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Rewind Wednesdays: Birth of the KJV

Over the years, I've always wondered why people would choose the KJV over any other version of the bible. With all the versions of the bible that are available in the world today, many Christians still hold to the KJV as the preferred version to read. I personally have always wondered the following concerning the KJV; why is it the preferred version of the bible? Who authorized and commissioned this version of the bible? Was it the first bible to be translated into English? To explore all of these questions and more, I invite you to join me in a short journey through history; specifically 1380-1611.

The Separation

We’ll begin our journey here in the year 1517. During this time, the institutional church of the day, the Roman Catholic Church, was beginning to go through a separation. Many sects of parishioners were beginning to have disagreements and disputes, and shortly afterwards began to revolt. Among the many grievances of the RCC, there are two main reasons that I could find that these sects (now called Protestants) revolted against the RCC. They are the selling of indulgences and the disagreement with Catholic doctrine. In Catholic theology, an indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven. An indulgence is thus not forgiveness of the guilt of sin, nor release from the eternal punishment due to unforgiven mortal sins; nor is it a permit to commit sin, a pardon of future sin, nor a guarantee of salvation for oneself or for another. Some of the priests began to sell an indulgence to make extra money; in other words, the priests would sell the option to be relieved from sin’s punishment (forgiveness) to whoever wanted that service. Some corrupt priests would even allow you to continue in your sinful lifestyle, if you paid extra. So we can see how deeply rooted the corruption has become within the RCC. The disagreement with Catholic doctrine was partly spurned by the 95 Thesis of Contentions, which was written by Martin Luther. These two grievances were the main reasons why many sects of Protestants began to leave the RCC. With the tight grip established by the RCC throughout Europe, you can be sure the consequences were dire for people who chose to leave Catholicism and establish a new religious sect.

The War

The war between the Protestants and Roman Catholic Church would be a long and bloody one. The RCC was determined to undermine and squash anything related to the Protestants who had left the fold. Oddly and interestingly enough, the war between both sides wasn't based on the rising protestant movement, or the grievances with the RCC listed above. The main theme of the war that sparked a revolution that would change history was the ongoing Protestant project of translating God’s word into the English language. At that point in history, the word of God wasn't yet translated into English, so the parishioners of the RCC had to depend on the priests to preach, and teach them the word of God (sounds eerily familiar). Even if the Latin Vulgate (the source that the RCC used as scripture) was a common household item, there still were issues that had to be overcome:

- The Latin Vulgate was only written in Latin, and not everyone (other than the priests) could read or understand Latin.

- The Latin Vulgate was often believed, and subsequently exposed, to be corrupt and inaccurate, so translating it into English still wouldn’t do any justice to common parishioners.

Translating God’s word into a language that everyone could read was the driving force behind the Protestant movement, and the spark that lit the fuse to the war. What many don’t know is that this project actually started in 1380. Many men including John Wycliffe, John Hus, John Colet, Erasmus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Rogers, and Myles Coverdale exhausted themselves to produce an English bible that everyone could read. A handful of these men were brutally executed for their tedious work due to a law the RCC passed that made it illegal (and punishable by death) to read and possess a bible that was in ANY other language than Latin (which is ironic since the original language and text of the bible wasn't Latin). Throughout the 1500s, the Protestant movement claimed a few successes when two or three “rough drafts” were completed, written in English, and still maintained the accuracy of the scriptures. The biggest achievement came when they finally produced a bible that was written in English for everyone to read; that bible was…

The Geneva Bible and the end of the War (???)

In 1560, the moment that Protestants across Europe were waiting for had occurred. After 100+ years of translating the word of God into English (and many men being executed), the world’s first widely accepted bible was created; the Geneva Bible. This bible wasn't just the world’s first bible translated into English, but this version was (arguably) the world’s first modern bible of its kind. The GB holds the honor of being first for the following:

- The first complete, English translated, widely accepted bible for all people to read

- First Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier.

- First to have every chapter accompanied by extensive marginal notes** and thorough references

- Considered to be the world’s first English study bible

- The Bible that was taken with the Protestants to Plymouth Rock, which eventually led to the founding of America

The creation of the GB would seemingly be the triumphant blow that would end the RCC’s control over God’s word. That, however, just wouldn't be accurate. The monarchies that were still aligned under the Holy Roman Empire found one aspect of the GB to be blunt and unappealing. If you've noticed above, I have placed a star by ‘marginal notes’. The marginal notes were a very key aspect to both the Protestants and the RCC because these notes were very anti-institution of the day. In other words, the marginal notes were very anti-Catholic (not really necessary of the Protestants, but you can’t really blame them after the mass corruption, and executions of protestants at the hands of the RCC). As you could guess, the Kings and Queens of the day wouldn't let this go quietly and, in 1604, there was a turn of events that changed the face of history in more ways than one. These changes began when King James was crowned King of England.

The King James Bible (KJV)

In 1604, King James takes the reign as King of England. Shortly after taking the throne, he is approached by the Protestant clergy of that time. Here’s the shocker; the protestant clergy of the Church of England (Anglican Church) petitioned King James to commission a new translation of the bible that would compete with, and ultimately replace, the beloved GB. Yes, the Protestant clergy had betrayed their protestant brothers and sisters. Don’t be mistaken; this isn't the first or last act of betrayal to the Protestant movement.

You wouldn't understand the betrayal if I didn't include the time span of 1557-1580s. After the GB was mass produced in 1560, the Anglican Church (currently under Queen Elizabeth who aligned herself under the RCC) tried to commission another version of the bible. This version of the bible had less inflammatory and disrespectful marginal notes, and was to replace the current bible; one that the RCC would officially approve of. This version was called the Bishop’s Bible (created in 1568), which would become known as the “rough draft to the King James Version”. The RCC thought this would be the version to undermine and replace the GB, but they were sadly mistaken as the Bishop’s Bible could never compete against the established GB. By 1582, the RCC’s worst fear had been realized; they could no longer keep God’s word from being mass produced and translated into English. That’s when the decision was made to have a bible translated into English to be the RCC’s official version. In doing so, they used the erroneous and inaccurate Latin Vulgate as the source to translate into English, and thereby produced the Doway-Rheims version. Because this version used the Latin Vulgate as the source document, it was soon proven to be inaccurate as well.

Finally we get (back) to the early 1600s. After two unsuccessful attempts at creating a bible to rival and overthrow the GB, the RCC finally succeeded when the King James Version came hot off the press in 1611. It took years (decades even) for the KJV to replace the GB as the widely accepted and used bible everywhere.

Sum Total

That was a lot of history to cover in one sitting, so let’s highlight the major points.

- The KJV was NOT the world’s first English translation bible that was widely accepted everywhere; that honor goes to the Geneva Bible.

- The Roman Catholic Church fought vigorously to keep God’s word from being translated into English.

- The Geneva Bible is (arguably) the first modernized bible by historical record.

- The Geneva Bible was used for 51 years prior to the creation of the KJV. If you throw in the decades it took before it was completely replaced, then you’re looking at 200+ years (minimum) before the complete takeover of the KJV.

- The KJV, and its previous rough drafts, was created to rival and overthrow the GB, as well as remove the inflammatory remarks about the RCC in the marginal notes.

- It is still unknown whether King James was or wasn't a Christian, even though he was raised by Presbyterian influences. In fact, there is some historical controversy concerning his bisexual lifestyle.

- * America was founded upon the Geneva Bible, not the KJV. The KJV was mass produced via print during the Colonial period of early America.

- The KJV was originally created for Catholics, not Protestants.

- When the KJV was being written, the Geneva Bible was one of the versions that was used as a blueprint (even though the RCC greatly disliked the GB). Even more odd, the GB and KJV are 90-95% the same textually even though the GB came first. Think on that for a minute.

Brother and sisters please understand that I’m not bashing the KJV, or saying that it’s evil and shouldn't be used. What I’m trying to articulate is that we should be VERY careful about holding one version of the bible as more holy and accurate than another. Even though the KJV was created with an anti-Protestant agenda, God still used it in a powerful way to spread the gospel. God could do the same with any other version of the bible. I’m also not bashing the Catholic Church, but these are just historical facts that have to be discussed to paint a detailed picture.

I hope this article will generate some in-depth discussion to strengthen your resolve for God’s word. If you want to discuss further, I’m always open to engage in dialogue that would further our learning.

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