Scripture

15 Rules of Translation for the King James (KJV)

king james version translation

When King James commissioned the King James Version, he approved 15 principles of translation which were instituted by Richard Bancroft, the bishop of London in 1604. These translation principles are as follows:

  1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
  2. The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
  3. The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
  4. When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
  5. The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
  6. 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.
  7. Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
  8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
  9. 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 in this Point.
  10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the 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.
  11. 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 Judgement of such a Place.
  12. 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 skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
  13. The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
  14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.
  15. Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.

Translation rules 1, 6, and 14 are interesting. Rule #1 mandated that their translation use the Bishop’s Bible as a base text whenever possible. This was likely because the Bishop’s translation was the official Bible of the Church. However, Tyndale’s translation ended up being far more influential, accounting for 4/5 (80%) of the KJV New Testament.

Rule #6 mandated no study notes in the margins of the new translation. The Geneva Bible (which was the most popular English translation of the time) had many marginal notations, some of which King James read as challenges to his royal authority. This was the main motivation for a new translation. Thus, the KJV translation was limited from study notes.

Translation rule #14 gives further evidence for the fact that the intention was for the KJV translation to be more of a revision of existing English translations than a new translation. The translators utilized the existing English texts where possible.

Against those who claim the KJV translation is inspired, I have written about how the KJV is not without error. Here we also note that the KJV itself was not a revolutionary translation. Rather, it was largely a compilation of already-existing translations.

If you are interesting in my other posts about the KJV, visit “Seven Posts about the King James Version.”

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

12 Comments

  • Randy

    KJV only Ignoramuses! If only we weren’t just saved from sin but also stupidity. You are so sad- it makes me weep. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  • David Pham

    When do you stop hopping from one Bible version to another but trust on the LORD to preserve His own Words?
    If He already made His salvation plain and easy to access by faith for everyone, wouldn’t it be absurd that He required you to study Hebrew, Greek or get the new Bible translation every 5 years to get His salvation plan?
    For decades of churning out new Bible versions since the KJV (NIV, ESV, etc). If those were the better versions of the Bible, what were their spiritual fruits? I only see people doubting the Bible, interpreting the Bible the way they see fit, and leaving the church in droves. You sowed the seed of doubt, you will reap confusion and damnation to yourself.
    Galatians 6:7 – Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

    • Peter Goeman

      Normally I haven’t been responding to some comments like this, but in hopes of you reading it I wanted to point out the horrendous logic and hope God opens your mind. First, what did people use for the Bible before the KJV? Your argument assumes that the Bible did not exist prior to the KJV. That is ridiculous! Also, your argument that these new translations only cause bad fruit is equally bad. It is clear you’ve never been to a church that uses a newer translation. My church is filled with faithful men and women who memorize whole books of the Bible in the ESV and who live completely devoted to God. You really need to re-examine the way you are
      Arguing. There are better ways to argue for the KJV, but not the way you did.

      • David Pham

        Hi Peter, I don’t want to sound rude speaking in a foreign language. I just want to make my point across.
        No, I did not say there was no Bible before the KJV. The KJV inherited the majority of the high-quality translations from previous versions (mostly Tyndale’s version). But there was never be work like the KJV. I’m not superstitious in saying that, here is why:
        – It was the collective work of 47 Biblical and linguistic experts with not a single opposition in the final translation. I couldn’t find 2 translators of the same book with such complete agreement let alone 47.
        – It was an end-product of the Reformation movement
        – It was a work of art, made in the golden era of literature, in a language that would soon become common language (English). God always had a plan to preserve His Word and this is clear both Biblical and historical.
        – It signaled the end of the dark age and transformed both social and cultural structure. It gave people freedom from the Roman monarchy.
        When talking about spiritual fruits, I was regarding the global scale. But you misunderstood my point by giving an example of your church. Oh, I’m not doubting your church’s spiritual health at all. But the impact of these modern versions on the global scale is undeniable. It turns Bible believers into Bible pick-and-choose people. Again, I’m not holding it again your church members but I, myself, was one of these before finding out that these modern versions blur away many important doctrines that can only be found in KJV.
        By the way, since you’re interested in modern translations, I think you should take time to look into the forgery of the Sinaiticus manuscript. The “oldest manuscript” that gave birth to most of the modern translations.
        Peace and God bless.

        • Peter Goeman

          David,

          I appreciate the tone with which you replied, so am encouraged to reply once more. First, I would never deny the amazing nature of the KJV translation. It is one of the greatest works in history! And the translators did a fantastic job with the resources that were available to them. However, you would be mistaken if you thought they were all unified on the translations. It is easily documentable that they were arguing over how to translate the word ekklesia for example, since it is prominent in the OT as well as NT. There were many debates, just like modern translation committees, and they did not all agree on the decisions that were made.

          Additionally, there are irrefutable proofs that there were certain passages included in the KJV because of Erasmus’s Greek text–however that text itself was faulty in several places due to having a lack of evidence available to him (he only had 7 manuscripts–not even a full manuscript of Revelation). If you are interested in documented, peer reviewed discussion of Erasmus and the KJV, look at my article on my publications page. I talk about Erasmus and his Greek NT and how that impacts the KJV translation.

          All that to say that although the KJV is an amazing Bible translation (one of my favorites to be sure), it is not to be viewed as the best or ONLY Bible translation useful for a Christian. The fact that there are global problems with the church has nothing to do with Bible translations. There have been global problems with the church since the 2nd century. In fact, the church was relatively in darkness under the Latin Mass and hand of the Catholic church until the Reformation. So, the Church’s problems are not traceable to a translation, but to false believers/teachers who impact the church negatively.

          Grace and Peace.

  • Jon

    The dedicatory these men wrote says “another inerrant translation”. The idea that King James told the translators to eliminate notes or text that challenged his authority while giving 15 strict rules to follow is a stretch that stops at the 8 verses that call Jesus King. As for the King, Jesus, who is the only Potentate, king of kings, lord of lords is stated to be God who was manifest in the flesh which most corrupt versions leave out!

  • Sam G

    “Here we also note that the KJV itself was not a revolutionary translation. Rather, it was largely a compilation of already-existing translations.”

    Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures.

    “These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva.”

    That’s six.

    Psalm 12:6
    6 The WORDS OF THE LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, PURIFIED SEVEN TIMES.

    The King James is the seventh.

    • Harry R.

      Unfortunately, for KJV-Onlyites, the original texts are not the first perfect Word. Strange. The idea that the originals are not perfect is warped and at best borders on cultic blasphemy.
      Your weak reading into the passage that the verse means 7 translations of the Bible, especially without even including what was originally God-breathed according to 2 Tim 3:16 as #1, is nonsense, at the nicest.
      Odd of God to miss it with original inspiration that he has to keep correcting over more than 1,000 years wait time to finally get it right. Worse than the Mormon ‘God’ having to keep correcting his Book of Mormon and all of the false Mormon/LDS ‘scripture’, esp. their Doctrine & Covenants.
      What a weak God to not get it right the first time.

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