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Origin of the King James Version Bible

Without a doubt, the King James Version has been the most popular version of the Bible throughout the history of the United States. Yes, there are other versions, many versions, but the KJV has been dominant. Most people who use the KJV know that it came from England, and that it was produced during the reign of King James. But why did James want to create a new version? Read on.

As with any subject in history, we have to dig further back than our topic in order to fully understand that topic. King James began his rule of England in 1603, but we need to go further back in order to get the full picture.

The English ruler before James was Elizabeth. She had ruled England since 1558 and died in 1603. When she came to power, England had been torn between a Protestant monarch (Henry VIII and then Edward, who were both Church of England) and a Catholic monarch (After Edward came Mary, who was Catholic). Elizabeth was Protestant and steered the country toward a Church of England-based faith.

Yet Elizabeth’s Church of England still resembled the Catholic Church in many of its practices. Therefore, some wanted to reform or purify the Church of England in order to move further away from Catholicism. These people are generally referred to as Puritans. Yet under Elizabeth’s rule, they were not able to win achieve many of their goals.

Then Elizabeth died and did not leave an heir (she never had children). Her nearest relative, and therefore the next monarch of England, was James VI of Scotland. He accepted the crown and became King James I of England.

Since he did not have the background or baggage of Elizabeth (who witnessed the country going from Church of England to Catholic to Church of England), the Puritans of England might have thought that he would be more likely to listen to their demands. Therefore, a large number of Puritans (perhaps as many as 1000) signed a document called the Millenary Petition and presented it to James while he was on his way from Scotland to England in 1603 to become king; this Petition laid out their wishes for church reform. The King called a conference in January of 1604 to consider the requests.

At that meeting, James refused the Puritan’s requests. He said that he would “make them conform or harry [drive] them out of the land.” Then he went one step further. At that time the Puritans’ favorite Bible translation was the Genevan Bible, which James did not like. Why? It contained notes about verses in the margins which implied that a monarchy was not the best system. (This Bible originated in Geneva, Switzerland, which did not have and did not want a monarchy.) James said that the notes were “very partial, untrue, seditious, savoring too much of traitorous and dangerous conceits.”

Therefore James suggested a new edition of the Bible be produced. While at that meeting, on January 17, 1604 to be exact, the decision was made that “a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant [or accurate] as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek [original copies of the Old and New Testament].”

But that is not the last word. Remember that James did not like the anti-monarchy notes in the Geneva Bible? This new Bible would be “set out and printed, without any marginal notes.” It would later be called the King James Version of the Holy Bible. And his promise to drive rebels out of the land? Sixteen years later some of them left and landed at Plymouth Rock in the new colonies, far away from the English monarchs.

©2008 Mark Nickens