— Michelle Avery is the Editorial Assistant at Herald and Banner Press, Inc.
One year into his reign, King James I of England convened a conference of the leading Church of England ministers and Puritans to discuss things thought amiss in the church. Among the topics discussed at the conference was the concern of the clergymen with the quality of the Bible translation available to them and their congregations. They were not asking for just another translation. In the past fifty years they had seen more than seventy English translations of the Scriptures. What they needed was a scholarly, accurate, and authoritative translation that would stand the test of time.
Before King James’ translation of the Bible, William Tyndale’s work was the longest standing of the English translations commonly in use, though during Tyndale’s lifetime the work was banned by the government and Tyndale was burned at the stake for this contribution to Christianity. With his final words, Tyndale cried out one final prayer. “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” Another king and three queens would sit on the throne of England before this prayer was answered.
King James was the right man for them to approach. The education he had received as a youth had not stopped with the political sciences. He was fluent in at least half a dozen languages, including Greek, and was considered one of the most learned ever of Europe’s kings. Also, he considered the Bible more than a necessary part of the church; he agreed with Tyndale’s belief that every English plowman should be allowed access to and understanding of the Scriptures.
The King James Version was finished in 1611 and is more than just another English translation of the Bible. It changed the world. English missionaries carried it throughout the world spreading both the gospel and their native tongue. Linguists continue to reference the work of the translation team King James selected. The language itself is still studied in literature classes even in non-Christian institutions. Most of all, ensuring that every Englishman, even down to the plowmen, could own and understand the Bible, and allowing that to spread to other English-speaking countries, has changed the world.