Creation history of the King James Version

December 14, 2011 | Feature | Number 24
By Christine Longhurst |

The King James Version was not the first attempt at an English translation of the Bible. John Wycliffe, together with others, had already published a complete English Bible by 1382, prompting the Roman Catholic Church to decree that the translation of Scripture was heresy and punishable by death.

The next major attempt was by William Tyndale in the early 16th century. Tyndale’s English New Testament was published in 1526, and was, by all accounts, a masterpiece. Together with Myles Coverdale, he continued to work at a translation of the Old Testament until his arrest and execution for heresy by King Henry VIII in 1536.

Just three years later, everything had changed. England had split with Rome, and the political and religious climate was dramatically different.

Between 1539 and 1611, many different attempts were made to translate the Bible into English, among them The Great Bible (published in 1539 by Coverdale at the request of Henry VIII); the Geneva Bible (published in 1560 by the church in Switzerland for English-speaking exiles in Europe, but which was also very popular in England); the Bishop’s Bible (published in 1568 by the Church of England); and even the Douay-Rheims Bible (published in 1582/1609 by the Roman Catholic Church itself).

When King James I came to power in 1603, leaders in the Church of England approached him about the possibility of making one official translation of the Bible, suitable for both public reading and private devotions. James I agreed, and in 1604 work on the King James Version began. Fifty biblical scholars and linguists were appointed to serve in six different companies: three to work on the Old Testament, two for the New Testament, and one for the Apocrypha. By the end of 1608, an initial draft was completed.

After a final editing process, the book was finally published in 1611.

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