King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
John Bois was born in the village of Nettlestead, Suffolk on 3 January 1561. Though he had siblings, he was the only child of William and Mirabel (Pooley) Bois who lived to maturity.
His father William was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge and upon graduation entered the ministry. He spent most of his church life serving the members of his parish in West Stow, Suffolk where we was rector from 1572 to 1591.
Young John was a child prodigy. He read his Bible through by age five and by six could "write Hebrew with an elegant hand" and had learned Greek. He was given a fine grammar school education and left for the university at Cambridge in 1574 at age fourteen. Early in his university studies his gift for languages was recognized by his teachers and he was asked to provide appropriate Greek epistles for celebratory occasions.
He attended with great care to his health, frequently walking more than twenty miles from Cambridge to his parents' home for dinner, often with book in hand, if the company proved boring. He had learned from the Puritan great, William Whittaker, to study while standing, avoid the draft of a window, and go to bed with warm feet. He was fastidious in his habits of oral hygiene, always cleaning and rubbing his teeth. As a result he lived a long (eighty-three years) and healthy life, dying with most of his teeth intact.
Despite his skill in languages he initially considered a career in medicine but being somewhat hypochondriacal in nature, imagined himself the victim of the very maladies he studied. He eventually decided to pursue the study of biblical languages and prepare for the ministry.
He was a diligent student throughout his life, rising before four in the morning to study until eight in the evening at the university library. In his old age he maintained the habit of studying at least eight hours a day.
John eventually left Cambridge for church service in nearby parishes as a country parson, but he continued his studies and teaching. He gathered fellow ministers to his residence for weekly study and discussions. He usually provided lodging at his home for a scholar he could mentor, and who would give instruction to his children and poorer children in the neighborhood. Also, gentry would send their children to board with Bois and his wife in order to receive an educational foundation. John Bois married a Miss Holt, daughter of Francis Holt, rector of Boxworth, Cambridgeshire in 1598 and he succeeded his father-in-law in the rectory (see Bio Bits). Together they raised four sons and three daughters. Sadly, only one son, John, and the youngest daughter Anne, survived him.
John Bois died on 14 January 1644 at Ely, Cambridgeshire where he and his family had moved in 1628. His wife preceded him in death by two years. John was buried in Ely Cathedral on 6 February 1644.
Thankfully, John was a careful record keeper and much of what we know of the process of the translation of the King James Bible (hereinafter KJB) comes from his notes. We also know considerable of John Bois' life thanks to a biography written of him by his grandson, Anthony Walker.
John Bois received his earliest education at home by his father William and mother Mirabel. As already noted he had read the Bible and was conversant in Hebrew and Greek before he began his preparatory education at Hadleigh Grammar School located conveniently near to Elmsett, Suffolk where his father was rector. The headmaster at the school was John Still who was also master of St. John's College, Cambridge. It was because of this fortuity that John Bois found himself at St. John's as a young teenager in 1575.
It was at St. John's that Bois met the man who would exert a profound influence on his life, Greek scholar and future Translator, Andrew Downes.
Downes was regius professor of Greek at the university and seeing young Bois' potential, became his mentor. The association of teacher and pupil was intense. Besides the routine of delivering Greek lectures to Bois and other students five times a week, he privately tutored John by reading with him twelve of the most difficult Greek authors with particular attention to phrasing and dialect.
John Bois graduated B.A., in 1579 and proceeded M.A. in 1582. He ultimately became a doctor of divinity in 1590.
John Bois was elected a fellow of St. John's College when he was twenty years old, two years after graduating B.A. When time came for the ceremony admitting him to his fellowship, Bois was seriously ill with the dreaded small pox. Fearing his failure to be timely admitted would negatively impact his career, John had himself wrapped in blankets and carried to the designated place where his tutors Andrew Downes and Henry Coppinger saw that he was duly admitted.
John recovered and held his fellowship until 1598 when he became rector of Boxworth. He was appointed principal Greek lecturer, senior dean, and senior fellow of his college. He had been ordained previously to the priesthood in 1583 and briefly succeeded his father as rector of West Stow and to a chaplaincy with the Earl of Shrewsbury.
He served at Boxworth for nearly forty years, from 1596 to 1630. So devoted was he to learning that he regularly rode the short distance from Boxworth to Cambridge to attend Andrew Downes' lectures on Greek and Edward Lively's lectures on Hebrew.
He was a most dutiful person and prayed that he would live only as long as he could preach and be useful to the people of his congregation.
It was during his residence at Boxworth that he became a Translator.
After completing his work on the translation, John Bois became canon of Ely Cathedral and rector of Thorpe Parva. This occasioned his move in 1628 to Ely where he spent the balance of his life.
In addition to his church work, John Bois and Andrew Downes assisted their fellow Translator, Sir Henry Savile on his multi-volume edition of the works of St. John Chrysostom, the early Church Father.
John Bois and the Translation
John Bois was a member of the Second Cambridge Company with responsibility for translating the Apocrypha. John Duport was the leader of the company, and all its members were fine scholars. Among the company were Andrew Downes, and college masters, William Branthwaite and Samuel Ward. During the translation process John Bois traveled to Cambridge Monday morning, and spent all week working on the project until Saturday evening when he traveled back to Boxworth for Sunday services. This continued for four years.
After the initial draft of the new Bible was completed, John Bois was one of the Committee of Revisers, two appointed from each company, who spent nine months at Stationers Hall in London going through the entire translation, reading aloud passages to one another. They had the weighty responsibility of deciding many issues that arose during the project and remained unresolved. They were asked to decide which of several alternative translations was correct.
For instance, when the committee came to the book of Revelation, chapter thirteen verse eight. There were differing views as to whether the phrase "from the foundation of the world" referred to the "book of life" or to "Jesus the Lamb slain". Even today scholars and translators argue the point. Andrew Downes felt the modifying phrase "from the foundation of the world" was descriptive of the "book of life", John Bois on the other hand while acknowledging the basis for that point of view stated "since all translators, as far as I know, and a good portion of the commentators both ancient and modern, regard this passage as pertaining to the eternity of the sacrifice of Christ, I do not deem it prudent to institute anew anything in a matter so commonplace and spread abroad."
John Bois' view prevailed and the verse from the KJB reads: "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast] whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world."
We know this and much else about the translation process because John Bois preserved his notes. Though these notes were mentioned by early historians, it was not until the 1960's that Ward Allen located them at the Corpus Christi College Library, Oxford and brought them to public attention. The notes demonstrate Bois' intense scholarly analysis, and interplay the Translators brought to their work.
John Bois and his wife became acquainted and married under rather unusual circumstances. When in 1596 John was about thirty-six years old, Francis Holt the rector of Boxworth died, and left the "advowson" or privilege of naming the next rector to his daughter. Prior to his death he suggested to several of his friends that bachelor John Bois might be one worthy to be appointed by his daughter to succeed him. John was eventually introduced to Miss Holt, who approved of her father's choice and holding the right of appointment, subject to the archbishop's notification, submitted the name of Bois to the rectory of Boxworth. He was instituted to the rectory in 1596. On 7 February 1598 Bois and Miss Holt, having taken a sufficient liking to one another, married and set up housekeeping at Boxworth. What is implied is that Miss Holt went with the rectory and had the marriage not gone forward John Bois would have been looking for a new position. The marriage was in the end a happy one and when his wife died in 1642 Bois lamented her as his "dearest wife, with whom, in blameless marriage, I have lived five and forty years and more".