Which King James Bible?

As we all know, 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (KJB). And what a wonderfully happy birthday it is for a translation with such a distinguished history and influence in the realm of the English speaking world. Now anyone who has been in church circles long enough will have met some very peculiar folks with very strong views about the King James Bible of 1611. What such zealous albeit ignorant chaps don’t know is that the modern KJB is not identical to the 1611 KJB. I’ve always known that this was the case, though I never knew the exact details, but an overview of the diverse KJB editions is conveniently summarized in a short article by Simon Wong, “Which King James Bible Are We Talking About?” Bible Translator 61.1 (2011): 1-11.  Wong states up front that: “The history of the King James Bible in itself tells how a seventeenth-century translation evolved through the hands of its printers and editors, with alterations characterized as genuine correction, modernization (especially orthography), and bona fide but unnecessary textual revision”. A few things to note:

1. The original 1611 translation was not a new translation as much as it was a revision of the Bishop’s Bible (1568) to be informed by other editions such as William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, Whitchurch’s the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.

2. The edition published by the King’s Printer between 1612-17 included various mistakes and changes were made to the text evidenced by the “He Bible” and the “She Bible” (based on use on “he” or “she” in Ruth 3:15).

3.  Printing rights to the KJB shifted from the King’s Printer to the University Presses at Cambridge and Oxford (1629-1760). The Cambridge editions especially modernized spellings and tried to make them more consistent.

4. The development of the Oxford Standard  edition began in 1762-1769 with Benjamin Blayney preparing a collation of the KJB from four editions: the 1611 edition, the Cambridge editions of 1743 and 1760, and Lloyd’s 1701 folio.

5. F.H.A.Scrivener’s The Cambridge Paragraph Bible of the Authorized English Version (1873) offered extensive changes to the KJB text. He used an 1858 Cambridge edition as his base text . Scrivener proceeded to fix errors that escaped Blayney and made several translation corrections. He also italicized the entire Johanneum comma because of its disputed textual nature (1 John 5.7-8).

6. The American Bible Society produced its own editions of the KJB in 1852 and 1861.

So there we are. We have many versions of the King James version! Wong concludes with a quote from David Norton:

The modern KJB is a mutated version of a seventeenth-century text with partially modernised spelling, punctuation and presentation. Some of the mutations are necessary corrections of errors of negligence in the original, some of them deliberate changes made in good faith to improve the text according to the judgment of many successive individuals, individuals who often worked anonymously and even more often left no account of their work. Many o these changes do not stand up to critical examination, and the spelling, punctuation, and presentation are all in acute need of further modernisation.


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