Translation and Translators
As was mentioned in the introduction of this book, God Himself was the First Translator of His Word. On the Day of Pentecost “…every man heard them (the Apostles) speak in his own
language” (Acts 2:16). God’s Holy Scriptures were recorded through inspiration and preservation so that everyone could read them in their own native tongue. My purpose is to prove which Bible is THE one for those who speak English- the “language of our day” around the globe. Some have inquired about those whose language is not English. Do they have a Bible they can rely on? Yes, if it is based on the Greek “Received Text” as the KJB is, and not on the “Westcott and Hort, Greek” of Alexandria, Egypt. The original translations into German, French, Spanish, Danish, and many other languages, that go back hundreds of years ago are reliable. Any newer ones are suspect and need to be checked into.
In this chapter I will show the qualifications and stature of the KJB translators and who they were.
Translating is not to be taken for granted. Historically as a humbling activity, a
“...requirement for students to be admitted to Harvard was to be trilingual in Greek, Latin, and English. The students had to be able to debate fluently in these languages. The freshman project for Harvard, Princeton, and Yale was to take a copy of the Greek New Testament and translate it into English in the student’s own handwriting. Many of our Founding Fathers such as John Adams, John Hancock,
and Samuel Adams…attended Harvard.” (History of American Education by Vaughn Shatzer, p.12) Most of our colleges and universities founded in America in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th Centuries, were founded as Christian institutions of learning. None of these “freshman projects” ever was recommended to be published!
The KJB translators, (54 men divided into six companies (committees)) had a very clear vision of their work, which lasted seven years. That vision was recorded in their introduction entitled “The Translators to the Reader”. They wrote: “…the Scripture…is…a fountain of most pure water springing up unto everlasting life. And what marvel? The original thereof, being from heaven, not from earth, the author being God, not man; the inditer (the one responsible to put into words), the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets, …the form, God’s Word, God’s Testimony, God’s Oracles, the Word of Truth, the Word of Salvation, ...the end and reward of the study thereof.”
They also expressed the need for a careful translation of the Bible. They further wrote: “Translation it
is that openeth the window, to let in the light;…that we may look into the most holy place…Indeed without translation into the (common) tongue, the unlearned are but like children…without a bucket or something to draw with: (John 4:12) or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom a sealed book was delivered with this motion, Read this, I pray thee, he was fain (obliged) to make this answer, I cannot, for it is sealed” (Isaiah 29:11).
They also captured the purpose of God’s Word when they wrote: “God…removeth the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His word…When God speaketh unto us to hearken; when He seateth His word before us to read it; when He stretcheth out His hand and calleth to answer: Here am I, here we are to do Thy will, O God; The Lord's work, a care and conscience in us to know Him and serve Him.”
Alexander McClure made a study of these men and their work with biographical sketches of them in his book, “Translators Revived.” His assessment of their abilities he summarized: “As to the capability of those men, we may say again, that, by the good Providence of God, their work was undertaken in a fortunate time. Not only had the English language, that singular compound, then ripened to its full perfection, but the study of Greek, and of the oriental tongues, and of Rabbinical love, had been carried to greater extent in England than ever before or since…It is confidently expected that the reader of these pages will yield to the conviction, that all the colleges of Great Britain and America, even in this proud day of boasting (about 1858), could not bring together the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety for the great undertaking” (Translators Revived, pp. 63-64). And in this 21st Century it is even more so, that not even one man can compare to those men, as we will soon see as we detail their individual unique skills.
These men were selected and charged to take up this task to fulfill the request of Dr. John Reynolds,
a Puritan leader, to the newly enthroned King James I on January 17, 1604. Dr. Reynolds requested, “That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant (in agreement) as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes (commentary), and only to be used in all churches of England, in time of divine service” (Translators Revived, p.59).
By “only” Dr. Reynolds was referring that England had three English Bibles: The Bishops Bible, The Great Bible, and The Geneva Bible. This division was noted by James while king in Scotland, as he had a desire to have only a single English Bible. So his acceptance of this understanding was not surprising. He oversaw its beginning, and had rules set down, and directed that the men chosen were to be of the highest in scholarship and in languages.
They were to be divided into 6 companies: two in Westminster, two in Cambridge; and two in Oxford. Their assignment (whether the four gospels as one Oxford Company was assigned; or, the books of Genesis through II Kings, as one Westminster group was given) was to make their own personal translation, and then bring it back to their group and read it aloud. Then the committee (ranging from 7-10 members each) had to agree to one reading.
Next, that reading was passed to the other companies to be checked and make whatever changes they deemed to be made. Then, say for example the four gospels went back through each committee
again for fine tuning. Finally, toward the end of the seven years a small seventh company was made of some from each of the six, to make a final approved reading. Thus each part of the Bible was gone over fourteen times.
Then in 1611 Robert Barker the king’s printer, had the King James Bible printed. There were two print runs of the Bible, one copy for each of the congregations extant in England (some currently still have that same printed work in our present time).
These were oversized (12x16x5), weighing about 25 pounds and done in dark, Germanic print. All subsequent printings were downsized for family and individual use, and in Roman type. How was it accepted? “Since that time (1611) many millions of this revised translation have been printed, and the general acceptance of it by all English speaking people of whatever denomination, is a testimony to its excellence” (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol.3, p.903; 1910-11).
Now let’s examine many of these translators individually. Their appointment was also made to balance the Puritans and Anglican beliefs, so that they stuck to the text. There were ten men appointed to the first Westminster Committee. Their beginning task was to translate Genesis through II Kings - 12 Hebrew books.
The director of this company was Dr. Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626), the royal Chaplin to Queen Elizabeth I and to King James I. At his funeral it was noted, “His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, besides fifteen languages was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christendom.”
On this committee, as well, was Dr. Robert Tighe (?-1620) who was characterized as “an excellent textuary, and profound linguist.”
William Bedwell (1561-1632) was recognized as “the Father of Arabic studies in England.” He was author of the Lexicon Heptaglotton in seven folio volumes, including Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic. He also commenced a Persian Dictionary and an Arabic translation of the epistles of John.
The second Westminster committee was composed of seven men. They were given the task of translating all of the New Testament Epistles.
The director was Dr. William Barlow (?-1613), who was appointed by King James I to oversee the preliminary arrangements for the whole of the project. He was called “a thoroughbred scholar.”
Dr. John Spencer (1559-1614) at 19 years of age was made a Greek lecturer at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was also one of the chaplains to King James I.
Dr. Roger Fenton (1567-1617) was praised as “never a more learned man hath Pembroke Hall (of Cambridge), with but one exception (Dr. Lancelot Andrews).”
William Dakins (1567-1606) was considered peculiarly fit to be employed in this work, on account of his skill in the original languages. He was appointed Greek lecturer and Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, London.
The first Cambridge Committee, which translated from I Chronicles to the Song of Solomon, numbered eight scholars.
They were directed by Edward Lively (1545-1605) who was commemorated as “one of the best linguists in the world” and “enjoyed the reputation of an acquaintance with the oriental languages unequaled at that period.” He was also a top Hebraist and Regius, Professor of Hebrew since 1575. He took an active employment with the preliminary arrangements for the task of translating.
Dr. John Richardson (?-1625) was noted as a “most excellent linguist.” As the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “Language is the armory of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past; and the weapons of its future conquests.” Later in 1617 he became Vice- Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.
Dr. Laurence Chaderton (1537-1640) lived a long and full life of 103 years. He “acquired a great reputation as a Latin, Greek, and Hebrew scholar and was also proficient in French, Spanish, and Italian. He accompanied Dr. John Reynolds at the Hampton Court Conference in 1603 as a fellow Puritan. He was the First Master of Emanuel College. His preaching was claimed by many of the clergy, for their original conversion.
Dr. Thomas Harrison (1555-1631): It was recorded that “on account of his exquisite skill in the Hebrew and Greek idioms, he was one of the chief examiners in the University (Cambridge) of those who sought to be public professors of these languages.” His excellent knowledge of Greek was noted by Professor W.F. Moulton in his book, History of the English Bible. He also was a convicted Puritan.
The second Cambridge Committee was given the charge of the “Apocryphal (meaning of doubtful authenticity) Book” that were placed originally in the middle of the KJB between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was not only known by these translators, that these books were never considered inspired scripture, but that was well known by everyone.
Its purpose was to reveal the history of the hundreds of years between The Testaments. The scholarship of these men was very necessary for the repeated revision of the whole of scripture. This will be evident as we meet some of the seven translators from this company. The extensive notes of John Bois reveals the dedication and zeal of these learned men. His is a rare preservation of said notes, as most all of the translator notes and records were destroyed in the famous fire in London in 1666. We will come back to John Bois.
The Director of this group, Dr. John Duport (?-1617), was master of Jesus College, Cambridge, and its Vice-Chancellor four times.
Dr. Samuel Ward (?-1643) was noted as “a vast scholar and was appointed the King’s Chaplin in 1611. He was both a Puritan and a supporter of the King. This is shown when he was appointed by King Charles I in 1638 to be on a committee to correct printing errors in the KJB and oversee one that is error print free in a Cambridge printing.
Dr. Andrew Downes (1549-1628) was for 40 years, Professor of Greek at Cambridge University, and acknowledged to be one of the best Greek scholars of that time. In fact John Selton (Milton deemed him “chief of learned men in England”) praised Dr. Downes as “eminently qualified” to translate God’s Word. Mr. Shelton wrote: ..“that part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue, as the Apocrypha (was) to Andrew Downes, and then they met together, and (as) one read the translation, the rest (were) holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian, ect. If they found any fault, they spoke up; if not, he read on.” Dr. Downs was also chosen as part of the seventh and last committee (made up of two from each group), to prepare a final copy to be printed.
John Bois (1560-1644) was “the child Prodigy” of all the translators as he read through the entire Bible at age five – in Hebrew! At age fourteen he was admitted to St. John’s College, Cambridge and later became one of its distinguished professors. As was mentioned before, his extensive notes, as part of the final seventh committee survived. The rest of the translator’s notes were lost or destroyed in the London Fire of 1666.
Allen Ward studied and recorded the John Bois notes in his 1969 book, Translating for King James. From this study Mr. Ward gives a vivid picture of how a company might work when they met: “We know from Bois that the members of the meeting engaged in arguments, …consulted dictionaries, pored over and discussed current and antique theologians, traced textual variations, studied classical authors to settle questions of diction, thought about style, (and) composed in places original readings. We know…that the meeting deliberated over questions which were so difficult that the translators themselves had reached a deadlock over correct answers. In the light of this, (these) discussions…provided a full day’s work.” For all
Bois' brilliance, “he was of a social disposition, and had a great fund of anecdote at command, …he was a great rider and swimmer, and possessed a very strong constitution…up to his death (at age 84), his brow was unwrinkled, his sight clear, his hearing quick, his countenance fresh, and head not bald” (McClure, Translator Revived, pp. 205-207). At his funeral a eulogy sighted him as “second to none, in solid attainment in the Greek Language.”
The first Oxford Committee translated from Isaiah to Malachi, (17 books of prophecy). This company had the most astute translators of them all. With Dr. John Reynolds whose idea gave birth to this most enduring of translations. Dr. John Harding and Dr. Miles Smith were also in on the finality of this work of art, as will be shown. There were seven men appointed.
Dr. John Harding (?-?) was appointed Director as his scholarship and leadership was shown in that he was both President of Magdalen College and Regius Professor of Hebrew for many years. His vision was stated thus: “How two languages (Hebrew and English) being given, the nearest approximation may be made in the second, to the expression of ideas already conveyed through the medium of the first.” He was selected as one of three to oversee the final review, and editorial work.
Dr. John Reynolds (1549-1607) was President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A leading Puritan who singularly got the king’s ear. Not surprisingly as “having very greatly distinguished himself in the year 1578, as a debater in the theological discussions. …He devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures in the original tongues, and read all the Greek and Latin fathers, and all the ancient records of the church…it is stated that ‘his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf, page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read.’ He came to be styled ‘the very treasury of erudition
(learning), and was spoken of as ‘a living library, and a third university’” (McClure, Translators Revived, p.132-133). Another account stated that “he was most excellent in all tongues…had a sharp and ready wit…well skilled in all arts and sciences…and as to virtue, integrity…and sanctity of life…that to name Reynolds is to commend virtue itself.” Until his untimely early death in 1607, this committee met at his residence from time to time to compare and discuss their work.
Dr. Thomas Holland (1539-1612) was Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and Regius Professor of Divinity. He was a staunch Puritan. It was said of him “that he had a wonderful knowledge of all the learned languages, both human
and divine. He was mighty in the Scriptures; and so...acquainted with the Fathers, as if he himself had been one of them. …He was so celebrated for his preaching, reading, disputing, moderating, and all other qualifications, that all who knew him commended him, and all who heard of him admired him.”
Dr, Richard Kilby (1560-1620) was considered so accurate in Hebrew studies, that he became Regius Professor of that language. A story has been passed down and preserved about Dr. Kilby: In his travels he came upon a “parish church where (he) found the young preacher to have no more discretion, than to waste a great part of the hour allotted for his sermon, in exceptions against the late translation (KJB) of several words, (not expecting such a hearer as Dr. Kilby) and
showed three reasons why a particular word should have been otherwise translated. …After some fellowship, the Doctor (Kilby) told him, he might have preached more useful doctrine, and not have filled his (audiences’) ears with needless exceptions against the late translation; and for that word for which he offered, …why it ought to have been translated as he said; (for) he (Dr. Kilby and his fellow translators) had considered all (three of them, and found thirteen more considerable reasons why it was translated as (it is) now printed.”
When we hear young (ministers), green from the seminary, displaying their smatterings, of Hebrew and Greek by caviling (objections) in their sermons at the common version (KJB), and pompously telling how it ought to have been rendered, we cannot but wish that the apparition of Dr. Kilby’s frowning ghost might haunt them…but this is not a task for every new-fledged graduate; nor can it be very often attempted without shaking the confidence of the common people in our unsurpassed version, and without causing ‘the trumpet to give an uncertain sound’” (McClure, Translators Revived, pp.139-141).
I do not claim to be God’s Editor. Do you?
Dr. Richard Brett (1567-1637) was elected Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. He became very eminent in the languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, and Ethiopic. It is written of him that “he was a most vigilant pastor, a diligent preacher of God’s Word, a liberal benefactor to the poor, a faithful friend, and a good neighbor.”
Daniel Fairclough (1582-1645), otherwise known as “Dr. Daniel Featley,” lived a very interesting life. At age 24 in 1602 he was made Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He became the youngest appointed translator at the age of 26. Later he became Chaplin to King Charles I. In 1642 he was almost martyred by Parliament for falsely being accused as a spy. This ordeal helped lead to his death a short time later in 1645.
Dr. Miles Smith (1554-1624) made the greatest contribution of all the translators, yet it was observed that “he behaved with utmost meekness and benevolence (kindness).” His knowledge of the oriental languages made him well qualified for a place among the translators. He had Hebrew “at his finger’s ends”, and he was so conversant with Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic that he made them as familiar to him as his native tongue. “He had a four-fold share in the Translation. He not only served in the third company (the first Oxford Committee), but was one of the twelve selected to revise the work, after which it was referred to the final examination of (both he) and Bishop (Thomas)
Last of all, Dr. Smith was employed to write that most learned and eloquent preface…, The Translators to the
Reader (which announced that their work) stands as a comely gate to a glorious
city” (McClure, Translators Revived, p. 142). “The ultimate overseer of the project, Miles Smith became the final authority and editor. He was responsible for the final editing, and then he and Thomas Bilson carried out the final check of the text before it was sent to the printer. Thomas Bilson also added the headings to the chapters (aided by Dr. Smith)” (Dr. Donald Blake, A Visual History of the King James Bible, p.92).
The second Oxford Committee was given the four Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Bible’s closing book, Revelation. There were eleven sound men appointed.
Dr. Thomas Ravis (1560-1609) was Vice Chancellor of Christ’s Church College, Oxford, as well a director of this company. He was admitted to college at the age of fifteen and became an astute and disciplined scholar. In 1604 he was one of the six deans that King James I invited to the Hampton Court Conference, from where the idea of this translation task took root.
Dr. George Abbot (1562-1633) rose to become Vice-Chancellor of Winchester College, Oxford. Even though he was regarded as the head of the Puritans, he was appointed both Archbishop of Canterbury, and Primate of all England. He so vigorously opposed the King’s declaration permitting sports and pastimes on the “Lord’s Day” that King James I backed down! Dr. Abbot was regarded as an excellent preacher and was praised as a “learned man, having his learning all of the old stamp (i.e. vast and ponderous).”
Dr. John Harmar (1555-1613) was appointed Regius Professor of Greek at Wykeham College, Oxford. He stood tall in the crowd of the literacy scholar giants of the time. He was noted as a “master of an excellent English style, and an adept (very skillful) in the difficult art of translating.” This is shown by his being one of the two from this company to be on the seventh committee of twelve to make the final revision of the whole Bible in Stationer’s Hall, London, in 1610.
Sir Henry Saville (1549-1622) was quite a genius, entering Brazen Nose College, Oxford University at the age of twelve, and was appointed Fellow of Merton College at sixteen. He was a pioneer in many branches of scholarship, and the founder of the Civilian Professorships of Mathematics and Astronomy at Oxford. Also, he was such a Horticulturist that it was said of him: “Thus this skillful gardener had, at the same time, a nursery of young plants, and an orchard of grown trees, both flourishing under his careful inspection.” Yet he was tutor to Queen Elizabeth in Greek and Mathematics. He translated Histories of Tacitus, and the English historians before Bede. He is mostly known for his dedication to bring together all the manuscripts of John Chrysostom, the most famous of the Greek Fathers, into an eight volume edition of his complete writing, with commentary. He was admired as “that magazine of learning, whose memory shall be honorable among the learned and the righteous forever.” He was also the only translator knighted.
Dr. John Aglionby (1566-1609) was one of Queen Elizabeth’s chaplains and appointed chaplain to the new King James I. Noted as “an excellent linguist”. Anthony Wood recorded that Dr. Aglionby “had a most considerable hand in the Translation of the New Testament, appointed by King James I in 1604”.
James Montague (1568-1618) had the King’s ear (his favor) as he was allowed to edit the King’s many writings. Yet he was a Puritan and was very much against any notion of a drift back in Rome’s ceremonies. He headed all his correspondence with the word “Emmanuel”, meaning “God Be With Us”. And his teachings were to show this by the “supremacy of Scripture”.
The seventh and final committee was formed by the choosing twelve of the top translators- two from each committee.
From the first Oxford Company Dr. Miles Smith was not only selected, but was Director of this final committee and subsequently oversaw the final editing before going to press. The second choice was Dr. John Harding (original director of the first Oxford committee) who was also picked by Dr. Miles Smith to join in a final three man
group from the second chosen Oxford Company. Sir Henry Saville, noted for tutoring the Queen in Greek, was admired..."
The second choice went to Dr. John Harmar, who was said to have “stood tall even with the giants of
The first Westminster Committee supplied Dr. Lancelot Andrews, master of 15 languages and chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. Also, he was the third of the final three editors. Also, selected was Dr. Robert Tighe (? - 1620) who was noted as “an excellent textuary and profound linguist”. From the second Westminster Company Dr. Roger Fenton, who was said to be the second most learned (the first being Dr. Lancelot Andrews) was selected. Also, the original director of this committee, Dr. William Barlow, was chosen. He was known as “a thoroughbred scholar.”
Of the first Cambridge Committee Dr. Laurence Chaderton was named as he was a noted Greek and Hebrew scholar as well as of the “Romance Languages”. He lived the longest of the translators to 103 years. The second Cambridge Company rounded out the last two of this seventh full committee. John Bois was the “child prodigy” of the Translators having read through the entire Bible at the age of five – in the Hebrew! He started college at fourteen. He was noted as “second to none” in the Greek language. Dr. Andrew Downs was an easy selection as he was praised by Milton as “chief of the learned men in England.”
What of these men and their work (guided by Almighty God)?
Dr. Adam Clarke in the General Preface of his Bible Commentary recorded this: “The translators have seized the very spirit and soul of the original, and expressed this almost everywhere with pathos and energy. Besides, our translators have not only made a standard translation, but they have made their translation the standard of our
The learned minister Dr. Alexander Geddes gives this testimony: “If accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions must, in general, be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every word, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude, and expressed either in the text, or margin, with the greatest
And finally I have chosen, in conclusion, this tribute (from the plethora of such) by Dr. John Taylor, of Norwich, a very learned and respected man: “You may rest fully satisfied, that as our English translation is in itself by
far the most excellent book in our language. So it is a pure and plentiful fountain of divine knowledge, giving a true, clear, and full account…of the gospel of our salvation; insomuch that whoever studieth the Bible, The English Bible, is sure of gaining that knowledge and faith, which, if duly applied to the heart and conversation, will infallibly guide him to eternal life.”
Copyright 2011 Stephen and Lola Lee Grisham.
All Rights Reserved.
Concerning Hubble Images, Non-commercial use: For all its copyrighted materials, STScI allows reproduction, authorship of derivative works, and other transformations of the original work strictly for educational and research purposes without further permission, and subject to the General Conditions. For other non-commercial uses, permission should be obtained from AURA/STScI http://hubblesite.org/copyright/.