Good King Bad King

How Christian was the king whose name is almost always associated with the Bible?

With this article, we begin a new weekly feature from the editor of our sister publication Christian History.

In old westerns, white hats and black hats clearly distinguish the heroes from the villains. But in real life—particularly political life—that distinction is much more difficult to make. How should we evaluate someone whose public accomplishments are coupled with serious personal failings?

Take the famous King James for example. On January 12, 1604, he presided over a meeting at his Hampton Court estate of English bishops and the leaders of the Puritan movement. The purpose of the meeting was to address the Puritans' call for church reforms, as defined in their Millenary Petition (so named because it bore 1,000 signatures). One of their concerns was the need for a new Bible translation, which James, a student of theology himself, promptly approved. "I have never yet seen a Bible well-translated," he said.

Work began in 1607, and the first copy appeared in print in 1611. Though famous as the "Authorized Version," the translation was only authorized by its own title page, which declared it "Appointed to be read in Churches." Its authorization, in a practical sense, was given by the King's Printer, which ceased producing any other version in a large (folio) edition suitable for church use. However, its merit was also a factor: it was a big improvement over the earlier Bishops' and Geneva Bibles, even though it relied on flawed New Testament manuscripts and a hazy comprehension of Hebrew. King James became a hero and we in the United States honor him every time we mention the KJV (it's still called the Authorized Version elsewhere).

But just how honorable was James? Not very. Though he agreed with the Puritans on the Bible ...

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July/August
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