Still the most venerable version of the Bible is the one prefaced by a panegyric to a king. And what a king! He appears like “the Sun in his strength,” dispels darkness, brings blessing, peace, and true happiness. He zealously defends the faith, stoutly attacks the Man of Sin, talks religion in the home, goes often to church, encourages teachers of the Word, and is divinely endowed with “many singular and extraordinary graces.” The king was James I of Great Britain and Ireland (James VI in Scotland), who died 350 years ago this month. The occasion was the publication in 1611 of the version of the Bible that bears his name. And the eulogy was largely undeserved. Inerrancy has nothing to do with the dedication prefaced to the KJV, which provides no identifiable description of the very fallible Scot referred to at the French court as “the wisest fool in Christendom.”

His early circumstances make pitiable reading; here was a truly deprived child. Son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her ill-fated second husband Lord Darnley (who was to die violently within the year), James was born in 1566. The Reformation had come to Scotland six years earlier, making precarious the Catholic Mary’s tenure of the throne—a position further jeopardized by fatal character flaws. James had barely begun his second year when he was proclaimed king by Protestant lords who forced his mother to abdicate. She left Scotland in 1568; he was never to see her again. His minority was marked by bitter struggles for possession of the bewildered boy, who was meanwhile educated in the classical manner by George Buchanan and Peter Young and well schooled in the Reformed faith.

James neither forgot nor forgave the strict regime to which he was subjected, and soon decided ...

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