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Many years ago, I heard someone say that the KJV came about because King James I wanted a version of the Bible that supported him getting a divorce. Nowadays, I can't help but wonder how true this is. Thus, I'm asking for the historical reasons the KJV came about.

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  • Check out the forward/dedication of the original KJV (kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm). Remember that it is always best to listen to the creators of the work when trying to guess their purpose; instead of listening to contemporary "scholars" who like to lace every historical figure with dark motives.
    – Ian
    May 9 '16 at 15:20
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Since one of the reasons for the English Reformation by King Henry VIII which lead to the creation of the Church of England was divorce, I doubt King James I would have needed a new translation.

From Wikipedia, it sounds like the main reasons for the commissioning of the KJV 70 years after the reformation were around translation errors believed to be in the existing English translations.

The newly crowned King James convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. That gathering proposed a new English version in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England.

It sounds to me like what you had heard may have just been history getting crossed.

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    King James was never divorced, so it's even less likely that he commissioned the KJV to excuse it. Aug 29 '11 at 17:21
  • @DJClayworth I suspected that since I didn't see anything about him divorcing, but couldn't find anything that specifically said he didn't. Thanks!
    – a_hardin
    Aug 29 '11 at 17:28
  • My understanding: The Puritans wanted changes; King James wanted to avoid controversial changes but needed a Bible that would be more popular with the people while avoiding the Geneva Bible's footnotes.
    – Bit Chaser
    Nov 25 '18 at 0:28
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To begin with, that statement is logically flawed as the Bible does not condone divorce — KJV or not.

As far as your actual question, according to Wikipedia it seems like a new English version was proposed "[...] in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England."

PS: There also seem to be a recent documentary on the subject, which I've been meaning to see. It seems to be available on Netflix. (GratefulDisciple: Netflix link is dead, documentary is currently available on YouTube, IMDB entry here)

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  • I noticed that on Netflix while browsing last night. Now that Starman has me interested in the history of the KJV, I may have to watch it. :P
    – a_hardin
    Aug 29 '11 at 2:28
  • At the beginning of the year, there were a number of documentaries on BBC Radio 4. The couple I listened to were interesting in providing cultural context. Some might still be available on the BBC website.
    – TRiG
    Aug 31 '11 at 0:42
  • BYU also sponsored a 3-part documentary about it. byutv.org/show/123d4a82-3d47-488e-beda-2496a5a1ff2c
    – user23
    Nov 21 '11 at 4:26
  • The King James Bible was written in order to provide scriptural support for the Church of England's doctrine, which differed from that of the Protestants. Also Roman Catholicisms were excluded from the notes. Divorce for specific reasons was allowed under the new doctrine, and the Bible confirmed this.
    – Waeshael
    Aug 9 '13 at 13:05
  • In England the Puritans pushed for a change to the Bible, but they were not heeded. They moved to the Continent to worship.
    – Waeshael
    Aug 9 '13 at 14:06
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The most popular Bible being used prior to the KJV was the Geneva Bible. Unfortunately for the crown, this Bible also contained footnotes of an opposing political nature. Thus the KJV was commissioned with the directive for minimal footnotes. The 1611 text is actually quite similar to the Geneva Bible.

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    like what? What are the samples of footnotes?
    – user4951
    Jul 3 '13 at 13:26
  • The Geneva Bible was a Protestant Bible written in Geneva by an English Oxford scholar influenced by many learned exiles. It was popular with Protestants in Europe, and was probably carried to the USA with the Mayflower. The only Bibles authorized in England at that time were the Vulgate under Queen Mary, and the Great Bible and the Bishop's Bible, under Elizabeth and Henry, both forerunners of the AV KJV. The Geneva Bible (1560) was the Bible of the people and often quoted by Clergy. In 1644, it was finally driven out of the Church. I have a copy.
    – Waeshael
    Aug 9 '13 at 14:03
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In a time when you needed to know Latin to read the bible, it was actually King Henry who wanted a divorce and it was he who wanted to read with his own eyes what the bible said rather than take the words of priests and the pope as the gospel truth. It shouldn't come as a shock that a "king" would have a large enough ego to challenge the authority of other humans, despite their claim that their personal authority was handed down to them from God.

So translators were brought in to put it into the English language and (as someone stated in a previous reply) the words of Jesus did not justify divorce in Henry's circumstance. However, this is a very important testimony toward the accuracy of the translation and evidence that the translators were more willing to disappoint the King with bad news regarding his divorce than they were willing to anger God with a false translation of his Holy Book.

As the bible became a book that literate people could examine for themselves, it became the greatest topic of discussion in English literature. King James took up the task of completing a more thorough and complete translation of the old and new testament. A think tank of the most esteemed Latin to English translators shared their knowledge and reached an agreed-upon translation through on a consensus basis.

Then, poets were brought in to work with the translators to render it in the most eloquent form possible without compromising accuracy. I am among the many who feel that it is the highest achievement of the written English language. Despite what is often thought, the King James Bible is written in what is considered "modern English" and I feel that a literate person of average intelligence can comprehend it easily enough without the need for dumbing it down or catering to the vocabulary fashion trends of the day. I feel that "Zenith English" is a more appropriate description than "Modern English" because the English language, especially in literature, was more far more revered in the days of King James than in the present.

Also, intelligence and proper speech were considered desirable virtues among men, unlike in modern times when falsified stigmas that intelligence and proper speech are indicators of a male who lacks masculinity. So rather than reducing this great achievement in literature to fit your limitations in vocabulary, I suggest reading it as it is and I expect it will be rewarding to you like it was for me. More precisely, I suspect you will find it beneficial to your ability to express yourself with the written English word. I, after all, am a West Virginian with only a high school degree, would you have guessed? King James Bible folks, works for me!

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