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The 1638 Cambridge Bible

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

One of the great and notable improvements made in this version was the use of italics. Italics are an added burden to a printer. Not only does the printer need to correctly spell each word but he has to print certain words in italics. One of the tasks involved with printing is proof reading. The first page printed from a tray of letters should be carefully scrutinized to make sure that every word was correct. Normally this was a fairly straight forward operation in which the proof reader would read a page and make sure that every word on the page was in its proper place and spelled properly.

As long as the reader could coherently read the verse and as long as it read like the original copy that he held, he would approve of the page and allow mass printing to take place. Because that in the first 27 years of printing, italics had not been carefully scrutinized and rarely printed properly, the 1638 editors had a very difficult task in front of them. Not only did they need to keep each word correct and in order, but they had to pay attention to whether a particular word was italicized or not.

Italics were used to alert a bible reader that the word he was reading was not in the original language. By italicizing a word the translators had shown that the word in question was a word supplied by the translators. If I were to write a command, I might say, "Go to the store." In English a command does not need to have a subject because it is understood that the subject of the sentence is "you". We don't have to write or say "You go to the store." Just saying, "go to the store" conveys the message. However, if I was translating that sentence into another language or explaining it in another context, it is perfectly acceptable for me to quote that sentence as "you go to the store". Notice that by putting the word "you" in italics the reader is alerted to the fact that it is a supplied word to render the sentence more understandable. The King James translators had been commanded to render all such supplied words in italics. Paying attention to the need for italics and the task of printing a bible with italics in every place that the translators had meant them was no small task. It had been sorely neglected in previous editions.

There were corrections made to the text in this edition. For 27 years Matthew 23:12 had read, Is this the son of David? The editors of this fine edition had noticed the error and corrected it to, Is this not the son of David? This illustrates another problem that pops up in proof reading. When the text that a proof reader reads makes sense to him he is often fooled into accepting an erroneous reading. Imagine yourself sitting on a three legged stool in a poorly lit print shop reading over a sheet freshly handed to you. If that sheet had said, Is this the son of Davvidd? The error would have jumped out at you. Instead, the error seemed to read smoothly and so depending on just how tired you were, or how much pressure you were under to hurry, you might not see that the word "Not" was missing.

The 1638 Cambridge Bible became the standard by which all bibles were judged. Its level of editing and proof reading were far and above anything known to that date. There were errors. They were errors that passed by a proof reader because they were just one letter being changed that still made sense in the context.

One of those errors was Acts 6:3 in which the apostles command the church to seek out men to be deacons, whom ye may appoint. You will notice that the proper reading is whom we may appoint. A "we" was changed to a "ye". That may seem like small stuff, but in the English Civil war men were to die to establish who had the authority to appoint deacons. A legend went about that Oliver Cromwell had paid 1000 Pounds to get the editors to slip in that change. Another famous error is I Timothy 4:16 in which Paul says, take heed to thy doctrine instead of take heed to the doctrine. That last error actually first shows up in the 1629 edition but the editors let it slip by again in the 1638.

All in all, the 1638 is noted for its lack of misprints and errors. It is noted for its excellent printing and for the meticulous detail it paid to italics. It was a labor of love and should be regarded as the second purification of the English text. It is still not perfect and it is encumbered by its use of 17th century rules for punctuation and spelling.The 1638 Cambridge also utilized the Roman Font that is far more readable, but it still retains the frustrating gothic "s"s that look so much like "f"s to the modern eye. However as was noted in my previous post, England thrived under its reign.

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