by T.L. Hubeart Jr.
© 1999, 2000, 2003-2005, 2008 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.
A great deal that has been written about "errors" in the KJV is fundamentally flawed because of a lack of knowledge of basic reference materials, especially dictionaries and earlier Bible translations, that could have explained the true meaning and logic of the supposed mistake. Even very eminent men have blundered in making ex cathedra statements without bothering to do the most elementary research. I am thinking in particular of someone who has written an entire book about the KJV "controversy" with the most amazing condemnations of "errors" that actually spring from the writer's lack of historical perspective. This man is by no means unlearned; in fact, his education and accomplishments in other fields have earned him a measure of renown. He simply shares with many other Christian writers before him a complete lack of awareness that the KJV cannot reasonably be evaluated (and, as he strives to prove, found wanting) without the significant testimony of earlier English versions.
The Bible notes I have posted on this site have been written to act as a corrective to this lack of awareness. From time to time I have received inquiries regarding the source materials I use. In addition, a search engine recently brought me to a very poorly-written piece on the Internet entitled "Where to Find Copies of the Old English Bibles" attempting to answer this kind of question, but lacking even the most basic bibliographical information. The author (whom I have encountered before on the Internet; he is the religious spammer in my piece on my e-mail policy and the "Scarecrow" in my essay about the "King-James-Anti Movement") inexactly describes a book, then remarks that it "may be found in some libraries"; that others are "in some libraries. . . can be found in some libraries. . . may be in some libraries." This inept attempt at providing 'information' certainly will not allow anyone to readily find reference material; at best, the person searching will have to endure a lot of aggravation trying to verify the very identity of these volumes, not to mention obtaining them. I would therefore like to save the reader some effort by giving exact references to many of the most useful volumes, and even some suggested sources to help him or her obtain them.
I have often been asked whether or not there are online or electronic sources for older English translations. When I wrote the first version of this article in 1999, and for several years thereafter, I had access to none. True, there was a company called Chadwyck-Healey (which was subsequently acquired by ProQuest Information and Learning) that offered a CD-ROM entitled "The Bible in English" containing these translations, but this was a software clearly made for large libraries and universities rather than individuals. Now there are several alternatives:
1. First, the most recent version at this writing (5.2) of Brandon Staggs' excellent SwordSearcher Bible program includes the Wycliffe Bible, the translations (Pentateuch, Jonah, and New Testament) of William Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the original-spelling KJV of 1611. (See below for printed editions of the original-spelling KJV text.)
2. There are also multiple sites that offer online versions of older translations, such as faithofgod.net’s presentation of Tyndale’s 1525 New Testament, and the Geneva Bible texts found at the Logos Resource Pages and at the website genevabible.org. (No doubt there are several other presentations out there, and others which will appear in time, but it may be better for the reader to attempt his or her own search engine investigation rather than for me to put up a lot of links that may be dead by the time you view them, since URLs change and go out of existence so often on the Internet!)
3. Also, the site of Sola Scriptura Publishing does offer on CD copies of many reference works, including early Bible translations, converted into PDF format. I have the Sola Scriptura CDs of the Tyndale New Testament, the 1540 Great Bible, and the Bishops’ Bible, and have found them very useful. The images appear to be similar to microfilm/microfiche versions of these documents and in some cases due to the age of the publications involved the scanning is not perfect (which is acknowledged in several of the listings of CDs on that site). But the prices are eminently reasonable, especially for items not currently available in printed facsimiles (such as the Bishops’ Bible).
There are one particular caveat to be mentioned in the use of electronic texts. For general reference purposes, they are very convenient; however, in some instances the accuracy may leave something to be desired, due to imperfections in transcription or scanning, so I would dissuade anyone from using them in a context in which exactness is a priority--for example, in an academic or scholarly paper. This is not intended as a criticism of the electronic texts’ providers, since it is clear that there are unique difficulties in transcribing old-spelling English texts. (For an example of this, consider Tolle Lege Press’ republication of the Geneva Bible in a newly typeset edition [which I have not inventoried below due to not having examined a physical copy of this publication] and the list posted on their website of errata which are being corrected in later reprints.)
For detailed work, the student of the English Bible is still best served at present by printed sources: the great parallel New Testaments known as The English Hexapla and The New Testament Octapla, and numerous facsimiles and reprints.
The English Hexapla consists of the Greek New Testament text of Scholz, under which in parallel columns are six English translations: Wycliffe (1380), Tyndale (1534), the Great Bible (1540), Whittingham's NT (1557-prototype for the Geneva Bible), Rheims (1582), and the KJV (1611). This volume reprints the text of each version in old spelling. In introducing the New Testament Octapla in 1962, Luther A. Weigle commented appreciatively that "For more than a hundred years [the Hexapla] has been a very useful volume," and such is its usefulness that it is now available in a facsimile volume which is sold at the Greatsite website. (In fact, this site also sells original Hexaplas and other rare Bibles.) Weigle further comments that the Hexapla's "major defects" are using the 1557 Geneva NT prototype rather than the 1560 Geneva Bible's NT, and omitting the Bishops' Bible NT, which was the immediate predecessor of the KJV. However, there is also something to be said for the greater letter-by-letter precision of the Hexapla in printing the old-spelling texts; the Octapla (see below) adjusts them somewhat, replacing "I" with "J" and "u" with "v" in conformity with modern usage (i.e., original text's "Iesus" becomes "Jesus" in Octapla, and "haue" and "beleeue" become "have" and "beleeve").
The New Testament Octapla was edited by Luther A. Weigle, Chairman of the "Standard Bible Committee" which produced the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. (Oddly, the date of publication does not appear on the back of the title page, but can readily be deduced from the Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number.) The book's subtitle is "Eight English Versions of the New Testament in the Tyndale-King James Tradition," and the pages offer old spelling reprints (slightly modified, as noted above) of Tyndale (final revision of 1535), Great Bible (revision of 1540), Geneva (1560), Bishops' Bible (1568), Rheims (1582), KJV (1873; see below), ASV (1901), and RSV (1946). This substantial volume remains the best overview of the development of the English Bible.
It has, however, been out of print for several years, so short of trying to find a copy of the printed edition in a university library, one can check with a dealer in used books for it. The reader ought also to be cautioned that a Genesis Octapla was also published later by Weigle, covering only the text of Genesis in these same versions, so he or she should be careful to request the correct title to get The New Testament Octapla.
Interestingly, the text Weigle gives for the KJV is not the old spelling 1611 edition. Weigle's selection of Scrivener's 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible as source text for the KJV column can only be regarded as a major editorial lapse, not only because this edition was printed two and a half centuries after the first KJV edition, but because of instances of tampering with the original KJV's text (e.g, Matt. 23:24, Heb. 10:23). [It is also worth remarking that the Cambridge Paragraph Bible is the base text of the Zondervan KJV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) and other recent Zondervan KJVs, although in at least one significant passage the 1873 version has been altered (see 1 John 5:7, where Weigle's Octapla shows Scrivener throwing the "Johannine Comma" into italics, while the Zondervan volumes put it back into regular type!).]
Furthermore, Weigle's motives in publishing an edition of "eight English versions of the New Testament in the Tyndale-King James tradition" which includes the ASV of 1901 and the RSV patently involved making a monument to himself and his RSV colleagues. Apparently he wanted to represent these two modern versions for posterity as carrying on this "tradition"--which in a textual sense is untrue, since they abandoned the Textus Receptus of the Protestant Reformation translations in favor of a "critical text." The inclusion of the 1582 Catholic Rheims NT as a part of this "tradition" could also be arguable, but it is demonstrable that the Rheims borrowed from earlier English Protestant versions and in turn was utilized by the KJV.
Both the Hexapla and the Octapla are very useful for comparing the texts of the old versions of the Bible. However, the Reformation translations also frequently have marginal notes which can be of help in clarifying a passage--notes which are generally omitted from these two volumes. For these, one must go to the edited reprints or facsimiles of individual translations.
David Daniell's two magnificent volumes give a modern-spelling edition of all the known Bible translations by William Tyndale. The New Testament volume gives the text of Tyndale's 1534 New Testament, and the Old Testament volume gives the Pentateuch and Jonah as published in Tyndale's lifetime, together with the biblical books from Joshua to 2 Chronicles which appeared posthumously in Matthew's Bible of 1537. Unlike the Hexapla or Octapla, Daniell's volumes provide all Tyndale's notes and prefaces in the editions serving as copy text. The editor provides informative introductions to each volume which--even where they notably overreach to exalt Tyndale at the expense of other translators, including the King James men--are well argued and passionate. The New Testament volume has even been published in a paperback edition which at this writing can be obtained from Amazon Books.
The third Tyndale listed is an early (1536) Tyndale New Testament which has been recently published by Lazarus Ministry Press; pictures of the pages of this facsimile can be seen at Greatsite, from whom it can be ordered. I have examined a copy of this, and it is a beautiful reproduction adorned with numerous woodcuts throughout. The text is in "black-letter" rather than Roman typeface. According to the Greatsite web site, the 1536 edition was the last Tyndale New Testament published before Tyndale's execution, apparently being prepared by his associates while he remained in prison. The margins have cross-references only; I did not see any of Tyndale's notes, which appear in Daniell's modern-spelling NT (perhaps Tyndale's friends omitted these to avoid angering the authorities at a time when it still seemed possible that Tyndale might be released?). A very high-quality facsimile throughout.
Both of these facsimiles reproduce the first edition of the Geneva Bible,
published in 1560. (There was also a prototype Geneva New Testament by William Whittingham published in 1557 whose text appears in the English
The second facsimile is available from Greatsite and has been printed at 125% of the original size to make the marginal notes more legible. This is an excellent and carefully done publication. What's more, in both of these publications, all the original apocryphal books appear in this reproduction (a fact that the latter’s retailers very justifiably note on their website as this is not the case in some other facsimiles; see below).
It may be worth noting that the two volumes differ somewhat in some
incidentals; the first volume includes an informative introduction by Lloyd E.
Berry, as well as a prefatory epistle beginning “To Our Beloved in the Lord”
(called “To the Reader” in the running title) and some maps which are not in
the Lazarus Ministry Press edition. Given the condition of the surviving
original copies of the 1560
These two facsimile editions give the text of this translation in its 1599-and-after form (i.e., with completely redone New Testament marginal notes and some slight changes in text from the original edition of 1560). The first is especially praiseworthy; it gives only the New Testament, but in a very large and clear format and with four excellent scholarly introductory essays which place this publication in its historical context. Although the title says it is the "1602 Edition" of the Geneva NT, the facsimile is actually of a 1607 edition by Robert Barker which is apparently identical with the 1602 (and perhaps was used for the reproduction because it is in better condition than the available 1602 editions).
The second is also worthwhile, although there are some oddities. First, the
reproduction copy I have omits the translation's apocryphal books except
"Prayer of Manasseh," which is printed immediately after 2 Chronicles
(just as it is in the 1560 first edition of the
In the citations from the Geneva Bible on my web pages, I have generally used these two editions. The Old Testament and its marginal notes differ mainly in spelling between the 1560 and 1599 editions; citing from 1599 may be a bit more intelligible to contemporary eyes due to the somewhat more modern spelling usage. In the New Testament, the greater fullness of the rewritten notes of the 1599-and-after editions compared with the 1560 edition means that the 1599 notes are often more detailed than those of the earlier Geneva. However, one should be careful not to cite the rewritten NT marginal notes of the later editions as though they are the work of the original Geneva translators!
This publication is a word-for-word reprint in original spelling of the 1611 first edition of the KJV, but it is not a facsimile (a fact missed by several web sites I have seen which display pages from this reprint as though they are from "the original KJV"!). Instead, the text has been re-typeset in roman typeface, in contrast with the original edition, which was set in black-letter type. This volume is extremely useful and quite affordable.
The initial publication of this resetting of the 1611 KJV in roman type was in fact by the Oxford University Press in 1833, and this was reissued c. 1911 with a “Bibliographical Introduction” by Alfred W. Pollard. Thomas Nelson reprinted the resetting in 1982 and 1989, but without Pollard’s introduction or any acknowledgement of the 1833 source volume. As a consequence, many (including myself) have referred to this as the “Nelson” reprint, being unaware of its actual origins. The Thomas Nelson volume appears to have now gone out of print, but here is a link to Hendrickson’s 2003 reprint, which includes the Pollard preface that credits the typesetting to Oxford and outlines the history of the English Bible up to 1611.
(There are also true facsimiles of the 1611 KJV available from the Greatsite website, one a pricey full-size duplication, the other slightly-reduced and far less expensive. Those who do not have a problem reading black-letter type should investigate Greatsite's reproductions, as judging from the photos on their web site they look absolutely beautiful.)
· David Norton, The Textual History of the King James Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Norton, ed., The New
The Textual History of the King James Bible is a recent work of scholarship that gives a detailed history of the English text of the KJV, from its translation and original printing to its current editions. It also explains the rationale behind Professor Norton’s edition of the KJV entitled The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. I recently provided a description of the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, and the current version of this entry (which I cannot promise will be exactly as I wrote it, since anyone is able to make edits and changes to Wikipedia entries!) can be read at this link.
· The Defined King James Bible. Collingswood, NJ: The Bible for Today Press, 1998.
Some may wonder if there is one source that will allow the reader to access the meaning of an unfamiliar KJV word at a glance. A new edition of the Authorized Version from The Bible for Today, the ministry headed by Dr. D.A. Waite, contains succinct definitions of such words at the foot of every page of Scripture. These definitions, compiled by Dr. Waite's son Mr. D.A. Waite, Jr., are quite thorough and should be helpful to those who need quick information.
Other Sources: I have found a great many additional sources to be useful, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed., 1989; I have the compact edition), the Master Christian Library CD published by Ages Software, and the so-called "Berry's Interlinear" (full title: Interlinear Greek-English New Testament with a Greek-English Lexicon and New Testament Synonyms by George Ricker Berry, originally published in the 19th century and reprinted many times; I have reprints from Baker Book House of Grand Rapids, MI, 1982, and from Zondervan, no date). The Latin Vulgate can be more easily found in the modern critical editions, such as the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft edition, than in the Clementine recension (1592) that the King James men knew and mentioned in "Translators to the Reader"; however, a Clementine Biblia Vulgata edited by Alberto Colunga and Laurentio Turrado (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1999 [10th edition]) is available from Schoenhof's Foreign Books. There is also an online version of the Clementine Vulgate, edited by Michael Tweedale, here.
I also want to mention two of the earliest significant modern versions, the Revised Version of 1881-5 and the American Standard Version of 1901, as being of historical interest ("And thereupon these errors are arose," to borrow a line from Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors). There is a reprint of the ASV by Star Bible of Fort Worth, Texas (1992), and the ASV is also available as part of several Bible software packages, including SwordSearcher, as well as the Master Christian Library mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
The Revised Version, in contrast, has faded so completely from view that it is extremely difficult to find. I have seen exactly three copies in my entire life—one an old family Bible which I saw as a child, the next a secondhand bookstore's copy which the title page described as having the Revisers' marginal notes omitted (for which reason I did not buy it), and the last—the one I’ve purchased—an edition by Cambridge University Press (no date) entitled The Interlinear Bible, which appears to be the only edition in print. This latter volume contains the texts of both the KJV and the RV, which when they differ are set against each other in small parallel type, with larger text for the portions where they are identical. As the reader can imagine, such an edition is not exactly ideal for ordinary reading, but it has value as a reference book. The reason that these versions, which obviously long postdate the KJV, are useful is that they help document when a change from the KJV and its predecessors started being advocated by scholars (for example, 1 Sam. 13:1).
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it will give the interested student some direction as he or she begins what I find to be a very intriguing field of study.
(November 1999; last updated 19 January 2008.)