Updated: Jun 3
For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?, Deuteronomy 4:32.
Our question here is different than the question that Moses required of the children of Israel. Nevertheless, the verse is applicable to the subject of the King James Bible. To understand that, I am going to quote a question recently asked on an internet King James Bible Forum.
"Did the Christians before 1611 realize their Bibles were not perfect? Or did they mistakenly believe that what they had was perfect?"
To understand the answer to that question, we'll look at a general historical overview of bible history.
Bibles were a very rare commodity for most of the Christian Era. The ability to even read a bible eluded most people until well into the 18th or 19th centuries depending on which country we look at. For most of the Middle Ages, if a person was literate at all, they read Latin. Texts written in a vulgar (common language of a given area) were rare to non-existent.
The most extensive history with which I am familiar that catalogues the vulgar bibles of Europe is Margret Deansley's The Lollard Bible, published in 1920. She relies heavily on Inquisition records. Those who carried vulgar bibles did so at the risk of death. When they did carry them, they typically carried small portions of a Gospel which had been clandestinely translated into one of the hundreds of languages that existed throughout Europe. Many of those languages are now extinct.
A man would go from house to house and read his forbidden text to a small and trusted gathering. We know of these happenings from the court records of those who were betrayed. As people heard these small portions of scripture read, they were given a small glimpse into the mind of God in their own tongue. I seriously doubt that any minds spent much time on word for word or jot for jot analysis of any passage such as we are able to do today. Instead the wonder of hearing the word of God and having the shackles imposed upon them by the Roman Catholic Church cut off were marvels.
It doesn't take a very accurate bible to realize that Mediaeval Catholicism is wrong. The first bible that I ever read cover to cover was the Good News for Modern Man which is a terrible and inaccurate bible. In fact, I read it through four times before someone gave me a New American Standard Bible as an upgrade. Even in such an inaccurate bible I could see that Catholic Church was wrong on many points. These Lollard (a generic word for the many Anabaptist sects which operated throughout the Middle Ages) preachers were able to direct their adherents to the truth easily because of the wide gulf between Catholic teaching and scripture.
As a general rule for most of the Christian era, only priests, noblemen and Jews could read. When they did read, it was either Latin or Hebrew that they read. The Jews revered their bible as perfect. It was. The only places that could read Greek were the remnant areas of the Eastern Roman Empire until its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the Muslim kingdom of Spain where Jews and Anabaptists could worship until 1492.
The Latin Bible was rarely ever a complete book. When it was, it was a large bulky handwritten book. It represented a few years labor by the most educated and talented men of any country. Only wealthy monasteries or noblemen could ever afford such a thing.
By the year 800, Charlemagne had recognized that there were two competing texts for the Latin Bible. One family of Latin Texts came mostly from manuscripts copied by monks from the Independent Celtic Church of Ireland which continued to supply them until the Pope gave Ireland to the English in the 1100s. Those texts tended to agree with the King James Bible. The other family of manuscripts were from the Jerome Text which was the official text of the Catholic Church.
The history of the Wycliffe Bible is a history of the many manuscripts or portions of manuscripts kept in English castles as relics being translated into Middle English over 150 years. Wycliffe's initial work was merely a Latin manuscript in which Wycliffe had written English words above the individual Latin words to help noblemen to learn Latin. Eventually, both Wycliffe and his disciples began to render better and better translations.
There are about 180 surviving copies of portions of the Wycliffe Bible. (The Wycliffe Bible commonly sold on line is a fraud.) No two of them are the same. They cover 150 years of being secreted from village to village and from castle to castle. They show an increasing sophistication in translation and textual discernment. They take an incredible leap forward as scribes from the slowly shrinking Muslim Kingdoms of Spain found refuge in English Castles and brought the skill of Hebrew and Greek to England at least a generation before such skills became common in Italy, France and Germany.
What distinguished the Tyndale Bible from later versions of the Wycliffe Bible is that Tyndale signed his name which eventually cost him his life. Tyndale's Bible was considered accurate by those few rich enough and bold enough to secure a copy. In those days, the driving questions that separated men and caused men to burn at the stake were the doctrines of transubstantiation and general church government. It did not take terribly accurate bibles to realize that the official state church was wrong. To the Catholic Church, the scandal of the English translations was the habit of printing bibles without putting in the notes which would keep people from wandering from orthodox Catholic doctrine.
As the various English Translations were propagated with increasing freedom to print them, the cost of those bibles was going down through the standard rules of Capitalism and innovations in printing. The other revolution quietly taking place was the subtil but growing numbers of common people who could read. Historian George C. Daughan in his account of the Battles of Lexington and Concord draws a distinction between the New England Farmers and the British enlisted men with whom they fought.
The British enlisted men were almost all illiterate men who cared little and thought little about the rights of man. To a man, regardless of their wealth or station in life, the New England Farmers were highly literate. The Puritan and Pilgrim stock from which they had sprung represented a revolution in European education that migrated to North America. What his analysis demonstrates is that even well into the 18th century, the majority of common men in Europe were not literate and cared little for bible accuracy.
Part of the discussion in the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 from which the King James Bible received its initial authorization, was the perceived need of a more accurate translation. The translators made clear that they would compare all existing translations in the many extant languages as well as earlier English versions when they translated the Greek and Hebrew Bibles. They expected perfection when they had translated just one more time. They wrote; "For when Your Highness had once out of deep judgment apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the Original Sacred Tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our own, and other foreign Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English Tongue;".
It has taken hundreds of years for the simple truth of the King James Bible's inerrancy to finally get the academic standing it deserves. Until recently, it has been the simple literate people of the various English Speaking nations who believed it implicitly. Over 100 years ago, the forces of hell were not content to just deceive the seminarians and scholars. A wholesale program of teaching even preschoolers in Sunday Schools that no bible was perfect worked its way into the Christian mainstream. Fortunately, at the same time, God turned the tables on the devil and invaded academia with men and women who used their skills of research and deduction to demonstrate to any who truly have open minds that the King James Bible is the word of God and meets ever criteria given by God for what the word of God is.