King James Bible


01The Story Of The King James Bible, The Commission
01The Story Of The King James Bible, The Commission20110103

James Naughtie tells the story of how King James commissioned a new Bible translation.

The King James, or Authorised, Version of the Bible remains the most widely published text in the English language.

It has been called the "noblest monument of English prose" and has been recognised for centuries as both a religious and literary classic.

In the first of three programmes marking the 400th anniversary of its publication, James Naughtie tells the story of how and why King James IV of Scotland and I of England decided on a new translation of the Bible.

The programme is recorded at Hampton Court Palace.

A conference here in early 1604 led to the commissioning of the King James Version.

The Chief Curator at the palace, Lucy Worsley and James Naughtie walk the palace grounds, scene of so much Tudor and Stuart frivolity, and a refuge from the plague.

Before the earnestness of the January conference there had been masques and feasting and Shakespearean drama.

England was still revelling in its new monarch after the stultifying later years of Elizabeth's reign and breathing a sigh of relief that the accession had been a smooth one.

The Chapel Royal provides a fitting setting for James to discuss the position of the monarchy in Jacobean England with Professor Pauline Croft.

The King sat in the Royal Pew, high above his bishops and clergy.

James I's had written about his ideas of divine kingship in "Basilikon Doron," addressed to his young son.

In The Great Watching Chamber we hear about the religious background to James' reign.

Elizabeth's death had lifted the lid on the tensions between the godly (Puritans) and the conformists (Anglican bishops).

The godly had presented a petition to James on his journey from Scotland to London demanding the end to religious practices they found beyond the pale; wearing vestments, making the sign of the cross, the exchange of wedding rings, the power of the bishops.

It was to address these concerns that James had called the conference.

We follow in the footsteps of the conference delegates through the palace and into the Kings state apartments.

James Naughtie learns about the key characters at the conference - the pugnacious puritan-basher Bishop of London, Richard Bancroft, the great preacher and conformist Lancelot Andrewes and the leader of the Puritan delegation, John Rainolds.

The Puritans had a delicate line to pursue, criticising the establishment and the episcopacy without undermining royal supremacy.

But James was having none of it - "No Bishops, no King!" It was an ill tempered conference, with James harrying the protagonists on both sides.

He was a brilliant theologian himself, and in him some of the most learned men in the country met their match.

The suggestion for a new translation of the Bible was made by John Rainolds.

He was hoping to undermine the authorised Bishops Bible and elevate the Geneva version favoured by Puritans.

James acceded to the request because he agreed that all the various translations on offer had their faults.

A victory for Rainolds? Not so.

James singled out the Geneva Bible, with its controversial marginal notes, as the worst of them all.

After the conference, Bancroft drew up the rules for translation, had them approved by the king, and brought together six companies of translators based in Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster.

Work began at once.

Barely a year later the Gunpowder Plot traumatised England.

It turned out to be one of James' finest moments as a statesman, and it gave impetus to his vision of a new translation of the Bible that could unite the country's church and people.

Producer: Rosie Dawson.

02The Story Of The King James Bible, The Translation
02The Story Of The King James Bible, The Translation
02The Story Of The King James Bible, The Translation20110104

James Naughtie on how a committee of Bible translators produced a "national epic.".

In the second of two programmes marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, James Naughtie tells the story of how six companies of men produced a new translation of Bible which has come to be regarded as one of the greatest works of English literature ever produced.

The programme opens in the main quadrangle of the Bodleian library.

A statue of King James stands high over the courtyard, books in hand.

The King loved the Bodleian.

In a visit there in 1605 he said that he would love to spend his life chained alongside the library's chained books.

The translators in London, Cambridge and Oxford drew on several earlier translations of the Bible as they went about their work.

In the chapel at Hertford college, Oxford, Jim sees a stained glass window of William Tyndale, the first man to translate the Bible into English directly from Hebrew and Greek.

The translators drew heavily on his work.

Many of the phrases that come to mind when we think of the King James Bible are in fact those of Tyndale.

The translators had several other Bible translations at their disposal too.

Each had their own agenda; the Great Bible with its frontispiece depicting the idea of Royal Supremacy; the Puritans' Geneva Bible which challenged that very idea.

One of the Oxford companies of translators worked in the Tower room at Corpus Christi college.

It looks much as it did in the 17th century with the crests of the Oxford colleges embossed around the ceiling and wooden panelling.

This was the room of John Rainolds, the college president and one of the "godly." It was Rainolds who as head of the Puritan faction had initiated the new translation at the Hampton court conference.

The company met there because Rainolds suffered from gout.

He died in 1607 - but most of his company's work was already complete.

James is shown two extraordinary documents which reveal how the translators worked.

One, a 1602 copy of the Bishops Bible, contains annotations made by the scholars suggesting alternative translations.

The other is a copy of notes made by one which reveals the mind of the revision committee which met to review the translations of all the companies.

James Naughtie goes to Stationers Hall in London where that revision committee met.

It's here that the King James Bible would have been read out loud for the first time.

As James hears the opening words from Genesis, he reflects on the achievement of the translators in giving a version of the Bible which has come to be our "national epic.".

03 LASTThe Story Of The King James Bible, The Legacy
03 LASTThe Story Of The King James Bible, The Legacy20110105

James Naughtie on the enduring place of the King James Bible in British culture.

The King James Bible is everywhere.

We see it in hair commercials, film titles, novels, music, even in the way we speak.

It is lauded with praise as "The great monument to English Prose." But how and why has it achieved such a status? What is its significance in the English speaking world? In the final programme to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication, James Naughtie assesses the legacy of the King James Bible.

He begins in the pub.

James meets linguist and Renaissance scholar Gordon Campbell, the Jamaican poet Kei Miller and Rachel Holmes from the Southbank centre to discuss the surprising and unusual places we hear of the King James today.

"Salt of the earth", "skin of their teeth", "Apple of his eye" are all phrases that

have come into the English language through the King James Bible, but do any of the drinkers in the pub know this?

The King James Bible became part of our everyday speech because of the role that Christian belief and practise has played in our national story.

Jim will meet Giles Fraser at St.

Paul's Cathedral to discuss the central place of the Bible and Christianity within British culture.

For 300 years the King James Bible reigned supreme.

Nearly everyone went to church and the King James Bible was the only translation to be used.

Preachers would draw crowds of over a thousand and the words of the King James gradually worked their way into the blood stream of all those in the country.

Today most people don't attend church, but they will come across the King James in one of the most famous pieces of music the world has ever known, Handel's Messiah.

Handel and Charles Jennens, who composed the libretto for Messiah, were accused of blasphemy for staging a sacred work in the immoral world of the theatre.

They had moved the Bible away from its original place and purpose and reinvented it for a changing audience.

But today Handel keeps the King James Bible in our hearts and minds like no other artist.

His oratorios are the conduits through which the Bible comes to us.

The KJB was the book of the Empire.

Where the empire spread, the Bible spread and that Bible was the KJB.

Back in the OBE chapel at St.

Pauls, James discusses the spread of the King James Bible through the Empire.

It was used both to defend and challenge the slave trade.

When slaves learnt to read, they read the Bible in a whole new way.

They read the story of the Exodus and the Sermon on the Mount and changed the way the world thought.

The KJB would be used in the abolition addresses of Abraham Lincoln, in the famous speeches of the civil rights movement and in the writings of African-American authors.

The tool of oppression became the tool of liberation.

In the late 19th Century the demand for a more accurate and a more accessible translation of the Bible became apparent.

This led to the publication of The Revised Version in 1881.

Keeping very much in the tradition of the King James Bible, it posed no immediate threat but it did open the flood gates for numerous translations which appeared throughout the 20th Century.

Today in churches it is the RSV, NIV and Good News that reign supreme; the King James is like the best china which is only brought out for special occasions.

The KJB has become one among many, serving a consumerist society.

What is important to Christians now is not the elegance of the language but the ability to understand.

People want a Bible which is suitable for them.

So where is the support for the King James Bible today? Rather surprisingly its keenest proponents today are secularists.

They praise it for the beauty of language, extol its place within our culture and vehemently campaign for it to be taught in schools and universities but as a work of literature rather than a work of God.

Knowledge of the King James Bible may be waning, but its place in our culture is secure.

It can still be used for religious devotion but its impact is far wider reaching.

It has a great power to challenge and subvert but also to amuse and entertain.

It constantly reinvents itself for new audiences and situations.

The KJB is very much alive today and pops up in the most surprising of places.