By Dr. Ken Matto
One of the most worn out questions that we King James people receive from both those who are seeking a legitimate answer and those who just like to heckle is “Where was the Inspired Bible before 1611?” It is a fair question and a good one and the fact is that there are many King James folks who cannot answer it. So this article will help to fill in the breach and give King James people the answer to give to those who ask.
When the Hampton Court Conference convened in 1604, one of the requests made by the attendees was for a new translation of the Bible. So 54 highly qualified translators were asked to converge on Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge Universities. Seven of them had died before the translation was completed, so 47 were able to complete it.
Prior to the translating of the King James Bible, there were seven major translations which were taken from the Antiochan line of Manuscripts, in other words, the pure untouched line. The other line was the Alexandrian line which was loaded with omissions, additions, and gnostic doctoring. Here is a list of those first seven Bibles which are in line with the King James Bible.
1) Tyndale in 1526
2) Coverdale in 1535
3) Matthews Bible in 1537
4) Taverners Bible in 1539
5) Great Bible in 1540
6) Geneva Bible in 1560
7) Bishops Bible in 1568
In 1516 Desiderius Erasmus made his first edition of the Greek Text and the following year in 1517 came the Reformation. This means that the pure word of God was now beginning to make inroads into Europe after just one year of being in print. Erasmus had five editions of the Greek Text. 1516-1519-1522-1527-1535
The third edition of 1522 was used by Tyndale to translate the New Testament. The third edition of Erasmus was also the basis for the 1550 Greek text of Stephanus. Stephanus, whose real name was Robert Estienne further took the Greek text toward the desired end of accuracy. Up to this point God was still bringing the texts together for one final edition. Stephanus had made four editions of the Greek text. 1546-1549-1550-1551
Then enter Theodore Beza who made three editions of the Greek text which was based upon the 1550 edition of Stephanus. Beza’s first edition was made in 1565, second edition was 1582, and the final edition which was used by the King James translators was made in 1598.
Did you notice the refinement that God was bringing to the Greek text? Keep in mind that the Greek text is the inspired word of God and God was now refining it, getting it ready for the final form which was to be used in the King James Bible. Look at the refinement: Erasmus 5 Editions; Robert Estienne 4 Editions; and finally Theodore Beza 3 Editions. God brought the refinement of the Greek text through 12 editions. Now 12 is a very biblical number: 12 tribes, 12 patriarchs, 12 apostles, 12,000 from each tribe in Revelation 7 & 14, 12 gates into the city, 12 foundations, 12 baskets left after Jesus fed the 5,000, 12 thrones, Jesus could have had 12 legions of angels to save Him from the cross, Jesus raised a 12 year old girl from death, Jesus was 12 when He went up to the feast in Jerusalem and amazed the doctors of his knowledge of the law, 12 hours in the day, and in Ephesus Paul laid his hands on 12 men and they prophesied. So there is biblical significance to the number 12 in Scripture. There is no such thing as a coincidence in the Kingdom of God, only a God incident.
Within the translating of those Greek texts, we see a thread that God used for the finalizing of the Greek text. The 1522 edition of Erasmus was the basis for the 1550 Greek Text of Stephanus which was the basis of the Greek Text for Beza in 1598. After 12 editions of the Greek, the thread is: 1522 Erasmus>1550 Stephanus>1598 Beza!
Prior to those Greek texts which are listed the word of God was found transmitted to the Byzantine text which was used as the Word of God for 1,000 years from 450-1450 A.D. which carried the preserved word of God from the Old Latin Vulgate (157 AD-Not Jerome’s) and the Greek Vulgate (95-150 AD) which were translated from the originals which are no more in existence.
From 150-400 A.D. there were papyrus readings of the Textus Receptus. From 350-400 A.D. the Textus Receptus is dominant text in the churches. There were also some translations made back as far as the second century. These translations were all based upon the Textus Receptus or the Antiochan Manuscripts. (I use the term Textus Receptus for Identification purposes only even though the term was applied to the Greek text of the Elzivir Brothers in 1624.)
95-150----------Greek Vulgate (Copy of Originals)
120--------------The Waldensian Bible
150--------------The Peshitta (Syrian Copy)
150-400--------Papyrus Readings of the Receptus
157--------------The Italic Bible - From the Old Latin Vulgate used in Northern Italy
157--------------The Old Latin Vulgate
177--------------The Gallic Bible
310--------------The Gothic Version of Ulfilas
350-400--------The Textus Receptus is Dominant Text
400--------------Augustine favors Textus Receptus
400--------------The Armenian Bible (Translated by Mesrob)
400--------------The Old Syriac
450--------------The Palestinian Syriac Version
So here we see that there were translations made from the copies of the copies of the original autographs which was the inspired Word of God. Translations of the Bible were not limited to only the time frame of 1526-1611 but each of these older translations were made for a specific people such as the Italic Bible of 157 A.D. used in northern Italy. The King James Bible was the first Bible and last translated from the proper manuscripts to go worldwide. The reason that it looks like there was no Bible before 1611 is because most of them were translated for regional usage such as The Peshitta for Syria translated in 150 A.D. or the Gothic Version of Ulfilas translated in 310 A.D.
In 1604, God had all the language manuscripts refined along with the prior Bible translations ready for usage. Now came the time for God to authorize the seventh and final version of His Word which was the King James Bible. The Bibles I listed were inspired because they had an impact and souls were being saved through them plus they were in the line of the coming King James Bible. The King James translators used the former translations such as Tyndale’s and the Greek Text of Beza and the Masoretic Text for the Hebrew, the 1524-25 Bomberg edition, also known as the Ben Chayyim Text. So there was inspiration in the former translations in the lineage of the King James Bible but not on the scale of the King James Bible which God used for the evangelism of the world and the building of nations.
So when people ask where was the Bible before 1611, you now have an answer to give them. There were many regional Bibles translated for single groups of people but not for worldwide evangelism for the time had not yet come, yet the true word of God was well in existence and widely spread by the time of the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. Just to mention two others which were translated for specific people: 1537 Olivetan’s French Bible and in 1541 the Swedish Upsala Bible. Just one other historical note that the English language was in major transition in the sixteenth century and if any of those Bibles were to be used for worldwide evangelism, it would have been literally impossible to understand them. Here is one example:
Wycliffe 1388 - Lo! Y sende you as scheep in the myddil of wolues; therfor be ye sliy as serpentis, and symple as dowues.
Tyndale 1526 - Beholde I sende you forthe as shepe amoge wolves. Be ye therfore wyse as serpetes and innocent as doves.
Geneva 1560 - Behold, I send you as sheepe in the middes of the wolues: be yee therefore wise as serpents, and innocent as doues.
King James 1611 - Behold, I send you foorth as sheepe in the middest of wolues: be yee therefore wise as serpents, and harmelesse as doues.
King James 1769 - Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
You can see very plainly how the English language was transitioning and in 1611 it had become readable and then when we come to 1769, we see how readable it is and it was right after that time that the King James Bible was used for the great missionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. So no longer fear the question “where was the Bible before 1611?” because it was in use in many places limited only by regional languages. While they were the preserved word of God along with preserved inspiration, a French Bible could not be used in Sweden. God in His wisdom knew that the English language would become the international language in our day and was already spreading in the 17th century when countries like Great Britain were building colonies all over this world and exporting the English language. Today in 2016, most countries speak and teach their people English since it is also the international Business language.
When looking at the Bible before 1611, we need to look at the Bibles which were translated for certain people groups and not for world evangelism. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in 1534 using the 1522 text of Erasmus but that language could not be used in other countries for there would be no understanding. So the Word of God was active and being preached to many people groups via regional translations. So those who mock about the date of 1611 and where was the Bible before that, only need look at the history of translations according to specific region and country, and you will find it there. Just do a historical study and that question will never arise again!