Updated: Feb 14
In order to understand how the King James Bible of 1611 with its thousands of misprints, gothic font, old style spelling along with its old style rules for punctuation and capitalization became the book we know today, I want my readers to reflect on the role of kings. I know of no other bible throughout history or throughout the nations and tongues of the world that is named for a king. Likewise I know of no other bible which has been so successful or widely accepted for so many centuries as the King James Bible. We will look at the role of two Kings in both its inception and in its slow road to the standard of purity that we know today.
Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Ecc. 8:4
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites, Deu. 17:18.
James the 1st for all of his faults and virtues, and he had many of both, did one thing very well. He used his power as a king to have one more translation made into English. Unlike other translations, in the dedicatory the translators were to call this one a perfect translation. I am more than a little familiar with the history of England and quite familiar with the lives of many of its kings. I know of no other king who upon ascending to the throne commissioned a copy of the word of God to be produced as James did. In my understanding and knowledge of the history of Christian nations which is not small, I know of no other people who were impelled by their king to set forth a translation of the word of God as a national project.
We will see that it was James who put his name to the English Bible, but surprisingly it was a decree of Henry VIII that kept the King James Bible from eventually fading into obscurity as the translations of so many other languages eventually did. Within a decade and a half of the first printing of the KJV it became endangered from two sources. Barker, the King's printer was perpetually in debt and perpetually ran off shoddy and ill edited bibles. Also, the Dutch flooded the English market with cheap and illegal knock offs that threatened to make English printing unprofitable.
As profits shrank, the will and finances to insure accuracy also shrank. There are some pretty deplorable bibles out there that were printed by Barker at that period of time. He was sued often and excerpts of the court cases can be found in Scrivener's writings. (The Authorized Edition Of The English Bible (1611) Its Subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives) Scrivener tells us of court cases where entire sections of the bible were so horribly scrambled that they were partly composed of the old Bishops Bible. Some were hastily put on the market incomplete. Eventually Barker's fines for shoddy editing and printing were so great that he died in debtors prison unable to pay them.
Fortunately for England, a century earlier Henry VIII had made a decree that the English Universities had the right to print the word of God. This decree saved the King James Bible. Oxford and Cambridge fought to have this prerogative recognized by the current king, Charles I. Charles was convinced and issued his own license to the Universities to print the word of God. In order to trace the editing and updating of spelling, punctuation and capitalization that we have today, we will need to follow the path of the King James Bible in the hands of those following the biblical pattern of the king's commands.