The Holy Bible…Newly translated out of the Originall Tongues
The King James Bible has been described as being “the only literary masterpiece ever to have been produced by a committee.” As the “Authorized Version” of the Bible for the Church of England—and for centuries the most widely used translation among English readers of the most widely read book—the King James Bible has left an indelible mark on the English language, literature, societal norms, and Christian beliefs throughout regions of the world that were part of or in close contact with the British empire. It was unrevised until 1881.
It was not the King’s idea to produce a new version of the Bible, but when the idea did arise, he seized the opportunity. Soon after gaining the throne, James I called church leaders and theologians together “for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the Church.” The Hampton Court Conference was held in January 1604. Little of value came out of it, except for one resolution: “That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all Churches of England in time of devine service.”
The idea of new translation was proposed by John Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who was a learned scholar and Puritan leader in the Church of England. Some did not approve, but the King did: “I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst. I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by he best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.”
Archbishop Richard Bancroft and the King himself coordinated the work. The task was divided among six panels comprising forty-seven scholars, each working on a portion of the Bible with a set of instructions. When their work was finished, a smaller group (two from each panel) reviewed the whole translation before the work went to press.
The King’s Printer, Robert Barker, published the masterfully designed new Bible in 1611. The edition exists in two variants: the “He” and “She” bibles (based on the way Ruth 3:15 was printed). There are many other minor variations among copies. The present copy is an example of the second edition, printed in 1613. While as handsome as the first editions, the type is somewhat smaller. There are seventy-two lines per column, rather than fifty-nine.
Chrzanowski 1613b *