400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

The King James Bible is 400 years old.

In 1603 James V of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne to become James I of England.   Encouraged by James’ strict Calvinist upbringing, English Puritans petitioned him at the Hampton Court conference to make changes in the doctrine of the Church of England to conform to the Gospel revealed in Tyndale’s Bible translation. Tyndale found no mention in Scripture of a hierarchy of Church clerics–bishops, priests, deacons–or formal rituals in the faith.

They did not realize that the King’s experience as a young prince in the hands of fiercely fundamentalist Scots had more embittered than enlightened him, and he staunchly embraced the concept of the divine right of kings.  Since the monarch was believed to be chosen by God, he was therefore not only supreme leader of the Church but the final authority on doctrine.  No other interpretation of Scripture was valid.

The Puritans’ plea thrust James into a rage, shouting, “You are aiming at Scots’ presbytery!  That agrees as much with Monarchy as God and the Devil! Then Jack and Tom, Will and Dick, shall censure me and my Council.”  He turned to his Bishops.  “My Lords, if once you are out and they are in, I know what would become of my supremacy, for no Bishop, no King!”

Although James found error in all versions of the Bible, he considered the “worst” to be the Geneva Bible the Pilgrims used .  In marginal notes it  questioned the meaning of some verses suggesting the  monarch’s supremacy in religious matters.  James readily agreed to authorize a new authentic translation written by the world’s most learned scholars divided into groups which checked each others’ work.

The King James Authorized Version was published seven years later in 1611. It has been not only a major literary and cultural influence in English history but a primary source of profound wisdom and revelation of the human condition for many peoples of the world these 400 years.

The Relevance of the Pilgrims’ Story for Modern Americans

The Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation believed in the Christian faith as it was presented in the Calvinist Geneva Bible. They found no mention in this Bible of doctrines of the Church of England in their Book of Common Prayer, or the hierarchy of priests, deacons, bishops, and liturgical rituals. If the official Church/State had respected their Biblical version of Christianity, they would gladly have stayed within the Church fold, but the Church forbade any “gatherings” outside prescribed Church services and imprisoned or executed “heretics” who did not follow Church teachings. These restrictions forced “separatists,” like the Pilgrims, to practice their Biblical faith in secret or to try to leave the country, which was also illegal.

These Pilgrims established the concept of separation of church and state in America. As other European settlers arrived bringing their versions of Christianity with them, they were free to practice their faiths without persecution. This heritage prevails in modern America which allows other religions unknown to American colonists. Some clashes occur today, e.g. the controversy over the building of a mosque in New York City near the Trade Center site. This issue will probably be settled on legal grounds rather than by any restriction of Islamic religious practice.

New Pilgrim Histories Published

Another definitive history by Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, was published in 2010. Had either Bangs’ Strangers, or Bunker’s Babylon been available before my One Candle’s Light was published in late 2009, I would have had a wealth of new historical fact to draw upon. Instead I used the personal accounts of William Bradford in his Of Plymouth Plantation, Edward Winslow in Good Newes from New England, and Phineas Pratt’s account of his escape from Wessagussett, all contemporary versions of the Pilgrims’ story.