Friday, 3 February 2012

The Origins of the King James Bible

When James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England he was faced by religious difficulties. His answer was to continue the policies of Elizabeth I, but to take them forward by insisting that one version of the Bible and that alone could be used in England.

For some fifty years before James came to the throne, several different versions of the Bible had been circulating in England. These had been translated by various scholars from different originals and, although they were broadly in agreement, there were some key differences in wording which could cause confusion.

The religious divisions within England were less pronounced than in many nations, but were till severe. The Catholics had learnt to be generally content so long as they were left to pursue their religion in quiet, and the authorities were content so long as they were carried out in private. The more extreme Protestants, by now termed Puritans were more likely to be outspoken, but commanded little public sympathy.

James decided to continue with the religious policies of Elizabeth, but to enforce some of the laws more strictly so that those who chose not to worship at the Church of England found themselves subjected to fines more often. This disappointed both the Catholics who had hoped for more freedom and the Puritans who had hoped the new King would introduce a stricter Protestantism from Scotland.

After the failure of the Gunpowder plot, James and his chief minister, Robert Cecil began an even stricter attack on the Catholics. It was decided that a new English language Bible was needed to bind together the various Protestant factions. King James gathered together some of the finest scholars and most learned churchmen to complete the work. The team was ordered not just to produce an accurate Bible, but also one phrased in ways that were easily remembered so that even people who could not read very well could remember the key teachings of God.

When the Authorised King James Version was finally ready, it was printed in large numbers and sent to every church in the country. No other version of the Bible was permitted to be used in Church services and for centuries no other version was printed in the English language except the King James.

The move was as much due to King JAmes’s own deep religious convictions as to the political necessity of producing an agreed text. As the official foreword put it “For when Your Highness had once, out of deep judgement, apprehended how convenient it was that, out of the original sacred tongues, together with comparing the labours, both in our own and other foreign languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact translation of the holy Scriptures in the English tongue; Your Majesty did never desist to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended that the work might be hastened and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter o such importance might justly require.”

Once produced, the Authorised King James Bible became a standard work for the English. Many phrases form it have entered into everyday use and it has become the source of many sayings and phrases. It can safely be said that no other book in the English language has had such a profound influence as this version of the Bible.

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