The Story of the Early Translations - Preparing a New Edition of the Old Testament - What Excavations in Egypt Have Proved - Celebration of the Tercentenary of the Authorised Version
The first copy of the Authorised Version of the Bible was printed in 1611. Before the issue of the Authorised Version three other versions were in use in Great Britain. The most popular of these was the "Geneva" Bible, prepared by Englishmen who had fled from England during the persecutions in the reign of Queen Mary.
It was not published until 1560, and was prefaced with an address to Queen Elizabeth, calling her attention to her numerous enemies, of whom "some are worldlings, who, as Demas, have forsaken Christ for the love of this world; others are ambitious prelates, who, as Amaziah and Diotriphes, can abide none but themselves; and, as Demetrius, many practise sedition to maintain their errors." Therefore the translators declared that there was no way so expedient and necessary for the preservation of God's Word and the destruction of her enemies as to present unto her Majesty the Holy Scriptures "faithfully and plainly translated according to the languages wherein they were written by the Holy Ghost." Upon the title-page is inscribed "The Bible and Holy Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testament, translated according to the Ebrue and Greke, and conferred with the best translations in divers languages. With most profitable Annotations upon all the hard places, and other things of great importance, as may appear in the Epistle to the Readers."
Some of the "other things" were most obnoxious to James I. Two of them in particular annoyed him. In a note beside 2 Chronicles xv. 16, which tells how Asa "removed his mother from being queen," we find this remark, "Herein he showed that he lacked zeal, for she ought to have died." This probably referred to the death of James's mother, Mary Queen of Scots. Against Exodus i. 17, where we are told that, contrary to the king's command, the men-children were saved alive, the note runs, "Their disobedience to the king was lawful, though their dissembling was evil." This James I. considered most pernicious teaching. He said," To disobey a king is not lawful, such traitorous conceits should not go forth among the people." Therefore when, in 1604, Dr. Reynolds, the leader of the Puritan party, proposed a new translation, although the bishops were not generally in favour of it, the king seized the opportunity as a means of eliminating dangerous doctrines and also of displaying his learning in theological matters.
Most fortunately for those who came after him, one of the fourteen rules drawn up for the guidance of the translators runs, ' No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text."
Without this rule, one can imagine that the King might have been tempted to suggest footnotes to counteract the ' evil influence ' of some of the marginal references in the Geneva Bible.
The Translators of 1611
James I. is sometimes called a "learned fool," and, no doubt, though impolite, there is a certain amount of truth in the remark. However, with regard to the translation of the Bible, he did not allow his foolishness to get the better of his learning.
Fifty-four translators were appointed to meet in different groups at Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge, the Dean of Westminster and the two University Hebrew professors being appointed as presidents. King James commanded the Bishop of London to request the other bishops to discover in their various dioceses all those who had especial skill in the Hebrew and Greek tongues, and who had "taken pains in their private study of the Scriptures for the clearing of any obscurities either in the Hebrew or in the Greek, or touching any difficulties or mistakings in the former English translation." These men, when found, were to be asked to send "such their observations" for the assistance of the translators called together by the king. The letter from James I. to the Bishop of London is still extant, and is dated July 22, 1604.
The translators were in every sense fitted for it as scholars, and neither were they drawn exclusively from cither the High Church or Puritan party - indeed, some were. chosen who had no ecclesiastical bias, but merely for their learning.
They were divided into six companies each undertaking a special portion of the Scriptures, and each was given access to every possible source of in formation II task occupied them for about four years, then two members were chosen from each company, who spent nine months in car-revision of the whole, and after that two years were occupied in the printing
Dr. Miles Smith (afterwards Bishop Gloucester) states in the preface, " Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring to the anvil that which we had hammered, fearing no reproach lor slowness nor coveting praise for expedition."
When we consider the number of translations which were made in different languages and their age - the Latin and Syriac versions date back to the second century - and also the various copies of those translations in handwriting long before the invention of the printing machine, we shall realise something of the conflicting evidence which had to be sifted in order to get as near as possible to the original truth.
Sources of the Sacred Text
Not one copy, so far as is known, remains of the original manuscripts. Sometimes the knowledge of this fact alone causes an uneasy sense of "want of foundations," as Mr. Paterson Smyth tells us in his admirable little book, "How we got our Bible." But those who know anything of the Biblical treasures to be found in the great libraries of the world know that thousands of old Scripture writings - copies of translations of the originals and translations from them - are still at the disposal of the scholars who seek to piece them together so as to produce a complete Bible. Apart from the copies and translations, we have another source from which it is estimated that a Bible could be produced, though every manuscript and translation were destroyed. The quotations from the Scriptures in the early writings of the Fathers are so copious that scholars believe it would be possible to reproduce the entire Bible from them alone.