King James Authorized

1568 Bishop's Bible

Do Anglicans have an ‘official’ bible for family, pew, and pulpit use? This was a question posed a while ago with no quick answer.  The term “Authorized” involves a number of particulars. First, ‘authorized’ refers to the 1604 Hampton Court Conference whereupon King James wished there be a CofE text to rival the Geneva Bible. The Geneva bible could be obtained cheaply and was portable, having both footnotes and cross references which promoted presbyterian doctrine, bound together with Calvin’s catechism. It thus found its way quickly into English households. The intent of King James, so to speak, was to purge England of such non-Anglican domestic ‘study bibles’ (including the 1582 Douay-Rheims). King James also recognized the incompleteness of the Elizabeth’s translation under AB Parker.

Secondly, ‘authorized’ indicates liberty to print. The  King reserved a monopoly on publishing, the seal of England allowing privileged material to be legally printed and circulated. Eventually, the KJV supplanted earlier pulpit use translations,  namely the Bishop’s Bible, because universities ceased publication of the older black letter books.

The KJV is based upon the 1568 Bishop’s Bible. The Bishop’s Bible, in turn, is a kind of compilation of the 1560 Geneva and 1538 Great Bibles. The Geneva Bible was the design of Marian exiles in Switzerland (Wittingham and Gilby with Coverdale helping) while the Great Bible was borne from collated work of William Tyndale. Tyndale wrote a vernacular of the New and Old Testament in English (and was burnt for it). Coverdale then inserted a Psalter while smoothing over differences Tyndayle vs. the Vulgate, thereby somewhat securing a continuity of text between medieval Catholicism to reformed Anglicanism.

Otherwise known as “the Chained Bible”, the Great Bible, not unlike other reformation bibles of the time, was bound with the 1536 Ten Articles and a Preface written by Cranmer. The Great Bible is the first of a series of ‘authorized’ bibles appointed for pulpit readings. The Henrican Injunctions required the Book to be accessible in a  ‘convenient place within the church’, i.e., outside the chancel, for the people.  Articles were included inside and read periodically during worship. When Elizabeth commissioned the 1568 Bishop’s book, the Ten Articles briefly continued but then was soon replaced by the Queen’s Eleven. In 1563 the Act of Uniformity finally incorporated the Thirty-Nine.  Inclusions of Articles into the appointed Bibles of both Henry and Elizabeth served to catechize England, and was not unlike Geneva or Wittenburg types which included confessions and/or catechisms. Also interesting was the BCP calendar published at the beginning of the KJ, demonstrating the interlocking nature of the Bible, Prayer Book, and Articles.

Curiously enough, until the restoration, the only bible version officially appointed in public worship was the Bishop’s Bible. The 1604 Convocation regularized the Bishop’s Book as sole translation not only for pulpit readings and lectern display but BCP text as well. Meanwhile, through all BCP revisions, the Coverdale’s Psalter persisted (as  it was well-suited for chanting). Upon the Restoration, the 1662 Act of Uniformity replaced the Bishop’s Book with the 1611 KJV by way of the new BCP, and King James has remained the official text for church-use ever since. Meanwhile, the Bishop’s Bible, a.k.a. the “the voluminous book” as called by Laudian disciplinarians, gradually fell to disuse given cessation of publishing prevented replacement.  Geneva declined as well– in part to the KJV’s excellency of prose, scholarly foundations, as well as example in church usage– the KJV becoming the domestic book of English-speaking Christians.

Over the last four-hundred years several KJV revisions (the safest and most sound being the 1769) have come and gone, leaving the notion of an  ‘authorized’ text more a set of criteria than a single, absolute manuscript.  The ‘rules’ or guidelines defining what is potentially  ‘authorized’ were established by King James and are posted below (quoted directly from the 1611):

The Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the Bible

1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.
7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.
15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.

The conservatism of KJ is apparent. Extracting from the ‘rule’ above, the foundation of all ‘authorized’ translations is, first, the Bishop’s Bible (#1, “as little altered as the Truth of the original permit”). Added to this intrinsic conservatism, the KJ translation aimed for catholic sensibility– favoring episcopacy (#3 ‘the old ecclesiastical words to be kept’) and the consensus fidelum (#4).  As a consequence of the KJV’s catholicity, forty-seven  learned ministers (high churchman like Bp. Andrewes amongst) were summoned from all quarters of the Realm, representing the Church, King, and University (#8-#13). The KJV is thus the most conservative example of an Erastian polity backing a catholic reformation, which indeed was the Protestant project.  These rules, therefore, illustrate the essence of catholic protestantism.

Do modern versions, i.e., the ESV, NIV, NJB, or N/RSV, fall within this same criteria as Canterbury claims? When bible revisions are proposed, often more is at stake than fidelity to style. Sadly, the translations of the last hundred years (or so) have proven footholds for Marxist-modernist ideology, introducing not only goofy democratic worldviews (by pronoun and dubious textual revisions) but muting the manner we engage in formal discourse.  A friend recently noted how liturgy shapes both public and ecclesisal thought:

“If we want to be orthodox Christians, it’s not enough that we have the right ideas about the harder concepts of Christianity (the Trinity, Incarnation).  We have to talk about them in the right way.  We see this more clearly in our political debates (“pro-life” v. “anti-choice”), but it’s true in our ecclesiology as well.  This is largely a matter of obedience to our spiritual masters and teachers.  They’ve wrestled long and hard to develop our Christian terminology.  Who are we to blot it out and remake it to fit our convenience or unformed intellects?  There’s a practical aspect to this, too.  Because the old terms have been wrestled with for so long, their meanings in the theological context are very rich.  Day-to-day we don’t think much, for example, about any difference between “distinction” and “difference,” but the difference in formal theology is between sublime truth and damnable error.”

Cambridge will celebrate the KJV’s quatrocentenary April 27th 2011. For Churchmen who lament the passing of Anglican identity, let’s keep this one on our calendar. Maybe hold an outside prayer meeting with placards reading “king james only”, “happy birthday King james”, etc..?

16 responses to “King James Authorized

  1. Excellent, this is the best quick history on the KJV.


  2. Charles,

    I try not to get into the whole “KJ Only” debate and feel that both sides have become to harsh and partisan.

    When I have time to read and compare passages I use eSword and can view the AV/KJV 1769, The D-R 1752 and the RV 1885 side-by-side-by-side, it is a great feature. Although the KJV is still my favorite, I have found that some passages from either the D-R or RV is written better, still retaining the traditional English.


  3. One thing I learned from the early ‘authorized’ versions was the binding together of Lectionary calendars with articles in a single Bible was not unusual. The Bishop’s bible incorporated these elements as a means to counter the Geneva Book. But it also demonstrates how past articles, liturgy, lections, and other documents worked together to defend Anglicanism, and, in so doing, define it.

    The “con” I hear is the American settlement put such things on a new slate. I would argue this may be true, but there still is ‘intent’. I find the prefaces– be it those belonging to the prayer book, KJ bible, or other manuscripts– to adequately communicate the ‘intent’ of the church. Certainly, the preface of the 1928 is instructive, where the American church ‘departed in only those things necessary according to circumstance with England’. Difference in faith, order, and worship was intended to be minimal. The Protestant Episcopal Church was therefore viewed as a continuation the English, amending the 39 Articles and canons only where necessary.

    Anyway, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the KJV not only for its mastery of scripture but how it reinforced and integrated other formularies or standards. Even the language was chosen to suit the Reformation in England, supporting both episcopacy and justification. It is the only bible version (in print) which does this in my opinion, so in both content and history it is unique.


  4. Excellent post. I may be able to talk you out of the 1769 edition of the Authorized Version. Have you taken a look at the “New Cambridge Paragraph Bible?”

    * * * * *

    While I much prefer the AV for Common Prayer — except for the Psalter, where Coverdale is still the standard — I can live with the RSV, but definitely not the NRSV.

    For a study bible, I really recommend learning Greek and reading the original — it can be a eye-opening experience.


  5. “The 1604 Convocation regularized the Bishop’s Book as sole translation not only for pulpit readings and lectern display but BCP text as well.”

    How do you conclude from the plain reading of Canon 80 that it is in reference to the Bishop’s Bible?

    “In Convocation there seems to have been some little reaction in favor of the Great Bible, for in May, 1604, Canon 80 was passed, by which it was provided that every church-warden was to provide for each parish a Bible ‘amplissimi voluminis,’ or, as it would certainly seem to imply, the Great Bible of more than sixty years before.” American Bible Revision Committee, Historical Account of the work of the American Committee of Revision of the Authorized English Version of the Bible. New York: Scribner, 1885: 19.


  6. Hello CV,

    The “amplissimi voluminis” in 1604 would have been the Bishop’s Bible which Elizabeth commissioned in 1558 to replace the Great Bible. Both were printed in black letter making them ‘largest volumes’. The King James Version was the first ‘authorized’ Bible to take advantage of Roman type with no pictures, thus making it fit to carry, relatively cheap, and adapted to domestic use. Since Canon 80 doesn’t specify either the Great or Bishop’s Bible (either one would suffice), you have to look back to Elizabeth’s injunction regarding the 1568 version which mimes Henry’s– that the Bishop’s Bible (it specifically says this) be placed in every parish church and cathedral. We could also look at royal publishers and discover just when Great Bible’s printing ceased. Country parish churches found these injunctions very difficult to obey given the enormous cost of illustrated, black print Bibles. The periodic revision or changing of both BCP and Bibles sometimes were ignored in the hinterlands just because of cost, so perhaps some country parishes never changed their use nor even had a Great Bible… The KJV would make conformity less a burden, and this is another example of how 1611 was extraordinary. However, even then, we can’t assume parish literacy. Anyway, I would guess there was much disparity, and the reality departed from whatever canons or injunctions said. This was not due to a ‘high minded tolerance’ but problems of enforcement (recusancy) and lack of resources.


  7. Could we conclude from the fact that 1611 and 1885 are no longer printed by Cambridge and Oxford that they do not presently enjoy the fullness of royal license?

    Any opinions on the following?

    Does anyone know a source for the 1769 with Apocrypha that isn’t as dear as the full Cambridge lectern?


  8. Hi CV,

    I own a copy. It’s the original 1611 with Preface, lectionary calendar, and letter authored by the commission. Inside I found the ‘rules’ and thought it good to post them. These alone make the book with purchasing.

    As you know, I don’t treat royal supremacy as ‘monist’. There have always been diverse centers of authority under the crown. The question is how other centers of authority preserve themselves or passively respond if a ‘kingdom’ is ruled by Jezebel or Ahaz; or when your body politic is generally apostate. Both Keble and Wesley faced this question. We might lament the consequence of Methodism or Anglo-Catholicism, but the dilemma remains.


  9. Would you mind commenting on the construction, appearance and readability of the volume?

    Do you feel that it is conducive to use as a regular Bible, or, is it more of a historical novelty?

    Your appraisal will be appreciated.


    • Hello CV,
      I recommend it mainly as documentary evidence for Anglican standards and intent. This was the first published KJV, and it admittedly was a work-in-progress. There are portions which are awkward, some use of words which we are no longer familiar with, and strange spelling that can sometimes slow reading. An example: “time” is spelled “tyme” or ‘return’ as “returne”. No big deal, but sometimes it can hinder. Later revisions improved an already excellent text, so my guess is by 1769 you have something that is closer to our use of English as well as clearer prose. The 1611 has the apocrypha, calendar, “almanacke for xxxix yeeres” (lol), a preface, and a letter from the Translators to the reader. The King James has been accused of being an apologetic of both predestination and episcopacy, but this is in keeping with the Articles. It is not the ideal book, ironically, for either Presbyterians or RC’s.

      I recommend, if you are serious about private use not merely historical reference, getting the 1769 (if available) and having the apocrypha on hand, either 1611 or something more modern published by Oxford or Cambridge. A further consideration when looking at apocrypha– RC and Anglican apocrypha books are not identical. Trent removed 1 & 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses. So if you buy something that takes the deuterocanonical books, you might end up short. Make sure it has the above. Let me know what turns up.


  10. If you had been taught English properly so that you could read Beowulf, Langland and Chaucer in the original it wouldn’t be an effort. Hard to believe that standards in the public schools have fallen so far.


    • Yikes! I disagree.

      Though Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is the London dialect of Middle English, the trick trick is to read it aloud. This ploy, with the aid of a few footnotes for the really knotty stuff, allows most publicly educated folks to slog through it — but not effortlessly!

      On the other hand, Beowulf is Old English (Anglo-Saxon), and I am skeptical that any private or publicly educated English-Speaking person of the last six or seven centuries could breeze through it. For doubters, have a go at quickly translating this Anglo-Saxon verse into modern English:

      Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum,
      Si þin nama gehalgod.
      To becume þin rice, gewurþe ðin willa,
      on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
      Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg,
      and forgyf us ure gyltas,
      swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum.
      And ne gelæd þu us on costnunge,
      ac alys us of yfele.


  11. Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name, etc.

    I did not realize that I would still remember what I learned in the eighth grade in Wewoka. I guess those teachers were meaner than I then thought.

    Of course, I have had the advantage of continuing to read same because I am one of those who believe that the English Reformation was a recovery of what the English church believed and taught before it came under the thumb of the see of Rome. One has to read the Vision of Piers the Plowman, as well as the religious literature of the time to understand how much of this was merely a native understanding of what had been taught since before the arrival of Augustine.

    On the other hand, the world of Henry and Edward died with them and was replaced with essentially Spanish Romanism during the reign of Philip and Mary. Without Elizabeth’s ascension classical Anglicanism would be a footnote.


  12. I need to slightly amend something. The size of the bible was not utterly dependent upon the typeface. Both gothic textura and italian minuscule could be printed in relatively small. However, gothic did have limitations. Yet what really determined size was the degree the bible was illustrated and how large letters ought to be. Large letter could vary at seven and twelve inches. Print was pressed unto big sheets which were either folded in four or eight sides. Four-sides resulted in larger volumes, while eight were typically intended for circulatory, court, and documentary use. Under Henry the appointed Bibles were fitted for the lectern, chained in a “common place”, typically outside the chancel, at the front of the church, on the epistle side. The clerical nature of these bibles continued by large sheet. The preference for Gothic print & large volumes vs. roman print in small volumes somewhat divided orthodox and reforming parties. Conservatives favored the the more traditional, stylistic print while new learning advocated the humanist minuscle. The latter was easier to read, free of localized stylization, and therefore it was a ‘standardizing’ script, suited for England’s national reforms and the cross-channel communication between reforming communities. The minuscle was also the more ancient, used in the past by both Charlemagne and Pope Gregory to standardize rites across broad regions.


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