For those of you who didn’t know, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Before you dismiss the importance of this fact with a “who cares; it’s outdated and irrelevant–move on!” type of attitude, consider that the King James Version (KJV) is still widely in use by Jesus’ church today. God is still using it, despite its flowery but quirky antiquated terms and phrases. More importantly, though, consider this: It was the KJV translation which was used by God to spread the gospel throughout England, from England to America, and down through all generations, pretty much up to the generation right before ours. God has used this book to regenerate souls, and to grow and mature his church. Many of those who have influenced us spiritually read, studied, meditated on and memorized the KJV. How can we not join them in thanking God for that faithful version of our precious Bible, that has done so much good for Christ and His Kingdom?
What follows is a brief biography of King James himself–the man who commissioned the Bible to be translated 400 years ago. It may be gimmicky, but since blog posts average about 800 words, it seemed fitting to write a two-part introduction to his life in 1,611 words (after the year 1611, when the KJV was first published, in case you missed that). I hope that this will give you a fuller appreciation of this version of the Scriptures–and maybe cause you to rejoice and praise God, rather than rolling your eyes, the next time a fellow believer pulls out or quotes from his KJV. Enjoy!
James Charles Stuart was born in 1566 to Mary, Queen of Scots. Though staunchly Roman Catholic, Mary never fully suppressed the Protestants. Her firmest opponent was John Knox, who said Mary had a “proud mind, crafty wit and indurate heart against God and His truth.” Mary once said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of Europe.
In 1567, Mary was forced from the throne due to her involvement in the murder of her husband (and James’ father), Lord Darnley (allegedly for his having put Mary’s lover to death). She fled to England, seeking vindication by from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, however, had Mary imprisoned. Twenty years later Elizabeth had Mary executed for conspiring to assassinate her. James was crowned King of Scotland at the age of thirteen months. Knox preached at his coronation ceremony.
Though several people had a role in raising James, his tutor George Buchanan was particularly influential. Buchanan was a firm Calvinist, but a rigid tutor, leading James to chafe at Buchanan. Later in life, though, James boasted of being Buchanan’s pupil. In fact, James’ most salient quality, his insatiable thirst for learning, revealed Buchanan’s influence. James has been called “one of the most learned and intellectually curious men to ever sit on any throne.” Cambridge University Press praised James’ writings as “among the most important and influential British writings” of this era of British history. Church historian Carl Trueman adds, “James is arguably the most brilliant intellectual who ever sat on the throne of England.” James wrote prolifically on a variety of topics, from Christian theology to a thesis defending the divine right of kings (against a growing popular opinion that said a king ultimately had to answer to his subjects).
At 12, James began to reign in Scotland. His reign was uneventful for several years. By 1589 he had set his affections on Anne of Denmark, daughter of King Frederick II . James sent for her to join him in Scotland, but her ship met with trouble on the seas; it became separated from the other ships in her fleet by a great storm. James called for fasting and prayers. He wrote to her, “Only to one who knows me as well as his own reflection in a glass could I express, my dearest love, the fears which I have experienced because of the contrary winds and violent storms since you embarked.” In what one historian calls “the one romantic episode of his life,” James boarded a ship, along with 300 men, to personally fetch Anne and bring her safely to Scotland. When the two finally met up, he greeted her by giving her a kiss “in the Scottish fashion.”
Anne was well-suited for James, sharing his love of literature and of an elaborate form of royal entertainment known as “masques”. James wrote poems for Anne. Anne bore him eight children, though only three survived into adulthood.
James’ Calvinist upbringing led him to understand his reign as a reign before God, and desired to please God by ruling well. The best known of his writings on this topic was Basilikon Doron (translated Kingly Gift), written to his son Henry. James knew the fragility of kings’ lives, and wanted to advise his son on how to rule well. Despite its personal nature, Basilikon Doron became arguably one of James’ best works. For example, when advising Henry on the importance of his relationship with God, he said,
Diligently read his word, and earnestly…pray for the right understanding of it. “Search the scriptures,” says Christ, “for they will bear testimony of me.” Paul says that the whole of Scriptures are profitable to teach, to improve, to correct, and to instruct in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect unto all good works.
The whole Scripture contain but two things: a command and a prohibition. Obey in both…The worship of God is wholly grounded upon the Scripture, and made alive by faith.
One of James’ great ambitions was to unite Scotland and England under one king; by God’s providence, he did so after Elizabeth died unmarried and without heir in 1603. James, next in line, was subsequently crowned King of England. (This is why James is often called “James VI and I”–he was the James VI of Scotland for 36 years before becoming James I of England.)
(Post to be continued tomorrow, with a focus on the circumstances and events surrounding the translation of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.)