It was at the Hampton Court Conference that a Puritan, John Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, recommended that a new authorized version of the English Bible be translated from the original languages to please all factions within the church. Remember, the Geneva Bible was the preferred translation of the Puritans, thanks to their sympathy with the Protestant Reformers. The Bishops Bible was the preferred translation of the Bishops of the Church of England. And the Reims-Douai Bible was the preferred translation of those within the English Church who still sympathized with the traditions of Roman Catholicism.
King James immediately pounced on the idea of a new authorized translation of the Bible, seeing it as way to ease tempers and unify the church, whose factions were becoming increasingly hostile to one another over their different and preferred translations of the English Bible. He immediately ordered a new authorized translation, with an accompanying decree that it would “embody the best in the existing versions” and become the new authorized version to “be read both in the public services of the church and in the homes by private individuals.”
By the time King James I ascended the throne of England, the conflict between the Puritans and the English church had reached a fever pitch. In fear that such dissent within the church would soon translate into division within the kingdom, King James called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. Hampton Court was one of the king’s royal residences located near London.
King James called the Hampton Court Conference for political, not religious purposes. He personally felt that trivial things like church doctrine were beneath his royal dignity.
With today’s devotion we will begin to tell the fascinating story of the King James Version of the Bible. As we briefly discussed in a previous devotion, the Church of England or Anglican Church has a sorted spawning. Due to the inability of his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, to give him a son and male heir to his throne, as well as his infatuation with a lovely damsel in his court, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII petitioned Pope Clement VII for anannulment of his marriage to Catherine. When the Pope refused Henry’s request, Henry usurped the supremacy of the Pope over the church inEngland and had himself, the head of the English state, declared the new head of the English church as well. Afterward, he had the priests of England grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. This is the sorted story behind the birth of the Church of England or the Anglican Church.
As one would expect, such a break from the Catholic Church, which had nothing to do with Catholic apostasy, resulted in the baggage of Catholicism’s errant doctrines being carrying over into the Church of England. However, during the reigns of Henry VIII’s son Edward and daughter Elizabeth I, many within the church of England, thanks to the Protestant Reformation, started calling for the purging of Catholic heresy from the English Church. Those calling for such a purifying of the Church of England became known as the Puritans.
Much to the surprise of many people today, the King James Version of the Bible is not the first English translation of the Bible. If you’ll do your arithmetic over our last few devotions on early English translations, you’ll discover that the King James Version is not the first, but the tenth English translation.
The first was Wycliffe’s translation in 1384.
The second was Tyndale’s translation in 1525.
The third was Coverdale’s translation in 1535.
The fourth was Matthews translation in 1537.
The fifth was Taverner’s Bible in 1539.
The sixth was the Great Bible in 1539.
The seventh was the Geneva Bible in 1560.
The eighth was the Bishops Bible in 1568.
The ninth was the Reims-Douai Bible in 1610.
And the tenth was the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.
All of these earlier English translations of the Bible were eventually to be overshadowed by the publication of the most popular English translation of the Bible ever published—the King James Version. Published in 1611, the King James Version of the Bible was destined to become the world’s most popular English translation of the Bible. To date, more than 6 billion copies have been published, making it not only the world’s best-selling Bible translation, but also the best-selling book in world history.
The Roman Catholic Reims-Douai Bible was issued in 1610. It was an English translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate intended to defend Roman Catholicism against the onslaught of the Protestant Reformation. It was called the Reims-Douai Bible because it was translated by translators from the English College of Douai and its New Testament was initially published in Reims, France.
The Bishops’ Bible, issued in 1568, was an English translation of the Bible called for by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, to counter the Calvinism of the Geneva Bible, which was found mostly in the notes of the Geneva Bible, not in the translation itself. It is called the Bishops’ Bible because it was translated by Bishops of the Church of England. It became the authorized English translation of the Church of England and replaced the Great Bible as the authorized version to be read in English churches.
Of all the 16th century English translations of the Bible the most popular by far was the 1560 Geneva Bible, so called because it was printed in Geneva Switzerland. Geneva was an important center of the Protestant Reformation, being the city of both John Calvin and John Knox. The Geneva Bible was published in legible type, a convenient size, and with accompanying commentary; it, therefore, became the Bible of the English household.
Once Coverdale’s translation, the first complete Bible printed in English came off the press and began to be circulated in 1535, other English translations began to appear as well. Matthews Bible was issued in 1537. Taverner’s Bible was issued in 1539. Also issued in 1539 was the Great Bible, which was edited by Miles Coverdale and the first English translation of the Bible ever authorized to be read in the churches. Every church in England was furnished with a copy of the Great Bible.
Interestingly, many English pastors opposed the Great Bible, complaining that their congregations were reading the Bible rather than listening to their sermons. I suspect many modern-day pastors would complain too if there were more Bible readers in their churches. Unfortunately, most churchgoers today are biblical illiterates who know no more about the Christian Faith than what they’ve heard in their pastor’s sermons, having never personally bothered to study the Scriptures for themselves.
According to Acts 17:11, the Christians in Berea “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” If the Bereans felt the need to check out the Apostle Paul’s sermons with the Scripture, how much more do you need to check out your pastor’s sermons with the Scripture? Are you, like the Bereans, a noble believer, or one who doesn’t bother to study the Scripture for yourself, but simply takes for granted that whatever your pastor says in a sermon is scriptural?
The completion of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English, as well as the completion of the English translation of the whole Bible from the original languages, was finally accomplished by Miles Coverdale. Coverdale was not the scholar Tyndale was, but he was a man, like Tyndale, whose great ambition in life was to provide the people of England with an English translation of the Bible from the original languages. Coverdale’s translation was the first complete Bible printed in English.