King James Version of the
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,
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.
Current printings of the King James Bible differ from the original in several
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"
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
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 ã 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.
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.