Bible Battles: King James vs. the Puritans

I thought this was an interesting article on the history of the KJV and how it became the “Authorized” version…
Done by the Religious Studies dept of the University of Wyoming.
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http://www.uwyo.edu/news/printrelease.asp?id=17721

Religion Today Column for Week of Oct. 7-13

(Religion Today is contributed by the University of Wyoming’s Religious Studies Program to examine and to promote discussion of religious issues.)

Bible Battles: King James vs. the Puritans

By Paul V.M. Flesher

King James VI of Scotland was raised as a Presbyterian. Even though his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been a Catholic, he was baptized by a Calvinist figure no less prominent than John Knox, sent by John Calvin to Scotland.

You would think that when James ascended to the English throne in 1603 that he would have been sympathetic to the English Puritans, for their beliefs also derived from Calvin and his teachings. Instead, within a year of becoming King James I of England, he initiated a project that would attack the Puritans. This project was a new Bible translation; he called it the Authorized Version, but in America it became known as the King James Version.

Why would a Bible translation have this effect? The answer lies in the character of the national English Church, the Anglicans, which derived from two important events in the 1530s.

First, John Calvin began preaching in Geneva. His increasingly popular ideas argued that all aspects of the Catholic Church had misled Christianity. From its theology and Bible to its hierarchy, ritual and pageantry, the Church needed to be reformed. He left the Catholic Church to form a new one following his teachings.

Second, King Henry VIII of England also broke with the Catholic Church in the 1530s. He was not interested in reform or even in theology; he just wanted a divorce. Since the Pope would not give him one, Henry declared that the English church would become independent, with himself as the Church’s head.

It was not until Queen Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter who ruled from 1558 to 1603, that the Anglican Church underwent reform. Elizabeth set a tone of compromise early in her reign. The English would adopt some of Calvin’s theological positions, but they would keep the hierarchy and much of the ritual. The end result was a church with both Protestant and Catholic characteristics.

While many liked this compromise, there was a growing number who did not. These people became known as the Puritans. They did not like the compromise but wished instead to follow Calvin’s lead in banishing all Catholic elements from the church. They wished to “purify” Anglicanism.

The Puritans had their own Bible translation, the Geneva Bible. Not only was it small, and therefore inexpensive, but it also had extensive notes that explained biblical passages using Puritan theology. Since this Bible was the only book many people owned or read, it was effective in winning people over to Puritan theological beliefs and keeping them there.

Although most of the notes were innocuous or “merely” radical Calvinist theology, other notes argued against current political and religious structures. In particular, Calvinism believed in neither the divine right of kings to rule, a belief strongly promoted by James, nor that the church should be governed by bishops, but rather by presbyters elected by congregations. The former angered the king, while the latter incensed the Anglican hierarchy.

To combat this subversive Bible, James and the bishops decided to create a new Bible translation. James authorized the new translation with a decree that included several guidelines for the translators. The most significant of these was the command to have no notes in the text (apart from short remarks about translation from Hebrew or Greek). This stricture prevented remarks linking the biblical text to unwanted theological perspectives and political positions.

After the King James Version was published in 1611, the Geneva Bible was banned in England. Indeed, James made ownership of it a felony. The King James Bible became the pulpit Bible for Anglicans and inexpensive copies were published for sale to the masses. At first, it was not very popular; several of its early publishers went broke from poor sales.

The King James Version began to gain popularity only when different publishers began to add explanatory notes to the text, in direct opposition to James’ expressed wishes. The KJV became the most popular Bible version in 20th-century America when a set of notes written by Cyrus I. Scofield was added in 1909 and then revised in 1917 into the Scofield Reference Bible. These notes promote the theology of dispensationalism, based in part on Calvinist theology that James rejected, and have helped promote that theology’s popularity, just as the Geneva Bible promoted Puritan theology.

Flesher is director of UW’s Religious Studies Program. Past columns and more information about the program can be found on the Web at http://www.uwyo.edu/relstds.

To comment on this column, visit http://religion-today.blogspot.com. Posted on Wednesday, October 03, 2007

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4 Responses to “Bible Battles: King James vs. the Puritans”

  1. Christian » Bible Battles: King James vs. the Puritans Says:

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe King James Bible became the pulpit Bible for Anglicans and inexpensive copies were published for sale to the masses. At first, it was not very popular; several of its early publishers went broke from poor sales. … […]

  2. joshmitchell Says:

    Dude, can you quote sources for this information? I like bold statements from the past.. but I prefer them to be qualified.. otherwise critical thinkers have to consider that your comments might just be made up slander.

    Thanks mate, josh (www.hallelujah.com.au)

  3. The Reformed Faith Weblog Says:

    Hi Josh,

    Actually, this is reprinted from a press release and the source is stated at the head of the article.

    http://www.uwyo.edu/news/printrelease.asp?id=17721

    I’m sure they have the sources on file. There is also a place to comment on the study at the source – it is at the end of the article.

    Hope that helps…

    Sincerely, Dude (or is it Dudette? Hmmm…)

  4. The Reformed Faith Weblog Says:

    Oh, and in print it is called libel… but I don’t think it would apply since it is based on the history of a something that was published several centuries ago…


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