• The translators were experts in Hebrew and Greek, and in producing the KJV they consulted the original texts of the Bible, but they did not start from scratch. Technically the King James Bible is a revision of the Bishops’ Bible. The case can be made that it is a revision of the entire preceding century of translation, starting with William Tyndale.

• Since the aim of the translation was to conserve what was best in the tradition of English Bible translation, the vocabulary of the King James Bible was just a trifle archaic already when it was published.

• Over 90 percent of the language of the King James Bible (including multiple occurrences of the same word) is native English rather than Latin-derived.

• The vocabulary of the King James Bible is approximately six to seven thousand words, compared with thirteen thousand for Milton and over twenty thousand for Shakespeare.

• By modern standards, the KJV is too heavily punctuated; the explanation is that the King James translators had in mind the oral reading and hearing of their translation, so they used punctuation to guide oral reading.

• Although the printer italicized words that had been added to what was in the original text, a comparison of the original version with later editions reveals that the original KJV was much more lightly italicized than later editions. The first round of italicizing was apparently inadequate to show the extent of what had been added to the original.

• The KJV was a forerunner of the modern practice of including scholarly notes on specific words to indicate either the literal meaning of a word or a legitimate alternate way of translating a word.

The preceding chapter has given account of how the King James Bible came into existence and what happened after it appeared. But what about the actual Bible that was first published in 1611? This chapter is designed to answer that question. The focus will be on the King James Version as an English translation. Chapter 8 will fill out the picture by examining the King James Bible as a work of literature.

Refining a Text

Sixteenth-century translators could not have seen the process of refinement that was going on with the same clarity that we can see it with the advantage of temporal distance from the event. The process of change for the better that is evident in the following specimens was repeated hundreds of times. Here are three successive versions of John 15:12–13, reprinted in original spelling:

• Tyndale: “Thys ys my commaundement, that ye love togedder as I have loved you. Gretter love then this hath no man, then that a man bestowed his lyfe for his frendes.”

• Geneva: “This is my commandement, that ye loue one another, as I haue loued you. Greater loue then this hathe no man, when any man bestoweth his life for his friends.”

• KJV: “This is my Commaundement, that ye loue one another, as I have loued you. Greater loue hath no man then this, that a man lay downe his life for his friends.”

Here are successive versions of Matthew 6:34b.

• Tyndale: “For the daye present hath ever ynough of his awne trouble.”

• Coverdale: “Every daye hath ynough of his owne travayll.”

• Great Bible: “Sufficident unto the daye is the travayle therof.”

• Geneva: “The day hathe ynough with his owne grief.”

• King James: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Further Reading

H. Wheeler Robinson, ed., The Bible in Its Ancient and English Versions (1940).

Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (2001).

Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (2003)

 

Copyright © 2011 by Leland Ryken
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers 
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