Erasmus, King James, and His Translators (Part 3 of 3)

By David H. Sorenson

This is from chapter 10 of the book Touch Not The Unclean Thing: The Text Issue and Separation, ISBN 0-9711384-0-0, Copyright ©2001 David H. Sorenson, used with permission. Available from Northstar Baptist Ministries, 1820 West Morgan Street, Deluth, MN 55811-1878 and from Dr. Sorenson is the author of the Understanding the Bible commentary.

[Part 1: Erasmus] [Part 2: King James] [Part 3: The KJ Translators]

The King James Translators

Another charge filed against the King James Version is that the translators thereof were a group of profane men. However, this is a specious charge. To the contrary, the fifty-four translators appointed to produce the Authorized Version were godly men. [26] They were divided into three groups: seventeen were to work at Westminster Abbey, fifteen at Cambridge University, and fifteen at the University of Oxford. At each place, the groups were further divided by two so that there were six companies of translators.

There probably has never been assembled at one time a greater group of English-speaking scholars of biblical languages. These men were head and shoulders higher in their expertise of Greek and Hebrew than any other body of English translators before or since. God's pro-vidential preparation is thus apparent. All of the translators held divinity degrees and thirty-nine of the forty-seven held doctor of divinity de-grees. They all were either pastors, preachers, or professors in theo-logical colleges.

A number of books and articles have been written providing biographical sketches of these forty-seven men. However, the work of Alexander McClure, written in 1858, is the most comprehensive. [27] Let us look at a sampling of comments about a number of these men. All quotations will be taken from McClure's book. [28]

Dr. John Reynolds

Dr. John Reynolds originally was a Catholic until he was converted to Christ by his brother. He went on to become a leader of the Puritan movement within the Church of England. He became a "vigorous champion of the Reformation." From the time of his conversion, he was a "most able and successful preacher of God's Word." He also was described as being "the very treasury of erudition" and had the reput-ation of being "a living library, and a third university." It was Reynolds who appealed to King James at the Hampton Court Conference for a new English translation of the Bible which in turn became the King James Version (93-103).

Dr. Lancelot Andrews

Dr. Lancelot Andrews was the chaplain to Queen Elizabeth, the dean of Westminster, and eventually the bishop of Chichester. He was a powerful preacher. Under his preaching, many Roman Catholics were converted to Christ. He was called the "star of the preachers." More-over, many a younger preacher sought to imitate his style of preaching and used his sermons. He is described as having spent many hours each day in private and family Bible study. He had the reputation of being a "right godly man" and a "prodigious student." It was said of him, "The world wanted learning to know how learned this man was." At his fun-eral, Dr. Buckeridge said that Dr. Andrews was conversant in fifteen languages (60-67).

Hadrian Saravia

Dr. Hadrian Saravia, though Belgian by birth, later came to Eng-land. During his long ministry, he was (1) a pastor in Flanders and Hol-land, (2) a missionary to the islands of Guernsey and Jersey, and (3) an evangelist. He was also appointed prebendary of Gloucester, Canter-bury, and Westminster. [29] He was said to be educated in all kinds of literature and in several languages, particularly in Hebrew (71-74).

Dr. Richard Clarke

Dr. Richard Clarke was vicar of Minster and Monkton in Thanet. He was described as a "learned clergyman and eminent preacher" (74).

Professor Edward Lively

Professor Edward Lively was noted as "one of the best linguists in the world." He also was a fellow of Trinity College at Cambridge University and the King's Professor of Hebrew. He also was an author of a Latin exposition of five of the minor prophets. He was described as being a man of great respect and one of the greatest Hebraists of that era (79-80).

Dr. John Richardson

Dr. John Richardson, among other things, was the King's Professor of Divinity and a fellow of Emmanuel College. He was noted as "a most excellent linguist." He is remembered as a "wise and faithful, as well as learned, Translator of the Book of God" (80-82).

Dr. Lawrence Chaderton

Dr. Lawrence Chaderton was described as a "staunch Puritan," godly, learned, and full of moderation. He also had a reputation of being a "pious Protestant," who after being converted from Catholicism turned his back on Rome. He was familiar in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and was "thoroughly skilled in them." When appointed to the translation committee, he was described as being "the most grave, learned, and modest of the aggrieved sort" to represent the Puritan faction of the committee. He also was noted as an excellent preacher (82-89).

Rev. Francis Dillingham

Rev. Francis Dillingham was the parson of Dean in Bedfordshire. He was described as the great "Grecian" on the committee and was noted as an excellent linguist. He later published a Manual of the Christian Faith taken from early church fathers noting the errors of Rome (89-90).

Dr. Thomas Holland

Dr. Thomas Holland in time became the King's Professor of Divinity. He was described as "a solid preacher, a most noted disputant, and a most learned divine." He was noted as "another Apollos, mighty in the Scriptures." When his translation work on the King James Version was complete, it is recorded that he "spent most of his time in meditation and prayer." At the hour of his death, he exclaimed, "Come, oh come, Lord Jesus; I desire to be dissolved and be with thee" (103-105).

Dr. Miles Smith

Dr. Miles Smith eventually became bishop of Gloucester. He was reputed to have high attainments in both classical and Oriental learning. As a bishop, he is noted as behaving with the "utmost meekness and benevolence." He was expert in the Greek and Latin fathers, as well as in the Chaldee, Syria, and Arabic languages. He was reputed to be as familiar in these as in his native tongue. He was noted as a great scholar and a strict Calvinist (108-110).

Dr. Richard Brett

Dr. Richard Brett was rector of Quainton in Buckinghamshire. He was revered for his piety. He also was skilled in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, and Ethiopian. He was noted as a "most vigilant pastor, a diligent preacher of God"s Word . . . a faithful friend, and a good neighbor" (110-11).

Dr. George Abbot

Dr. George Abbot was a Calvinist who eventually became bishop of Litchfield in Coventry. He was described as an excellent preacher. He was eulogized as a grave man and unimpeachable in his morals (116-123).

Dr. Richard Eedes

Dr. Richard Eedes was at one time chaplain to both Queen Eliz-abeth and King James and eventually became dean of Worcester. He was described as "a pious man and a grace to the pulpit" (124-25).

Dr. Giles Thomson

Dr. Giles Thomson was also a chaplain to Queen Elizabeth and eventually rector of Herefordshire and then bishop of Gloucester. He was described as a man of piety and learning (125-26).

Dr. William Brainthwaite

Dr. William Brainthwaite was an academic who spent most of his life at Cambridge University eventually becoming the Master of Gonvil and Caius College. He was noted as being "learned, reverend, and worshipful" (145).

Rev. John Bois

Rev. John Bois occupied a number of pastoral assignments in the Church of England as well as at Cambridge University. He was reputed to be able to read the Bible in Hebrew when he was five years old. When he was six, he could write Hebrew characters elegantly. He was a major contributor to the Cambridge company of translators. It was said that he was so familiar with the Greek Testament that he could at any time turn to any word it contained. He also wrote voluminous commentaries on the Gospels and Acts. When he died on the Lord's day, it was said, "He went unto his rest on the day of rest; a man of peace, to the God of peace" (153-160).

Dr. John Aglionby

Dr. John Aglionby was a chaplain to King James and eventually became the principal of St. Edmund's Hall at the University of Oxford. He is described as being deeply read in the early church fathers, an "excellent linguist," and an "elegant and instructive preacher" (160-61).

These are brief biographical sketches of some of the godly scholars appointed to translate the King James Version. It should be evident that the charge they were profane men is ridiculous. Nevertheless, such foolish reports continue to bounce around the land. [30] To the contrary, it is apparent for any who can read that the forty-seven men appointed to be translators of the King James Version were renowned not only as scholars but as men of God as well. Some were thorough-going Angl-icans, some were Calvinists, some were Puritans, and one may have been Arminian in his theology. But they all were fervent Bible believers and stood squarely upon the cardinal, orthodox doctrines of historic New Testament Christianity.

King James and His Translators as Anglicans

Another foolish charge made by unlearned critics is, "Why be hard on Westcott and Hort? Were not they Anglicans like King James and his translators?" However, to compare the Anglican Church at the end of the sixteenth century with the Anglican Church at the end of the nine-teenth century is no equation. Though the Church of England in 1600 may have been unscriptural in its episcopal form of church polity, views on baptism, and an incipient lack of evangelistic fervor, it was solid on the fundamentals of the faith. Its ministers in that day were Bible be-lievers and preached the gospel.

The Church of England at the end of the nineteenth century still was wrong in its polity and views on baptism, but it had become completely apostate concerning the fundamentals of the faith. Though orthodox on paper, the Anglican Church by the twentieth century had loosed its moorings, effectively departing from the faith once delivered to the saints. It had become intoxicated with the liquor of German Rationalism and therefore died spiritually. Westcott and Hort clearly exhibited this in their writings.


The charges that Erasmus was a Catholic are hollow. The more he studied the Scriptures, the farther he moved from Rome in his position. By life's end, though never officially breaking with Rome, his assoc-iations were with Protestants; and he even espoused Anabaptist prin-ciples. The charges that King James I of England was a bawdy man and even a homosexual are unfounded. To the contrary, James Stuart was in many ways a devout man, married with children, and deeply inter-ested in the things of God. Though unpolished and often lacking in social graces, there is no evidence of moral failure in his life. Such allegations have their root in bitter political enemies who vowed ven-geance against him. The translators of the King James Version were demonstrably godly men with a degree of erudition never seen since in a body of translators. Moreover, the Anglican Church of 1600 was orthodox in its working as well as official theology. These charges are specious and without foundation.

[26] Records indicate that there were fifty-four men appointed, but only forty-seven actually worked on the translation. Also, some died during the seven years of translational work.

[27] It should be noted that McClure's work was done long before there was any question regarding the character of the translators.

[28] Alexander McClure, The Translators Revisited (original publisher unknown, 1858; reprint, Litchfield, Mich.: Maranatha Bible Society, n.d. (page citations are to the reprint edition).

[29] A prebendary was a rank of an honorary canon (i.e., degree) in the Church of England.

[30] In researching the various translators, this author found that only one of the forty-seven translators may have been guilty of occasional intemperance in his use of table wine. That is the closest this author has come to finding fault with this august body of men.