Reading about the KJB

I am preparing to give a couple of lectures on the King James Bible. It is a fabulous history. Of course, not everyone appreciated reading it. When it was read by Hugh Broughton (1549–1612)—possibly the most distinguished Hebraist in Europe and who expected to have been among the translators of the King James Bible, but was passed over, probably because of his combative spirit and violent temper—his response was blistering. In an eight-page diatribe, he said: “The late Bible…was sent to me to censure: which bred in me a sadness that will grieve me while I breathe. It is so ill done. …I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches. …The new edition crosseth me, I require it be burnt.” [A Censure of the late translation for our Churches ([Middleburg: R. Schilders, 1611?]), [1, 3].]

Thankfully, it was not burnt and the King James Bible became the central vehicle of biblical knowledge for generations of our Christian forebears. If you want to read more about this most influential of versions, it is probably best to start with the important selection of the prefaces of the various Bibles of the Tudor era and that of the King James Bible in Gerald Bray, Translating the Bible from William Tyndale to King James (London: The Latimer Trust, 2010). This will tell you what motivated the men who translated these various Bibles of the sixteenth century as well as the King James Bible.

Then, there are various studies of the specific history leading up to the King James Bible and its subsequent influence. Among the best and most recent of these are Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001); Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2003); Derek Wilson, The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2010); Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611–2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Leland Ryken, The Legacy of the King James Bible. Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011).

There is, of course, the massive 900-page work of David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2003). Daniell is the leading authority on the life and work of William Tyndale, and while he loves Tyndale, he is somewhat critical of the King James Bible as a translation.