|Bible Research > English Versions > McAfee > The Making of the King James Version|
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.
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." 2 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." 3
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." 4 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."
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." 5
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 epistles.
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 company.
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 Bible.
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 uniformity.
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 level.
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 words.
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 appearance.
1 Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts.
2 History of England, chap. i.
3 Short History of the English People, chap. viii, sec. ii.
4 Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts, p. 107.
5 History of England, 1603-42.
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