King James Bible Translators
(Kilbie, Kilbye, Kylby)
Personal and Family Life
Richard Kilby was born in the small Leicestershire village of Ratcliffe on the Wreake. The village is located about seven miles northeast of Leicester on the River Wreake. It is home to a beautiful ancient church, St. Botolph's, whose tall spire can be seen for miles. The exact date of Richard Kilby's birth is unknown, but from Oxford University records it can be established that he was born between 1560 and 1561. An early history states that he was born of "humble parentage". Little is known of his birth family beyond that. An early Gray's Inn registry shows a Robert Kilbie from Ratcliff-super-Wreak in 1620, and a Richard Kilbie matriculated at Lincoln College, Oxford 1604-5, twenty-seven years after the Translator. These may have been sons or relatives of Richard.
Richard Kilby left home for Oxford when he was sixteen years old and remained in Oxford, associated with Lincoln College, for the rest of his life. He died in early November 1620, age sixty, in Oxford, and was buried in the chancel of All Saints, Oxford, the church associated with Lincoln College. Today the structure serves as the Lincoln College library.
Richard Kilby became a student at Lincoln College, Oxford on 20 December 1577. He graduated B.A., 9 December 1578 and proceeded M.A., 2 July 1582. Subsequently in 1596 he proceeded B.D. and D.D. While nothing has been preserved detailing his primary education, it can be assumed that coming from humble circumstances in a small village he must have distinguished himself early as an outstanding student.
Richard Kilby was elected a fellow of his college, Lincoln, the same year he commenced as a student. While still at Lincoln he took holy orders and in 1590 was chosen as rector of his college. He was installed in a ceremony in All Saints Church and remained in this post until he died in 1620. The position carried with it pastoral responsibilities which were coupled with his increasing academic endeavors. Later he was made a canon and prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral. In the summer of 1604 he was appointed as one of the Translators of the King James Bible (hereinafter KJB). He was recognized as being so expert in Hebrew that in 1610 upon the death of his fellow Translator, John Harding, he was appointed the king's professor of Hebrew for the university. He held this office until his death. According to the biographer, Izaak Walton, he was also considered, "a perfect Grecian", that is, one exceptionally skilled in the understanding of ancient Greek
Richard Kilby was also heralded as a wonderful teacher and mentor. We know from Walton that Robert Sanderson, the future bishop and famed logician, was left as a young student by his father:
to the sole care and manage of Dr. Kilbie, who was then rector of Lincoln College, and he after some time and trial of his manners and learning, thought fit to enter him of that College, and after to matriculate him in the university.
He was as well an instructor to young Richard Brett who became a noted scholar and Translator.
He published Latin commentaries on Exodus, and prepared a continuation of John Mercer's commentary on Genesis.
Richard Kilby and the Translation
Richard Kilby was a member of the First Oxford Company of Translators assigned the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi. He was by 1604, considered a master of Hebrew studies which may explain his selection to this company. Other eminent scholars in the company were John Rainolds, John Harding (who he succeeded as regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford), Thomas Holland, Miles Smith, Richard Fairclough, Daniel Featly, and his former student and protégé, Richard Brett.
Capturing the literary and poetic power of a work like the Book of Isaiah demanded enormous skill of the Translators. Their rendering of passages such as Isaiah 40:30-31 demonstrates how well they succeeded:
Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
The following incident recorded by Isaak Walton in his Life of Dr. Robert Sanderson shows something of the personality of Dr. Kilby and conscientiousness given by him and his colleagues to the work of translation:
I must here stop my Reader, and tell him that this Dr. Kilbie was a man of so great learning and wisdom and was so excellent a critic in the Hebrew Tongue, that he was made Professor of it in this university; and was also so perfect a Grecian, that he was by King James appointed to be one of the Translators of the Bible; and that this Doctor and Mr. Sanderson had frequent discourses, and loved as father and son. The Doctor was to ride a journey into Derbyshire, and took Mr. Sanderson to bear him company: and they going together on a Sunday with the Doctor's friend to that Parish Church where they then were, found the young Preacher to have no more discretion, than to waste a great part of the hour allotted for his Sermon in exceptions against the late Translation of several words,--not expecting such a hearer as Dr. Kilbie, --and shewed three reasons why a particular word should have been otherwise translated. When Evening Prayer was ended, the Preacher was invited to the Doctor's friend's house; where after some other conference the Doctor told him, "He might have preached more useful doctrine, and not have filled his auditors' ears with needless exceptions against the late Translation: and for that word, for which he offered to that poor congregation three reasons why it ought to have been translated as he said; he and others had considered all them, and found thirteen more considerable reasons why it was translated as now printed;
The Translator's name is variously spelled in histories as Kilby, Kilbye, and Kilbie. The Translator's signature as rector of Lincoln College, Oxford survives, in which it appears as Richardo Kylby.
As might be expected some very close friendships developed among the Translators. One such friendship was between Richard Kilby and Thomas Holland. Holland was senior to Kilby by more than twenty years. They worked closely together for the four years of the translation, frequently meeting in the apartment of John Rainolds until he passed. When Thomas Holland died in March of 1612, it was his friend, Richard Kilby who, on 26 March 1612 in the University Church of St. Mary's Oxford preached his funeral sermon.