Instructions to the Translators
Lambeth Palace - Residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury
hen the King James Bible project started in 1604, Archbishop Richard Bancroft was appointed the principal overseer. As the project manager, Bancroft issued the instructions to the translators.
To help start the project, King James wrote to Bancroft with a list of suggested instructions of his own. The king's letter to Bancroft still exists in the library at Lambeth Palace. The palace has been the official residence of the Church of England Archbishops for over 700 years. The date on the king' letter shows that he wrote it six months after the conference at Hampton Court Palace where the project was initiated.
There is little doubt that Bancroft considered the king's suggestions, however many of the king's instructions were not implemented. Although the king wanted the Bishops Bible to be the cornerstone of the project, the Geneva Bible had a greater influence on many verses; and an even greater influence came from the Bible of William Tyndale. Even the use of old ecclesiastical words does not comply with any other Bible of the period. There are also over 7,000 margin notes and many give reference to other known manuscript readings.
The translators, who had access to many different manuscripts, were clearly focused on producing the most accurate Bible that the evidence before them allowed. What follows are the instructions issued by Bancroft, which were clearly used only as a guideline:
INSTRUCTIONS TO THE TRANSLATORS
- The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
- The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, accordingly as they are vulgarly used.
- The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, as the word church, not to be translated congregation.
- When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place and the analogies of faith.
- The division of chapters to be altered either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.
- No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed, in the text.
- Such quotations of places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit reference of one Scripture to another.
- Every particular man of each company to take the same chapter or chapters; and, having translated or amended them severally by himself where he thinks good, all to meet together to confirm what they have done, and agree for their part what shall stand.
- As any one company hath dispatched any one book in this manner, they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously; for his Majesty is very careful on this point.
- If any company, upon the review of the book so sent, shall doubt or differ upon any places, to send them word thereof, to note the places, and therewithal to send their reasons; to which if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at the general meeting, which is to be of the chief persons of each company, at the end of the work.
- When any place of special obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to send to any learned man in the land for his judgment of such a place.
- Letters to be sent from every bishop to the rest of his clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as, being skillful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind, to send their particular observations to the company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford, according as it was directed before in the king's letter to the archbishop.
- The directors in each company to be the Deans of Westminster and Chester, for Westminster, and the king's professors in Hebrew and Greek in the two universities.
- These translations to be used, when they agree better with the text than the Bishops' Bible: Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's [Rogers'], Whitchurch's [Cranmer's], Geneva."
- By a later rule, "three or four of the most ancient and grave divines, in either of the universities, not employed in translating, to be assigned to be overseers of the translation, for the better observation of the fourth rule."