Who were the Translators of the King James Bible?

Question: Who were the translators of the King James Bible?

Answer: God brought together over 54 of the finest Bible translators English has ever known, to translate the King James Bible.

Researching the Translators
For twenty years (the late 1830s to the late 1850s) researcher Alexander McClure pored over records to learn all he could about who translated the King James Bible. His resulting book, Translators Revived: Biographical Notes on the King James Version Translators, stands as a monument to these dedicated Christian men. It may be read online at www.books.google.com. I highly recommend it.

A Few Short Examples
Here are some of the qualified translators of the King James Bible.

John Harman, M.A., New College, Oxford.
In 1585 he had been appointed King's Professor of Greek. He had published Latin translations of Calvin's and Beza's sermons, and was also adept in Greek. He was a member of the New Testament group that met at Oxford.

John Spencer
At 19 years of age he had been elected Greek lecturer for Corpus Christi College in Oxford University. It was written of him, "Of his eminent scholarship there can be no question." He was a member of the New Testament group (Romans through Jude) that met at Westminster.

Thomas Bilson
McClure wrote that he was "so complete in divinity, so well skilled in languages, so read in the Fathers and Schoolmen, so judicious in making use of his readings, that at length he was found to be no longer a soldier, but commander in chief in the spiritual warfare" (Translators Revived, pp. 214-416).

Dr. George Abbot, B.D., D.D.
Dr. Abbot started at Oxford in 1578, getting his B.D. in 1593 and at 35 years of age both received his doctorate and became first Master of University College, and later Vice Chancellor. He became Bishop of Lichfield in 1609 and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611. He was regarded as "the head of the Puritans within the Church of England." He was in the Oxford New Testament group.

Sir Henry Saville
In 1565 Sir Saville was Fellow of Merton College and Warden in 1585. By 1596 he was Provost of Eton College and tutor to Queen Elizabeth I. He founded the Savillian professorships of Mathematics and Astronomy at Oxford. His many works include an 8-volume set of the writings of Chrysostom.(1) He also worked in the New Testament group at Oxford.

Lancelot Andrewes
From Terence H. Brown, (Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society, London, England) comes this description of Westminster committee member Lancelot Andrewes:

He "... had his early education at Coopers Free School and Merchant Taylors School, where his rapid progress in the study of the ancient languages was brought to the notice of Dr. Watts, the founder of some scholarships at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Andrewes was sent to that College, where he took his B.A. degree and soon afterward was elected Fellow. He then took his Master's degree and began to study divinity and achieved great distinction as a lecturer. He was raised to several positions of influence in the Church of England and distinguished himself as a diligent and excellent preacher, and became Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I. King James I promoted him to be Bishop of Chester in 1605 and also gave him the influential position of Lord Almoner. He later became Bishop of Ely and Privy Counsellor. Toward the end of his life he was made Bishop of Winchester.

"It is recorded that Andrewes was a man of deep piety and that King James had such great respect for him that in his presence he refrained from the levity in which he indulged at other times. A sermon preached at Andrewes' funeral in 1626 paid tribute to his great scholarship:

'His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic, besides fifteen modern languages was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christendom. A great part of five hours every day he spent in prayer, and in his last illness he spent all his time in prayer -- and when both voice and eyes and hands failed in their office, his countenance showed that he still prayed and praised God in his heart, until it pleased God to receive his blessed soul to Himself.'"

Transcending Their Human Limits

Gustavus S. Paine, author of The Men Behind the King James Version, made this assessment about the work of the combined translators:

"Though we may challenge the idea of word-by-word inspiration, we surely must conclude that these were men able, in their profound moods, to transcend their human limits. In their own words, they spake as no other men spake because they were filled with the Holy Ghost. Or, in the clumsier language of our time, they so adjusted themselves to each other and to the work as to achieve a unique coordination and balance, functioning thereafter as an organic entity--no mere mechanism equal to the sum of its parts, but a whole greater than all of them." (2)

While these scholars were perfectly suited for the task of translation individually, they still had to agree on every single word of the Bible. That meant man's mere opinion could not be allowed to stand in the text.

The One Who Started It All

But these translators were standing on the shoulders of great men and Christians who went before them. And one man did more for the English Bible than any single person before or since: William Tyndale. He was ordained a priest around his late teens, in 1502. By 1515 he had earned his M.A. at Oxford and later transferred to Cambridge. It was there that he came upon the preserved Greek New Testament of Erasmus, and at the same time as Martin Luther, he came to understand the truth of the gospel. Tyndale began preaching and teaching the gospel message, which made the Roman Catholics angry with him, branding him a heretic. One day, while proving a "learned" Roman Catholic scholar wrong, the papist cried out, "It were better for us to be without God's laws, than without the Pope's!" To which Tyndale prophetically replied,

"I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than you do!"

This changed Tyndale forever. He wrote about this incident,

"Which thing only moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scriptures were plainly laid before their eyes in the mother tongue" (Translators Revived, p. 23).

Tyndale was well suited to his task. Spalatin, a friend of Martin Luther, wrote this in his diary of what professor Herman Buschius told him about Tyndale and his New Testament:

"The work was translated by an Englishman staying there with two others,--a man so skilled in the seven languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French, that which-ever he spake, you would suppose it his native tongue" (Translators Revived, pp. 27-28)

By the time Tyndale was betrayed by his friend, imprisoned and nearly frozen during a cold winter in his cell, he had translated the New Testament into English, along with some Old Testament books, and had trained at least two others to carry on his work. But he wasn't finished, even when burnt at the stake on October 6, 1536, he cried out prophetically:

"Lord! Open the King of England's eyes" (Dr. William Grady, Final Authority, p. 137)

That very day a copy of Tyndale's New Testament was being printed by the King's own printer!

Tyndale's work of translation was so excellent, that easily 70% of the words of the Bible are Tyndale's. God had set the standard. Over the next century, God's preserved words were translated and revised by many scholars, a great many "good translations." These, along with God's preserved words in Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch and other languages were all "good translations." But the goal of the king's translators of 1604-1611 was not to write a new Bible from scratch, nor was it to make a translation from the Roman Catholic perversions:

"Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one; … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark" (The Translators to the Reader, 1611 KJV, ninth page).

And that is exactly what God did. Throughout history God preserved His words. And, culminating with over 54 dedicated, learned Christian men, God put His words in English in its perfection in one final translation: The King James Bible.

May God bless you as you read His preserved words in English, the King James Bible.

  1. Chrysostom was a 4th century Greek-speaking minister and writer.
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  2. Gustavus Paine, The Men Behind the King James Version, p. 173, quoted in Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version by Thomas Holland, p. 90 (Emphasis mine).
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