A body of men equally qualified

It ought to be received as a "final settlement" of the translation of the Scriptures for popular use,—at least, till the time when a body of men equally qualified can be brought together to re-adjust the work,—a time which most certainly has not yet arrived ! If that time shall ever come, may there be found among their successors the vast learning, wisdom, and piety of the old Translators happily revived!

Alexander Wilson McClure speaking of the King James version in The Translators Revived, 1853

An interesting little debate has sprung up on an old BBB post here about the qualities of the KJV.

While the results of the translators’ work is well-known, it is far less clear who the translators were. In searching online you can find lofty encomiums like this:

Dr. Smith, the author of The Translators To The Readers and one of the final editors, is said to have had Hebrew at his fingers’ ends. He was so conversant in Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic that they were as familiar to him as English. His knowledge of the Greek and Latin fathers was exceptional. He was so versed in literature that he was characterized as a very walking library.


McClure’s book is much more moderate in tone. I’ve only just now downloaded it from Google Books (Go here to get your copy) and thought I’d spend some time this weekend reading it.

Two questions come to my mind:

  1. Was this group in fact representative of “vast learning, wisdom, and piety?”
  2. Could “a body of men equally qualified” be found today?

I’ll be making some notes in the comments of this post as well as updating the content throughout the weekend. I’d love it if you joined in by contributing links and information in the comments.

My first step is to try to figure out who belonged to each of the six groups listed above.

The six groups of translators were: [UPDATED]

Westminster A: (Genesis to 2 Kings)

  1. Dr. Lancelot Andrews
  2. Dr. John Overall
  3. Dr. Hadrian Saravia
  4. Dr. Richard Clarke
  5. Dr. John Laifield
  6. Dr. Robert Tighe
  7. Francis Burleigh
  8. Geoffry King
  9. Richard Thompson
  10. Dr. William Bedwell

Westminster B: (Romans to Jude)

  1. Dr. William Barlow
  2. Dr. John Spencer
  3. Dr. Roger Fenton
  4. Dr. Ralph Hutchinson
  5. William Dakins
  6. Michael Rabbet
  7. [Thomas(?)] Sanderson

Oxford A: (Isaiah to Malachi)

  1. Dr. John Harding
  2. Dr. John Reynolds
  3. Dr. Thomas Holland
  4. Dr. Richard Kilby
  5. Dr. Miles Smith
  6. Dr. Richard Brett
  7. Daniel Fairclough

Oxford B: (Gospels, Acts and Revelation)

  1. Dr. Thomas Ravis
  2. Dr. George Abbot
  3. Dr. Richard Eedes
  4. Dr. Giles Tomson
  5. Sir Henry Savile
  6. Dr. John Peryn
  7. Dr. Ralph Ravens
  8. Dr. John Harmar

Cambridge A: (1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes)

  1. Edward Lively
  2. Dr. John Richardson
  3. Dr. Lawrence Chaderton
  4. Francis Dillingham
  5. Dr. Roger Andrews
  6. Thomas Harrison
  7. Dr. Robert Spaulding
  8. Dr. Andrew Bing

Cambridge B: (Apocrypha)

  1. Dr. John Duport
  2. Dr. William Brainthwaite
  3. Dr. Jeremiah Radcliffe
  4. Dr. Samuel Ward
  5. Dr. Andrew Downes
  6. John Bois
  7. Dr. John Ward
  8. Dr. John Aglionby
  9. Dr. Leonard Hutten

Also participating:

Dr. Thomas Bilson
Dr. Richard Bancroft

(Source: Bible: A History – The Making and Impact of the Bible p.178, and Theophrastus in comments)

23 thoughts on “A body of men equally qualified

  1. Theophrastus says:

    [List incorporated into the post]

    You’ll find biographies of the translators in McClure, but McClure has many errors in it — for example, his description of the history of Acts 1:20 is full of mistakes, as you will readily note by consulting Wycliffe (1380), Tyndale (1534), and Cranmer (1539).

    The basic error that McClure makes is that the only earlier translation he consulted was the Geneva — which was, of course, a famously polemical Bible (both in the translations and the notes). While it is safe to say that the Geneva dominated popular use until the Restoration in 1660, the scientific process involved a much larger range of translations.

    For a modern literary analysis of the scientific principles underlying different 16th and 17th century translations, a standard history is Gerald Hammond, The Making of the English Bible, 1982.

    As I mentioned to you in a private e-mail, a quick summary of the secular politics involved is given here.

  2. Theophrastus says:

    By the way, if you look at the cover page, you will see the author’s name is McClure. Your misspelling of his name is a result of an OCR error.

  3. David Ker says:

    Thanks, T. I knew you’d come through for me.

    Misspelling corrected. The OCR is quite good actually. But by a stroke of luck my Internet was fast enough to download the entire PDF 3.4MB.

    I’m reading the scanned PDF and it is quite easy to read although I haven’t found a way in PDF to bookmark or make notes since it says document rights aren’t enabled.

    I’ve added your names. What was your source?

  4. David Ker says:

    Dr. Lancelot Andrews (Westminster A1) seems like a nice chap. He could have served as interpreter general at the tower of Babel according to reports. He spent 3,000 pounds entertaining the king for 3 days so we’re talking about a polyglot Bill Gates (Equivalent to £478,332.32 today).

    His sermons were much praised as was his knowledge of languages.

  5. Theophrastus says:

    From Wikipedia:

    In his 1997 novel Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut suggested that Andrewes was “the greatest writer in the English language,” citing as proof the first few verses of the 23rd Psalm.

  6. David Ker says:

    WA2 John Overall confessed when asked to preach before the Queen that “he had spoken Latin so long it was troublesome to him to speak in English.”

    Interesting. We had that trouble with a Nyungwe translator. He had lived in Zimbabwe so long that he spoke Shona and English better than Nyungwe.

    Alas, in his later years he was “unhappily inclined to Arminianism.”

    WA3 Hadrian Saravia. A Belgian. A “terrible high church-man.”

    WA4 Poor Dr. Clarke. He gets only a paragraph ending with the word “mud.”

    WA5 Dr. Laifield “being skilled in architecture.”

    WA6 Dr Tighe “leaving to his son an estate of 1000 pounds a year; which is worth mentioning because so rarely done by men of the clerical profession.” (Yeah, tell me about it… )

    WA7 Francis Burleigh. Remarkable for being unremarkable.

    WA8 King. Professor of Hebrew at Kings College, Cambridge.

    WA9 Thompson. A Dutchman. “The grand propagator of Arminianism” and “a most admirable philoger.”

    WA10 Bedwell. Arabic expert.

  7. Theophrastus says:

    In fact, McClure has the list! But you can find it other places — here are my secondary sources. Note that Allen’s two books contain original sources.

    These books are all in my personal library and I can testify to their quality.

    I also recommend obtaining facsimile and transcribed copies of original Bibles; most early Bibles are now available.

    (Because WordPress censors me when I have too many links, I will just give ISBNs) here:

    Various, Cambridge History of the Bible (volume 1: ISBN 0521099730, volume 2: ISBN 0521290171, volume 3: ISBN 0521290163)

    Norton, History of the Bible as Literature (volume 1: ISBN 0521617006, volume 2: ISBN 0521617014.

    Norton, History of the English Bible as Literature (ISBN 0521778077)

    Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible (ISBN: 0521771005)

    McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (ISBN: 0385722168)

    Hammond, Making of the English Bible (ISBN: 0802224199)

    Allen, Translating for King James: Notes made by a Translator of the King James’s Bible (ISBN: 0826512461)

    Allen & Jacobs, The Coming of the King James Gospels: A Collation of the Translators’ Work-In-Progress (ISBN: 1557283451)

    Nicholson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (ISBN 0060838736)

    Except for Hammond, all of the above books are readily available from Amazon; and Hammond can easily be found used.

    Other books (not recommended):

    Vance, King James, His Bible, and Its Translators (ISBN 0976344815)

    Opfel, The King James Bible Translators (ISBN: 0786411570)

  8. David Ker says:

    After looking at the synopsis of the lives of the ten men involved in Westminster A, a few things stand out for me.

    1. They’re fluent in Latin rather than English
    2. They are men of power and wealth.
    3. They’re men.
    4. They’re scholars not poets or artists.

    Despite McClure’s encomiums, there is really very little evidence of their proficiency in Biblical languages. I never believe someone when they say they’re fluent in several languages. The bystander always thinks a speaker of a language unknown to him is more fluent than they really are.

    Although I’m emphasizing the negatives still there’s no questioning the erudition of these scholars. My current hypothesis is that the genius of the KJV traces back not to these translators but to Tyndale through the Geneva. In Tyndale we have scholarship wedded to deep spirituality and conviction (although he was not without his political biases).

    Interesting also to read that the Puritans coming to the New World brought the Geneva rather than the KJV. Also that the Geneva was the Bible of Shakespeare, Milton and others.

    It seems likely to me in this group that Andrews was the driving force and that the others gave input on the work he did. I’ve worked on committee translations and they tend to be very slow. This version was completed in two and a half years so I expect Andrews would propose a revision of the Geneva (skipping the Bishops) and then they would discuss the rendering. Something in the back of my mind is reminding me of a reference to different parts of the Bible being portioned out to the various translators but I need to hunt for a link.

  9. David Ker says:

    I’ve just discovered a terrific resource for comparing these ancient versions: http://www.studylight.org/par/

    All the translations in this post are available (as well as Vulgate and Wycliffe) and can be compared with one another including a feature that highlights differences. I plan to show differences and borrowings between these translations in a later post.

  10. David Ker says:

    “Yet even so long ago, and ever since, there were persons there whose sentiments resembled what is now called by the sublime title Puseyism” (p.124)

    I just love this stuff. What in the heck is Puseyism? Named for Edward Bouverie Pusey, it is synonymous with tractarianism (a system of High Church principles set forth in a series of tracts at Oxford).

  11. Jim Swindle says:

    My somewhat unscholarly observations:
    The KJV translators were certainly far from perfect. The Lord used they beyond their abilities. The translation they produced was very, very good.

    Yet could a Bible today match the quality of their work? Yes, I think so. Do some Bibles today match the quality of their work? I believe there are a number of modern translations that are better for modern people than the KJV. Whether any of these is as good for our day as the KJV was for its day, I can’t say.

    We have wonderful scholarly tools available to us these days. I see two chief drawbacks for modern translation.
    #1 – Most of us are so distracted by other things–including being distracted by the Better Bibles blog 🙂 –that we don’t learn languages as well as we could, nor do we know the Lord as well as we could.
    #2 – We have so much information bombarding us from every side that it’s extremely hard not to get sucked in by the spirit of our age.

  12. Theophrastus says:

    David —

    You have come far, Grasshopper, in your examination of the origin of the KJV. Now, here is my mystery put to you:

    As you know, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290. I am not certain that any of the KJV translators ever met a Jew. Certainly none studied Hebrew with a fluent speaker.

    Furthermore, the era of the great Christian Hebraists lay largely in the future — of course there were the relatively minor contributions of Roger Bacon in the 13th century and the contemporary work of Johannes Buxtorf (but his primary study of the Hebrew Bible, Biblic Hebraica, would not appear until 1618.

    And yet, all agree that the KJV represented a significant improvement in the Hebrew over Tyndale’s partial translation and the Geneva.

    So, clearly, the KJV has some “secret sauce” that helped it present the Hebrew much better any of its predecessors had. Have you figured out what that “secret sauce” is yet?

  13. David Ker says:

    Jim, amen to #1 and #2. (with the exception of reading BBB, of course!)

    Theophrastus, could this have anything to do with numerical codes? Or possibly the architecture of old churches? I hope so. In the meantime I’ll start searching although I’d appreciate help from readers.

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    No, Theophrastus, I’m quite sure the KJV translators were members of a Hebrew-speaking secret sect which preserved the bloodline of Jesus, the true meaning of the Bible, and the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That is why they were able to produce a translation which, as so many people tell us, is perfectly inspired and translated and to be preferred over any surviving ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. And my name isn’t Dan Brown! 😉

    Hold on, didn’t the bishops among them, or some of them, claim to preserve the line of laying on of hands from Jesus, the true meaning of the Bible, and the full authority of the Holy Spirit? That’s not Dan Brown but the 39 Articles, more or less. But sadly nothing there about the Hebrew.

  15. Theophrastus says:

    Yes Lancelot Andrewes was a major intellectual figure of the time. Suzanne wrote about him here on this very blog. You will notice he still has dozens of books available on Amazon, and a “Western Orthodox” group even named its publishing press after him (as well as republishing some of his work).

    You are right that Fagius, Tremellius, and Chevalier were used by the KJV translators, but Fagius was already known to the Geneva translators. If you look midway on page 165 of the book you link to, you’ll find another part of the answer — for the first time, the KJV translators studied the medieval Jewish commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and especially David Kimhi. The close hewing of the KJV translator to these Jewish commentators lead to the expression “our translation” to refer to the KJV among the Jewish community when the Jews were allowed to return to England after 1656. Many of the first major Jewish English translation were based on the KJV (or simply reprinted the KJV) or its immediate successor RV.

  16. Sue says:

    But we know that Pagnini was already influenced by Rashi. In fact, I blogged about this with reference to Psalm 51.

    I would like to be able to join the dialogue, but alas …

  17. Peter Kirk says:

    Dr. Lancelot Andrews (Westminster A1) seems like a nice chap.

    Maybe, David, but he is not your standard evangelical, more a crypto-Roman Catholic. I just found this about him quoted by Ruth Gledhill:

    Andrewes was in regular dialogue with S. Robert Bellarmine SJ and it is in this dialogue and Andrewes’ other writings that I saw how Catholic he was with regards to the Eucharist being the Christian offering which consisted of more than a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It was and is propitiatory as well as other things.

  18. Theophrastus says:

    Lancelot Andrewes was one of the most complex figures of the age. In many ways he is the hero of the KJV. As Nicholson writes: “As broad as the great Bible itself, scholarly, political, passionate, agonized, in love with the English language, endlessly investigating its possibilities, worldly, saintly, serene, sensuous, courageous, craven, if not corrupt then at least compromised, deeply engaged in pastoral care, generous, loving, in public bewitched by ceremony, in private troubled by persistent guilt and self-abasement.”

    Two facts about the different sides of Andrewes: (1)Under Elizabeth he twice turned down a bishopric — not because he felt unworthy of the honor but because he did not consider the income of the sees he was offered satisfactory. (2) He spent five hours every morning at prayer, much of it in tears, weeping for the miserableness of his soul.

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