The King James Bible
The commissioning of the King James Bible took place in 1604. However, very few people know the true story behind the creation of this Bible translation.
In 1604 England, the country was shocked by the death of Queen Elizabeth. Scotland's James VI succeeded her, thus becoming James I of England. Because James had been raised under Presbyterian influences, the Puritans had reason to expect that James would push for their reformation efforts. They were gravely mistaken.
James was acquainted with many of their kind in Scotland, and he did not like them. Because the Puritans were powerful, and James wanted unity and stability in the church and state, he had to listen to them. There were 2 powerful groups struggling for power. There were the Papists who longed for the English church to return to the Roman fold. And, the Puritans, who insisted that England's Reformation did not go far enough, because it still retained too many Catholic elements. Then there was Parliament -- eager to expand its power beyond the role it had at the time. There was a significant Puritan influence and representation in the Parliament.
James received word of his cousin Elizabeth's death and his appointment to the throne, and on April 5, he began his journey from Edinburgh to London for his coronation. A delegation of Puritans presented James a petition that outlined their grievances and the reforms they desired. The document was known as the Millenary Petition. This petition was the catalyst for the Hampton Court Conference. However, the Millenary Petition contains no mention at all of a new Bible translation.
James took the petition seriously enough to call for a conference. The participants in the conference were the king, his Privy Council of advisors, nine bishops and deans and, four moderate representatives of the Puritan cause, the most prominent being Dr. John Reynolds, head of Corpus Christi College.
On the second day, the four Puritans were allowed to join the meeting. John Reynolds took the lead on their behalf and raised the question of church government. However, any chance of his being heard was lost by one unintended reference.
Reynolds posed his question this way: "Why shouldn't the bishops govern jointly with a presbyterie of their brethren, the pastors and ministers of the Church."
The word presbyterie was like waving a red flag before a bull. The king exploded in reply: "If you aim at a Scots Presbyterie, it agreeth as well with monarchy as God and the devil! Then Jack, and Tom, and Will, and Dick shall meet and censure me and my council." He then uttered what can be considered his defining motto and summary: "No bishop, no King!"
While Reynolds' unfortunate use of the term presbyterie damaged the Puritan case, he does get credit for proposing the most significant achievement of the conference. Reynolds "moved his majesty that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reign of King Henry VIII and King Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original." James warmed to a new translation because he despised the then popular Geneva Bible. He was bothered more by its sometimes borderline revolutionary marginal notes than by the actual quality of the translation.
So James ordered a new translation. It was to be accurate and true to the originals. He appointed fifty of the nation's finest language scholars and approved rules for carefully checking the results.
James also wanted a popular translation. He insisted that the translation use old familiar terms and names and be readable in the idiom of the day.
It was made clear that James wanted no biased notes affixed to the translation, as in the Geneva Bible. Rule #6 stated: "No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words." Also, James was looking for a single translation that the whole nation could rely on "To be read in the whole Church," as he phrased it.
He decreed that special pains be "taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority...."
The final product was the first bible translation intended primarily for public and popular consumption. It was to be read orally -- intended more to be heard in public than to be read in private.