The men who translated the 400 year-old King James Bible in 1611

They were scholars; they were men driven for spiritual integrity; but they were also humanly flawed.

VANCOUVER, Wa, June 22, 2011—There is an aura around the King James Bible that has made it the most reverenced Bible in the English Language for 400 years. Its beauty of expression, its rhythmic voice, and its pithy expressions have given it a sense of being the very words of God Himself.

However, many who use the KJV do not know the story of its making nor the men who produced it. 

The Translators Presenting the Bible To James I’, drawn by George E Kruger. Photograph: Hulton Archive

In 1604, at the Hampton Court castle about 15 miles outside the plague infested London, a new version of the Bible had its beginning. The new translation introduced a Bible that was thought would unite the Anglican Church bishops and the separatist Puritans.

The Puritans delighted in the news that James VI of Scotland would be crowned king of England. After all, Scotland accepted Calvinistic and Presbyterian theology. They overlooked the fact that James believed in his Divine Right to rule, a doctrine in direct opposition to the Puritans. 

The new translation purposed by Puritan divine, John Rainolds, set well with James and he assigned Anglican bishop, Richard Bancroft, the duty of appointing the men who would translate the new Bible.

Bancroft divided the Bible into six divisions and assigned a company of translators to each section. In all 54 scholars and churchmen translated the KJB. While Bancroft appointed both Anglicans and Puritans, the balance heavily favored the Anglicans, a source of contention throughout the process. Bancroft assigned two companies each at Westminster Abby, Cambridge University, and Oxford University.  

Bancroft then appointed two editors/revisers from each company to oversee the work of the companies. They met to review the work after each company completed their initial translation. The final editing, writing of the preface, and inserting the headings fell to Miles Smith and Thomas Bilson.

There is little doubt that the men appointed to this task were the finest scholars in England.

Lancelot Andrews (d.1626), director of the Westminster Company, headed the translating of Genesis through 2 Kings.  One of the most capable preachers and scholars of his day, peers referred to him as “an angel in the pulpit.”

Lawrence Chaderton (d. 1640), a moderate puritan, developed an oratory reputation by preaching for hours on end. At the end of an extended sermon it is said that the people cried out for more.

John Bois (d.1643), an extraordinary Greek scholar, lent his scholarship to the translation of the Apocrypha. As one of the 12 appointed from the 6 companies, Bois copied detailed notes of the translators’ process of translation. This document survives today and has been published by Ward Allen. These notes provide a fascinating window into the minds of the translators and the process they followed.

While these men sought spiritual integrity and longed to be pious leaders of the Protestant Church in England, some of them were men with human flaws, participating in some bizarre events.

John Overall (d. 1619) at an advanced age married the beautiful young Anne Orwell. Contemporaries of John said of her that “Her face had a filbert hue, and bosoms like a swan. She had a back of bended ewe, and waisted by a span.” Unsatisfied with her husband, she eloped with the dashing squire, Sir John Selby. Not to be denied, John sent an envoy to bring her back. She returned to him and we hear no more of the antics of beautiful Anne.

Roger Andrews (1618), master Jesus College and brother of scholar and highly respected divine, Lancelot Andrews, was fired for stealing church funds. 

George Abbot (d. 1633), one of the greatest scholars of Elizabethan England, killed the gamekeeper his hunting party hired for a stag hunt. Accused of manslaughter, Abbot’s career took a dramatic downward turn. While eventually acquitted by King James, he lost a great deal of respect and ecclesiastical power. Not only do modern vice presidents get into trouble for hunting, but so do church bishops.

Samuel Ward (d. 1643), considered a “vast scholar” and one of the youngest of the 1611 translators worked on the Apocrypha and later revised the 1611 edition in 1629 and 1638. However, his personal life and morals have been questioned. It is said that he loved wine and beer, he lusted after women, and he loved eavesdropping on conversations and repeating his findings to others.

The King James translators accomplished a book of English Literature that is hailed by nearly every English language scholar as the greatest literary achievement in English prose. The translators were men of God doing a lasting work that has stood the test of time. But they were neither perfect nor “inspired.”  We can love the King James Version, but we must not elevate it to iconic status to be worshipped. Christians worship the God of the Bible, not the Bible as a book.

Follow Donald Brake @DonaldBrake on Twitter and Donald Brake on Facebook. You can read more of his articles on “The World’s Best-Selling Book” at The Washington Times Communities.


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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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