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Bible Translation Effects: Geneva vs. King James

written by: Laura Jean Karr • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 12/9/2013

In this article we are going to take a look at the different translations of the Geneva Bible and the King James Version of the Bible. You will see how they differ and why the variances between the two were a product of the religious-political climate in the 1600s.

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    When the popularity of a different version of religious text grows, it can change the course of its corresponding culture. In this article we are going to take a look at the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible, highlighting the different translations into the English language.

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    The Geneva Bible

    genevabible1 The 1560 Geneva Bible translators were: Walter Whittingham, Myles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, William Cole, Thomas Greshop and John Knox, with marginal notes created by John Calvin. As the Geneva Bible was being translated by Protestants during a time of Protestant persecution in England, the translators were forced to converge in Geneva, Switzerland, where they were able to arrange publication of their work. The original version was first printed in 1560 with 200 copies being made from the Geneva press up through 1644, split between two versions of the book.

    Other places of publication eventually included the Netherlands, Scotland, America and England, leading to the publication of the 1560 Geneva Bible in 1575. In 1599, a revised edition of the book was released and is now known as the 1599 Geneva Bible. Though much of the translation relied heavily upon the earlier translations of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale, the Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to have the full translation of the complete Old Testament taken straight from the Hebrew writings. Due to the importance of having the full translation, the Geneva Bible was the main book followed by the Protestants, Puritans and Calvinists.

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    The King James Bible

    kjb1 In 1604 there was a ruling from the Hampton Court Conference between the English king and various clergymen, one of whom was President John Reynolds of Corpus Christi College. An agreement was reached that there should be a revised English translation version of the Bible. Forty-seven scholars began the translation to create the King James Version which used both the Tyndale and Geneva Bible as a starting point. The point of having this new version created was to try and eradicate the use of the 1599 Geneva Bible.

    The marginal notes throughout the 1560 and 1599 Geneva Bibles questioned the authority of the Catholic Church and any ruling monarchy. That his subjects might question his authority because of this text was a problem for King James I. It helped to cement the choice of creating a new Bible for one uniformed English translation that would represent both King James I and the Church of England’s religious and political views. The first King James Version began publication in 1611 and has since gone through many revisions but remains the Standard English translation in use for the Bible today.

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    Bible Differences

    The differences between the 1599 Geneva Bible and the 1611 King James Version of the Bible are apparent. The King James Version of the Bible eliminated the marginal notes that had been a popular feature for those who used them as a study guide in the 1599 Geneva Bible. Furthermore, the Old Testament from the 1560 and 1599 Geneva Bible was translated directly from the Greek Old Testament and the Hebrew Septuagint scriptures, while the 1611 King James Version of the Bible was compiled from previous English translations of the Old Testament.

    The Protestant Reformation began as a movement to reform the Catholic Church in 1517, but created a political backlash of stricter religious oppression in countries where the Church and Monarchies were in control. Thus in England, when King James I commissioned the creation of the King James Version of the Bible, tolerance of Protestants and Puritans using the 1560 and 1599 Geneva Bible version became non-existent. King James I and the Church of England wanted only their English translation version of the Bible to be in use. The Protestants and Puritan could only choose to stay and live with the oppression, or create another life for themselves in another country. Some followers of the Protestant Reformation moved north to The Netherlands and others went across the Atlantic Ocean to the American colonies. The Protestant Reformation, also known as 'The Reformation', lasted through 1648 in Europe and ended with the Peace of Westphalia treaty.

    *images used are royalty free and were framed by the author for this article using picnik