King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Michael Rabbett was born in 1552. While his place of birth and parentage is not known, it is evident from his will that he had at least one sibling since he names nephews Michael and Robert Rabbett as beneficiaries. It is likely he came from a well to do family as he left property in Barking, London and in Sutton at Hone, Tonbridge, Stone, Swanscombe, Greenhithe and Boughton Monchelsey, all in Kent.
He attended Westminster School, then Trinity College, Cambridge. He spent the bulk of his life in Streatham, Surrey as rector of the parish church there.
In 1600 he married Margaret Crow at Westerlane, Kent. They were the parents of four children, Margarite, Samuel, Amy, and Martha. His wife Margaret died in 1615 and Michael followed fifteen years later on 5 February 1630 at age seventy-eight. Both are buried in St. Leonard's, Streatham, along with their son Samuel and possibly daughter Margarite. At least two of his children, Amy and Martha survived him.
Michael Rabbett began his early education at Westminster School, London. From Westminster he matriculated in Trinity College, Cambridge, Easter 1572. Thereafter, he graduated B.A. in 1576. He migrated to Gonville and Caius College and proceeded M.A. in 1579, and B.D. in 1586. He is mentioned as being involved in a student protest opposing Caius master, Thomas Legge, as being a "papist'.
Michael Rabbett became a fellow and tutor at Gonville and Caius College in 1579 and two years later, while pursuing his B.D. at Cambridge, was ordained a priest at Lincoln in 1581, the same year he became rector of Cricket Malherbie, a tiny village in Somerset. He stayed there until 1585 when he was made rector of St. Leonard's parish church, Streatham, Surrey. He continued in this service for the next forty-six years. Additionally, in 1587 he was named university preacher at Cambridge, and in 1597 he was admitted to Gray's Inn, London.
In 1604 he received the rectory at St. Vedast, Foster's Lane, London which he held for thirteen years. This same year in addition to all his other responsibilities he was selected to be one of the Translators of the new Bible commissioned by King James I.
Michael Rabbett and the Translation
Michael Rabbett was a member of the Second Westminster Company assigned to translate the New Testament Epistles. At the time of his appointment he was vicar of two sizeable parishes as well as being married with responsibility of caring for a growing family. Nonetheless, he devoted untold hours over a four year period to the translation. Not only did the translation project consume many hours a week devoted to textual analysis but for many it also demanded hours of travel. How Translators like Michael Rabbett were able to juggle their professional and family responsibilities with their translation duties is unknown, as few journals and letters of these men have survived.
For all the Translators, the prospect of accurately rendering into the English language what they considered to be the word of God was daunting, but the portion of the Bible Rabbett's company was assigned was arguably the most challenging. The Protestant Reformation had its starts and stops in England and by the beginning of the 17th century the direction of the English Church was being debated. The Hampton Court Conference itself was convened by the king to try to address strongly held differences which existed in the Church of England. Doctrinal differences often came down to how certain passages of scripture should be interpreted. Many men and women had gone to the stake over their interpretation of a particular text. The Epistles of the New Testament were often the focal point of these discussions and disagreements, and how the King James translation would render certain passages was a very serious matter. The Translators brought to this task their own views and experiences.
Despite their diversity, the Second Westminster Company produced a translation that was as true to the original as they could make it, and the final product had their unified support. The result did not resolve all religious differences, but it gave to the public a translation they could trust as they made their own religious journeys. For this, much credit is due to Michael Rabbett and his fellow Translators.
When Michael Rabbett was at Caius College he was not only a fellow of the college but also, at some point, dean. In these positions he was very much involved in the day to day operation of the college, and the lives of its students. The history of Caius recites a circumstance involving one of the students, Remigius Booth, and the college administration. It describes various violations of school discipline which led to Booth being brought before university tribunals for unnamed infractions. Leniency was extended to him, which seemed only to encourage his belligerent behavior. Seven of the college fellows complained that Booth molested, condemned, derided, and reviled them to their faces, and threatened them with violence. They asserted Booth "is a man not only past shame, yet also without law. He is maintained amongst us to abuse and molest us". According to the history, it seems the future Translator, Michael Rabbett, was singled out by "turbulent Master Booth" who often resisted and menaced Rabbett, challenging him into the fields to fight. Often Booth threatened Rabbett "to be thrust out of the college by the ears". The history does not note how the situation with Remigius Booth was finally resolved.