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Where the Word of A King is Part III

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

The facts on this original are scant but sufficient to establish it as bona fide. Before we get to the actual historical references to this manuscript let’s use a little common sense. How do you think the translators conveyed their work to the printer? They didn’t have computers or email. They certainly didn’t memorize it and chant it to eager printer’s apprentices who hastily set blocks of type. You can be sure that the King James translators put their work on paper just like every other historical work at the time. The American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Mayflower Compact and all other documents written before the invention of the typewriter were handwritten. We have those handwritten documents but very few people have ever seen the handwritten originals of any major historical document. What they have seen are printers’ renditions of those original historical documents. We are spoiled because of the general excellence of that printing and the reassurance that we can travel at any time to a museum and look at the handwritten original. What distinguishes the King James Bible from the aforementioned documents is that those documents are relatively short and take only a few typewritten pages. The King James Bible takes close to 2000 pages. We still have the handwritten originals of those other documents but we do not have the handwritten original of the King James Bible.

In Anthony Walker’s Life of John Bois he recounts this story about Dr. Bois’ work as a translator of the King James Bible.

“Four years he spent in this service, at the end thereof (the whole work being finished, and three copies of the whole Bible being sent to London, one from Cambridge, a second from Oxford, and a third from Westminster), a new choice was made of six in all, two out of each company, to review the whole work, and extract one out of all the three, to be committed to the press.”[1]

In this extract written by a friend of John Bois we learn that three different manuscripts were sent to London by each respective committee. Each of those manuscripts was a final draft of the complete bible as envisioned by one of the committees. The six men who gathered were to examine each of the three proposed final texts and to extract one text from the three. They had to go over every single word, verse and note. They had to go over each of the three manuscripts and come to a common agreement every place the three manuscripts differed. In doing so they created a new manuscript. You can be sure this was a handwritten document. It is this handwritten document that was committed to the printer.

There are a few historical documents that speak of this document. In a public dispute between two printers about the legal authority to print the bible, a tract written in 1655 by William Ball asserted that Matthew Barker had the sole right to print the King James Bible because Matthew’s father Robert Barker had paid £3500 for the translated copy. Part of the history of the King James Bible concerns a series of law suits over the right to be the king’s printer. In one long protracted law suit the actual manuscript is mentioned as having been apprized and delivered to the plaintiff.[2]

This is where Henry VIII’s charter to the universities became the critical instrument to transmit a perfect bible to us in the 21st century. The English Constitution differs from the American Constitution in that the American Constitution is a fixed document written on paper. The English Constitution is equally fixed, but it exists in precedents established over time and by court rulings upon those precedents. When Henry VIII granted the 1534 charter to the Universities there was no power to revoke that charter without an outright act of Parliament. In 1628 Charles I ratified that charter. Charles I unlike his father James I was a thoroughly English King. He thrived on precedents. He used them in lieu of taxes to collect fees and to bypass parliament. Even though this rediscovered right of the universities to print bibles would undercut the monopoly power and revenue of the king’s printer, Charles I was too English to stand against a legal precedent. He also had his own selfish reasons to exalt precedent.

Two tremendous factors were introduced to the printing of bibles by the entrance of the universities into the printing process. Profit was no longer the only consideration in printing. We will see that profit drove innovation and competition between Oxford and Cambridge, and we will see that the word of God flourished under the competing spirit between the universities, but no longer was profit the only motive. The universities also printed the bible for the love of the word of God itself and for the love of scholarship. The universities were not bound to depend upon Barker’s original manuscript. It appears that the universities could bring the notes and even drafts of the original translators to bear on their work. As university printers held Barker’s work in their hands and sought to print their own bibles, they could glean through the notes of the translators who in many cases were still living, and they could peer at the drafts that the various committees had held in their hands. There can be little doubt that the universities were in possession of drafts and probably held duplicate manuscripts to what Barker had purchased.

We must ask ourselves at this point; considering that the original handwritten manuscript of the King James Bible sold for £3500 in a time when a family earning £30 a year could live quite comfortably, would the heads of the three committees or the individual translators just have burned or lightly discarded their copies of their work? As I have compared various printings of the King James Bible throughout the centuries it has grown on me that there is another element working in the process. It is difficult to dismiss the prospect that the editors from the universities brought their internal notes to bear on the process. It would appear that at least until 1762, Cambridge University possessed and used materials ascribable to the translators themselves. It is also quite possible that the 1679 Oxford printing through to the Bishop Lloyd Bible of 1701 also leaned on relics from the translators. In my comparisons of the individual printed versions I have not spent any detailed time comparing the Oxford printings from the 17th century to look for clues as to whether they used original notes or drafts to proof their work. Perhaps some other interested researcher will tackle that. What I have seen is clear evidence that the Cambridge editors reached beyond existing printed bibles as they sought to clarify the printed King James Bible and edit out printing errors that had crept in over the years.

It is here that I diverge from some of the other historians who write about this subject. Whenever a new reading pops up in a printing of the King James Bible that appears different than its first printing, many of my contemporaries ascribe this reading to a retranslation by the editor. In that no mainstream editor in the succession of university printed bibles has ever claimed the authority to retranslate or has ever claimed that he did, why must we automatically call every new reading a retranslation? I refuse to do so. It is far more plausible that those same editors crosschecked doubtful passages against an authentic passage preserved in a translator’s handwriting than that they arbitrarily changed wording.

The information concerning the translators’ methods is extremely scarce. Every book I read on the subject seems to hearken back to the same few facts that we know. Modern writers are forced to read behind Scrivener’s introduction to the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873. Scrivener had done his homework and appears to have brought us every relevant scrap of information known at that time. This introduction is printed today under the title The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1611)[3] , a book which was already quoted once in this chapter. Scant else has been discovered other than a couple of leaves of what is called Bois Notes. Bois notes were an exciting discovery made in the 1950s. It has long been known that the king’s printer had given the translators 40 non-bound copies of the Bishops’ Bible in which they could put notes in the margins as they worked. Two of those leaves have surfaced. They provide a snapshot of one translator’s thinking at one stage of the process. What is clear from looking at the historical evidence is that there is very little historical evidence. However, there is evidence that at one time far more material existed and many researchers hold forth hope that other scraps of history will be found.

We are going to look at just one minor change that appeared in the 1762 Parris Bible printed by Cambridge University. In the history of the King James Bible’s purification, Parris’s bible ranks as one of the seven principal stepping stones. In the 1740’s Cambridge Printers hired F.S. Parris to proofread a major new edition of the bible that was to be printed by the auspices of the Syndics of Cambridge University itself rather than being a private venture of the University printer. That bible was released in 1743. For the next 20 years Parris in conjunction with Henry Therond of Trinity College was to devote extensive time in editing the text of the bible and then release it in the 1762 version of the bible known as the Parris Bible of 1762.[4]

That bible marked a significant advancement in the printing of the bible. The emphasis was now being placed as much on a pure text as on the mechanics of printing. In 1638 Cambridge had printed a bible that appeared to have given much effort to its editing process, but that bible still used the old gothic fonts, still retained 17th century spelling and punctuation, and though that bible became a standard for purity, and by its purity suggests that it relied on the translators’ notes to correct many of Mr. Barker’s errors, some of Mr. Barker’s misprints were carried over. It was not a remake of the King James Bible from an original manuscript, but a careful editing that apparently used original materials in possession of the university.

Even though Cambridge had cleaned up Mr. Barker’s sloppy printing work when they released their 1638 edition, they found themselves shut out of the bible market. McKitterick tells us that, “No Bible was printed at Cambridge between 1683 and 1743.”[5] During this time bible printing was dominated by John Baskett. Baskett had come close to monopolizing the bible printing business through contracts with Oxford and the London printing houses. His only viable competition was from Dutch printing houses that had long flooded the English market with cheap bibles. For a variety of reasons that ranged from cheaper transportation by water as compared to Cambridge’s travel to London by road, to advantageous contracts with the various guilds, Cambridge was effectively shut out of the bible market.

In 1762 Cambridge made a major step in breaking Oxford’s stranglehold on English bible printing. Oxford’s advantage through transport and the guilds seemed unassailable, therefore Cambridge reached into the very fabric of the bible in updating the spelling, the punctuation and the font. The 1762 Parris Bible is a landmark improvement in bible printing. From that point on the modern bible was printed in England. A person picking up a 1762 Cambridge Bible would find it far more in line with a 21st century bible than with a 1611 original. Cambridge published two bibles that year, the original Parris Bible and later that year a second edition appeared which edited out even more printing errors. Oxford knew they were in trouble and reacted quickly. No one holding a Cambridge Bible would ever want to go back to the old format and the Oxford printers knew it. Oxford’s primary reason for hiring Benjamin Blaney to edit their bible which was released in 1769 was economic. They had lost a virtual monopoly.

The Parris Bible of 1762 is rare today. Most of the copies were destroyed in a warehouse fire, and once the Clarendon Press (Oxford’s printing arm) had released the 1769 Blaney edition Oxford’s former advantages of transport, supply and labor came back into play. As a result Parris’s work has received only minor scrutiny. Because Parris’s work is the first major editing work done to the King James Bible after the death of the translators and because it was one of the three legs that Benjamin Blaney acknowledged to have stood upon in editing and preparing his edition which reigned until the late 19th century, it bears closer examination.

We have no surviving explanation as to what guided Parris’s work, there is absolutely zero references as to whether he retranslated at will, collated existing manuscripts, had access to handwritten original papers or perhaps all three. What we do have are a small number of his bibles which have survived. We can read them and compare his work against other important editions such as the 1611 or the 1638. We also have Dr. Benjamin Blaney’s explanation that Paris’s work was so important that it was to serve as one leg of three legs that were to make up the 1769 Blaney Bible that dominated the printing world from 1769 to 1894. Blaney told us that his instructions were to collate the 1611 bible, the Bishop Lloyd’s Bible of 1701 and the Paris Bible. To get a closer look at Parris’s work we will look at just one little word that Paris changed.

Before we do this, I will make a point. Paris published in 1762 and it can be expected that he started his work 6 or 7 years earlier. That means that he started his work about 120 years after Cambridge released the 1638 bible with the help of at least two translators. That 1638 bible was to set the gold standard for printing for many years. In that Paris was operating out of Cambridge, and 120 years had elapsed since their last great work, and about a century had passed since the translators had died, what could he expect to find lying around? It seems certain that he had Cambridge’s blessing to do this work since they readily printed his bible and ceased printing the 1638 edition. Just how much old and original material would he have been likely to have found in the early to mid-1700s?

Compare this to the Black Creek Baptist Church in Black Creek, NY where I am the pastor. The church has existed since 1822 in one form or another. It was a Presbyterian church from 1822 to 1837. It was a Congregational Church from 1837 to 1950. It was an independent church from 1850 to 1980. In 1980 it began calling itself Baptist. The current building was built in 1898 after a fire that destroyed the original building. The surrounding area has shrunk. The remnants of sidewalks are crumbled and grown over. There are railroad beds with no tracks left in them and there is an abandoned canal. Despite the fire, years of neglect, sundry pastors of various stripes and long lapses of memory from one generation to another, I have found an amazing assortment of historical tidbits. I have found the church’s temperance pledge from 1840. I have found the notation from April of 1861 where the church heeded the president of the United States’ admonition to set apart a day for fasting and prayer. I have found the handwritten record of when a young RA Torrey spent 6 weeks as an interim pastor in 1879 “administering the sacraments among us”. I have found a grocer’s bill from 1886 from a grocery store in Rochester, New York where the church had purchased candy and berries. I have found a list of items purchased from Rinker’s Hardware in Cuba, NY detailing the material used in building the parsonage in 1882. I have found the original handwritten church covenant from 1822. I have found the exact accounting for the building of our present sanctuary in 1898. I have found the letters that came with every single donation made 1n 1897 and 1898 as the church raised money to rebuild. I have a promissory note hand written in 1748 acknowledging George II of England to be the sovereign king of England as two men engaged in lending and borrowing money.

Much of this was found in haphazard places. A drawer might contain a children’s program from 1970, a Sunday school register from 1950, 30 brochures for summer camps covering 30 years of time, someone’s hand written notes from a recent meeting, and suddenly yield a handwritten document that is over 175 years old. The old document dating to 1748 was found in an old magazine. 120 years is not that great a period of time. It is not difficult for me to believe that in a place as organized as Cambridge University that Dr. Paris had access to many handwritten and priceless artifacts. Certainly, whatever existed in the mid 1750s would have been at the disposal of the man Cambridge trusted to modernize the spelling and punctuation. If the Black Creek Baptist church could yield such dainties after 120 years, what could Cambridge have yielded? We will probably never know. We can only look at the finished result and speculate. I say all of this only to make the point that if studying Paris’s work, we find evidence that he had access to original documents, it is no farfetched contrivance.

[1] Scrivener, FHA. The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1611) Reprint of the Introduction to the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873. Published by WIPF and Stock Publishers of Eugene Oregon

[2] AS Herbert, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961 (London, Eng: The British and Foreign Bible Society and New York, NY: The American Bible Society, 1968), 132

[3] Scrivener

[4] David McKitterick, A History of Cambridge University Press Volume 2 (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press,1998), 183

[5] Ibid. 176

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