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King James Version of the Bible


Frontispiece to the first edition of the King James BibleThe King James Version or Authorised Version of the Holy Bible was translated into English for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of England. First published in 1611, it was the authorized version for use in the Church of England and became perhaps the most influential English version in America.


Starting the project
Its development began when King James I called a conference at Hampton Court in 1604. It is no longer in copyright in most parts of the world but has a special position in the United Kingdom, relating in part to the established religion. Eventually seven different editions of the King James Version were produced, the most recent of which was produced in 1769, and it is this edition which is most commonly cited as the King James Version (KJV).

The motivation behind the KJV translation was in large part due to the Protestant belief that the Bible was the sole source of doctrine (see sola scriptura) and as such should be translated into the local venacular. By the time that the King James Bible was written, there wa already a tradition going back almost a hundred years of Bible translation into English, starting with William Tyndale. At the time of the King James Bible, the authorised version of the Church of England was the Bishops' Bible. The Bishops' Bible, however, enjoyed little popular esteem, and its popularity was eclipsed by the Geneva Bible, whose marginal notes espoused a Protestantism that was too Puritan and radical for King James's taste.

At the Hampton Court conference, King James proposed that a new translation be commissioned to settle the controversies, and hopefully, to replace the Geneva Bible and its offensive notes in the popular esteem. King James gave the translators instructions, which were designed to discourage polemical notes, and to guarantee that the new version would be conformed to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. The instructions he gave said:

The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.

The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.

The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.

When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which has been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of the faith.

The division of the chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.

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.

Such quotations of places to be marginally set down, as shall serve for the fit references of one scripture to another.

Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter or chapters; and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinks good, all to meet together, to confer what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.

As any one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner, they shall send it to the rest to be considered of seriously and judiciously: for his Majesty is very careful in this point.

If any company, upon the review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any places, and therewithal to send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting, which is to be the chief persons of each company, at the end of the work.

When any place of special obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directly by authority to send to any learned in the land for his judgment in such a place.

Letters to be sent from every bishop to the rest of the clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as being skillful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind, to send their particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford, according as it was directed before the king?s letter to the archbishop.

The directors in each company to be deans of Westminster and Chester, and the king?s professors in Hebrew and Greek in the two universities.

These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop?s Bible, viz. Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, Whitchurch, Geneva.


The King James Version translators worked in several committees, based at Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Westminster. They worked on certain parts separately; then the drafts produced by each committee were compared and revised for harmony with each other. The committees were:


First Westminster Company, translating from Genesis to 2 Kings:

Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, Hadrian Saravia, Richard Clarke, John Laifield, Robert Tighe, Francis Burleigh, Geoffry King, Richard Thompson, William Bedwell

First Cambridge Company, translated from 1 Chronicles to the Song of Songs:

Edward Lively, John Richardson, Lawrence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Roger Andrews, Thomas Harrison, Robert Spaulding, Andrew Bing

First Oxford Company, translated Isaiah through Malachi

John Harding, John Reynolds, Thomas Holland, Richard Kilby, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Daniel Fairclough

Second Oxford Company, translated the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelations:

Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, Richard Eedes, Giles Tomson, Henry Savile, John Peryn, Ralph Ravens, John Harmar

Second Westminster Company, translated the Epistles:

William Barlow, John Spencer, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins, Michael Rabbet, Thomas Sanderson

Second Cambridge Company, translated the Apocrypha:

John Duport, William Brainthwaite, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Samuel Ward, Andrew Downes, John Bois, John Ward, John Aglionby, Leonard Hutten, Thomas Bilson, Richard Bancroft

Literary qualities
The King James Version has traditionally been appreciated for the quality of the prose and poetry in the translation. However, the English language has changed somewhat since the time of publication and the translators of the Bible used a version of English that was somewhat archaic even at the time of publication. For example, the King James Version uses words such as "ye", "thee", and "thou", and uses phrases such as "Fear not ye" (instead of "Do not be afraid"). This means that modern readers often find the KJV more difficult to read than more recent translations (for the same reason that they often find Shakespeare more difficult to read than more recent authors). Here are some brief samples of text that demonstrate its translation style:


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13-18)
Like the earlier English translations like Tyndale and Geneva, the King James Version was translated from Greek and Hebrew texts, bypassing the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version Old Testament is based on the Masoretic Text while the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus as published by Erasmus. The King James Version is a fairly literal translation of these base sources; words implied but not actually in the original source are specially marked (either by being inside square brackets, as shown above, or as italic text).

One aspect of its style was originally due to grammatical uncertainty. At the time William Tyndale made his Bible translation, there was uncertainty in Early Modern English as to whether the older pronoun his or the neologism its were the proper genitive case of the third person singular pronoun it. Tyndale dodged the difficulty by using phrases such as the blood thereof rather than choosing between his blood or its blood. By the time the King James translators wrote, usage had settled on its, but Tyndale's style was familiar and considered a part of an appropriately Biblical style, and they chose to retain the old wording.

There are some differences from modern Bibles, which are based in part on more recently discovered manuscripts. Some conservative fundamentalist Protestants believe that the newer versions of the Bible are based on corrupt manuscripts and that the King James Version is more authentic than more recent versions.

The King James Version tends to be less sanitized than later versions. This can be seen in numerous verses, for example, 1 Samuel 25:22 and 34, Lamentations 1:17 and Revelation 1:13.


Subsequent history
Current printings of the King James Bible differ from the original in several ways:


The original printing of the King James Version included some books of the Apocrypha (also called "Deuterocanonical books"). They began to be omitted in approximately 1769, and the most common printings of the modern day rarely include them. However the coronation service requires, or required, an "unmutilated" edition.

The original printing also included a number of variant readings and alternative translations of some passages; most current printings omit these. (One American edition that does still print these notes is the Cornerstone UltraThin Reference Bible, published by Broadman and Holman.)

The original printing also included some marginal references to indicate where one passage of Scripture quoted or directly related to another. Most current printings omit these.

The original printing contained two prefatory texts; the first was a rather fulsome Epistle Dedicatory to "the most high and mighty Prince" King James. (external link) Few American printings reproduce this; many British printings do. The second, and more interesting preface was called The Translators to the Reader (external link), a long and learned essay that defends the undertaking of the new version. It observes that their goal was not to make a bad translation good, but a good translation better, and says that "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. . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God."

The original printing was made before English spelling was standardised. They wrote "v" invariably for lower-case initial "u" and "v", and "u" for "u" and "v" everywhere else. They used long "ſ" for non-final "s." The letter "j" occurs only after "i" or as the final letter in a Roman numeral. Punctuation was used differently. The printers often used ye for the, and wrote for an or am and so forth when space needed to be saved. Current printings remove most, but not all, of the variant spellings; the punctuation has also been changed, but still varies from current usage norms.

The first printing used a black letter font instead of a Roman font.

The first printing used Roman type instead of italics to indicate text that had been supplied by the translators, or thought needful for English grammar but which was not present in the Greek or Hebrew.

The first printing used the device of using different type faces to show supplied words sparsely and inconsistently.

Current printings of the King James Bible are typically based on an edition published at Oxford University in 1769. That edition applied the device of supplying italics for absent words much more thoroughly, corrected a number of minor errors in punctuation, and made the spelling consistent and updated. Current printings of the King James Bible are typically based on the 1769 Oxford text rather than the 1611 text.
Thomas Nelson has printed a romanized facsimile of the 1611 first edition of the King James Bible, ISBN 0517367483.


Copyright status
In England, the "Authorised Version" is subject to a perpetual Crown Copyright held by the British government, due to its status there as an official document of the established Church of England. The British government licenses all printings of the text in England, typically by designating one printer as the authorised publisher; other printers must obtain a sublicence from that one.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge also possess the right to print editions of the Bible, and many English printings are issued or licenced by the university presses. Annotated study Bibles escape the monopoly by being labelled as "Bible commentaries," and can also use the text.

The monopoly holds no force in Scotland or Wales, where the Church of England is no longer the established church. Elsewhere in the world, the text of the King James Version has long since become a part of the public domain.
 

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