The King James version (KJV) of the Bible, also known as the “Authorized Version,” was the Bible when I was young. In fact, we ordinary Lutherans did not know that there was any other version of the Bible. Our clergyman probably knew, but never mentioned any such thing to us.
The King James version, with its magnificent language, was greatly loved, but also rather difficult to understand with its archaic language and vocabulary.
Even today, some religions regard the KJV as inspired. There is even a “King James Only” society.
A common misconception was that the KJV was the first English translation of the Bible, but there had been other translations of all or part of the Bible for centuries.
When work began on the KJV, the Bibles in use and beloved in England were the Great Bible, authorized by King Henry VIII and largely prepared by William Cloverdale, the Geneva Bible, translated in Geneva by Protestant dissidents who had fled the rule of Queen Mary I in England, and the Bishop’s Bible, an attempt by Queen Elizabeth I to publish a new authorized version of the Bible. The most popular of these was the Geneva Bible.
Most people of that time were illiterate, so the Bible had to do double duty. It was read by scholars and theologians, but it was also read to worshipers.
When Elizabeth I died, her cousin King James VI of Scotland was appointed to the throne and became King James I of England. James had studied theology and enjoyed debating it.
When James assumed the throne, the Puritans hoped to achieve some of their desired reforms. These included banning the exchange of wedding rings, banning the making of the sign of the cross during baptism, the inclusion of the “presbyterie,” or lay leaders, in the governance of the church, and a new translation of the Bible to eliminate errors found in the then currently popular translations.
James did not like the Puritans because of his experience with them in Scotland, and he rejected most of their demands, but he himself wanted a new translation of the Bible, because he felt that the marginal notes in the current versions encouraged revolution. He also did not want to totally reject the Puritans, because they were a sizeable political group.
54 scholars were appointed to do the translation, but only 47 accepted. (Some sources say 50.) They worked in teams on different sections of the Bible, but submitted their translations to all the other teams for their review, revision, and criticism.
Since the people were mostly illiterate, a great emphasis was put on making the translation sound good when read aloud. I myself greatly love to read certain passages of the KJV aloud, because they sound so magnificent.
The first publication of the KJV was in 1611, and immediately errors of punctuation, and vocabulary, and typos being replaced by words that were not the intended word were made by printers:. Also, different printers produced slightly different versions.
The original manuscripts have been lost since 1655, and in the years since, various publishers and church bodies have attempted to modernize spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar. These problems, together with archaic, confusing vocabulary led many to call for a new translation.
In 1937, the International Council of Religious Education (ICRE) voted to authorize a new translation. The ICRE merged in 1950 with the Federal Council of Churches to form the National Council of Churches. The New Testament of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was published in 1946, and the Old Testament in 1952.
But the translation we use today is the New Revised Standard Version. I’ll write about how that came to be next month.
Note: This blog also appeared as “Dave’s Corner” in the newsletter of Elim Lutheran Church, “The Scribe,” Volume 64, Issue 5, May 2014, p. 3.
References, and for further study: