King James Bible Translators
At least sixty men were directly involved in the translation of the King James Bible (hereinafter KJB). Most were Translators, while a few were project overseers, revisers and editors. Some served in several roles. Who were these men? What were their backgrounds? What did they share? In what ways were they different? They were a diverse group. While some were born in large cities and towns, most were from small villages scattered throughout England. Several were the children of university graduates, most were not. They were sons of mariners, farmers, school teachers, cordwainers (leather merchants), fletchers (makers of bows and arrows), ministers, brewers, tailors, and aristocrats. All were members of the Church of England, but their religious views ran the gamut. Some were ardent Puritans, others staunch defenders of the religious establishment. Some believed in pre-destination and limited salvation as taught by John Calvin, while others believed in self-determination and universal access to heaven as taught by Jacobus Arminius.
All of the Translators were university graduates. Oxford and Cambridge claimed nearly equal numbers of Translators as alumni. All of the Translators except one were ordained Church of England priests. While several of the Translators had traveled to the Continent, only one had ventured to the New World. Most of the Translators were married men (38 of 60) with families. Most of the Translators spent a significant portion of their career associated with their colleges and universities as fellows, involved in teaching and administration. As fellows, they were not allowed to marry. As a result many delayed marriage until they had established themselves in church office away from the university. When the translation commenced in 1604-1605, the majority of the Translators, 22, were in their forties, 16 men were in their thirties, 15 in their fifties, 3 in their sixties and 3 in their twenties.
One Translator died in his thirties, six in their forties, nineteen in their fifties, sixteen in their sixties, four in their seventies, three in their eighties and one, over one hundred. Nine of the Translators died before the KJB was published in the 1611.
Most of the Translators were in comfortable economic circumstances during and after their time involved in the translation. The association and friendships they developed during the translation project generally advanced their careers. Some of the Translators went on to high church and academic office. Five went on to serve as bishops and two as archbishops.
They all had a familiarity with the ancient languages of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and often many more. They came on the historical scene at a time when the knowledge of early biblical texts and language was exploding. Such a flowering of interest and expertise was unique. Bible historian, Gordon Campbell, has observed:
The population from which scholars can now be drawn is much larger than in the seventeenth century, but it would be difficult now to bring together a group of more than fifty scholars with the range of languages and knowledge of other disciplines that characterized the KJB Translators. (Bible – The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 Oxford, Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press 2010.)
For such a diverse group, they worked together in harmony during a generally contentious time. They had disagreements, to be sure, but they labored on, year after year. There were no "tell all books" published after the fact. Miles Smith remarked in his preface to the KJB, the Translators "were greater in other men's eyes than in their own, and sought truth rather than their own praise". They approached the task of translation with humility, understanding they were standing on the shoulders of giants like William Tyndale. Believers all, the Translators, according to Smith "craved the assistance of God's Spirit by prayer" as they proceeded in their work.
Though almost all were well known within the religious and academic community of the time, their involvement in the translation went largely unnoticed by the public. Their individual and group effort was not the subject of historical inquiry until many years after the fact. As a result, little information about the process of translation survived. The lives of the Translators and sometimes their very identity became obscured with time. In certain instances, the place of their birth and burial is unknown, and their family circumstance in doubt. Until this anniversary year, few could name even one Translator, let alone sixty. The following brief biographies are written in the hope to shed further light on these men who contributed so much.