When Was the King James Bible Written?

Mike Leake

Borrowed Light
Published Mar 15, 2023
When Was the King James Bible Written?

The King James Version of the Bible is a masterpiece of literature. It’s writing and meter makes it easier to memorize than some modern translations. It’s history alone makes it worth reading and valuing. It is a faithful translation of God’s Word.

“For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life” (John 3:16).

That looks a little different than the John 3:16 that you’ve memorized, doesn’t it? That is the original 1611 KJV version of the Bible. The English of 1611 is a bit different that the English of even 100 years later. Very few people who are walking around with a King James Bible are using the original KJV. Most are using an updated version.

What is the history of the King James Bible? Why is it important? And is it the most accurate translation of the Scriptures?

When Was the KJV Written?

There was much turmoil within the church of England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Henry VIII was a Protestant, but only kind of. His daughter, Queen Mary, had a chip on her shoulder because of how her mother was treated, and also attempted to restore the empire to Roman Catholicism. She is the one known to history as Bloody Mary. This brought much turmoil until Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant, brought stability.

It was during this time that the Puritans came to be. They thought that Elizabeth did not take the reforms far enough. There were still charges of “popery” (the idea that too much Roman Catholicism remained within the Church of England). In 1604, when James took throne, the Puritans met with him to make demands for reform. This has become known as the Hampton Court Conference.

The Puritans wanted to change church government, the Book of Common Prayer, and they urged a new translation of the Bible. Many of the Puritans used the Geneva Bible and others with the Church of England used The Bishop’s Bible. They needed an authorized version. James rejected many of the Puritan demands for reform, but did commission a new translation of the Bible. The idea was to have the most accurate translation and one which could be widely circulated.

But there is a little more to the story. The Geneva Bible had margins and annotations which at times clashed with the hierarchical structures of England. This was the preferred Bible of the Puritans and what many would have been reading in their homes. It threatened the power of the crown. Rather than outlaw the Geneva Bible, James decided to create a new translation (modeled after The Bishop’s Bible) which would be the new authorized version for all of England.

He commissioned 51 scholars. They then formed six subcommittees (yes, tons of committees even before Southern Baptists were a thing). The work was completed in 1611, and Richard Bancroft is credited with being the overseer of the project – not Shakespeare and not King James.

Who Was King James?

King James is known as James I and James VI. He was known as simply King James in England, but was King James VI as the King of Scotland. It was James who would have the opportunity to unite the kingdoms. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. (That’s not Bloody Mary.)

Elizabeth never had children. The next in line, then, was the great-great grandson of Henry VII and the potential successor of Ireland, Scotland, and England. He reigned over all three for 22 years, dying in 1625. James was a committed Scottish Presbyterian but was a staunch defender of the authority of the crown over ecclesiastical matters. In Scotland he attempted to reestablish an episcopacy (this was met with disdain by the Presbyterians).

There is considerable debate around the sexuality of King James. He was betrothed to Anne of Denmark when he was 23 and she was only 14, and they had nine children together. But it is also rumored that at the age of 13 he fell madly in love with his male cousin, Esmé Stuart. And there are also existing love letters to his “male favorites.” One of these was a young Scotsman named Robert Carr. There were many rumors of their relationship. But there are also rumors of his affair with Anne Murray.

5 Things to Know about the KJV

Here are a few quick facts about the King James Version of the Bible that are important to know.

1. The King James Version has had a number of revisions.

There were revisions in 1629 and 1638. In 1760, a major Oxford revision was begun and completed in 1769. The next attempts at revision were undertaken in the middle of the 19th century.

2. Many common phrases we use today find their origin in the KJV Bible.

A few examples: bite the dust, go the extra mile, wolf in sheep’s clothing, broken heart, a thorn in the flesh, aha, army, born again, dwarf, scapegoat, and many more.

3. The KJV is still the most owned version in the US.

31% of Bible readers purchased a KJV, whereas the second place NIV only registered 13% of readers.

4. The Apocrypha was included in the original 1611.

The 14 books of the Apocrypha (and accepted as canonical by the Catholic Church) were included in the 1611 edition of the KJV.

5. The KJV is the best selling book (and Bible version) ever.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many editions have been sold, but it is estimated that 3.9 billion copies of The Bible have been sold. If we take the 31% figure from earlier, this would place it easily at 1 billion sold.

Is the KJV the Most Accurate Bible Translation?

This is a difficult question to answer. Yes, there are those who will undoubtedly say that the King James Version of the Bible is the only acceptable version. Some will even teach that the 1611 edition of the KJV is inspired in the same way in which the original manuscripts were inspired.

But I say this is a difficult question because it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Or maybe it would be better to say that before we can answer the question of accuracy, we need to decide whether we’re talking apples or oranges. There are three major competing Greek sources to use for translating the New Testament: the critical text, the majority text, and the textus receptus.

The King James Version used the Textus Receptus. But since 1611 we have found numerous other manuscripts. And we have had years of engaging in textual criticism. Simply put, we have far more information available to us than we did in 1611. But some reject these other manuscripts. So, depending on where you land on that question will determine how you answer the question of accuracy.

Furthermore, there is a question of translation strategy. What does it mean to be “accurate”? If I translate something word-for-word but it doesn’t quite crossover languages, am I truly accurate? Consider Ephesians 4:22 in the KJV:

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man…”

Ask any modern reader what “conversation” means and they will connect it to talking. So, in their mind what does Ephesians 4:22 mean? It means that we shouldn’t talk the way we once did. But that’s not at all what the Greek word means. Nor is it even what “conversation” meant in 1611. Back then your “conversation” was your way of life. Now consider the NIV:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…”

Which one, then, is the most accurate? It’s not really appropriate to say that the KJV isn’t accurate, but perhaps we could bring out one of those old KJV words and say that it “isn’t meet.” It’s not exactly proper for the modern conventions of language. To insist upon using the KJV-only, then, is to go against their own intentions for creating a Bible in the language of the common tongue.

For me, personally, I would say that the King James Version is no longer the most accurate or faithful to the original. That does not mean that it does not have value or that it ought to be disrespected. There are times in which I’ll find myself agreeing with the translation of the KJV over a modern translation.

The King James Version of the Bible is a masterpiece of literature. It’s writing and meter makes it easier to memorize than some modern translations. It’s history alone makes it worth reading and valuing. It is a faithful translation of God’s Word. 

Photo credit: Unsplash/Tim Wildsmith

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.