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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Learned Men:

The Translators of the Authorised Version of the Holy Bible in English A. D. 1611

Dr. D. O. Fuller

This article by the Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society was reprinted as the first chapter in several editions of Which Bible? published by Grand Rapids International Publications. Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501).

This article on the translators of the Authorised Version is one of a series of articles published by the Trinitarian Bible Society on the text and translations of the Holy Scriptures.

"We commend thee to God, and to the Spirit of his grace, which is able to build further than we can ask or think. He removeth the scales from our eyes, the vail from our hearts, opening our wits that we may understand His Word, enlarging our hearts, yea, correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, yea, that we may love it to the end."

(The Translators’ Preface to the Authorised Version).

There were many chosen that were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise".

(Dr. Miles Smith "The Translators to the Reader").

Advocates of the modern versions often assume that they are the product of scholarship far superior to that of the translators of the King James’ Version of 1611, but this assumption is not supported by the facts. The learned men who laboured on our English Bible were men of exceptional ability, and although they differed among themselves on many matters of church order, administration and doctrine, they approached the task with a reverent regard for the Divine inspiration, authority and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. To them it was "God’s sacred Truth" and demanded the exercise of their utmost care and fidelity in its translation.

The most learned men in the land were chosen for this work and the complete list shows a high proportion of men with a profound knowledge of the languages in which the Bible was written. Of the fifty-four who were chosen a few died or withdrew before the translation was started and the final list numbered forty-seven men. They were divided into six companies and a portion was assigned to each group. Everyone in each company translated the whole portion before they met to compare their results and agree upon the final form. They then transmitted their draft to each of the other companies for their comment and consent. A select committee then went carefully through the whole work again, and at last two of their number were responsible for the final checking.

The six committees were to meet at Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge.

The first Westminster Committee was attended by:

1. Dr. Lancelot Andrewes, Fellow of Pembroke, Cambridge, where he took his B.A., M.A. and divinity degrees, later became Dean of Westminster, Bishop of Chichester, then of Ely, and finally of Winchester.

Lancelot Andrewes, a member of the Westminster Committee, had his early education at Coopers Free School and Merchant Taylors School where his rapid progress in the study of the ancient languages was brought to the notice of Dr. Watts, the founder of some scholarships at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Andrewes was sent to that College, where he took his B.A. degree and soon afterwards was elected Fellow. He then took his Master’s degree and began to study "divinity" and achieved great distinction as a lecturer. He was raised to several positions of influence in the Church of England and distinguished himself as a diligent and excellent preacher, and became Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I. King James I promoted him to be Bishop of Chester in 1605 and also gave him the influential position of Lord Almoner. He later became Bishop of Ely and Privy Counsellor. Toward the end of his life he was made Bishop of Winchester.

It is recorded that Andrewes was a man of deep piety and that King James had such great respect for him that in his presence he refrained from the levity in which he indulged at other times. A sermon preached at Andrewes’ funeral in 1626 paid tribute to his great scholarship – "His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic, besides fifteen modern languages was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christendom.

"A great part of five hours every day he spent in prayer, and in his last illness he spent all his time in prayer – and when both voice and eyes and hands failed in their office, his countenance showed that he still prayed and praised God in his heart, until it pleased God to receive his blessed soul to Himself."

No reasonable person imagines that the translators were infallible or that their work was perfect, but no one acquainted with the facts can deny that they were men of outstanding scholarship, well qualified for their important work, or that with God’s blessing they completed their great task with scrupulous care and fidelity.

2. Dr. John Overall, Fellow of Trinity and Master of St. Catherine’s Cambridge, became Dean of St. Paul’s and successively Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield and Norwich. He took his D.D. in 1596 and became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.

3. Dr. Adrian Saravia, Professor of Divinity at Leyden University in 1582, became Prebendary of Canterbury and Westminster. In the controversies of that period he is often referred to as "that learned foreigner". His Spanish descent and residence in Holland qualified him to assist the translators with his first-hand knowledge of the work of Spanish and Dutch scholars. He was also proficient in Hebrew.

4. Dr. John Layfield, Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge in 1585 and Greek lecturer in 1593, was specially skilled in architecture, and his judgment was relied on regarding passages describing the Tabernacle and Temple.

5. Dr. Richard Clarke, Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, D.D. He was one of the six preachers at Canterbury.

6. Dr. Richard Teigh, Archdeacon of Middlesex, Rector of All Hallows, Barking-by-the-Tower, described by Wood as "an excellent textuary and profound linguist."

7. Dr. F. Burleigh, B.D. 1594, D.D. 1607. Fellow, King James’ College, Chelsea.

8. Richard Thomson, M.A., Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, B.D. 1593, described by Richard Montagu as "a most admirable philologer... better known in Italy, France and Germany than at home."

9. William Bedwell, M.A., St. John’s College, Cambridge, had established his reputation as an Arabic scholar before 1603 and is recognised as "the Father of Arabic studies in England". He was the author of the Lexicon Heptaglotton" in seven folio volumes, including Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee and Arabic. He also commenced a Persian dictionary and an Arabic translation of the Epistles of John. (Now among the Laud MSS in the Bodleian Library).

10. Professor Geoffrey King, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and Regius Professor of Hebrew. Lively, Spalding, King and Byng held this professorship in succession.

The second Westminster Committee included seven scholars:

1. Dr. William Barlow, St. John’s Cambridge, B.A. in 1583, M.A. in 1587, Fellow of Trinity in 1590, B.D. in 1594, D.D. in 1599. He represented the "Church Party" at the Hampton Court Conference and wrote "The Summe and Substance of the Conference", which the Puritans criticised as being biased against their cause. He was made Bishop of Rochester in 1605, "one of the youngest in age, but one of the ripest in learning" of all those that had occupied that position. He later became Bishop of Lincoln.

2. Dr. Ralph Huchinson, President of St. John’s College, Oxford, B.A. in 1574, M.A. in 1578, B.D. in 1596, and D.D. in 1602.

3. Dr. John Spenser, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

4. Dr. Roger Fenton, Fellow of Pembroke, Cambridge, D.D., one of the popular preachers of the day. Bishop Felton wrote, "Never a more learned man hath Pembroke Hall, with but on exception."

5. Mr. Michael Rabbett, Rector of St. Vedast, Foster Lane.

6. Mr. Thomas Sanderson, Rector of All Hallows.

7. Professor William Dakins, Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge, M.A. in 1594, B.D. in 1601, Greek lecturer at Trinity, and Professor of Divinity at Gresham College in 1604.

The Oxford Old Testament Committee enrolled:

1. Dr. John Harding, President of Magdalen College and Regius Professor of Hebrew. He presided over this committee.

2. Dr. John Reynolds, Merton College, Oxford, moved to Corpus Christi and became Fellow in 1566. He took his D.D. in 1585 and became Regius Professor of Divinity. After several years as Dean of Lincoln he was made President of Corpus Christi College in 1598. He represented the Puritans the Hampton Court Conference at which he suggested that a new translation of the Bible should be undertaken.

His reputation as a Hebrew and Greek scholar was sufficient warrant for his inclusion among the translators, and Hall elates that "his memory and reading were near to a miracle." He worked on the translation of the Prophets until his death in 1607. During this period the Oxford translators met at his residence once a week to compare and discuss what they had done.

3. Dr. Thomas Holland, Balliol and Exeter Colleges, Oxford, B.A. 1570, M.A. 1575, B.D. 1582, D.D. 1584. Master and Regius Professor of Divinity 1589. He achieved so much distinction in many fields of learning that he was not only highly esteemed among English scholars but also had a good reputation in the universities of Europe. Like Apollos, he was mighty in the Scriptures, and like the Apostle, he was faithful in explaining them.

His example went hand in hand with his precepts, and he himself lived what he preached to others. Among the translators he was probably the most strongly opposed to Rome and it is recorded that whenever he went on a journey away from his college he would call the men together and "commend them to the love of God and to the abhorrence of popery".

His biographer writes – "He loved and he longed for God, for the presence of God, and for the full enjoyment of Him. His soul was framed for heaven, and could find no rest till it came there. His dying prayer was – ‘Come, O come, Lord Jesus, Thou Morning Star! Come Lord Jesus; I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Thee!’"

4. Dr., Richard Kilby, Lincoln College, Oxford, B.A. 1578, M.A. 1582, B.D. & D.D. in 1596 and Regius Professor of Hebrew in 1610. Author of a work on Exodus prepared from Hebrew commentators. An interesting story is found in Walton’s biography of Bishop Sanderson illustrating the truth of the old proverb, "a little learning is a dangerous thing". Dr. Kilby, an excellent Hebrew scholar and Professor of this language in the university, also expert in Greek and chosen as one of the translators, went on a visit with Sanderson and at Church on Sunday they heard a young preacher waste a great amount of the time allotted for his sermon in criticising several words in the then recent translation.

He carefully showed how one particular word should have been translated in a different way. Later that evening the preacher and the learned strangers were invited together to a meal and Dr. Kilby took the opportunity to tell the preacher that he could have used his time more profitably. The Doctor then explained that the translators had very carefully considered the "three reasons" given by the preacher, but they had found another thirteen more weighty reasons for giving the rendering complained of by the young critic.

5. Dr. Miles Smith, M.A., D.D., Corpus Christi, and Brasenose and Christ Church, Oxford, Bishop of Gloucester in 1612. He provided more evidence of his contribution than any of the others, as it was left to him to write the long Translators’ Preface – "The Translator to the Reader", which used to be printed at the beginning of most English Bibles. His knowledge of the oriental languages made him well qualified for a place among the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible. He had Hebrew at his fingers’ ends, and he was so conversant with Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, that he made them as familiar to him as his native tongue. He persisted in this task from its commencement to its completion and was himself the last man engaged in the translation.

The work of the whole company was revised and improved by a small group selected from their number, and was then finally examined by Bilson and Miles Smith. The latter then wrote the famous preface, beginning – "Zeal to promote the common good..."

6. Dr. Richard Brett, Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, D.D., well versed in classical and eastern languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic and Ethiopic.

7. Mr. Fairclowe, Fellow of New College, Oxford.

The Oxford New Testament Committee included:

1. Dr. Thomas Ravis, Christ Church Oxford, B.A. 1578, M.A. 1581, B.D. 1589, D.D. 1595, Vice Chancellor 1597. He was one of the six deans who attended the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 and was made Bishop of Gloucester in that year. (He died in 1609).

2. Dr. George Abbot – began his university studies at Balliol College, Oxford in 1578 and soon became known for his strong Calvinism and Puritanism. In 1593 he took his B.D., in 1597 his D.D., and in the same year became Master of University College at the age of thirty-five, and a few years later he was Vice Chancellor. He very strongly opposed the Romanising influence of Laud and was very severe in his denunciation of anything which savoured of "popery".

Nevertheless he accepted some high offices in the Church of England and in 1609 became Bishop of Lichfield and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611. He was regarded as the head of the Puritans within the Church of England and he vigorously opposed the King’s declaration permitting sports and pastimes on the Lord’s Day. He encouraged James to request the States General to dismiss Vorstius from his professorship at Leyden because of his Arminianism.

3. Dr. R, Eedes, Dean of Worcester. (Died in November, 1604)

4. Dr. Giles Thompson, Dean of Windsor, Bishop of Gloucester, a man of high repute as scholar and preacher.

5. Sir Henry Saville, Brasenose College, Oxford, Fellow of Merton College in 1565 and Warden in 1585, Provost of Eton in 1596, Tutor to Queen Elizabeth I. He was a pioneer in many branches of scholarship and the founder of the Savillian Professorships of Mathematics and Astronomy at Oxford. His works included an eight volume edition of the writings of Chrysostom.

6. Dr. John Perin, Fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford, Canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Greek.

7. Dr. Ralph Ravens, Fellow of St. John’s College.

8. John Harmar, M.A., New College, Oxford, Professor of Greek in 1585. Headmaster of Winchester 1588; Warden of St. Mary’s College 1596. He was well read in patristic and scholastic theology and a noted Latinist and Grecian. His works include translations of Calvin’s sermons on the Ten Commandments, several of Beza’s sermons, and some of the Homilies of Chrysostom.

The First Cambridge Committee also numbered eight scholars:

1. Edward Liveley, Trinity College, Cambridge, B.A. in 1568, M.A. and Fellow in 1572, Regius Professor of Hebrew 1575, enjoyed the reputation of an acquaintance with the oriental languages unequalled at that period. (He died in May 1605).

2. Dr. John Richardson, Fellow of Emmanuel College, D.D., Regius Professor of Divinity, 1607, Master of Peterhouse and later Master of Trinity.

3. Dr. Laurence Chaderton, Fellow of Christ’s College, D.D., Master of Emmanuel. Chaderton entered Christ’s College in 1564 and embraced the Reformed doctrines. He had been brought up as a Roman Catholic, and his father offered him an allowance of thirty pounds if he would leave Cambridge and renounce Protestantism – "Otherwise I enclose a shilling to buy a wallet – go and beg". He acquired a great reputation as a Latin, Greek and Hebrew scholar and was also proficient in French, Spanish and Italian.

Among the treasures of Emmanuel College is a Hebrew Bible with his annotations, providing evidence of his rabbinical learning. For fifty years he was Afternoon Lecturer at St. Clement’s, Cambridge, and forty of the clergy said they owed their conversion to his preaching.

He was a noted Puritan, but he did not join the cry against "prelacy", although he never accepted a bishopric himself. He was one of the three representatives of the "Millenary Plaintiffs" at the Hampton Court Conference. This faithful preacher and teacher lived to be 94 (one of his biographers says 104), and almost to the time of his death he was able to read his small type Greek New Testament.

4. Francis Dillingham, Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, M.A. in 1590 and B.D. in 1599. According to Fuller, he was "an excellent linguist and subtle disputant". His works include "A dissuasive from Popery, containing twelve effectual reasons by which every Papist, not willfully blinded, may be brought to the truth."

5. Dr. Roger Andrewes, Fellow of Pembroke, Master of Jesus College, D.D., brother of Dr. Lancelot Andrewes.

6. Dr. Thomas Harrison, St. John’s College, Cambridge, B.A. in 1576. Fellow, Tutor and Vice-Master of Trinity, D.D., noted Hebraist and chief examiner in Hebrew. According to Professor W.F. Moulton ("History of the English Bible") he was also credited with an excellent knowledge of Greek. He was a convinced Puritan.

7. Professor Robert Spalding, Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, succeeded Edward Liveley as Regius Professor of Hebrew.

8. Professor Byng, Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and Hebrew professor.

The Second Cambridge Committee included the following scholars:

1. Dr. John Duport, Jesus College, M.A. and Fellow before 1580. D.D. in 1590, Master of Jesus College, four times Vice-Chancellor of the University.

2. Dr. William Brainthwaite, Fellow of Emmanuel, Deputy Margaret Professor of Divinity, and later Master of Gonville and Caius College.

3. Dr. Jeremiah Radcliffe, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

4. Dr. T. Ward, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, D.D., Master of Sidney Sussex College, and Margaret Professor.

5. Professor Andrew Downes, St. John’s Cambridge, B.A. 1567, Fellow 1571, M.A. 1574, B.D. 1582, Regius Professor of Greek 1585. Downes and Boys revived the study of Greek at St. John’s. Downes was Professor of Greek for nearly forty years, and was acknowledged to be one of the best Greek scholars of the age. These two men joined Miles Smith on the sub-committee which subjected the whole translation to a final careful process of checking and correction.

6. John Boys (or Bois), Fellow of St. John’s, Cambridge, and Greek lecturer there. He was born in 1560 and at a very early age showed an unusual interest in languages. He began to read Hebrew at the age of five years and was admitted to St. John’s College, Cambridge, when he was fourteen. There he very soon distinguished himself by his knowledge of the Greek language, which he sometimes studied in the library from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m.

When he was elected fellow of his college he was suffering from smallpox, but he was so anxious not to delay his career that, at some risk to himself and fellow-scholars, he persuaded his friends to wrap him in blankets and carry him in. After studying medicine for some time he gave up this course and applied himself to the study of Greek. For ten years he was the chief Greek lecturer in his college. At four in the morning he voluntarily gave a Greek lecture in his own room which was frequented by many of the Fellows.

After twenty years of university life he became Rector of Boxwoth in Cambridgeshire and while he was there he made an arrangement with twelve other ministers that they should meet each Friday in each other’s homes in turn and share the results of their studies.

When the translation of the Bible was begun he was chosen to be one of the Cambridge translators and eventually he not only undertook his portion but also the part allotted to another member of the committee. When the work was completed John Boys was one of the six translators who met at Stationers’ Hall to revise the whole.

This took them about nine months and during this period the Company of Stationers made them an allowance of thirty shillings each per week. Some of the notes made by John Boys during the final revision were recently discovered in Corpus Christi College Library at Oxford, edited by Professor Ward Allen, and published in 1970 under the title – "Translating for King James". John Boys’ "Exposition of the Epistles and Gospels used in the English Liturgy" furnishes ample evidence of his competent scholarship and doctrinal soundness.

After a long life of profitable study, ministry, translating and writing he died at the age of 84, "his brow without wrinkles, his sight quick, his hearing sharp, his countenance fresh and his body sound".

7. Dr. Ward, Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, D.D., prebendary of Chichester.

It is remarkable that the literary style of individual members of the company of translators was generally inferior to that of the version which they jointly produced. The explanation of this is that they exercised their wisdom in leaving undisturbed the simple style and vocabulary of the earlier translators. If they had cast the translation in the mould of the more ornate style of their own period it is doubtful whether their work would have triumphed for so long as it has. They made many thousands of small changes, most of which improved the rhythm, clarified the meaning, or increased the accuracy of the translation.

They were indeed "learned men" – and their scholarship was accompanied by a deep conviction of the Divine origin of the records which they were translating. Learning and faith went hand in hand to open the storehouse of God’s Work of Truth for the spiritual enrichment of millions from generation to generation, over a period of more than three hundred and fifty years.


The 1st Westminster Committee translated Genesis to I Chronicles.

The 2nd Westminster Committee translated the Epistles.

The Oxford O. T. Committee translated Isaiah to Malachi.

The Oxford N. T. Committee translated the Gospels, Acts and Revelation.

The 1st Cambridge Committee translated II Chronicles to Song of Solomon.

The 2nd Cambridge Committee translated the Apocrypha.