The Original Manuscript

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

I want to make a couple of observations about the original King James Bible. No living person has ever seen it. The original King James Bible was a handwritten manuscript purchased by Robert Barker for 3500 English Pounds. To get an idea of what 3500 pounds was worth keep in mind that when George Abbot, one of the translators for the King James Bible accidentally killed a man, he compensated that man's widow handsomely by settling 30 pounds per year upon her. Barker paid an enormous sum of money for that original manuscript. That manuscript was the subject of court battles in those days therefore its existence is well documented in history. That manuscript was the result of a conference of representatives of the four translating committees. Its final editing and probably its handwriting were done by Miles Smith.

I personally have no doubts that it was what the translators called it, a perfect translation. There are no historical references of it after the great London fire of 1666. It probably was burnt. Since that time editors of the King James Bible have relied on eye witness reports of what it said and what copies were extant in the files of the translators themselves. A good case can be made that Cambridge had copies of that manuscript in one form or another until at least the early 1760's. The best way of knowing what that manuscript actually looked like is to examine the bibles printed by men who saw it. The first such printing was done in 1611.

If you have an original printing of the King James Bible or one of its facsimiles you have one of the worst printing jobs ever. Eventually Barker would go to jail over his sloppy printing and he was sued in court many times over it. In 1611 Barker printed two different copies, one complete bible and a New Testament. They do not agree. The most common estimate for how many individual pieces of type had to be put in place by hand to print the 1611 is 5,000,000. Many errors were made in typesetting. Barker was immediately in debt upon purchasing the manuscript and hastily churned out editions to recoup his money.

He was not careful. An original printing of that manuscript and the original manuscript are two different things. To hold an original printed edition of the King James Bible or its facsimile is to hold a book with an estimated 5000 errors. Each subsequent printing done by Mr. Barker tended to add errors. That fact will become important when we later examine the 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible edited by Scrivener. Scrivener mistook each of those changes for corrections assuming that Barker operated like a printer would in the mid 1800's. As a result his Paragraph Bible and his published tables of changes are erroneous. It is unfortunate that certain fundamental printers are reprinting that bible. It is a forerunner to the RSV. For example it puts I John 5:8 in italics as if it had no manuscript justification. In my upcoming posts I hope to familiarize my readers with the seven editings of the King James Bible that purified it in a furnace of earth until by its seventh editing when it had been restored to the purity of the handwritten manuscript.

Please feel free to ask questions or to make comments.


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