"TRANSLATED OUT OF THE ORIGINAL TONGUES: AND WITH THE FORMER TRANSLATIONS DILIGENTLY COMPARED AND REVISED"
Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, soon to be Archbishop of Canterbury, believed "the kings business required haste". Thus he was exceedingly busy through the summer of 1604 following the Hampton Court Conference. Initially he had opposed John Reynolds proposal for a new English translation, but royal approval sufficed to make Bancroft diligent. It was His Majestys pleasure to engage the most learned men, and letters were sent to such, urging their commitment to the project.
Bancroft was anti-Puritan, and in Elizabeths reign had been relentless in his persecution of Separatists who believed each congregation to be a self-sufficient Church. Many, driven from London, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire, had fled to the Netherlands. They were the spiritual forebears of the Pilgrim Fathers, who, fleeing intolerance and carrying their Geneva Bibles, sailed to America on the Mayflower to found the colony of Massachusetts. And yet, Bancroft set about constructing a team of translators from a spectrum wide enough to embrace moderate Puritans. This is not altogether surprising, for the scholars of Jacobean England formed a relatively small community, and many who had studied together at the Universities remained friends though opposed in their beliefs.
King James was active with Bancroft in formulating rules to be observed by the six Companies of translators, each responsible for a prescribed part of Holy Scripture. Each Company had eight members, giving a total of forty-eight translators. Over the period a number died and were replaced, so that over fifty contributed. The translators were diverse in their ecclesiastical views, but their contributions melded to produce a remarkable result. Two reasons for this may be suggested. First, all believed Scripture to be divinely inspired, making all conscious of their great responsibility. Second the Company structure and rules fostered a spirit of co-operation.
The First Westminster Company was to translate from Genesis to II Kings. Its director was Lancelot Andrewes, Dean of Westminster, and a protagonist for ceremonial in the Church. He was renowned for his eloquence in an age of great preaching, being able to speak for an hour to enraptured congregations on the multiple significances of single words.
The First Cambridge Company was given I Chronicles to Song of Songs. Laurence Chaderton, the leading Puritan at Cambridge and first Master of Emmanuel College was its outstanding member. The college chapel was plainly furnished: a pulpit, a plain table and wooden benches. There were no surplices, or gowns, and no kneeling for the sacrament. The bread and wine were passed from hand to hand by those sitting around the table. Chaderton, a man greatly loved and respected, lived to be over 100 years old.
To the First Oxford Company was assigned the remainder of the Old Testament Isaiah to Malachi. John Reynolds, Master of Corpus Christi, was a leading member but died in 1607. Miles Smith, a strict Calvinist, was another member. He kept no books in his library he had not read, and it was said of him that "he was covetous of nothing but books".
The Second Cambridge Company had responsibility for the Apocrypha (the intertestament books). John Bois was a member who also assisted members of other Companies. Johns father William Bois had been delivered from the yoke of Rome while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early 1550s. During the Marian persecutions, like many others, he fled to Hadleigh in Suffolk. Foxes Book of Martyrs records that Hadleigh then "seemed rather an university of the learned than a town of labouring people". John Bois was of high intellectual ability and a brilliant Greek student at Cambridge.
The Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Revelation were given to the Second Oxford Company of which George Abbot, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Henry Savile were members. Abbots parents had "embraced the truth of the Gospel in King Edwards reign and were persecuted for it in Queen Marys reign". Abbot, a strong Calvinist, supported the idea of bishops, but in what he termed "a superintending pastorate". Savile, a brilliant scholar, mathematician and classicist, was the only translator who had not taken "holy orders".
The Second Westminster Company translated all of the New Testament Epistles. Its Director was William Barlow, Dean of Chester and later Bishop of London. Barlow, an obsequious man, wrote the official record of the Hampton Court Conference.
A copy of the instructions to the Translators is preserved in the University Library in Cambridge. The first rules addressed style and content, e.g. "The Bishops Bible to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the Original will permit". The English translations to be consulted were Tyndales, Matthews, Coverdales, and Geneva. The last of these was generally acknowledged as being superior to the Bishops Bible from which comparatively little phraseology was actually used. The rule that "The old ecclesiastical words to be kept viz. as the word Church not to be translated Congregation & etc." is apparent in the epistles. William Tyndale had translated ecclesia as "congregation". The words "oversight" and "overseer" would later be used in 1 Timothy 3.1 & 2, but "churches" and "bishops" prevailed in 1611. No ground was given, either to Presbyterians or Separatists! Later rules aimed for cohesion in the translation e.g. "every man of each company was to take the same chapters and having translated or amended them severally by himself; all to meet together confer and agree what shall stand", and, "as one company hath despatched a book they shall send it to the rest to be considered seriously and judiciously; for His Majesty is very careful of this point". Finally, "if any company on review of the books so sent really doubt, or differ on any place, to send them word thereof, to note the place, and give their reasons to which if they consent not the difference was to be compounded at the general meeting of the chief persons of each company at the end of the work." In 1689 the historian John Seldon wrote about meetings of the final committee. "The Translators in King Jamess time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue and then they met together, and one read the translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian etc. If they found any fault they spoke; if not he read on." This reading aloud as part of the checking process contributed to the rhythmic readability of the Authorised Version.
The Textus Receptus or Received Text was used in translating the New Testament. This Greek text was largely the work of Erasmus (d. 1536) but the term Received Text was not used until 1633 when an edition of Erasmuss Greek New Testament, with a little revision by Stephanus, was reprinted. This text was used for almost all New Testament translation work until the 1880s. Much scholarship has been devoted to genuine textual criticism as ancient manuscripts have since been discovered, with a view to establishing a more accurate text. It would be unwise for the present writer to exercise himself in great matters, or in things too high for him, but many learned men have expressed their confidence in the Received Text as being fundamentally reliable.
So the materials available to the Translators were the texts of the ancient languages, and the work of former translators. These included the noble and heroic Tyndale, martyred in 1536 because he defied the Pope and the Churchs hierarchy to make the Bible accessible to English readers. He once told a learned man opposed to English translation: "If God spare my life I will cause that a boy that driveth the plough will know more of the Scripture than thou". Tyndales achievements in translation were magnificent, both in their spiritual and literary value. Seventy-five years after his death, his work contributed over eighty per cent of the New Testament and over seventy per cent of the Old in the KJV. The rhythms, vocabulary and cadences of that great translation, its dominance as an English Bible, clearly owe much to Tyndale.
To be continued.