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Where the Word of a King Is Part IV

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

I pursued one word that had been changed by Dr. Paris to see if I could shed any light on why he had changed that word. The first thing that I did was to look at all the representative bibles published by reputable publishers prior to Dr. Paris’s work. Dr. Paris changed the word “of” to the word “on”. The passage is in Isaiah 44:20, He feedeth on ashes. From 1611 to 1762 all bibles read, He feedeth of ashes. Dr. Paris changed the word “of” to “on”. Why? Dr David Norton in his book, A Textual History of the King James Bible merely chalks up the change to Paris arbitrarily changing words and the order of words as he saw fit.[1] Such an explanation fits well with a man such as Dr. Norton who saw fit to modify the King James Bible as he saw fit. If you believe that the King James Bible is inspired then you are forced to either believe that Paris was in on that inspiration, or that Paris merely corrected a printer’s defect. If Paris did correct a printer’s defect there is no visible mechanism by which he did it. In most printing errors the verse either doesn’t make sense or is grossly misspelled. That is easy to spot. In some the verse makes sense either way. An editor is forced to backtrack and look at previous printings to find out which one was first and had the best supporting history. Here is a case where the verse written either way reads perfectly well other than one rendition being archaic. There is no history of it ever having been printed any other way. By what authority did Dr. Paris change it?

The verse itself makes for a curious study. This verse is an instance when the King James translators disregarded the reading from Bishop’s Bible and reached back to the Geneva Bible. The entire verse in the King James Bible reads: He feedeth on Ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? The Bishops’ Bible reads, Thus doth he but love his labour, and his heart which is deceived doeth turn him aside, so that none of them can have a free conscience to thinke, doe not I erre? The Geneva Bible reads: He feedeth of ashes: a seduced heart hath deceived him, that he cannot deliver his soule, nor say; is there not a lie in my right hand? A comparison of the three bibles makes it clear that the King James translators disregarded the Bishops’ reading and harkened back to the Geneva Bible. In the Geneva Bible we see the phrase he feedeth of ashes. That is exactly like the 1611 version of the King James Bible. Why did Paris change it so that all subsequent King James Bibles read; He feedeth on ashes?

We first have to ask ourselves if there was any historical precedent that he could have followed. Was there a strain or line of the King James Bible that read that way and Paris correctly weeded out the errant strain? That won’t work. I can find no single instance of the verse reading that way before Paris. Was the reading “of” instead of “”on” a misprint that escaped detection for 150 years? If so it had to escape the detection of Barker’s editors and the detection of the Universities editors which had included a couple of the original translators. Furthermore how would Paris have known it was a mistake if there were not a second strain of printings to compare with it? Only one of three things could have happened here. There might have been a misprint of Paris’s bible. His bible did contain misprints so that is not totally unlikely; however it would be hard to imagine it escaping Blaney and Scrivener in later years. Paris could have decided that since “of ashes” was an archaic reading, an he arbitrarily changed it to “on ashes”. The third option is that there was indeed a misprint and Paris possessed materials from the translators that showed him that.

In researching this puzzle, I thought at first that perhaps the Bishops’ Bible had said “on” and that it would be fairly easy to prove that the translators had originally written “on” in their manuscript. Their instructions were to change as little of the Bishops’ Bible as possible. That fell apart quickly. The Bishops’ Bible didn’t contain either word. Its reading is totally different. I wondered if the online Bishops’ Bible I was looking at was the same as the 1602 Bishops’ Bible that the translators held in their hands. Part of the history of the Bishops’ bible is that it was revised over a couple of decades. I got Cambridge University Library to take a picture of Isaiah 44:20 in the 1602 Bishops’ Bible. It read just like the online version.

My next guess was that Barker had been too lazy to change all of the type when he switched from the Geneva Bible which I knew he had been printing just before he printed the original King James Bible. One of the many reasons that printing was bad in those days was that Barker and other printers often kept whole blocks of type if they read the same to save man hours in resetting type. Many errors in early bibles have been attributed to such sloppy work. There are early King James Bibles that contain pages from the Bishops’ Bible. The problem with that theory was that even though it is demonstrably provable that Barker had printed the Geneva Bible just prior to printing the King James Bible, and even though Barker’s scruples would have been comfortable lifting a block of letters from his preset Geneva and using them in the new version, the actual print was different. I know because I looked. It has been said that Barker used brand new type especially prepared for the printing of the King James Bible. I can verify that truth of that statement. Barker did slip in one last printing of the Geneva Bible in 1611 just prior to retooling for the King James Bible[2]. I wondered if he did not perchance try out his new type on this small run of bibles. The Houghton Library at Harvard was kind enough to photograph one of three extant copies of this bible for me. Believe me; that cheapskate Barker used the old type. By early 1611[3] it was getting nasty and difficult to read. Whatever the reason for Barker printing the word “of” it had nothing to do with using the typeset from his previous printing job.

Then why did he print that word? Was it because the handwritten manuscript said, “He feedeth of ashes”? Or did that manuscript say, “He feedeth on ashes”? The single hardest misprints in any given manuscript to find and correct are those misprints that make sense as they are written. I am familiar with a scathing editorial that was written to decry the scandal of a dangerous bridge that had just taken the life of a newly married man as he and his wife set out on their honeymoon. When the editorial came out it read, “This bride has been the cause of many accidents”. The letter “g” had been left out of the word “bridge”. The result was a catastrophe and many hurt feelings. When proofreading work is being done, the hardest thing to do is to keep the mind engaged hour after hour. If a word looks okay to the proofreader it may be hours since the proofreader has actually thought about the sense of anything he is reading. Did this happen in Isaiah 44:20? If so how did Paris know it? Isn’t it more likely that he updated an archaic phrase?

Just how archaic is he feedeth of ashes? The usage of the word fits that squishy time period between the end of Middle English and the dawn of Modern English. The translators of the Geneva Bible had fled England upon Mary Tudor’s ascension to the throne in 1553. They left England prior to reign of Elizabeth and by doing so missed the significant changes wrought in the usage of English over the next 50 years. The Geneva Bible uses more antiquated English than the King James Bible. One of the great feats of the King James Bible was that it represented a language easily identified by the man on the street, and yet adhered to a strict set of grammatical rules that rivaled the classical languages. There can be no doubt that the translators themselves liked the translation of Isaiah 44:20 as it appeared in the Geneva Bible better than its rival the Bishops’ Bible, yet they did not take the Geneva Bible’s rendition in its entirety. Would they have kept he feedeth of ashes despite it being more archaic than he feedeth on ashes? Why would Parris change it? Why did Barker print it as he feedeth of ashes? A quick look at the Oxford English dictionary shows that combining the words “feedeth” and “of” is more reminiscent of the 1300’s than the 1600’s.

I think that we can safely eliminate getting rid of archaic words as a motive in Parris’s editing work. The King James Bible is a virtual shrine to archaic words and phrases. There appears no evidence of any attempt on Parris’s part to have cleansed the King James Bible of antiquated or archaic phrases. Furthermore, had he done so his work would have been roundly decried by the public and by his rivals. He had no authority to retranslate, and it is difficult to conceive of the public having accepted his work if he had retranslated. One of two things happened. Either the change from “of” to “on” was inadvertent and never caught by subsequent editors, or he had access to the original notes and manuscripts of the translators.

At this point my readers are free to choose. If any of my readers should choose to believe that the change is either by happenstance or contrivance, they do so from preconceived notions that the King James Bible has always been subject to arbitrary retranslating. When studying the King James Bible as it has been transmitted through the centuries by the two major universities there is zero evidence for such a conclusion other than the observation that two versions are different. At no point has any editor ever claimed he was retranslating[4]. This is an assumption made up out of whole cloth. The reader is as free to make that conclusion as he is to decide that God doesn’t exist, the bible was never intended to be infallible, or that booger bears from Venus live in the Andes and control our government.

The belief that our King James Bible has been subject to random change wrought at the whims of editors over the years is embedded in almost every existing history of the textual editing and printing. However, I find absolutely no warrant for such a belief other than a preconceived notion that such a thing went on. That belief is a conceit, an idea hanging in time and space without any connection to any real-world proof. It is a belief that satisfies the intellect of men grasping for logical explanations to fill the voids in their knowledge. The history of mistaken science and false history is a history of just such ideas. They are embraced by the majority of any given age, transmitted from generation to generation and almost impossible to dislodge.

Parris’s change of one word in Isaiah 44:20 is as easily attributable to his reliance upon notes of the translators and other original materials as it is to him retranslating. There is no historical evidence for either. He left no written trail. No historian has uncovered any testimony regarding the issue. If you choose to believe that he retranslated, you do so by faith. That is what you desire to believe. If you choose to believe that he had evidence to back up his change you do so by faith. That is what you desire to believe. My assertion that notes and drafts by the translators were easily available to Parris in the early 1700’s is a conjecture that is well within the bounds of reason and is not without historical precedent. One assurance is based on a humanistic faith that no perfect bible could exist in the 21st century, the other is based on the promise that God would always preserve his word, and on the cold hard evidence that the Lord has worked through men in their vernacular tongues for the last 2000 years.

Isaiah 44:20 is by no means the only verse that bears such a change. There are others. I have drawn it out for closer examination as an example of the others. It is entirely conceivable that Barker made an inadvertent change either through a typesetter having been familiar with the wording in the Geneva Bible, or through a misplaced letter that escaped the proof reader’s eye because it still made sense in the context. It makes perfect sense that Parris discovered the error by meticulously examining the translators’ notes and so made a change. What would make no sense would be the idea that Parris changed the reading by fiat and that no hue and cry was taken up against him.

As we discussed earlier Oxford needed to respond to Cambridge’s innovations. For this purpose, they hired Benjamin Blayney to examine Dr. Parris’s work and compare it to the Bishop Lloyd’s Bible of 1701 as well as to the original 1611 printing. The Bishop Lloyd Bible was chosen because it represented Oxford’s text of the Bible as they had been printing it for 100 years. The Oxford Bible printed during that 100 years appears to be their version of the Cambridge 1638 Bible. The Bishop Lloyd Bible of 1701 was the latest and most up to date editing that they could offer. By Blayney’s testimony he spent 7 years collating those existing bibles as well as making new marginal notes to shed light on untranslated words and to improve the use of italics. Blayney improved upon Parris’s work. For the next ten years John Archdeacon, the printer at Cambridge began to slowly incorporate Blayney’s alterations in successive printings until both Oxford and Cambridge were printing Blayney’s final work.

By no means were they producing perfect bibles. The biggest innovation to impact printing of bibles was yet to be developed in England. In the next century stereotype printing would be invented and a page could be set once and for all, not so now in the 18th century, every single word in the King James Bible was being painstakingly reset every time a new format for the bible was introduced or a bible was reprinted. As a result, when an editor was especially careful the bible he edited had a high degree of accuracy. When he was rushed or incompetent the bible was riddled with flaws. In 1807, The University of Cambridge purchased the secret of Stereotype printing.[5] This was a revolution in bible printing. From that point forward it was possible to print a perfect text over and over. If a bible was printed and an error was discovered a simple correction could be made in the plate for that page and never again would that error ever appear in that printed format of the bible. The hope of a perfect bible free from all printing errors that had collected over the years was now at hand. Just what shape that bible was to take was still up in the air.

The Blayney Bible had reigned for a little over 100 years. Contrary to the assertions of many, the Blayney Bible is no longer being printed today and hasn’t been printed by a major publisher in over 100 years. The Blaney Bible was not perfect. There were still hundreds of small errors ranging from whole words that were wrong such as “fleeth” instead of “flieth” in Nahum 3:16, to simple punctuation and spellings. More work was to be done, but for now we will conclude this chapter on the influence of Henry VIII’s influence on our King James Bible. His role in tying the guardianship of the word of God to the English Universities has been virtually unknown and unexplored, yet if you are an English-speaking person living in a nation with roots in English law, you have lived in the wake of his three far reaching edicts and your life has been made better by them. We will now go on to the last two purifications of the text.

[1] Norton, David. The Textual History of the King James Bible, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, (109)

[2] Herbert, 130

[3] For those trying to set the date for the printing of the King James Bible there is a small clue here. Barker was still printing Geneva Bibles in the early part of 1611. I suspect that if any more clues are out there they exist in an historical record that would not automatically be linked to the mysteries of the King James Bible. An historian looking at the broad scope of all of 1611 London might perchance find enough corroborating evidence to ascertain a more exact date.

[4] Remember that when Blayney made reference to having made use of the original languages for his editing work, he narrowed that usage to marginal references and for clarification of italics. See Further Thoughts on the Word of God, John Asquith pages 76-78. Blaney never claimed to have retranslated any portion of the text.

[5] Three Hundred Years of Printing the Bible 1629-1929, Cambridge at the University Press 1929, Page 12 (Available as a reprint from Vance Publications, PO Box 11781, Pensacola, FL 32524)

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