A Translation Fit For A King

In the beginning, the King James Version was an attempt to thwart liberty. In the end, it promoted liberty
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The King James version of the Bible was a failure—at least when measured against the purposes of King James himself. According to Alister McGrath, James wanted to "destroy, discredit, or displace" the most popular Bible of his time because it promoted anti-monarchist sentiments. The Geneva Bible, as it was called, also betrayed the translators' hatred for hierarchical forms of church life, and James knew he needed England's bishops to stabilize his rule.

In one of history's great ironies, however, the rise of the King James Version would seriously undermine both kings and bishops and lay the foundation for modern constitutional democracies. Without your KJV, historically speaking, you probably wouldn't have your vote.

Two books published earlier this year tell the story of how the Bible came to be "Englished." Alister McGrath's In the Beginning (Oxford) focuses more narrowly on the King James Version, including rare bits of documentation on the translators' work, the specifics of the printing, and the archaic English retained from earlier versions. Benson Bobrick's less detailed but more entertaining Wide as the Waters (Simon & Schuster) tells the story of how translators liberated God's Word from clerical control, beginning in the 14th century.

When she lay dying in March 1603, England's Queen Elizabeth named her cousin, James VI of Scotland, as her successor. As he traveled south to claim the English crown, James was met by Puritan ministers who presented him with a petition bearing over a thousand signatures, demanding that he purge the Church of England of unbiblical practices ("human rites and ceremonies") and address their detailed concerns either in writing or in a "conference of the learned."

He granted them a ...

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