The Development of the KJV

In the early part of Henry’s reign, William Tyndale began work on translating the Bible into English using Erasmus’ work as a foundation. He worked with the original languages rather than the Latin Bible then still in use. In 1525-6 he published his New Testament and began work on the Old Testament, completing the 1st five books of the Bible (known as the Pentateuch) the following year. Most of his work was completed abroad rather than in England owing to Henry’s then defence of the Catholic Church until his divorce from Queen Katherine.

The English Reformation, following his re-marriage to Anne Boleyn (who appears to have played a significant role in the development and interest of the Protestant cause) allowed English to flourish as the language of services and the Bible in England from that time except for the period during his daughter Queen Mary’s reign.

A number of mainstream Bible translations came into being, each building upon its predecessor as well as other works. In 1535 the Coverdale Bible was published, which used Luther’s German translation, extant Latin Bible and Tyndale’s work.

Only 2 years later, Matthew’s Bible used this same material and a further revision followed only 2 years further on.

1537 also saw the publishing of the Great Bible referred to above, for use in parish churches; essentially a revision of Matthew’s Bible. This was itself the subject of various revisions over later years.

By Elizabeth’s time, further English translations had come into being – notably the Geneva Bible (1557 New Testament and full Bible in 1560) which was a great innovation – a “pocket book” Bible that people could carry with them much more easily that the traditional large volumes. This Bible had a strong slant in its interpretation but became very popular. It was a good scholarly work, using original texts, smaller fonts, the familiar verse format of todays’ Bibles and highlighted particular words to show that they had been added for emphasis to the original.

This particular version was in general use for over 60 years and was probably the version that people such as Shakespeare and other playwrights, writers and notables used.

1568 and 1572 saw the issue and revision of the “Bishops” Bible, a revision of the Great Bible, seeking to correct errors in translation that were identifiable by comparing other versions; and this remained in use until the King James Bible was published in 1611.

In 1604, King James I convened the Hampton Court conference and a decision was made to provide an entirely new translation from the original scriptural languages, to take advantage of yet more available manuscripts and increased scholarship over the years. The work started properly in 1607 and the first draft was available in 1609, to be redrafted the following year and finally completed for publication in 1611 – an incredible achievement really!

It was a work that effectively had been in development in various guises for nearly 100 years, building upon previous work and research. No further revision was made to it for an amazing 270 years although it was realised that there were translation errors, so some amendments were introduced in the 1700s.

A full revision, known as the Revised Version, was published in 1881. Since that time many, different versions have come into being. A number of them can be seen as milestones in the further development of the English Bible, each having their own nuances or slant depending on the objectives and make-up of their project groups. Many are in use in some form and will continue to be revised themselves as language develops, research emerges etc. The New English Bible and Revised Standard Bibles (and subsequent revisions) are good examples, and of course the New King James Version itself.

But our celebration is that of the King James Version of 1611 and we will content ourselves in these pages in that version that has so affected and remained in our language for so long.

The KJV of 1611 became an enduring work in an age when religion mattered to almost everyone in a way that is difficult to appreciate today. When people believed in God and what the scriptures taught, Christian beliefs were part and parcel of daily life. It mattered what was taught and understood. It mattered what people really believed. It influenced their lives, their attitudes their actions – from the highest in the land to the lowliest man or woman. The KJV had an enormous effect on peoples’ lives; its language and terminology may seem archaic today but it was the everyday parlance of ordinary people and its language became entwined into English literature over many generations, not just in England but wherever the Bible was carried into what has become the English-speaking world and is with us today.

Future updates will develop thoughts on different aspects of the KJV, looking at its history, its characters and the effect and understanding of the Bible. We hope that you will enjoy reading these pages, but more importantly, enjoy the riches of the Bible itself!