Publication of the King James Bible Part 3

About the history of the King James Version of the Bible, how it was published, the translation process, the controversy surrounding it, the Word of God for the common person to read.


WHEN: 1611

James appointed 54 scholars to perform the task, although only 47 actually worked on it. The men were divided into 6 companies, 2 of which were to meet at Oxford, 2 at Cambridge, and 2 at Westminster. The translators were a diverse group. It included professors, preachers, linguists, Bible scholars. One was expert in 15 languages, including Arabic, Persian, and Aramaic. Another had tutored Queen Elizabeth in Greek. Yet another had been able to read the Bible in Hebrew at the age of 6. One was a refugee from Belgium. Another, a drunkard. One, dying from tuberculosis, translated on his deathbed. One more, a widower who died during the project, left behind 11 destitute children.

The years between 1604 and 1607 were apparently spent by the scholars in private study of their assigned sections. From 1607 to 1609 they worked together at their respective places. Then a group of 12 (2 from each of the 6 companies) met at the Stationers' Hall in London to smooth out the translation, before Dr. Miles Smith, a butcher's son who had graduated from Oxford at 19, did the final rewrite with Bishop Thomas Bilson overseeing him. The King's Printer, Robert Barker, who had exclusive rights to the sale of the work, then spent nearly 1 1/2 years printing the new translation.

"THE HOLY BIBLE, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New" bears a publication date of 1611, appearing just 5 years before Shakespeare's death. Because the work was regarded as a revision of the Bishops' Bible, it was not licensed at the Stationers' Company (as all new books were required to be). For this reason no more specific publication date is available than that printed on the title page.

The translation is dedicated to King James, which accounts for its popular title. It is also often referred to as the Authorized Version of the Bible, although there is no available proof that it ever was authorized by either King James of Parliament (the specific evidence, beyond the fact that James endorsed the idea of the translation, may have been destroyed with other records in a 17th-century fire).

Who paid for the work on the King James Version of the Bible? Not King James. On July 31, 1604, he sent a message to all English churchmen, saying that he was unable to pay the translators, and asking that any available Church positions be offered to them. As far as is known, none ever was.

In 1651 a London lawyer, William Ball, indicated for apparently the 1st time that indeed Robert Barker, the King's Printer, had paid 3,500 pounds to the translators. Modern scholars accept this figure, although there is some disagreement as to whether Barker began paying this money in 1607 to all the translators, or in 1609 and only to the 12 revisers plus Smith and Bilson.

It is thought that perhaps as many as 20,000 copies of the 1,500-page work were printed, each of which sold for about 30 shillings. The King James Version of 1611 is often jocularly referred to as the "He" or "She" Bible, because of the misprinting of the word "she" in the Book of Ruth.

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