Sluice Box Adventures

Believing Bible Study in the 21st century


God Almighty has blessed his word in the form of the Authorized King James Bible in a way never seen before in the history of written language.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."


Cowden International © 2013 John Cowden

Seven Times Through A Furnace of Earth

John Cowden1. From a philological standpoint, the transition from the Middle English of Wycliffe to Modern English was almost complete by the reign of Henry VIII in the early 1500's. And more importantly, the tide of reform which had been rising for more than two centuries was cresting across the continent and into England. The Byzantine Greek text, which had never been supplanted by Jerome's Latin for such groups as the Waldenses, Bogomiles, Anabaptists, Cathari and Brethren of the Common Life, had come to the attention of spirited reformers like Martin Luther, and godly (not secular) humanists like Desiderius Erasmus. These conditions coupled with the invention of printing prepared the field for God to call forth a man named William Tyndale. After graduating from Oxford, Tyndale undoubtedly studied Greek at Cambridge under Erasmus. This would have brought him into contact both with the humanistic tradition of critical scholarship, and with Erasmus's Greek Textus Receptus. Having visited Wittenburg, he would likewise have encountered Luther who published his German translation from Greek and Hebrew, not Latin, in 1522. In 1526 Tyndale completed and published his translation of the Greek Receptus into English. Before paying with his life for his faithfulness to his Saviour (October, 1535), Tyndale's translation from the Masoretic Hebrew of the Pentateuch and Jonah had been published. His famous last words were an earnest prayer for God to open the eyes of the king of England.

2. Tyndale's prayer was answered speedily, for Henry VIII broke with Rome and commissioned Miles Coverdale to translate the Scriptures into English. Coverdale's Translation was published in 1535. He was associated with Tyndale, and likewise adopted both Erasmian and Lutheran opinions. Although a courageous and dedicated anti-papist who publicly denounced images and the mass, Coverdale was more even tempered than Tyndale, and he tended to moderate Tyndale's more dogmatic approach. If he relied more heavily on Jerome and Pagninus than had Tyndale, he also made good use of Luther's and Zwingli's German translations as well as Tyndale's English. He wisely toned down or dispensed with most of Tyndale's marginal notes which had been a source of consternation for King Henry. And the smoothness and rhythm of his prose provided a central heritage of the English language which formed the basis for the five remaining revisions (purifications). Though unpretentious and mild-mannered, Coverdale never hesitated to jeopardize his own safety and comfort for the name of his Redeemer. He narrowly escaped martyrdom on more than one occasion, and often showed (as had Tyndale) more concern for the surety of his manuscripts than for his skin.

3. A revision of Coverdale's Bible was completed in 1537 probably by John Rogers. This text was known as Matthew's Bible, and showed the influence of a French translation by the Calvinist Olivetan. The major importance of Matthew's Bible was that it served to link Tyndale and Coverdale textually with the later Textus Receptus translations of the Reformation in England.

4. In 1539 Matthew's Bible was revised by Taverner, but this revision was of little influence. However, in the same year a revision by Coverdale was published under Thomas Cromwell's patronage, which came to be known as the Great Bible. This text was also referred to as Cranmer's Bible owing to his having sponsored it and written a preface to the second edition. It is interesting to note that although Coverdale managed to die a natural death, Bishop Cranmer, whose name was also connected with the Great Bible, sprinkled the Book gloriously with his own martyr's blood. Once again, Coverdale relied heavily on Latin translations. However, this time instead of Jerome, he used Erasmus's Latin for the New Testament, and the Protestant Munster's for the Old.

5. The stream of conservatism moved from England to the continent. A group of English Protestant exiles, including Coverdale and William Whittington, published a complete translation in 1560 in Geneva, Switzerland. This text, called the Geneva Bible, was translated from the Receptus Greek instead of Latin. It was the first English version to be divided into the familiar chapters and verses. Having been dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, The Geneva Bible became the Bible of the Puritans, extending through sixty editions by 1611. It was strongly influenced by the scholarship of Beza and Calvin, and represented a partial return to the polemic marginal notes of Tyndale.

6. Eight years later, a group of Episcopal bishops produced what came to be called the Bishop's Bible. The text was based principally on the Great Bible, and was biased doctrinally to counteract the Calvinistic influence of the Geneva Bible. From 1568 to the early 1600's the rivalry between the Bishop's Bible and the Geneva Bible paralleled the on-going struggle for supremacy between the Anglican and Puritan factions in England.

7. The only material concession granted the Puritans by King James I at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 was a new translation of the Bible in English. Although James Stuart was hardly a good friend to either Puritan, Papist or Separatist; the Anglicans, who appeared to be the main objects of his favor, gained far less in the long run from his royal partiality than was originally expected. For that one conciliatory gesture toward Puritanism was of greater consequence than all the preferential indulgence enjoyed by the Episcopal establishment. The final revision of the progression of English Bibles was first published in 1611 and called the Authorized Version. It rapidly became the equalizing force among the various branches of English Protestantism, and eventually neutralized much of the controlling influence over the monarchy enjoyed by the Anglican establishment.

Although the number of men originally intended to carry out the work of translation was fifty-four, actually only forty-seven began the undertaking. They were to work in three divisions at Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge, with each divided into companies so that the entire convocation was comprised of six distinct bodies. The portions assigned to the separate bodies were translated out of the original tongues by each individual translator, agreed upon by that group, and then reviewed in turn by each of the other five bodies.

Among the principles set forth to guide the work of translation were the following noteworthy rules:

(a) The basis of the work was to be the Bishop's Bible, however, the five previous translations from Tyndale's through the Geneva Bible were to be consulted wherever considered judicious.
(b) Chapter divisions were to remain unaltered as much as possible.
(c) While provision was made for marginal references to companion passages, marginal notes and comments were prohibited. Thus the translators were obliged to produce an intelligible text, able to stand upon its own merits.
(d) In the case of difficult or obscure passages, the committee was to issue letters to any learned man in the land requesting his judgment.
(e) All the clergy throughout England were instructed to send the observations of anyone who "being skillful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind". Thus the work was not restricted to the original appointees only, but potentially engaged the service of all and sundry through the length and breadth of England.

Some have imagined that the work was underwritten by the Crown, and that those who engaged in it were nothing more than pampered ecclesiastical prelates. Such a naive opinion bewrays a grave deficiency of historical knowledge, and a failure to comprehend the stature of the members of that venerable company. A brief examination of McClure's The Translators Revived will convince any honest person that men of such spiritual prowess probably existed nowhere during the past 150 years. The notion that these men were snobbish, "high church" Anglicans is pure poppycock. Not only were they scholars without peer in recent times, but most were fearless reformers who were acquainted first hand with the ruthless cruelty employed against those who sought to repulse the iron grip of Rome.

Exemplifying the spiritual fortitude and learning of the rest was the Puritan John Reinolds, to whose urging the King had acquiesced initially in allowing the translation to be commenced. Not only was his Greek and Hebrew scholarship the very epitome of erudition; he was likewise one of the most vigorous and outspoken opponents of popery in England. He died of tuberculosis before the translation had been completed, but during his illness his time was wholly devoted to prayer and translating or reviewing the Scriptures.

The first edition of what is now known as the King James Bible was published in 1611, printed in large folio volumes, and dedicated to the High and Mighty Prince James. Unlike any recent "reversion", it bore only the Crown copyright, and it still does. To this day, the only restriction incumbent on anyone desiring to print the Bible is that he produce a faithful copy.

That Book not only molded the usage and rhythms of spoken English, it shaped the moral character of England for the next three hundred years. Within a few years after the seventh purification was complete, the Authorized Version became the word of God, not only on its native soil, but for the entire world through an empire upon which the sun never set. In his famous Areopagitica John Milton wrote, "Why else was this nation chosen above any other? That out of her as out of Sion should be proclaimed and sounded forth the first tidings and trumpet of Reformation to all Europe."

God Almighty has blessed his word in the form of the Authorized King James Bible in a way never seen before in the history of written language. If the men who translated it little realized the true magnitude of their work it’s no marvel. The human instruments who penned original autographs, as well as those who through the centuries have engaged in preservation, restoration and translation of the Scriptures into other languages have never considered their own work inspired, infallible or above reproach. Attestation to these qualities could only come from the hearts of others as the Holy Spirit bore witness with the spirits of believers, confirming the truth and perfection of His words.

For example, Luther no more considered his German translation inspired than he would have any secular work. Yet it has stood the test of time as die Heilige Schrift for German Protestants since the 1530's. Like Luther, the King James translators looked upon their work merely as the result of diligence on the part of God-fearing, honest and practical hearts. It was the Bible's author himself who placed the seal of his own purity on that King James Bible and sent it forth in countless millions of copies to enlighten the world with the Truth for more than four centuries.

1. Where Were God's Words In The Past?
2. Heaven and Earth Shall Pass Away . . .
3. Unto the Pure All Things Are Pure
4. The Word Is Nigh Thee
5. Sevenfold Purification Requires Blood
6. Seven Times Through A Furnace of Earth
7. Pure Silver

Next: 7. Pure Silver

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