noticed if “The Epistle Dedicatory” is still printed  in the front of your version? In the more recent  printings it is not there. Obviously in translations  in modern English it will not appear at all. Those  translators knew that they would be ridiculed by  the Papacy for their efforts in translation, and so  wrote: “… we shall be traduced by Popish Persons at  home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because  we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to  be yet more and more known unto the people, whom  they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness.” But  they were willing to accept this slander, knowing  that by translating God’s Word into the mother  tongue of the English they were opening the eyes  of those who wished to know the Truth. How sad  it is today that though over 100 million Bibles are  printed each year, few want to read and study it  carefully. The Bible, to many, has become a voiceless  image on a shelf in their homes, not unlike a lifeless  statue of Mary in homes of the apostasy. The Bible  was translated to lead men from such superstitious  ignorance. As a community let us never slip into  the deception that owning a Bible of itself makes  us sons and daughters of the living God. Jesus said,  “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and  they are life.” Let us read and meditate upon the  Word of God that it may produce that new life in  us which is a reflection of that seen in the “Word  made flesh”, even our beloved Lord.

As we take up our Bibles each day may we  remember that it came about because honest and  conscientious men saw that people were enshrouded  in superstitious ignorance from which they were unable to extricate themselves. They therefore risked  their lives to translate the Word of God so that we  can now read it in the safety of our homes, without  fear of religious persecution. It was the work of  these men that under the overshadowing hand of  our God brought about such a defining change. Let  us continually be thankful for this blessing and be  a community, as we have been in the past, known  for our dedication and understanding of the whole  counsel of God.

As we have surveyed the history behind the King  James Bible we have seen that the role of King James  was but one piece in the whole drama of bringing  the Word of God to us in our mother tongue, and  of separating the United Kingdom at that time from  Europe and the shackles of Roman Catholicism.  Let us be thankful for this great mercy as it has  given us the privilege of reading and speaking  together about the Word of our God, and being  able to preach it openly to others without fear of  being burnt at the stake.

And a final thought for us all – have we thanked  God for the blessing of His life-giving Word and  done our readings today?