The "Inconvenient Tale" of the Original King James Bible
By Gary Michuta
In 1604, the Church of England commissioned a new English translation of the Scripture, which later became known as the King JamesVersion. According to it dedication to the king, the hope was that this new version would “counteract the barbs” of Catholics and a foil to the “self-conceited” Protestants “who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil…” [Preface and dedication to the King, 1611 King James Bible], namely religious dissenters like the Baptists and others. Ironically, the Church of England had moved to other translations and the King James Bible (K.J.V.) had become, at least for a time, the translation for those groups that would have been considered dissenters. Today, the New International Version has become the best selling translation among Protestants, but the King James is still widely used and revered by non-Catholics.
Some may be tempted to dismiss the omission of these books from the King James Bible as superfluous “add on” to the translation and that its omission really does not change anything important about the King James Bible. On the contrary, the so-called "Apocrypha” formed an integral part of the text, so much so that the Protestant scholar E. G. Goodspeed once wrote:
“[W]hatever may be our personal opinions of the Apocrypha, it is a historical fact that they formed an integral part of the King James Version, and any Bible claiming to represent that version should either include the Apocrypha, or state that it is omitting them. Otherwise a false impression is created.” [Story of the Apocrypha (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939, p. 7]
If you pick up a modern copy of the King James Version and open to the title page, chances are you’ll not see any mention of the deliberate omission of these books (e.g. “The King James Version without the Apocrypha”). After all, who would want to put a negative statement about a product on the title page? However, perhaps to avoid false advertising, publishers do notify you that books are missing by cleverly stating the contents in a positive fashion like “The King James Version Containing the Old and New Testaments.” If you didn’t know that the Apocrypha was omitted, you’d probably assume that complete King James Bible since most modern Protestant Bibles contain only the Old and New Testaments anyway. Hence, as Goodspeed warns “a false impression is created.”
The King James “Apocrypha” had a much more integral roll in its early editions than simply being an appendix unconnected to the two Testaments. Instead, the 1611 King James Bible included (like the Geneva Bible) cross-references from the Old and New Testaments to the so-called “Apocrypha.” Like modern cross-references, these were meant to refer the reader back to the text cited in order to provide further light on what had just been read. There were 11 cross-references in the New Testament and 102 Old Testament that referred Protestant readers back to the “Apocrypha.” The New Testament cross-references were:
Like the early editions of the Geneva Bible, the editors of the Authorized Version believe that the non-Catholic readers should aware of what the “Apocrypha” had to say in regards to these passage. While some are mere correspondences of thought, others point to an awareness or even a dependence upon the “Apocrypha” by inspired New Testament writers. I detail these important passages in Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible (Grotto Press, 2007).
In addition to the eleven cross-references in the New Testament, the 1611 King James also sported 102 cross-reference in the Old Testament as well bringing to total up to 113 cross-references to and from the Apocrypha overall. No wonder Goodspeed could say that the "Apocrypha" was an integral part of the King James Bible!
The King James Bible was not the only early Protestant Bible to contain the “Apocrypha” with cross-references. As we have seen in a previous article (Pilgrims’ Regress: The Geneva Bible and the “Apocrypha”), the "Apocrypha" also played an integral role in other Protestant Bibles as well.
As I mentioned earlier, translations serve as historical snapshots of the beliefs of the translators and readers. The very presence of these cross-references shows that the translators believed that the "Apocrypha" was at work within the New Testament writings and that Protestant Bible readers would benefit from reading and studying the New and Old Testaments in light of these books. Sadly, today this noble heritage has been lost.
Now You Read Them, Now You Don’t…
Those who viewed the "Apocrypha" as somehow being the last vestige of "popery" pressed for the Apocrypha appendix and its cross-references to be removed altogether from the Bible. In 1615, George Abbott, the Archbishop of Canterbury, went so far as to employ the power of law to censure any publisher who did not produce the Bible in its entirety (i.e. including the "Apocrypha") as prescribed by the Thirty-nine Articles. However, anti-Catholic hatred and the obvious financial advantages of printing smaller Protestant Bibles began to win out against the traditionalists who wanted the Bible in the form that was given in all previous Protestant translations up until that point (in the form of Luther's Bible - with the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments). The "Apocrypha" remained in the King James Bible through the 1626, 1629, 1630, and the 1633 editions. By 1632, public opinion began to decidedly turn against the "bigger" Protestant Bibles. Of the 227 printings of the Bible between 1632 and 1826, about 40% of Protestant Bibles contained the "Apocrypha." The Apocrypha Controversy of the early 1800's enabled English Bible Societies to flood the bible-buying market with Apocrypha-less Protestant Bibles and in 1885 the "Apocrypha" was officially removed with the advent of the Revised Standard Version, which replaced the King James Version.
It is hard to pin point the exact date where the King James Bible no longer contained the "Apocrypha." It is clear that later editions of the KJV removed the "Apocrypha" appendix, but they continued to include cross-references to the "Apocrypha" until they too (like the Geneva Bible) were removed as well. Why were they removed? Was it do to over-crowded margins? The Anglican scholar William H. Daubney points out the obvious:
“These objectionable omissions [of the cross-references] were made after the custom arose of publishing Bibles without the Apocrypha. These apparently profess to be what they are not, entire copies of the Authorized Version … Plainly, the references to the Apocrypha told an inconvenient tale of the use which the Church intended should be made of it; so, either from dissenting influence without, or from prejudice within the Church, these references disappeared from the margin.” [The Use of the Apocrypha In the Christian Church (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1900), 17]
What was the inconvenient tale these cross-references told? They showed that the so-called Apocrypha actually plays a much greater role that most modern Protestants are willing to admit. Moreover, the cross-references showed that the church believed that knowledge of the so-called "Apocrypha" and their use in the New Testament benefited Christians who wished to understand the Bible. Sadly today, many Protestants use the King James Bible have been handed on to them in an unaltered and uncompromised form. The reality is that its contents had undergone several substantial changes beginning with Martin Luther's gathering together the Deuterocanon and placing it in an "Apocrypha" appendix and later when that appendix (and its cross-references) were removed altogether from Protestant Bibles.