400 Years of the King James Bible

By Richard N. W. Lambert and Kenneth R. Mays*

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Trinity College, Cambridge

Trinity College, Cambridge

In England when the King James Bible was translated, there was a flowering of great scholars and linguists that has not been duplicated since. Among the translators were several who were associated with Trinity College, Cambridge, as students or professors.

Photo by Kenneth Mays, art treatment by Margaret Diane Hayden

“It is not by chance or coincidence that we have the Bible today,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Men like John Wycliffe, the courageous William Tyndale, and Johannes Gutenberg were prompted against much opposition to translate the Bible into language people could understand and to publish it in books people could read. I believe even the scholars of King James had spiritual promptings in their translation work.”1

King James

King James

King James, Getty Images

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

Photo by Kenneth Mays

Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Corpus Christi College, Oxford

John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College, provided a room (see windows above arch) in his residence where he and his fellow translators worked on Isaiah through Malachi.

Photo by Kenneth Mays, art treatment by Margaret Diane Hayden

The unique skills possessed by those who translated the King James Bible were at their apex during this time. The translators were all learned biblical scholars and linguists. It would be difficult today to gather 50 scholars with the knowledge of ancient languages possessed by these men.

Lancelot Andrewes was typical of those selected. He had command of 15 languages. Considered one of the most learned men in England, he was also a spiritual leader. He was royal chaplain to Queen Elizabeth and to King James. His sermons left listeners wanting more. In fact, King James slept with Andrewes’s sermons under his pillow.

church in Ely, England

Ely, England, where Lancelot Andrewes served as bishop.

Photo by Kenneth Mays

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London

Founded before A.D. 1000, Westminster Abbey is the traditional site of coronations and burials for monarchs of the British Commonwealth. Lancelot Andrewes, director of the First Westminster Company of translators, was the dean of Westminster.

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A few translators were atypical because they were not associated with a university. Richard Brett was one such translator. Though he attended Oxford and mastered such languages as Syriac, Coptic, and Ethiopic, he spent most of his life as a rector, husband, and father in the small English village of Quainton—except for the few years he worked on the King James translation.

exterior of parish church in Quainton, England interior of parish church in Quainton, England

The parish church in Quainton, England, where Richard Brett served for over 40 years as the rector.

Photo by Kenneth Mays

room in Merton College, Oxford

In this room at Merton College, Oxford, translators led by Thomas Ravis worked on the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.

Photo by Kenneth Mays

William Tyndale desired to put the Bible in the hands of the common people. Speaking to the clergy of his day, he said, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost!”2 Tyndale achieved his goal, but in 1536 he was strangled, then burned at the stake as a heretic.

Nevertheless, much of Tyndale’s translation survived in the King James Bible, and his hope that the common people could study the Bible in English came to pass, as seen in the life of Joseph Smith, a young farm boy.

window with picture of William Tyndale

William Tyndale (on the right) is featured in this window in the Emmanuel College chapel, Cambridge.

Photo by Kenneth Mays

map of Britain

Map showing the locations of the three translation sites.

Show References

  • The authors did field research in England supported by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. Lambert’s biographical sketches of the translators and Mays’s photographs will soon appear on KingJamesBibleTrust.org.

Notes

  1. 1.

    M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2007, 80.

  2. 2.

    William Tyndale, quoted in D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2010, 32.