Thought of the Week
Presented by Ron Zimmerman
Hail King James
Whenever someone says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” I get nervous. This clearly applies to our current situation with the corona virus but there was a time in our history when government involvement actually did help. I’m talking about back in 1604 when King James I of England created the King James Bible and had it printed for the whole world to read.
The commissioning of the King James Bible took place in 1604 at the Hampton Court Conference outside of London. The first edition appeared in 1611. The King James Version remains one of the greatest landmarks in the English tongue. It has decidedly affected our language and thought categories, and although produced in England for English churches, it played a unique role in the historical development of America. Even today, many consider the King James Bible the ultimate translation in English and will allow none other for use in church or personal devotions.
However, the story behind the creation of this Bible translation is little known and reveals an amazing interplay of faith and politics, church and state. To understand what happened, we need to go back to the world of the early 17th century:
King James of Scotland was just named King of England when his cousin Queen Elizabeth I named him
from her death bed. This combined the thrones of England and Scotland. With his throne, also came
the title of head of the Church of England. So back then, the government was the church. In other words,
the King had the final say in church matters. You can see that there was a huge potential for the church
to get off track from what Jesus had in mind.
At the time, there were three groups fighting for authority in the church. The Puritans were eager to continue
the work of the Reformation, and the death of Elizabeth seemed their opportune moment. Because James
had been raised under Presbyterian influences, the Puritans had reason to expect that James would
champion their cause. They were gravely mistaken. There were the Papists (as they were called then)
who longed for the English church to return to the Roman Catholic fold.
The Nonconformists and Separatists, some of whom would later become America's Pilgrims, wanted the
state out of church affairs altogether. They were not seen as a potent force at the time, but their
movement was slowly developing.
The group that was in control was known as the "Prayer Book" establishment or the Bishops and the
hierarchy of the English church. They were a genuine elite, holding exceptional power, privilege, and wealth.
James wanted unity and stability in the church and state but was well aware that the diversity of his
constituents had to be considered.
King James called for a conference-- In a royal proclamation in October 1603, the king announced a
meeting to take place at the Hampton Court Palace, a luxurious 1,000-room estate just outside of London,
built by Cardinal Wolsey.
A New Translation Of The Bible
So James ordered a new translation. It was to be accurate and true to the original Greek and other manuscripts.
He appointed fifty of the nation's finest language scholars, including people from all three groups, and approved
rules for carefully checking the results.
James also wanted a popular translation. He insisted that the translation use old familiar terms and names
and be readable in the idiom of the day.
He decreed that special pains be "taken for a uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned
men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by
the Royal authority.
This was a colossal achievement!
The final product was intended primarily for public and popular consumption. It was to be read orally-- intended more to be heard in public than to be read in private.
It was then printed on the printing press so that anyone who wanted a copy could now get it and read it himself.
History shows that they were successful in creating a translation that not only met the needs of their generation but also succeeded in influencing the lives of generations to come.
King James got it right!
Hail King James!
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