What textual sources did the King James Bible translators use?
From Pastor Terence McLean:
"You may recall mention of the Complutension Polyglot of 1517 and the Antwerp Polyglot of 1572, the writings of Chrysostom (347-407) and a half dozen more familiar translations which were all at the King James translators' disposal: Martin Luther’s German, John Wycliff’s Bible of 1384, William Tyndale’s translation of 1525, Myles Coverdale’s of 1535, John Roger’s Matthew’s translation of 1537, The Great Bible of 1539, Richard Tavener’s of 1539, the Calvinistic Geneva of 1560, and it is critical to point out that they had the Roman Catholic readings found in Vaticanus, Siniaticus, NIV, NASV, TLB, AMP, etc. in that they had the Rheims-Douai of 1582.
Well, if that is too heavy and too technical, you'll just have to get over it: here comes some more
In their production of the King James Bible the translators also used the Soncino Hebrew text of 1488, Bomberg's of 1516, the Rabbinic Bibles of Pratensis of 1517 the ben Chayim of 1525, and the Stephanus of 1539.
Additional Greek texts on their desks were Erasmus of 1516, 1519, 1522, 1527 and 1535, Colineaus 1534; Stephanus 1546, 1549, 1550 and 1535; the Beza of 1565, 1582, 1588 and 1598; the Nurnberg Polyglot 1599; the Syriac of Widmanstadt of 1555 and Tremellius of 1559; the Spanish de Reina 1569 and de Valera of 1602; the French of d'Etaples 1530; Olivetan 1535; the Louvain faculty 1550; the Geneva pastors of 1588; the Italian of Brucioli 1530 and the Diodate 1607. In addition to Luther's German Bible they also had the Zurich 1529, Latin versions of Paginus 1528; Juda 1543; Castalio 1551; Montanus 1572; Tremellius 1579 and of course the Vulgate.
Now: the next time someone says to you that the King James is an English translation of the Textus Receptus Greek you know you are dealing with an argumentative ignoramus who wants you to leave your King James Bible... and end up with no Bible at all… just like James White, Dan Wallace, James Price, Doug Kutilek, Rick Norris, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul and an host of others.
Portions taken from David Cloud’s “History of the English Bible - The King James Bible”
The King James Bible translators as a whole were masters not only of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin but also of all of the cognate or associate languages that are necessary for research into ancient documents relative to the Bible. These include Persian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Chaldee.
They further had the ability to read ancient unprinted manuscript versions of Greek, Latin, German, Italian, and Spanish. It is one thing to read modern German or modern Latin; it is far more difficult to read ancient versions of these languages and to be able to read these in the handwritten manuscripts. These men were accustomed to such research inasmuch as in their day most scholarly resources had not yet been printed and it was common to have to use handwritten manuscripts in the pursuit of ordinary study. The common scholar of that day had a level of expertise in such things that is found only in the most rare of cases today.
Following are some examples of the quality of their scholarship:
Lancelot Andrews had mastered 15 languages.
Miles Smith was expert in Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. These were as familiar to him as his own mother tongue.
Henry Saville was a weighty Greek scholar. He was the first to edit the complete works of Chrysostom. Translators Revived says, “Sir Henry Savile was one of the most profound, exact, and critical scholars of his age.”
John Bois could read the whole Bible in Hebrew at age five.
William Bedwell was the best Arabic scholar of his time.
Edward Livlie, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, was one of the eminent scholars of Hebrew of that day.
Of John Rainolds it was said, “The memory and reading of that man were near to a miracle; and all Europe at the time could not have produced three men superior to Rainolds, Jewell, and Ussher.”
Richard Brett was eminent as a linguist in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, and Ethiopic.
Consider some testimonies to the capability of the KJV translators:
Alexander McClure, author of Translators Revived, 1855: “As to the capability of those men, we may say against that by the good Providence of God, their work was undertaken in a fortunate time. Not only had the English language, that singular compound, then ripened to its full perfection, but the study of Greek, and of the oriental tongues ... had then been carried to a greater extent in England than ever before or since. ... it is confidently expected that the reader of these pages will yield to the conviction, that all the colleges of Great Britain and America, even in this proud day of boastings, could not bring together the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety for the great undertaking. Few indeed are the living names worthy to be enrolled with these mighty men. It would be impossible to convent out of any one Christian denomination, or out of all, a body of translators, on whom the whole Christian community would bestow such confidence as is reposed upon that illustrious company, or who would prove themselves as deserving of such confidence.”
Dean John Burgon, one of the greatest textual scholars of the 19th century: “... the plain fact being that the men of 1611 produced a work of real genius: seizing with generous warmth the meaning and intention of the sacred Writers. ... Verily, those men understood their craft! ‘There were giants in those days.’ ... the Spirit of their God was mightily upon them” (The Revision Revised, 1883, pp. 167, 196).
Edward F. Hills, who had a doctorate in textual criticism from Harvard: “Judged even by modern standards, their knowledge of the biblical languages was second to none” (The King James Version Defended, p. 114).
You can see a list of the KING JAMES’ INSTRUCTIONS TO THE TRANSLATORS here
(Sources: Lewis’ History of the English Bible and The Men Behind the KJV by Gustavus S. Paine).
The following set of “rules” had been prepared on behalf of church and state by Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London and high-church Anglican. “For the better ordering of the proceedings of the translators, his Majesty recommended the following rules to them, to be very carefully observed:--
“1. The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
“2. The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.
“3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.
“4. When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which has been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of the faith.
“5. The division of the chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.
“6. No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text.
“7. Such quotations of places to be marginally set down, as shall serve for the fit references of one scripture to another.
“8. Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter of chapters; and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinks good, all to meet together, to confer what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.
“9. As any one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner, they shall send it to the rest to be considered of seriously and judiciously: for his Majesty is very careful in this point.
“10. If any company, upon the review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any places, and therewithal to send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting, which is to be the chief persons of each company, at the end of the work.
“11. When any place of special obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directly by authority to send to any learned in the land for his judgment in such a place.
“12. Letters to be sent from every bishop to the rest of the clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as being skillful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind, to send their particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford, according as it was directed before the king’s letter to the archbishop.
“13. The directors in each company to be deans of Westminster and Chester, and the king’s professors in Hebrew and Greek in the two universities.
“14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop’s Bible, viz. Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Wilchurch’s,* Geneva.”
*By “Wilchurch” is meant the Great Bible, which was printed by Edward Wilchurch, one of King Henry VIII’s printers.
© 2001 by David W. Daniels
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
or found 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.
More Notes from the Internet
The Text of the Gospels, by James Snapp, June 2012. Mr. Snapp is not KJB only at all.
1. WERE THE COMPILERS OF THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS IN THE 1500’S LIMITED TO A FEW LATE MANUSCRIPTS?
Dr. Wallace gave readers the impression that the KJV was based directly and exclusively on the Greek text edited by Erasmus in the early 1500’s, and that the first edition of Erasmus’ Greek text was a carelessly printed representation of a carelessly compiled text: “the most poorly edited volume in all of literature.” That is not an accurate description. Instead of taking the time to dissect Dr. Wallace’s assertion, though, I wish to stress that no one should imagine that after Erasmus produced his Greek text in 1516, the next important event happened in 1611 when the KJV-translators finished translating it into English. There are other important links in the chain of events that led to the KJV. The Complutensian Polyglot was published in 1520. Robert Estienne (Stephanus) produced editions of the Greek New Testament in the mid-1500’s. Theodore Beza’s second edition of the Greek New Testament was released in 1582. John Calvin’s Harmony of the Three Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke and his Commentary on John, in both of which Calvin addressed some textual variants, were translated into English in 1584.
It is not difficult to see why Dr. Wallace did not mention the Complutensian Polyglot, or the Greek New Testaments produced by Stephanus and Beza. These works were made more carefully than Erasmus’ first edition. Also, it cannot be truthfully stated that these works were made without consulting early manuscripts. Beza used Codex Bezae, which has been assigned a date of c. 400 by text-critic D. C. Parker. Stephanus made annotations about the readings of Codex Regius (L, 019), a Gospels-MS which was produced in the 700’s, and which is ranked by advocates of the Revised Text as one of the most accurate extant copies of the Gospels. Erasmus used Codex 1, which is related to the Gospels-text used by Origen in the first half of the 200’s. When Erasmus visited England, he saw minuscule 69, and noticed some of its readings.
Erasmus also accessed the extensive quotations of the New Testament embedded in many patristic writings, such as Against Heresies, by the second-century bishop Irenaeus. He personally hand-copied some compositions by Jerome, who worked in the late 300’s and early 400’s. And in 1533, a supervisor of the Vatican Library at Rome provided Erasmus with a list of over 300 readings of Codex Vaticanus, the flagship manuscript of the Revised Text.
It would be hard to tell readers that these ancient sources were known to the scholars who compiled the text-base of the KJV, and then expect readers to believe the claim that the KJV was based on a few late manuscripts. So Dr. Wallace decided not to mention those ancient sources.