There are many people who love the rich language that you find in the King James version of the Bible. In fact, there are some who believe that the King James version is the most authentic and accurate version or translation of Scripture.
While there may be room for debate on that issue that is not the focus of this article. I simply want to focus on who wrote the King James Bible and why?
If you look at the title you might think well King James wrote it – after all it is his version. Well that is not totally accurate. But what is accurate is that the translation of this Bible happened on his watch and under his commission. Let’s dig in to find out more about this King James Version.
Who Was King James?
It would probably make sense to know who this King James fellow is anyway. For the younger sports fans out there King James is not Lebron James. He did not write this Bible.
To help you understand who this person was here is a little historical perspective. King James had a very interesting beginning to his reign as King. He was crowned King of Scotland at the grand old age of 1. He was born on June 19,1566 to Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband Lord Darnley. Lord Darnley was murdered when James was eight months old and his mother was forced to abdicate the throne on June 24, 1567. After this abdication, her son was made king. Eventually in 1603 he would be crowned King of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Just for clarity sake, you may see him referred to as James IV of Scotland and James I of England. These are referring to the same person.
The issue of James’ religious background is not so simple. When he was born, his parents were Catholic so he was baptized as an infant as a Roman Catholic. During his time there was not total religious unity or tolerance. As he got older it appears that he became a Protestant, however he still had to deal with the various religious factions of his day. Mainly Presbyterians, Anglicans, and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
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Did King James Write the King James Bible?
Now let’s get to the story of who wrote the King James Bible and why. With the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, people’s appetite for translation of ancient texts grew. This included ancient classical pieces as well as the Biblical texts which were written in Classical Greek and Hebrew. This desire led to the creation of the Tyndale Bible - translated in 1526 - and is credited as being the first English Bible translated from the original Greek and Hebrew texts.
In 1604 King James sought to address many of the religious differences by creating one universally accepted translation of the scriptures. This undertaking was begun by a committee of scholars led by John Rainolds. This was no small undertaking as the process literally took seven years; it was a very meticulous undertaking. Rainolds never saw his work completed because he died four years before the King James Version of the Bible was published, which happened in 1611.
When you think about who wrote the King James Bible you cannot credit one person with doing that. It was a team of scholars doing the hard and tedious work of translating texts into English. By the way, this process is true when it comes to most Bible translations – one person is never completely responsible for total translation. It is usually a team. Even though the King James Bible bears his name, it is more a result of this Bible translation being commissioned under his watch, not because he wrote it or translated it himself.
What Bible Was Used before the KJV?
There is so much information regarding the history of the Bible down through the ages which can literally take up volumes. To keep it simple, here is a very brief outline of the Bible used before the King James Version. (By the way I am primarily referring to translations that were done in English).
1382 – The Wycliffe Bible translated by John Wycliffe from the Latin Vulgate into English.
1455 – The Gutenberg Bible. This was not an English translation but was done in Latin.
1526 – The Tyndale Bible. We mentioned this one earlier.
1535 – The Coverdale Bible. Completed by Myles Coverdale, it was considered to be the first Modern English translation (I wonder what modern English was like in 1535).
1560 – The Geneva Bible. The first mass-produced Bible available to the general public and the primary Bible of 16th Century English Protestants.
1568 – The Bishops Bible. An English Bible written under the authority of the Church of England.
1611 – The King James Bible.
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Is the KJV the Most Accurate Bible?
As I mentioned in my opening statement, there are many who believe the King James Version is the most accurate translation of the Bible. However, to answer this question properly it is important to know how Bibles are actually translated. There are three main methods:
- Word for word
- Thought for thought
Word for Word – This is a literal word-for-word translation from Greek and Hebrew into English. Many feel this is the most accurate way of translating Scripture. Among the versions that are translated this way are the King James Version as well as the New King James Version (NKJV), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New American Standard Version (NASB).
Thought for Thought – This type of translation considers a series of words in the original language which comprise a thought, and that thought is expressed in the target language. Some may argue this method is not as accurate as the word for word method. What’s important to understand is that these translations do not seek to change the meaning or the intent of the original text. There is great effort to stay true to the original meaning or thought of the text. You will also discover these translations are usually easier to read. Among them are the New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT), and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).
Paraphrase – This type of translation seeks to paraphrase the text to help the reader understand the meaning better. Of all the translation methods this one is probably the most scrutinized for accuracy and leaves room for the interpreter’s opinions. I will be honest, not to sway your thinking, but this is probably my least favorite type of translation to read exclusively. However, I do reference these translations from time to time, especially if I am reading a difficult passage or just want to read a perspective that may help clarify the meaning. Among those translated in this fashion are the Easy to Read Version (ERV), The Message (MSG), and The Living Bible (TLB).
As a kudos to those who wrote the King James Bible, it still remains the most popular Bible in print today. As I said before, you can debate back and forth as to which is the most accurate translation (a debate I choose not to have and an opinion I choose not to give). Whether you believe it to be the most accurate or not, one thing that is true is this translation has withstood the test of time.
How Do You Pick a Translation to Read?
When it comes to choosing which translation you will read, I think there is one main question you need to ask: Can you understand it?
As popular as the King James Bible is, one of the challenges in reading it is that the language is an older form of English. Let’s face it, modern language in 1611 is a lot different than modern language today. Because of this there are many words which we either don’t use anymore or the way we use the word has changed. (You think they would be shocked how we use tweet and apple).
This is not meant to discredit the King James Bible, just an acknowledgement you must make when you read it. The same reason those who translated or wrote the King James Bible then is why we have so many translations today. There was a desire to have a Bible that the average person could read and understand.
The reality is you can spend hours and hours debating which version is more accurate and never spend any time reading the Bible. This strips the joy of reading God’s word. I would encourage you to find a version that is accurate and one that you can understand and do the most important thing, read it.
It goes without saying that the King James Bible is one of the great literary treasures our world has ever seen, especially when you consider who wrote the King James Bible, why it was written and when it was written. While it is a literary masterpiece, more importantly it is the Word of God. This is why it has endured. Not because of the commission of King James but because of the commission of God himself. Regardless of how people feel about God’s word, you can be confident in knowing that God’s word will endure forever.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8 KJV).
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.