The Quadricentennial:
Marking the 400th Anniversary of the Arrival

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Quadricentennial: Marking the 400th Anniversary of the Arrival
of the King James Version of the Holy Scriptures

Part One: The Stage is Set
by Daryl Cornett

One of the greatest turning points in Christian history was the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The stirrings of religious dissent had been smoldering for a century before

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

ignited it on October 31, l517 with the posting of his 95 Theses, in which he challenged not only Roman Catholic practices but the papacy itself. Those who joined the chorus of revolt cried out against religious corruption, exploitation, and faulty teaching and doctrine. Various groups of Protestants from all over Europe began to loosen the religious and political grip that the Roman Catholic Church had held secure for over 1,000 years.

Many factors came together to fuel the Protestant Reformation. Political motivations' social forces, intellectual trends, religious practices, and theology all played roles in the fracturing of Medieval Christendom. One non-religious factor whose impact is difficult to overstate was the application of the newly invented printing press. Johannes Guten- berg (c. 1398-1468) developed the printing press around 1440 rn Germany, and around 80 years later it became the chief weapon of religious reformers. Men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others were able to broadly disseminate their ideas on an unprecedented level. The more the Roman Catholic Church and Political authorities attempted to suppress the Reformation, its leaders, and their writings, the more rapidly the movement spread. People in general were well aware of the corruption of the papacy and the exploitative practices of the Roman Catholic Church during this time.

They had observed for centuries the unholy union of the church with political powers. Now, men of God who knew the Scriptures were call- ing for needed reform in doctrine and practice. Most importantly, they were winning an audience among the people. With this new emphasis on the Bible coupled with the new technology to disseminate it more rapidly and in grearer volume than ever, the Reformadon quickly became a "back to the Bible" movement. Pastors like Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others began to teach the Bible to people and to encourage their people to read the Scriptures for themselves. As one might expect, the next step involved learned men who knew Latin and Greek. These men begin to translate the Bible out of the languages of scholarship and into the common languages of the people.

Forerunners of the KJV

Those who enjoy the fruit of significanr historical achievemenrs typically owe a great deal to those who came before them and did the hard work of breaking up the fallow ground, often at great peril to themselves. The King James Version was the culmination of the work started by brave English biblical scholars over two hundred years earlier.

John Wycliffe (c. 1330- 1384)

studied at the University of Oxford and became a leading theologian in his day. He, along with others, brought attention to the corruption of the Roman church-but unlike other men, Wycliffe was more radical. He also questioned certain teachings of the church. Ultimately he broke with the church and became its enemy by declaring that Scripture ought to be the final aurhoriry for belief and practice. He also advocated that all Christians, not solely the clergy, he left for Germany never to retum to England. There he worked on an English New Testament from the Greek and completed it within a year. By 1526 Tyndale had successfully printed a few thousand copies, of which only two survive. He continued with his efforts and managed with the help of Miles Coverdale to translate the first five books of the Old Testament and Jonah from the Hebrew. The remainder of this first English Old Testament became the work of Coverdale. Tyndale never saw a completed English Bible because he eventually was arrested and convicted. His last words before being burned at the stake were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."

Even as Tyndale's work continued to be banned in England,

Miles Coverdale (c. 1488- 1569)

worked to complete an English translation of the entire Bible. What Tyndale had begun Coverdale completed in 1535, about ten years after Tyndale's execution. By this time the Protestant Reformation was gaining traction in England, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, helped to convince King Henry VIII to approve Coverdale's Translation. By 1539 the work of Tyndale and Coverdale was ordered to be placed in every parish church in England. This officially sanctioned Bible was dubbed the Great Bible because of its large size.

During the 16th century national politics and religion were insepdrably linked. Therefore, when Roman Catholic sympathizer Mary Tudor ascended to the throne of Wngland, Protestants found themselves as dissentwers who ran the risk of persecution. During Mary's reign, around 300 people lost their lives, including Thomas Cranmer; and hundreds more fled to the European continent. to find more favorable environments where they could practice their faith. Her policies earned her the infamous nickname, "Bloody Mary." During this period English refugees settled in Geneva, where John Calvin provided leadership of the church and exercised extensive influence over Protestant theology in general. During their exile, English refugees, led by Miles Coverdale and John Foxe, produced a translation that became known as the Geneva Bible, which was a revision of Tyndale's work and The Great Bible. This complete Bible appeared in 1560 with extensive explanatory and interpretive notes reflecting Protestant views.

Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

took her throne in 1558. Her desire was to create a strong state church with no toleration of Roman Catholicism while allowing some latitude for Protestants -- but only as far as it did not threaten the unity of the state church. The Geneva Bible became popular in England because of its notes and its perceived superior scholarship. It also was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters. For these reasons it is considered the first modern study Bible. Because much of the commentary within the Geneva Bible was anti-clerical and anti-esrablishment, the rulers of the day and the Church of England revised The Great Bible and produced The Bishop's Bible in 1568 for use in the parish churches. This Bible has been referred to as the rough draft of the King James Version. However, this new translation could not supplant the popularity of the Geneva Bible.

End Part One.


These two articles reprinted from Lifes WORDS -For Adults, Leader Guide 2010-2011, pages 7-8, 50-51,
used with permission.

This website's page last updated: February 14, 2011