The Making of the King James Version; Its

EARLY in January, 1604, men were making
their way along the poor English highways,
by coach and carrier, to the Hampton
Court Palace of the new English king. They
were coming from the cathedral towns, from the
universities, from the larger cities. Many were
Church dignitaries, many were scholars, some
were Puritans, all were loyal Englishmen, and
they were gathering in response to a call for
a conference with the king, James I. They were
divided in sentiment, these men, and those who
hoped most from the conference were doomed
to complete disappointment. Not one among
them, not the King, had the slightest purpose
that the conference should do what proved to
be its only real service. Some of the men,
grave and earnest, were coming to present their
petitions to the King, others were coming to
oppose their petitions; the King meant to deny
them and to harry the petitioners. And everything
came out as it had been planned. Yet
the largest service of the conference, the only
real service, was in no one's mind, for it was at
Hampton Court, on the last day of the conference
between James and the churchmen,
January 18, 1604, that the first formal step was
taken toward the making of the so-called Authorized Version of the English Bible. If there
are such things as accidents, this great enterprise began in an accident. But the outcome of
the accident, the volume that resulted, is "allowed by all competent authorities to be the
first, [that is, the chief] English classic," if our Professor Cook, of Yale, may speak; "is universally accepted as a literary masterpiece, as
the noblest and most beautiful Book in the
world, which has exercised an incalculable influence upon religion, upon manners, upon literature,
and upon character," if the Balliol College
scholar Hoare can be trusted; and has
"made the English language," if Professor March
is right. The purpose of this study is to show
how that accident occurred, and what immediately
came from it.

With the death of Elizabeth the Tudor line
of sovereigns died out. The collateral Stuart
line, descending directly from Henry VII.,
naturally succeeded to the throne, and James
VI. of Scotland made his royal progress to the
English capital and became James I. of England.
In him appears the first of that Stuart
line during whose reign great changes were to
occur. Every one in the line held strongly to
the dogma of the divine right of kings, yet under
that line the English people transferred sovereignty from the king to Parliament.[1] Fortunately
for history, and for the progress of popular
government, the Stuart line had no forceful
figures in it. Macaulay thinks it would have
been fatal to English liberty if they had been
able kings. It was easier to take so dangerous
a weapon as the divine right of kings from weak
hands than from strong ones. So it was that
though James came out of Scotland to assert
his divine and arbitrary right as sovereign, by
the time Queen Anne died, closing the Stuart
line and giving way to the Hanoverian, the real
sovereignty had passed into the hands of Parliament.

[1] Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts.

But the royal traveler, coming from Edinburgh
to London, is interesting on his own
account -- interesting at this distance. He is
thirty-seven years old, and ought to be in the
beginning of his prime. He is a little over
middle height; loves a good horse, though he is
an ungainly rider, and has fallen off his horse
three or four times during his royal progress;
is a heavy drinker of the liquors of the period,
with horribly coarse, even gross manners. Macaulay
is very severe with him. He says that
"his cowardice, his childishness, his pedantry,
his ungainly person and manners, his provincial
accent, made him an object of derision. Even
in his virtues and accomplishments there was
something eminently unkingly."[1] It seemed
too bad that "royalty should be exhibited to the
world stammering, slobbering, shedding unmanly
tears, trembling at the drawn sword, and
talking in the style alternately of a buffoon and
of a pedagogue." That is truly not an attractive
picture. But there is something on the
other side. John Richard Green puts both
sides: "His big head, his slobbering tongue, his
quilted clothes, his rickety legs stood out in as
grotesque a contrast with all that men recalled of
Henry and Elizabeth as his gabble and rhodomontade, his want of personal dignity, his
buffoonery, his coarseness of speech, his pedantry, his contemptible cowardice. Under this
ridiculous exterior, however, lay a man of much
natural ability, a ripe scholar with a considerable fund of shrewdness, of mother wit and
ready repartee."[2]

[1] History of England, chap. i.

[2] Short History of the English People, chap. viii, sec. ii.

Some good traits he must have had. He did
win some men to him. As some one has said,
"You could love him; you could despise him;
you could not hate him." He could say some
witty and striking things. For example, when
he was urging the formal union of Scotland and
England, and it was opposed, he said: "But I
am the husband, and the whole island is my
wife. I hope no one will be so unreasonable
as to suppose that I, that am a Christian king
under the Gospel, should be a polygamist and
husband to two wives."[2] After the conference
of which we have been speaking, he wrote to a
friend in Scotland: "I have had a revel with the
Puritans and have peppered them soundly."
As indeed he had. Then, in some sense at least,
"James was a born theologian." He had studied
the Bible in some form from childhood; one of
the first things we hear of his doing is the writing of a paraphrase on the book of the Revelation.
In his talk he made easy and free use of
Scripture quotations. To be sure, his knowledge,
on which he prided himself unconscionably, was
shallow and pedantic. Henry IV. of France,
one of his contemporaries, said that he was "the
wisest fool in Christendom."

[2] Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts, p.107.

Now, it was this man who was making his
royal progress from Edinburgh to London in
March, 1603, nearly a year before the gathering
of men which we were observing at the opening
of this study. Many things happened on the
journey besides his falling off his horse several
times; but one of the most significant was the
halting of the progress to receive what was
called the Miliary Petition, whose name implies
that it was signed by a thousand men -- actually
somewhat less than that number -- mostly ministers
of the Church. The Petition made no
mention of any Bible version, yet it was the
beginning of the events which led to it. Back
of it was the Puritan influence. It asked for
reforms in the English Church, for the correction
of abuses which had grown under Elizabeth's
increasing favor of ritual and ceremony.
It asked for a better-trained ministry, for better
discipline in the Church, for the omission of
so many detailed requirements of rites and
ceremonies, and for that perennially desired reform, shorter church services!

Very naturally the new King replied that he
would take it up later, and promised to call a
conference to consider it. And this he did.
The conference met at Hampton Court in January,
1604, and it was for this that the men
were coming from many parts of England. The
gathering was held on the 14th, 16th, and 18th
of the month. Its sole purpose was to consider
that Miliary Petition; but the King called to it
not only those who had signed the Petition, but
those who had opposed it. He had no notion
of granting any favor to it, and from the first
he gave the Puritans rough treatment. He
told them he would have none of their non-
conformity, he would "make them conform or
harry them out of the land." Someone suggested
that since this was a Church matter there be
called a Synod, or some general gathering fitted to discuss and determine such things, rather than
leave it to a few Church dignitaries. For the
purposes of the petitioners it was a most unfortunate expression. James had just come from
Scotland, where the Presbyterians were with
their Synod, and where Calvinism was in full
swing. He was much in favor of some elements
of Calvinism; but he could not see how all the
elements held together. Predestination, for
example, which offends so many people to-day,
was a precious doctrine to King James, and he
insisted that his subjects ought to see how clearly God had predestined him to rule over them!
But he could not tolerate the necessary logical
inference of Calvinism that all men must be
equal before God, and so men can make and
unmake kings as they need to do so, the matter
of king or subject being purely an incidental
one. He remembered the time when Andrew
Melville, one of the Scotch ministers, had
plucked him by his royal sleeve and called him
"God's silly vassal" right to his face. So,
when some one said "Synod" it brought the
King up standing. He burst out: "If that is
what you mean, if you want what the Scotch
mean by their Synod and their Presbytery, then
I tell you at once that I will have none of it.
Presbytery agrees with monarchy very much as
God agrees with the devil. If you have no
bishop, you will soon have no king." He was
perfectly right, with reference to the kind of
king he meant. These things were to be settled,
he meant, by authority, and not by conference.
That is the point to which Gardiner
refers when he says that "in two minutes James
sealed his own fate and that of England forever."[1]

[1] History of England, 1603-42.

After that there was only a losing fight for
the petitioners. They had touched a sore spot
in James's history. But it was when they
touched that sore spot again that they started
the movement for a new version of the Bible.
It was on the second day of the conference,
January 16th, that Dr. Reynolds, president of
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who represented
the moderate Puritan position, and, like many
moderate men, was rather suspected by both
extreme wings, instanced as one of the hardships
of the Puritans that they were compelled to use
the prayer-book of the time, and that it contained
many mistranslations of Scripture, some
of which he quoted. Now, it so happens that
the errors to which he referred occur in the
Bishops' and the Great Bible, which were the
two authorized versions of the time, but are
all corrected in the Genevan version. We do
not know what point he was trying to make,
whether he was urging that the Genevan version
should supplant these others, or whether
he was calling for a new translation. Indeed,
we are not sure that he even mentioned the
Genevan version. But James spoke up to say
that he had never yet seen a Bible well translated
into English; but the worst of all he
thought the Genevan to be. He spoke as though
he had just had a copy given him by an English
lady, and had already noted what he called its
errors. That was at the very least a royal
evasion, for if there was any Book he did know
it was the Genevan version. He had been fairly
raised on it; he had lived in the country where
it was commonly used. It had been preached
at him many and many a time. Indeed, he
had used it as the text for that paraphrase of
the Revelation of which we spoke a moment ago.
And he knew its notes -- well he knew them --
knew that they were from republican Geneva,
and that kingly pretensions had short shrift
with them. James told the conference that
these notes were "very partial, untrue, seditious,
savoring too much of traitorous and dangerous
conceits," supporting his opinion by two instances
which seemed disrespectful to royalty.
One of these instances was the note on Exodus
1:17, where the Egyptian midwives are said to
have disobeyed the king in the matter of destroying the children. The note says: "Their
disobedience to the king was lawful, though
their dissembling was not." James quoted that,
and said: "It is false; to disobey the king is
not lawful, and traitorous conceits should not
go forth among the people."

Some of the High Church party objected that
there were translations enough already; but it
struck James's fancy to set them all aside by
another version, which he at once said he would
order. It was to be made by the most learned
of both universities, then to be revised by the
bishops and other Church dignitaries, then presented to the Privy Council, and finally to be
passed upon by himself. There is the echo of
some sharp Scotch experiences in his declaration
that there were to be no marginal notes in that
new version.

When they looked back on the conference,
the Puritans felt that they had lost everything,
and the High Church people that they had gained
everything. One of the bishops, in a very servile
way, and on his knee, gave thanks to God
for having given the country such a king, whose
like had never been seen since Christ was on
earth. Certainly hard times were ahead for
the Puritans. The King harried them according
to his word. Within sixteen years some of them
landed at Plymouth Rock, and things began to
happen on this side. That settlement at Plymouth
was the outcome of the threat the King
had made at the Hampton Court conference.

But looking back one can see that the conference
was worth while for the beginning of
the movement for the new version. The King
was true to his word in this line also, and before
the year was out had appointed the fifty-four
best Bible scholars of the realm to make the new
version. They were to sit in six companies of
nine each, two at Oxford, two at Cambridge,
and two at Westminster. The names of only
forty-seven of them have come down to us, and
it is not known whether the other seven were
ever appointed, or in what way their names have
been lost. It must be said for the King that the
only principle of selection was scholarship, and
when those six groups of men met they were
men of the very first rank, with no peers outside
their own numbers -- with one exception, and
that exception is of some passing interest. Hugh
Broughton was probably the foremost Hebrew
scholar of England, perhaps of the world, at the
time, and apparently he was not appointed on
the committee. Chiefly, it seems to have been
because he was a man of ungovernable temper
and utterly unfitted to work with others. Failure
to appoint him, however, bit and rankled,
and the only keen and sharp criticism that was
passed on the version in its own day was by
Hugh Broughton. He sent word to the King,
after it was completed, that as for himself he
would rather be rent to pieces by wild horses
than have had any part in the urging of such a
wretched version of the Bible on the poor people.
That was so manifestly pique, however,
that it is only to be regretted that the translation did not have the benefit of his great
Hebrew knowledge. John Selden, at his prime
in that day, voiced the feeling of most scholars
of the times, that the new translation was the
best in the world and best gave the sense of
the original.

We do not know much of the personnel of
the company. Their names would mean very
little to us at this distance. All were clergymen
except one. There were bishops, college
principals, university fellows, and rectors. Dr.
Reynolds, who suggested it in the first place,
was a member, though he did not live to see the
work finished. This Dr. Reynolds, by the way,
was party to a most curious episode. He had
been an ardent Roman Catholic, and he had a
brother who was an equally ardent Protestant.
They argued with each other so earnestly that
each convinced the other; the Roman Catholic
became a Protestant, and the Protestant became
a Roman Catholic! Dr. Lancelot Andrewes,
chairman of one of the two companies that met
at Westminster, was probably the most learned
man in England. They said of him that if he
had been present at the tower of Babel he could
have interpreted for all the tongues present.
The only trouble was that the world lacked
learning enough to know how learned he was.
His company had the first part of the Old
Testament, and the simple dignity of the style
they used shows how scholarship and simplicity
go easily together. Most people would consider
that the least satisfactory part of the work is
the second section, running from I Chronicles
to Ecclesiastes. A convert from another faith,
who learned to read the Bible in English, once
expressed to a friend of my own his feeling that
except for the Psalms and parts of Job, there
seemed to be here a distinct letting-down of the
dignity of the translation. There is good excuse
for this, if it is so, for two leading members
of the company who had that section in charge,
both eminent Cambridge scholars, died very
early in the work, and their places were not
filled. The third company, sitting at Oxford,
were peculiarly strong, and had for their portion
the hardest part of the Old Testament -- all the
prophetical writings. But they did their part
with finest skill. The fourth company, sitting at
Cambridge, had the Apocrypha, the books which
lie between the Old and the New Testaments
for the most part, or else are supplemental to
certain Old Testament books. Their work was
rather hastily and certainly poorly done, and
has been dropped out of most editions. The
fifth company, sitting at Oxford, with great
Greek scholars on it, took the Gospels, the Acts,
and the Revelation. This company had in it
the one layman, Sir Henry Savile, then the greatest Greek scholar in England. It is the same
Sir Henry Savile who heard, on his death-bed
in 1621, that James had with his own hands
torn from the Journal of Parliament the pages
which bore the protest in favor of free speech
in Parliament. Hearing it, the faithful scholar
prayed to die, saying: "I am ready to depart,
the rather that having lived in good times I
foresee worse." The sixth company met at
Westminster and translated the New Testament

It was the original plan that when one company
had finished its part, the result should go
to each of the other companies, coming back
with their suggestions to the original workers to
be recast by them. The whole was then to be
reviewed by a smaller committee of scholars to
give it uniformity and to see it through the
press. The records are not extant that tell
whether this was done in full detail, though we
may presume that each section of the Scripture
had the benefit of the scholarship of the entire

We know a good deal of the method of their
work. We shall understand it better by recalling
what material they had at hand. They
were enabled to use the result of all the work
that had been done before them. They were
instructed to follow the Bishops' Bible wherever
they could do so fairly; but they were given
power to use the versions already named from
Wiclif down, as well as those fragmentary versions
which were numerous, and of which no
mention has been made. They ransacked all
English forms for felicitous words and happy
phrases. It is one of the interesting incidents
that this same Hugh Broughton, who was left
off the committee and took it so hard, yet without
his will contributed some important matter
to the translation, because he had on his own
authority made translations of certain parts of
the Scripture. Several of our capital phrases
in the King James version are from him. There
was no effort to break out new paths. Preference
was always given to a familiar phrase
rather than to a new one, unless accuracy required
it. First, then, they had the benefit of
all the work that had been done before in the
same line, and gladly used it.

In addition, they had all other versions made
in the tongues of the time. Chiefly there was
Luther's German Bible, already become for the
German tongue what their version was destined
to be for the English tongue. There were parts
of the Bible available in Spanish, French, and
Dutch. They were kept at hand constantly
for any light they might cast on difficult passages.

For the Old Testament there were very few
Hebrew texts. There had been little critical
work yet done on them, and for the most part
there were only different editions running back
over the centuries. We have little more than
that now, and there is almost no new material
on the Old Testament since the days of the
King James translators. There was, of course,
the Septuagint, the Greek translation from the
Hebrew made before Christ, with the guidance
it could give in doubtful places on the probable
original. And finally there was the Vulgate,
made into Latin out of the Greek and Hebrew.
This was all the Old Testament material they
had, or that any one could have in view of the
antiquated original sources.

The New Testament material was more
abundant, though not nearly so abundant as
to-day. There were few manuscripts of the
early days to which they could refer; but there
were the two great critical versions of the New
Testament in Greek, that by Erasmus and the
Complutensian, which had made use of the best
manuscripts known. Then, finally again, there
was the Vulgate.

We must stop a moment to see what was the
value of the Vulgate in this work. It is impossible to reckon the number of the early New
Testament manuscripts that have been lost.
In the earlier day the Scriptures were transmitted
from church to church, and from age to
age, by manuscripts. Many of them were
made as direct copies of other manuscripts; but
many were made by scribes to whom the manuscripts
were read as they wrote, so that there are
many, though ordinarily comparatively slight,
variations among the manuscripts which we now
know. More manuscripts are coming to light
constantly, manuscripts once well known and
then lost. Many of them, perhaps many earlier
than we now have, must have been familiar to
Jerome four hundred years after Christ. When,
therefore, there is a plain difference between the
Vulgate and our early Greek manuscripts, the
Vulgate may be wrong because it is only a translation; but it may be right because it is a translation
of earlier manuscripts than some of ours.
It is steadily losing its value at that point, for
Greek manuscripts are all the time coming to
light which run farther back. But we must not
minimize the value of the Vulgate for our King
James translation.

With all this material the scholars of the early
seventeenth century set to work. Each man
in the group made the translation that seemed
best to him, and together they analyzed the
results and finally agreed on the best. They
hunted the other versions to see if it had been
better done elsewhere. The shade of Tindale
was over it all. The Genevan version was most
influential. The Douai had its share, and the
Bishops' was the general standard, altered only
when accuracy required it. On all hard passages
they called to their aid the appropriate departments of both universities. All scholars everywhere
were asked to send in any contributions,
to correct or criticize as they would. Public
announcement of the work was made, and all
possible help was besought and gladly accepted.

Very faithfully these greatest scholars of their
time wrought. No one worked for money, and
no one worked for pay, but each for the joy of
the working. Three years they spent on the
original work, three years on careful revision
and on the marginal references by which Scripture
was made to throw light on Scripture.
Then in six months a committee reviewed it all,
put it through the press, and at last, in 1611,
with the imprint of Robert Barker, Printer to
the King's Most Excellent Majesty, the King
James version appeared. The name Authorized
Version is not a happy one, for so far as the
records go it was never authorized either by
the King or the bishop; and, even if it were, the
authority does not extend beyond the English
Church, which is a very small fraction of those
who use it. On the title-page of the original
version, as on so many since, is the familiar
line, "Appointed to be Read in Churches," but
who made the appointment history does not say.

The version did not at once supersede the
Genevan and the Bishops'; but it was so
incomparably better than either that gradually
they disappeared, and by sheer excellence it
took the field, and it holds the field to-day in
spite of the numerous supposedly improved versions
that have appeared under private auspices.
It holds the field, also, in spite of the excellent revised version of 1881 made by authority, and
the more excellent version issued in 1901 by the
American Revision Committee, to-day undoubtedly
the best version in existence, considered
simply as a reproduction of the sense
of the original. And for reasons that may later
appear, the King James version bids fair to
hold the field for many years to come.

When we turn from the history of its making
to the work itself, there is much to say. We
may well narrow our thought for the remainder
of the study to its traits as a version of the

I. Name this first, that it is an honest version.
That is, it has no argumentative purpose. It
is not, as the scholars say, apologetic. It is
simply an out-and-out version of the Scripture,
as honestly as they could reproduce it.
There were Puritans on the committee; there
were extreme High Churchmen; there were
men of all grades between. But there is nowhere
any evidence that any one was set on
making the Bible prove his point. There were
strong anti-papal believers among them; but
they made free use of the Douai version, and,
of course, of the Vulgate. They knew the feeling
that Hugh Broughton had toward them;
but they made generous use of all that was good
in his work. They were working under a royal
warrant, and their dedication to King James,
with its absurd and fulsome flattery, shows what
they were capable of when they thought of the
King. But there is no twist of a text to make
it serve the purposes of royalty. They might
be servile when they thought of King James;
but there was not a touch of servility in them
when they thought of the Scripture itself. They
were under instruction not to abandon the use
of ecclesiastical terms. For instance, they were
not to put "congregation" in place of "church,"
as some Puritans wanted to do. Some thought
that was meant to insure a High Church version;
but the translators did not understand it
so for a moment. They understood it only to
safeguard them against making a partisan version
on either side, and to help them to make
a version which the people could read understandingly at once. It was not to be a Puritan
Book nor a High Church Book. It was to
be an honest version of the Bible, no matter
whose side it sustained.

Now, if any one thinks that is easy, or only
a matter of course, he plainly shows that he has
never been a theologian or a scholar in a contested field. Ask any lawyer whether it is easy
to handle his authorities with entire impartiality, whether it is a matter of course that he will let
them say just what they meant to say when his
case is involved. Of course, he will seek to do
it as an honest lawyer, but equally, of course, he
will have to keep close watch on himself or he
will fail in doing it. Ask any historian whether
it is easy to handle the original documents in a
field in which he has firm and announced
opinions, and to let those documents speak exactly
what they mean to say, whether they support
him or not. The greater historians will always
do it, but they will sometimes do it with a bit
of a wrench.

Even a scholar is human, and these men sitting
in their six companies would all have to
meet this Book afterward, would have their
opinions tried by it. There must have been
times when some of them would be inclined to
salt the mine a little, to see that it would yield
what they would want it to yield later. So far
as these men were able to do it, they made it
say in English just what it said in Hebrew and
Greek. They showed no inclination to use it
as a weapon in their personal warfare.

One line of that honest effort is worth observing
more closely. When points were open to
fair discussion, and scholarship had not settled
them, they were careful not to let their version
take sides when it could be avoided. On some
mooted words they did not try translation, but
transliteration instead. That is, they brought
the Greek or Hebrew word over into English,
letter by letter. Suppose scholars differed as to
the exact meaning in English of a word in the
Greek. Some said it has this meaning, and some
that it has that. Now, if the version committed
itself to one of those meanings, it became an
argument at once against the other and helped
to settle a question on which scholarship was not
yet agreed. They could avoid making a partisan
Book by the simple device of bringing the
word which was disputed over into the new
translation. That left the discussion just where
it was before, but it saved the work from being
partisan. The method of transliteration did not
always work to advantage, as we shall see, but
it was intended throughout to save the Book
from taking sides on any question where honest
men might differ as to the meaning of words.

They did that with all proper names, and
that was notable in the Old Testament, because
most Old Testament proper names can be translated.
They all mean something in themselves.
Adam is the Hebrew word for man; Abraham
means Father of a Great Multitude; David is
the Hebrew word for Beloved; Malachi means
My Messenger. Yet as proper names they do
not mean any of those things. It is impossible
to translate a proper name into another tongue
without absurdity. It must be transliterated.
Yet there is constant fascination for translators
in the work of translating these proper names,
trying to make them seem more vivid. It is
quite likely, though it is disputed, that proper
names do all go back to simple meanings. But
by the time they become proper names they no
longer have those meanings. The only proper
treatment of them is by transliteration.

The King James translators follow that same
practice of transliteration rather than translation with another word which is full of controversial.
possibility. I mean the word "baptism."
There was dispute then as now about
the method of that ordinance in early Christian
history. There were many who held that the
classical meaning which involved immersion had
been taken over bodily into the Christian faith,
and that all baptism was by immersion. There
were others who held that while that might be
the classical meaning of the word, yet in early
Christian custom baptism was not by immersion,
but might be by sprinkling or pouring, and who
insisted that no pressure on the mode was wise
or necessary. That dispute continues to this
day. Early versions of the Bible already figured
in the discussion, and for a while there was
question whether this King James version should
take sides in that controversy, about which men
equally loyal to truth and early Christian history
could honestly differ. The translators
avoided taking sides by bringing the Greek
word which was under discussion over into
English, letter by letter. Our word "baptism"
is not an English word nor a Saxon word; it
is a purely Greek word. The controversy has
been brought over into the English language;
but the King James version avoided becoming
a controversial book. A number of years ago
the convictions of some were so strong that another version of the Bible was made, in which
the word baptism was carefully replaced by
what was believed to be the English translation,
"immersion," but the version never had
wide influence.

In this connection it is well to notice the
effort of the King James translators at a fair
statement of the divine name. It will be remembered that it appears in the Old Testament
ordinarily as "LORD," printed in small capitals.
A very interesting bit of verbal history lies back
of that word. The word which represents the
divine name in Hebrew consists of four
consonants, J or Y, H, V, and H. There are no
vowels; indeed, there were no vowels in the
early Hebrew at all. Those that we now have
were added not far from the time of Christ.
No one knows the original pronunciation of that
sacred name consisting of four letters. At a
very early day it had become too sacred to pronounce, so that when men came to it in reading
or in speech, they simply used another word
which is, translated into English, Lord, a word of
high dignity. When the time came that vowels
were to be added to the consonants, the vowels
of this other word Lord were placed under the
consonants of the sacred name, so that in the
word Jehovah, where the J H V H occur, there
are the consonants of one word whose vowels
are unknown and the vowels of another word
whose consonants are not used.

Illustrate it by imagining that in American
literature the name Lincoln gathered to itself
such sacredness that it was never pronounced
and only its consonants were ever printed. Suppose
that whenever readers came to it they
simply said Washington, thinking Lincoln all
the while. Then think of the displacement of
the vowels of Lincoln by the vowels of Washington.
You have a word that looks like Lancilon
or Lanicoln; but a reader would never
pronounce so strange a word. He would always
say Washington, yet he would always think the
other meaning. And while he would retain the
meaning in some degree, he would soon forget
the original word, retaining only his awe of it.
Which is just what happened with the divine
name. The Hebrews knew it was not Lord, yet
they always said Lord when they came to the
four letters that stood for the sacred word.
The word Jehovah, made up of the consonants
of an unknown word and the vowels of a familiar
word, is in itself meaningless. Scholarship
is not yet sure what was the original meaning
of the sacred name with its four consonants.

These translators had to face that problem.
It was a peculiar problem at that time. How
should they put into English the august name of
God when they did not know what the true
vowels were? There was dispute among scholars.
They did not take sides as our later American
Revision has done, some of us think quite unwisely. They chose to retain the Hebrew usage,
and print the divine name in unmistakable type
so that its personal meaning could not be mistaken.

On the other hand, disputes since their day
have shown how they translated when transliteration would have been wiser. Illustrate with
one instance. There is a Hebrew word, Sheol,
with a Greek word, Hades, which corresponds to
it. Usage had adopted the Anglo-Saxon word
Hell as the equivalent of both of these words,
so they translated Sheol and Hades with the
English word Hell. The only question that had
been raised was by that Hugh Broughton of
whom we were speaking a moment ago, and it
had not seemed a serious one. Certainly the
three terms have much in common, and there
are places where both the original words seemed
to be virtually equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon
Hell, but they are not the same. The Revised
Version of our own time returned to the original,
and instead of translating those words whose
meaning can be debated, it transliterated them
and brought the Hebrew word Sheol and the
Greek word Hades over into English. That,
of course, gave a chance for paragraphers to say
that the Revised Version had read Hell out of
the Scriptures. All that happened was that
cognizance was taken of a dispute which would
have guided the King James translators if it
had existed in their time, and we should not
have become familiar with the Anglo-Saxon
word Hell as the translation of those disputed
Hebrew and Greek words.

We need not seek more instances. These are
enough to illustrate the saying that here is an
honest version, the fruit of the best scholarship
of the times, without prejudice.

II. A second trait of the work as a version is
its remarkable accuracy. It is surprising that
with all the new light coming from early documents, with all the new discoveries that have
been made. the latest revision needed to make
so few changes, and those for the most part
minor ones. There are, to be sure, some important
changes, as we shall see later; the wonder
is that there are not many more. The King
James version had, to be sure, the benefit of
all the earlier controversy. The whole ground
had been really fought over in the centuries
before, and most of the questions had been discussed. They frankly made use of all the earlier
controversy. They say in their preface: "Truly,
good Christian reader, we never thought from
the beginning that we should need to make a
new translation, nor yet to make a bad one a
good one, but to make a good one better. That
hath been our endeavor, that our work." Also,
they had the advantage of deliberation. This
was the first version that had been made which
had such sanction that they could take their
time, and in which they had no reason to fear
that the results would endanger them. They
say in their preface that they had not run over
their work with that "posting haste" that had
marked the Septuagint, if the saying was true
that they did it all in seventy-two days; nor
were they "barred and hindered from going over
it again," as Jerome himself said he had been,
since as soon as he wrote any part "it was
snatched away from him and published"; nor
were they "working in a new field," as Origen
was when he wrote his first commentary on the
Bible. Both these things -- their taking advantage
of earlier controversies which had cleared
many differences, and their deliberation -- were
supplemented by a third which gave great accuracy
to the version. That was their adoption
of the principle of all early translators, perhaps
worded best by Purvey, who completed the
Wiclif version: "The best translation is to
translate after the sentence, and not only after
the words, so that the sentence be as open in
English as in Latin." That makes for accuracy.
It is quite impossible to put any language over,
word for word, into another without great
inaccuracy. But when the translators sought to
take the sentence of the Hebrew or the Greek
and put it into an exactly equivalent English
sentence, they had larger play for their language
and they had a fairer field for accuracy. These
were the three great facts which made the
remarkable accuracy possible, and it may be
interesting to note three corresponding results
which show the effort they made to be absolutely
accurate and fair in their translation.

The first of those results is visible in the
italicized words which they used. In the King
James version words in italics are a frank acknowledgment that the Greek or the Hebrew
cannot be put into English literally. These are
English words which are put in because it seems
impossible to express the meaning originally
intended without certain additions which the
reader must take into account in his
understanding of the version. We need not think
far to see how necessary that was. The arrangement
of words in Greek, for example, is different
from that in English. The Greek of the
first verse of the Gospel of John reads that "God
was the Word," but the English makes its sentences
in a reversed form, and it really means,
"the Word was God." So the Greek uses particles
where the English does not. Often it
would say "the God" where we would say
simply "God." Those particles are ordinarily
wisely omitted. So the Greek does not use verbs
at some points where it is quite essential that
the English shall use them. But it is only fair
that in reading a version of the Scripture we
should know what words have been put in by
translators in their effort to make the version
clear to us; and the italicized words of the King
James version are a frank effort to be accurate
and yet fair.

The second result which shows their effort at
accuracy is in the marginal readings. Most of
these are optional readings, and are preceded
by the word "or," which indicates that one may
read what is in the text, or substitute for it what is in the margin with equal fairness to the
original. But sometimes, instead of that familiar
"or," occur letters which indicate that
the Hebrew or the Greek literally means something
else than what is given in the English
text, and what it literally means is given in the
margin. The translators thereby say to the
reader that if he can take that literal meaning
and put it into the text so that it is intelligible to him, here is his chance. As for them, they
think that the whole context or meaning of the
sentence rather involves the use of the phrase
which they put into the text. But the marginal
references are of great interest to most of us
as showing how these men were frank to say
that there were some things they could not
settle. They were rather blamed for it, chiefly
by those who had committed themselves to the
Douai version, which has no marginal readings,
on the ground that the translation ought to be
as authoritative as the original. The King
James translators repudiate that theory and
frankly say that the reason they put these
words in the margin was because they were not
sure what was the best reading. In the margin
of the epistle to the Romans there are eighty-
four such marginal readings, and the proportion
will hold throughout most of the version. They
were only trying to be accurate and to give every
one a chance to make up his own mind where
there was fair reason to question their results.

The third thing which shows their effort at
accuracy is their explicit avoidance of
uniformity in translating the same word. They
tried to put the meaning into English terms.
So, as they say, the one word might become
either "journeying" or "traveling"; one word
might be "thinking" or "supposing," "joy" or
"gladness," "eternal" or "everlasting." One
of the reasons they give for this is quaint enough
to quote. They said they did not think it right
to honor some words by giving them a place
forever in the Bible, while they virtually said
to other equally good words: Get ye hence and
be banished forever. They quote a "certaine
great philosopher" who said that those logs
were happy which became images and were worshiped,
while, other logs as good as they were
laid behind the fire to be burned. So they
sought to use as many English words, familiar
in speech and commonly understood, as they
might, lest they should impoverish the language,
and so lose out of use good words. There is no
doubt that in this effort both to save the language, and to represent accurately the meaning
of the original, they sometimes overdid that
avoidance of uniformity. There were times
when it would have been well if the words had
been more consistently translated. For example,
in the epistle of James ii: 2, 3, you have goodly
"apparel," vile "raiment," and gay "clothing,"
all translating one Greek word. Our revised
versions have sought to correct such inconsistencies. But it was all done in the interest
of an accuracy that should yet not be a slavish

This will be enough to illustrate what was
meant in speaking of the effort of the translators
to achieve accuracy in their version.

III. The third marked trait of the work as
a version of the Scripture is its striking blending of dignity and popularity in its language. At
any period of a living language, there are three
levels of speech. There is an upper level used
by the clearest thinkers and most careful writers,
always correct according to the laws of the language, generally somewhat remote from common
life -- the habitual speech of the more intellectual. There is also the lower level used by the
least intellectual, frequently incorrect according
to the laws of the language, rough, containing
what we now call "slang," the talk of a knot of
men on the street corner waiting for a new bulletin of a ball game, cheap in words, impoverished
in synonyms, using one word to express any
number of ideas, as slang always does. Those
two levels are really farther apart than we are
apt to realize. A book or an article on the upper
level will be uninteresting and unintelligible to
the people on the lower level. And a book in
the language of the lower level is offensive and
disgusting to those of the upper level. That is
not because the ideas are so remote, but because
the characteristic expressions are almost unfamiliar to the people of the different levels.
The more thoughtful people read the abler
journals of the day; they read the editorials or
the more extended articles; they read also the
great literature. If they take up the sporting
page of a newspaper to read the account of a
ball game written in the style of the lower level
of thought, where words are misused in disregard
of the laws of the language, and where one
word is made to do duty for a great many ideas,
they do it solely for amusement. They could
never think of finding their mental stimulus in
that sort of thing. On the other hand, there are
people who find in that kind of reading their
real interest. If they should take up a
thoughtful editorial or a book of essays, they would not know what the words mean in the connection
in which they are used. They speak a good deal
about the vividness of this lower-level language,
about its popularity; they speak with a sneer
about the stiffness and dignity of that upper

These are, however, only the two extremes,
for there is always a middle level where move
words common to both, where are avoided the
words peculiar to each. It is the language that
most people speak. It is the language of the
street, and also of the study, of the parlor, and
of the shop. But it has little that is peculiar
to either of those other levels, or to any one
place where a man may live his life and do his
talking. If we illustrate from other literature,
we can say that Macaulay's essays move on the
upper level, and that much of the so-called popular literature of our day moves on the lower
level, while Dickens moves on the middle level,
which means that men whose habitual language
is that of the upper and the lower levels can both
enter into the spirit of his writing.

Now, originally the Bible moved on that middle
level. It was a colloquial book. The languages
in which it first appeared were not in the
classic forms. They are the languages of the
streets where they were written. The Hebrew
is almost our only example of the tongue at its
period, but it is not a literary language in any
case. The Greek of the New Testament is not
the Eolic, the language of the lyrics of Sappho;
nor the Doric, the language of war-songs or the
chorus in the drama; nor the Ionic, the dialect of
epic poetry; but the Attic Greek, and a corrupted
form of that, a form corrupted by use in
the streets and in the markets.

That was the original language of the Bible,
a colloquial language. But that fact does not
determine the translation. Whether it shall be
put into the English language on the upper
level or on the lower level is not so readily
determined. Efforts have been made to put it
into the language of each level. We have a so-
called elegant translation, and we have the
Bible cast into the speech of the common day.
The King James version is on the middle level.
It is a striking blending of the dignity of the
upper level and the popularity of the lower level.

There is tremendous significance in the fact
that these men were making a version which
should be for all people, making it out in the
open day with the king and all the people behind
them. It was the first independent version
which had been made under such favorable
circumstances. Most of the versions had been
made in private by men who were imperiling
themselves in their work. They did not expect
the Book to pass into common use; they knew
that the men who received the result of their
work would have to be those who were earnest
enough to go into secret places for their reading.
But here was a changed condition. These men
were making a version by royal authority, a
version awaited with eager interest by the people
in general. The result is that it is a people's
Book. Its phrases are those of common life,
those that had lived up to that time. It is not
in the peculiar language of the times. If you
want to know the language of their own times,
read these translators' servile, unhistorical dedication to the king, or their far nobler preface to
the reader. That is the language peculiar to
their own day. But the language of the Bible
itself is that form which had lived its way into
common use. One hundred years after Wiclif
it yet speaks his language in large part, for
that part had really lived. In the Bibliotheca
Pastorum Ruskin makes comment on Sir Philip
Sidney and his metrical version of the Psalms in
these words: "Sir Philip Sidney will use any
cow-boy or tinker words if they only help him
to say precisely in English what David said in
Hebrew; impressed the while himself so vividly
of the majesty of the thought itself that no
tinker's language can lower it or vulgarize it in
his mind." The King James translators were
most eager to say what the original said, and
to say it so that the common man could well
understand it, and yet so that it should not be
vulgarized or cheapened by adoption of cheap

In his History Hallam passes some rather
sharp strictures on the English of the King James
version, remarking that it abounds in uncouth
phrases and in words whose meaning is not
familiar, and that whatever is to be said it is,
at any rate, not in the English of the time of
King James. And that latter saying is true,
though it must be remembered that Hallam
wrote in the period when no English was recognized
by literary people except that of the upper
level, when they did not know that these so-
called uncouth phrases were to return to common
use. To-day it would be absurd to say
that the Bible is full of uncouth phrases.
Professor Cook has said that "the movement of
English diction, which in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries was on the whole away
from the Bible, now returns with ever-accelerating
speed toward it." If the phrases went out,
they came back. But it is true that the English
of the King James version is not that of the time
of James I., only because it is the English of the
history of the language. It has not immortalized
for us the tongue of its times, because it has
taken that tongue from its beginning and determined its form. It carefully avoided words
that were counted coarse. On the other hand,
it did not commit itself to words which were
simply refinements of verbal construction. That,
I say, is a general fact.

It can be illustrated in one or two ways. For
instance, a word which has become common to
us is the neuter possessive pronoun "its." That
word does not occur in the edition of 1611, and
appears first in an edition in the printing of
1660. In place of it, in the edition of 1611, the
more dignified personal pronoun "his" or "her"
is always used, and it continues for the most
part in our familiar version. In this verse you
notice it: "Look not upon the wine when it is
red; when it giveth HIS color aright in the cup."
In the Levitical law especially, where reference
is made to sacrifices, to the articles of the furniture of the tabernacle, or other neuter objects,
the masculine pronoun is almost invariably
used. In the original it was invariably used.
You see the other form in the familiar verse
about charity, that it "doth not behave itself
unseemly, seeketh not HER own, is not easily
provoked." Now, there is evidence that the
neuter possessive pronoun was just coming into
use. Shakespeare uses it ten times in his works,
but ten times only, and a number of writers do
not use it at all. It was, to be sure, a word
beginning to be heard on the street, and for the
most part on the lower level. The King James
translators never used it. The dignified word
was that masculine or feminine pronoun, and
they always use it in place of the neuter.

On the other hand, there was a word which was
coming into use on the upper level which has become common property to us now. It is the word
"anxiety." It is not certain just when it came
into use. I believe Shakespeare does not use it;
and it occurs very little in the literature of the
times. Probably it was known to these translators.
When they came, however, to translating
a word which now we translate by "anxious"
or "anxiety" they did not use that word.
It was not familiar. They used instead the word
which represented the idea for the people of the
middle level; they used the word "thought."
So they said, "Take no thought for the morrow,"
where we would say, "Be not anxious for
the morrow." There is a contemporary
document which illustrates how that word "thought"
was commonly used, in which we read: "In five
hundred years only two queens died in child
birth, Queen Catherine Parr having died rather
of thought." That was written about the time
of the King James version, and "thought"
evidently means worry or anxiety. Neither of
those words, the neuter possessive pronoun or
the new word "anxious," got into the King James
version. One was coming into proper use from
the lower level, and one was coming into proper
use from the upper level. They had not yet
so arrived that they could be used.

One result of this care to preserve dignity and
also popularity appears in the fact that so few
words of the English version have become obsolete.
Words disappear upward out of the upper
level or downward out of the lower level, but it
takes a long time for a word to get out of a
language once it is in confirmed use on the middle
level. Of course, the version itself has tended
to keep words familiar; but no book, no matter
how widely used, can prevent some words from
passing off the stage or from changing their
meaning so noticeably that they are virtually
different words. Yet even in those words which
do not become common there is very little tendency
to obsolescence in the King James version.
More words of Shakespeare have become obsolete
or have changed their meanings than in the
King James version.

There is one interesting illustration to which
attention has been called by Dr. Davidson,
which is interesting. In the ninth chapter of
the Judges, where we are told about Abimelech,
the fifty-third verse reads that a woman cast a
stone down from the wall and "all to break his
skull." That is confessedly rather obscure.
Our ordinary understanding of it would be that
she did that for no other purpose than just to
break the skull of Abimelech. As a matter of
fact, that expression is a printer's bungling way
of giving a word which has become obsolete in
the original form. When the King James translators
wrote that, they used the word "alto,"
which is evidently the beginning of "altogether,"
or wholly or utterly, and what they
meant was that she threw the stone and utterly
broke his skull. But that abbreviated form of
the word passed out of use, and when later
printers -- not much later -- came to it they did
not know what it meant and divided it as it
stands in our present text. It is one of the few
words that have become obsolete. But so few
are there of them, that it was made a rule of
the Revised Version not to admit to the new
version, where it could be avoided, any word
not already found in the Authorized Version,
and also not to omit from the Revised Version,
except under pressure of necessity, any word
which occurred there. It is largely this blending
of dignity and popularity that has made the
King James version so influential in English
literature. It talks the language not of the
upper level nor of the lower level, but of that
middle level where all meet sometimes and
where most men are all the while.

These are great traits to mark a book, any
book, but especially a translation -- that it is
honest, that it is accurate, and that its language
blends dignity and popularity so that it lowers
the speech of none. They are all conspicuous
traits of our familiar version of the Bible, and
in them in part lies its power with the generations of these three centuries that have followed its

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