The King James Version Was Not
a New Translation
The title page of the 1611 King James Version Bible says, “Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised.” However, the King James Version was not really a new translation.
The KJV translation committees were instructed to follow the Bishops’ Bible as much as possible. The Bishops’ Bible (1568) followed the translation of the Great Bible (1539), which was a revision of Matthew’s Bible (1537), which was a revision of the Coverdale Bible (1535) that included Tyndale’s translation. Therefore, much of the 1611 King James Version actually originated with William Tyndale nearly 100 years earlier.
William Tyndale was a brilliant linguist and a superb translator. Many of the phrases in his translation are still in use today: “give up the ghost” (Job 3:11, 13:19), “the powers that be” (Romans 13:1), “my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9), “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), “fight the good fight” (I Timothy 6:12), “a law unto themselves” (Romans 2:14), and many more.
In many respects the King James Version was a revision of Tyndale’s translation. This is demonstrated by the KJV’s use of “thou” and “thee” instead of “you.” Alister McGrath says that “a careful study of the court records of the northern English city of Durham suggests that ‘you’ had replaced ‘thou’ as the normal form of address in spoken English by about 1575,” thirty-five years before James’s new translation.
Genesis 3:11, in which God speaks to Adam, says in the KJV, “And he said, who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten
of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” This is almost the same as Tyndale’s translation, which says, “And he said: who told the that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, of which I bade the that thou shouldest not eate?”
The use of “thee” and “thou” in the KJV does not reflect spoken English in 1611. Instead it reflects spoken English in the early 1500s, one hundred years earlier. The translators themselves said in the preface that they never set out to make a new translation, but to make “out of many good ones, one principal good one.”