The King James Bible was not translated by any one man, or even by one group of men, but by six groups, or committees, meeting in the cities of Cambridge, Westminster, and Oxford, England. These men began their work in 1604 and completed it in 1611. In the cities of Westminster and Oxford there was one committee on the New Testament in each city. In Cambridge there was a committee on the Old Testament and one for the Aprocrypha. Yes, the original committee for the translation of the King James Bible included the Apocrypha, however, the translators did not believe the Apocrypha was inspired, but translated these non-canonical books because of their historical significance. These six committees were made up of fifty-seven men altogether, each committee having about ten men on it. I believe these fifty-seven men were superior to any man or committee of men that has translated any Bible since the translation of the King James Bible. By way of illustration let's look at the qualifications of just a few of these great men.
Dr. John Hardinge headed up the Oxford Group. Dr. Hardinge was Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford.
Dr. John Reynolds, the originator of the translation project, who presented the idea to the commission appointed by King James to study divisions in the Church of England, died before the Authorized Version was published.
Dr. Richard Brett was one of the world's foremost experts in Latin, Greek, Chaldee, Arabic and Ethioptic languages.
Dr. John Harmer, Professor of Greek at Oxford was a noted linguist having mastered not only Greek, but Latin and Hebrew as well.
Dr. Edward Lively, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, died in 1605 before the work was truly begun.
Dr. Lawrence Chaderton was skilled in Greek and Hebrew, and a student of the ancient Jewish writings called "The Rabbis."
Dr. Thomas Harrison was noted for his skill in Hebrew and Greek idioms.
Dr. Robert Spalding, successor to Dr. Lively as Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge.
Dr. Lancelot Andrews was selected to work on the Old Testament at Westminster, and worked on twelve books, Genesis to 2 Kings. Dr. Andrews spoke almost all of the languages spoken in Europe in the seventeenth century. He majored in language at Cambridge University, especially studying the Oriental tongues. Dr. Andrews is said to have been completely fluent in fifteen languages, and had his private devotions in the Greek New Testament, and kept a journal of his devotions written entirely in Greek.
Dr. William Bedwell was also selected to work on the Old Testament at Westminster, working on the same books as Dr. Andrews. Dr. Bedwell was not only fluent in Hebrew and other Oriental languages, but produced a translation of the Epistles of John in Arabic and Latin. He also wrote an entire Arabic dictionary by himself! At the time of his death Dr. Bedwell was working on a Persian dictionary which is still in the Bodlian Library at Oxford. Dr. Bedwell's knowledge of the Shemitic and Cognate languages of Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic made him an uncontestable expert on the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into English.
Dr. Miles Smith was in the Old Testament group meeting at Oxford, and was selected to translate the books from Isaiah through Malachi. Dr. Smith was so familiar with the Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic languages that they were as familiar to him as his native English.
Dr. Henry Savile was selected to work with the group that was to translate the New Testament at Oxford. He was chosen to translate the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Revelation. Dr. Savile was said to be as great a mathematician as he was a Greek scholar. He was chosen to tutor Queen Elizabeth in both mathematics and Greek. Dr. Savile was not only famous for his translation of the great history of Tacitus from Latin into English, but also translated the mathematical work of Euclid on geometry from Greek into English. However, Dr. Savile was most famous for his editing and translating of the complete works of John Chrysostom, one of the most famous of the early Greek church fathers, from the Greek into English. This was a work similar in size to eight very large dictionaries!
Dr. John Bois was a New Testament translator at Cambridge. At the age of five he had read the entire Bible in Hebrew. At the age of six he could write the Hebrew language in "a fair and elegant" hand. He was equally skilled in Greek. He was one of the twelve, two from each committee, who were sent to make the final revision at Stationer's Hall in London. On top of all of his other duties, he was the secretary for the final revision committee, taking notes on all of the meetings. It is largely through his notes that we have knowledge of the inner workings of the committee in this day and age.
The above cited men were of such stature that they cannot be equaled today. Our system of education is not nearly as thorough as was the educational system that produced these great men. There is not a single translator of any modern version that can even come close to the stature of these great men. Our King James Bible is superior to all others not only because it is translated from superior texts, but because it was translated by superior translators.
Their Superior Technique. It is important to understand that the King James Bible was translated quite differently from the other English versions that are on sale today. Here is a brief overview of the technique used to translate our English Bible.
Team Effort. Each translator had to translate all of the books assigned to his group by himself, then all of the translators from the group would meet together to discuss which of the translations was best. After all of the committee, working together, had decided which translation was the best, a copy of the translation of the book would be sent to one of the other cities where another committee was working, and they would meet and review the other committees' translation, while the first committee was reviewing the second committee's translation. This process would continue until all six committees had reviewed every book that had been translated. Then the book would be reviewed again by the committee of twelve, two from each of the six committees. If they found any problems, they would send word to the committee responsible for the translation, and their reasons for translating the problem passage in that way would be reviewed. In the end, all of the people on all of the committees would have to be in total agreement before the translation was considered to be complete, and they would go on to the next book! Such a painstaking team effort is unheard of today, which probably explains why there is so much disagreement as to the proper translation of the Bible today. There is almost a "Bible of the Month" club, bringing out some "new," "better," and "easier" version before the last one has had a chance to be read.
Verbal Equivalence. The King James Bible Translators used a translation technique that is known as "verbal and formal equivalence." This simply means that when a word was to be translated, the translator would find the "verbal equivalent" in English. This does not imply that the King James Bible is always a "word-for-word" translation, for there are many Greek words that cannot be accurately translated into one English word. Sometimes it takes two, three, four, and even five English words to give us the proper meaning of the single Greek or Hebrew word being translated. A perfect example of this is found in 2 Timothy 3:16, where one Greek word qeopneustos (theopneustos) is translated using five English words, "given by inspiration of God." Many of the so-called "scholars" love to point out that the "correct" translation of this word is "God-breathed." WRONG! The correct translation is "given by inspiration of God!" The term "God-breathed" is not action specific. In other words, when you read "God-breathed" it doesn't tell you anything about the action. "God breathed His Word" gives us very little information. Did God breath out, or in? And how did God breathing affect His Word? But when you read "given by inspiration of God," you realize that God has breathed into His Word the breath of life, making the Word of God a living thing! Everything that God breathes the breath of life into becomes an eternally living entity. When God breathed into Adam (mankind in federal headship) he became an eternally living entity (every person that was ever born is alive today, somewhere!). So also with His Word. You can see then that the term "God-breathed" focuses our attention on God, when He, in this context, wants us to focus our attention on His Word, thus the correct translation "given by inspiration of God!"
Formal Equivalence means that when a word is translated from the Greek into English, the form of the word must be carried into the new language. In other words, if the Greek word is a noun, the English word must take the same form, that is, a noun. If the Greek word is a verb, the English word must be a verb. If the Greek word is a pronoun, the English word must be a pronoun, and so on. Also, implicit in formal equivalence is the number of the word, such as singular or plural. If the Greek is singular, then the English must also be singular, if plural, the translation must also be plural. Past tense must always be translated as past tense, future tense as future, perfect tense as perfect, and so on. There is a fellow in Los Angeles who has circulated a tape in which he claims that the word "is" in 2 Timothy 3:16 is in italics, and therefore has no support in the Greek, and it is perfectly alright to change it to "was." According to this fellow's less then brilliant deduction, the passage should read "All scripture "was" given by inspiration of God." He doesn't believe the Bible which we have today is inspired. He must think it has expired. The problem with this fellow is that he doesn't have a clue about the Greek language. The reason the King James Translators added the word "is" keeping the passage in question in the present tense (as is the Greek), is that they understood that everything that God breathes into is eternal. You will notice that the second "is" before the word "profitable" is also in italics. Does anyone in their right mind suggest we change this word to "was", indicating the Scriptures are no longer profitable? All Scripture is inspired, and all Scripture is profitable.
None of the modern English versions follow this verbal and formal rule of translation, but rather use a system of translation they refer to as Dynamic Equivalence. Dynamic is a word that means moving, or changing. The idea behind Dynamic Equivalence is that the modern translators feel free to change the words that God inspired anytime they feel like it to produce a "better" translation. If the translators feel like changing a noun to a pronoun, they just do it. If they feel like changing a word from singular to plural, they just do it. If they feel like changing an article from definite to indefinite, they just do it. They add to, subtract from, and change the words to "better preserve the idea, or meaning, or sense, or concept of the original", while ignoring the words that the Holy God of Heaven has inspired. Did God say that His ideas, or meaning, or sense, or concepts were inspired, or did he say that His words were inspired? I believe His words are inspired, and no man can presume to change the words of God with impunity.
Our present day English Bible, the Authorized Version, is the culmination of over seven hundred years of refinement and purification (Psalm 12:6; 19:8). The first known Word of God in English was the Lindisfarne Gospels dating to about 700 A.D. These were in Latin with an Anglo-Saxon interlinear translation added about 950 A.D. In about 1000 A.D., Aelfric translated a condensed version of the first seven books of the Old Testament. However, due to the Norman invasion in 1066, French became the dominant language of England, and the Anglo-Saxon tongue became obsolete. In the fourteenth century, English was again dominant, and by the fifteenth century French had almost disappeared.
In about 1300 the Ormulum appeared, translated by Orm, an Augustinian monk. This work was originally the Gospels, but later Genesis and Exodus were translated into English.
About the same time, Richard Rolle translated the Psalms into Early Middle English, of which 170 manuscripts still survive.
John Wycliffe (1330-1384) was the first known translator of the entire Bible into English. His first translation was published in about 1400, and a later edition, revised by John Purvey, appeared at a somewhat later time.
Tyndale, born in 1494, translated the Bible out of the Greek and Hebrew and published a New Testament in 1525, based on the first printed Greek New Testament, published by Erasmus in 1516. Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, and was martyred on October 6, 1536, for the crime of giving the people the Word of God in their own language. It has been claimed that as much as eighty percent of the King James Bible is taken from the Tyndale Bible, and thus he has been called the Father of the English Bible. The ecclesiastical authorities hated this Bible so much that only a small fragment of the 1525 edition still exists, in the British Museum, and only two copies of the second edition, published in 1533 are known to exist today. All the rest were burned by the ecclesiastical authorities of that dark day.
Myles Coverdale published a work called "The First Complete Bible to be Printed in the English Tongue" in about 1535. This was mostly based on Tyndale's work, with Martin Luther's German translation used for comparison. This work also contains some corruptions from the Latin Vulgate.
In 1537 a Bible was published with a title page suggesting that the translator was Thomas Matthew. The publisher is now known to have been John Rogers, who was an associate of Tyndale, and much of the work had probably been done by Tyndale prior to his death, and the balance was done by John Rogers working from Tyndale's notes. Later editions in 1540 and 1541 contained a preface by Archbishop Cranmer and became know as the Cranmer Bible.
Coverdale revised the Matthew Bible into what became known as the Great Bible, due to its large size (9 by 15 inches). This Bible was used in most Anglican churches from about 1538 until it went out of print in 1569. Ironically, this Great Bible was widely received, while at the same time John Rogers (Thomas Matthews) was imprisoned and later martyred (in 1555). It was through this Matthew's - Cranmer - Great Bible (all of which was just a republication of Tyndale's 1535 edition) that the most influence was exerted on future English versions.
During the reign of Catholic Queen Mary (1553-1558) no Bible was printed in England, but a group of men in Geneva, Switzerland, produced an English version called The Geneva Bible in 1560, with a second edition published in 1562. The New Testament was edited by William Whittingham, who was married to John Calvin's sister. Calvin wrote an introduction to this work. The Geneva Bible was the Bible used by Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, and which was carried to America by the Puritans. Called "The People's Bible", it was pre-eminent among English Bibles for seventy-five years. From 1560 until 1644, 140 editions were published. The first Bible printed in Scotland, and used to start the Scottish Revivals under John Knox, was the Geneva Bible. The verse divisions of Roberre Estienne (also called Robert Stevens and Stefanus), originally employed in his Greek New Testament of 1551, were used in the Geneva Bible.
The popularity of the Geneva Bible motivated the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church of England, after the crowning of Queen Elizabeth, to publish a Bible which could enjoy the authority of the Church of England. Archbishop Parker appointed a committee to work on the new version. This committee was to use the Great Bible as their starting point, and were to compare it to the Greek and Hebrew. Unfortunately, these men were not of the caliber of those who had produced the Geneva Bible. Their finished product was called The Bishop's Bible, and contained very few changes from the earlier work, relying heavily on the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible, which were, of course, the Tyndale Bible published under other names. Nineteen editions were printed from 1568 until 1606.
The next, and last, Bible of real importance was now ready to arrive on the scene, The Authorized Version of 1611, which we have already dealt with. As you can see, the English Bible has been the product of over seven hundred years of preparation, purification, and publication.