On October 6, 1536, a pitiful figure was led from a dungeon in Vilvorde Castle near Brussels, Belgium. For nearly a year and a half, the man had suffered isolation in a dark, damp cell. Now outside the castle wall, the prisoner was fastened to a post. He had time to utter aloud his final prayer, “Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes,” and then he was strangled. Immediately his body was burned at the stake. His name was William Tyndale, and his crime was to have translated and published the Bible in English.
Tyndale was a devoted student of the Bible, and the pervasive ignorance of the scriptures that he observed in both priests and lay people troubled him deeply. He sought the approval of church authorities to prepare a translation of the Bible in English so that all could read and apply the word of God. It was denied—the prevailing view being that direct access to the scriptures by any but the clergy threatened the authority of the church and was tantamount to casting “pearls before swine.” (Matt.7:6)
In 1524 Tyndale left England and went into hiding under constant threat of arrest. He was able to publish English translations of the New Testament from Greek and later the Old Testament from Hebrew. The Bibles were smuggled into England, where they were in great demand and much prized by those who could get them. They were shared widely but in secret. The authorities burned all the copies they could find. Tyndale’s work became the foundation for almost all future English translations of the Bible, most notably the King James Version. (“The Blessing of Scripture,” by D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign Magazine, May 2010)
“It is not by chance or coincidence that we have the Bible today,” said M. Russell Ballard. “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.” (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Liahona Magazine, May 2007)
In England at the time the King James Bible was translated, there was a flowering of great scholars and linguists that has not been duplicated since. The unique skills they possessed were at their apex at this time. The translators were all learned biblical scholars and linguists. It would be difficult to gather 50 scholars with the knowledge of ancient languages possessed by these men.
The King James Bible is regarded by many to be the most beautiful English language version because of its lyrical quality, which seems to speak to the heart and spirit. For example, the New International Reader’s Version reads in Genesis 1:1-3 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty. Darkness was over the surface of the ocean. At that time, the ocean covered the earth. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”
The same verses in the King James Version read: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
In the New Living Translation Bible, Psalm 23:4 reads, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…” King James reads, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
Much of the wording we read today in the King James Bible comes from Tyndale’s translation. And still today, many hold that the King James Version is more doctrinally accurate than more recent versions.
Scholars relied on Tyndale’s work to produce the Coverdale Bible (1535), the Matthew Bible (1537), and the Great Bible (1539). Translators of the Geneva Bible in 1560 and the Bishop’s Bible (1568) used other sources as well as Tyndale’s work.
King James held a conference at Hampton Court Palace in 1604. John Rainolds, a Puritan at the conference, moved that the king commission a new translation of the Bible. King James set forth a resolution to do so and the first edition of the Bible bearing his name was published four hundred years ago in 1611. The original copies measured 16 by 11 inches and weighed 30 pounds. (“400 Years of the King James Bible,” Richard N.W. Lambert and Kenneth R. Mays, Ensign Magazine, August 2011, pp.40-45)
So, why should we treasure easy access to what the Bible has to offer? Scripture tutors us in principles and moral values essential to maintaining civil society, including integrity, responsibility, selflessness, fidelity, and chastity. In the end, the central purpose of scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ—faith that They exist; faith in the Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life; and faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for us.
Speaking to the clergy of his day, William Tyndale 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!” Tyndale reached his goal but at the cost of his life.
Yes, the King James Version of the Bible is alive and well at age 400!
(You can obtain a free copy of the KJV Bible by calling 1-888-537-1212. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org)