The year 2011—the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible—is a perfect time to celebrate the “book of books” and its numerous translations. Let’s reflect on the many miracles, over a span of several thousand years, that had to happen to make the entire Word of God available and affordable in many languages!
The Bible has probably had a greater impact on the world than all other books combined! The history of the Bible is amazing and fascinating. Let’s consider just a few of the major highlights.
Many amazing steps took place to produce, preserve and propagate the Good Book. And it has been translated into many more languages and distributed in many more places than any other book. All this has required many miracles!
What do we mean by “miracles”?
Many miracles are not overtly and conspicuously spectacular or even immediately apparent. Seldom are there “fireworks” that make a miracle obvious to all. God usually chooses to work invisibly and quietly behind the scenes, steering events to bring about the results He has predetermined—often in surprising ways.
The Creator and Lawgiver does not break His laws, but neither is He confined by His laws. God created nature and all that is natural, but God also frequently does things that aresupernatural or outside the normal operations of the universe.
Also, anytime God intervenes in the affairs of men, even when He is working within His laws, we call it miraculous or providential.
Although God is masterminding and orchestrating all His creation, it’s rather amazing how much freedom He allows human beings to have. He doesn’t make us into His puppets. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” His Word tells us (1 Corinthians:14:32, emphasis added throughout).
How God allows freedom of choice and still determines ultimate outcomes is something that is more than we can fully comprehend!
The miracle of divine revelation
God “created man in His own image”—the capstone of His creation (Genesis:1:27). God made man with amazing mental and spiritual capacities, including the ability to learn languages. God’s purpose is to have a personal relationship with each individual.
With the creation of Adam and Eve, God began to increasingly communicate His plan and purpose to humanity “by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke:1:70). “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter:1:20-21).
The Ten Commandments hold a special place in God’s revelation because God not only spoke them but also inscribed them on stone tablets with His own finger (Exodus:24:12; 31:18; 34:1, 28).
But God told Moses to write the rest of what God was revealing to him (Exodus:17:14; 34:27).
In the greater sense, God is the Author of the entire Bible, but He has used many human writers to record His revelation—about 40 in all!
The realization that Almighty God openly reveals His plans to us human beings is breathtakingly inspiring! What an honor! In fact, God has revealed some important matters to His prophets and apostles that even His angels had been wondering about (Ephesians:3:1-12; Colossians:1:24-26; 1 Peter:1:10-12).
With the completion of the Bible, God has revealed all the spiritual knowledge that is essential for mankind to know.
The miracle of unity and perfection
In a sense, the Bible is a library of books composed by about 40 writers with different cultures, personalities, occupations and writing styles, living in 10 different countries, at different times over a span of about 1,500 years! One would think that under such circumstances countless contradictions and conflicts would be inevitable.
However, miracle of miracles—in spite of the Bible’s great diversity, there is perfect unity!It is consistent and coherent all the way through. With merely a cursory reading, the Bible appears to have a few internal contradictions and discrepancies, but a closer examination shows complete harmony. As Jesus Christ Himself put it, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John:10:35).
With mere men this would be impossible, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew:19:26).
The miracle of biblical languages
Language is amazing. No one can fully explain how human beings can learn and speak languages.
And here is an intriguing question: When God was communicating everything that became the Bible, how did He decide which languages to use?
The scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament were revealed and written mostly in the Hebrew language. The exceptions are the few sections written in Aramaic (i.e., Ezra:4:8–6:18; 7:12-26; Jeremiah:10:11; Daniel:2:4–7:28). The scriptures that make up the New Testament were written in Greek.
Why did God use primarily one language (Hebrew) for a long time and then switch to another language (Greek)?
We can’t be sure of the answers until Christ returns, but many Bible scholars and others have voiced their speculations. They are fascinating to consider. We do know this: God doesn’t do anything haphazardly. Each language has its special strengths, and God had good reasons for choosing the ones He did.
A crucial point is this: In Old Testament times, God was dealing primarily with one nation, Israel, the nation He “chose” to be a model nation (although they largely failed at that). Hebrew was their national language.
In New Testament times, God was ready to spread His truth to all the world. After Alexander the Great conquered much of the civilized world, Greek (specifically, the koineor “common” Greek) rather quickly became the universal language. This, in turn, enabled Christ’s followers to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark:16:15, New International Version). The importance of this factor can’t be overemphasized.
The miracle of translations
God desires for all people to read His Word, and that requires His Word to be translated into the various spoken languages of people around the world.
Nehemiah:8:8 says of Ezra and the Levites who were teaching the gathered people of Judah, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” Not only were the teachers here helping the people to have spiritual understanding of the Scriptures, but they were alsotranslating the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic for those who had come out of the Babylonian captivity and did not understand Hebrew very well.
There is abundant proof that God is in favor of translating His Word into all other languages. For example, a team of scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek by 132 B.C. That translation, known as the Septuagint, was the most popular version of the Scriptures in Jesus’ day. When the apostles were writing what became the New Testament and referred to the Hebrew Scriptures, they were quoting a Greek translation. That translation was evidently the Septuagint, at least much of the time.
As far as is known to history, the first translation of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was into Latin by Jerome. Later known as the versio vulgata (“common version”) or Vulgate, it was finished in A.D. 405. It was to be the dominant Bible for the next thousand years.
For a while, the Vulgate enabled more people to read the Bible. But with the passage of time, a self-serving clergy, bent on maintaining power over the people, soon began to prevent the common people from owning or even reading the Bible. That contributed in part to the Middle Ages becoming “the Dark Ages,” because without Bible knowledge, people are usually not highly motivated to seek other knowledge.
During the Middle Ages, the Bible was regarded as something to revere rather than read, and Latin was promoted as the “holy” language. Hebrew was ridiculed as the language of the Jews, and Greek was frowned on because the eastern Greek-speaking church had split from the Roman church.
But, thankfully, religious Jews realized that the Hebrew Scriptures were “the oracles [or sayings] of God” and meticulously copied and preserved them (Romans:3:2). Greek-speaking Christians copied and preserved the Greek Scriptures.
When the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Muslims (climaxed by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453), many Greek-speaking people fled westward. This contributed to the European Renaissance and revival of interest in Greek, including the Greek Scriptures and their translations into other languages.
One more point is critically important. There have always been people who consider one language to be holier than all others. For example, some people advocate that we speak only Hebrew names for God. If all the Bible had been written in only one language, they would have a stronger argument. But the Bible was written using three languages.
God is calling people out of “every tribe and tongue [language] and people and nation” (Revelation:5:9). This requires the Bible to be translated into many languages!
The miracle of survival and preservation of the Scriptures
Over the centuries, Satan the devil has incited and inflamed every imaginable plot to extinguish the light of God’s truth. The prophets and other messengers of God were usually persecuted and often killed. Satan tried to have Jesus killed from the time He was a baby before finally accomplishing that end when Jesus was 33.
Soon after the beginning of the New Testament Church, “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered” (Acts:8:1). However, this worked for good to spread God’s Word. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts:8:4).
Another way persecution has worked for good is this: The willingness of Christians to suffer and even die for their beliefs has been a powerful witness to others!
The earliest persecution of Christians was primarily by Jewish religious leaders who felt their influence jeopardized by the growing new movement. Later persecution was primarily instigated by the pagan Roman rulers who viewed Christianity as a threat to the established order since it required allegiance to a higher power. And later still, after a paganized form of Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, persecution was largely on religious grounds—to exterminate differing views and teachings.
For hundreds of years leading up to the late Middle Ages, religious leaders frequently confiscated and burned Bibles. People were often put to death merely for having a portion of the Bible in their possession.
The Scriptures survived not only because of God’s divine protection, but also because of the faith and zeal of His people. They knew they had “the pearl of great price” and were willing to risk their lives to protect, preserve and propagate it (Matthew:13:46). Their zeal to make copies and distribute them made it difficult for enemies to find and destroy all the copies.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah:40:8).
The miracle of printing
The next major step was the invention of modern printing by German inventor Johannes Gutenberg. His invention of movable type, which allowed information to be disseminated widely at relatively low cost, is considered the most important event of the modern period. Gutenberg’s printing press and technique played a key role in three major intellectual advancements—the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution.
Gutenberg’s first major project was the printing of the Latin Vulgate Bible, completed probably in 1455. Imitations of his invention quickly spread around the world.
The single most important effect of the invention was to enable mass production of Bibles, which soon greatly lowered the cost of owning a Bible. Once the Bible was more widely available, the flames of the Reformation were unquenchable!
The miracle of English and the English translations
English is a remarkable language in many ways. It has absorbed an amazing number of words from other languages, making it extremely versatile, expressive and colorful. Some would say it has adopted many of the “best” words of other languages.
For example, after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, English absorbed many Norman French words. Later, the far-flung British colonies and the major roles of Britain and America in international trade and foreign wars brought them into contact with many other languages.
In the 15th to 17th centuries, a combination of remarkable factors began to converge to fulfill major Bible prophecies and to enable Christ’s followers to, as earlier noted, “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark:16:15, NIV).
There was Gutenberg’s revolutionary invention of movable metal type around 1450, as we’ve seen.
Ambitions to find new trading routes and to preach the gospel led to Christopher Columbus reaching America in 1492. That led to rapid exploration and colonization around the world. It was also a significant step in the fulfillment of Bible prophecies that were fulfilled by Britain becoming a great empire and the United States becoming a great superpower.
By 1500 modern English was developing as an improvement over Middle English. The Protestant Reformation is commonly considered to have begun with Martin Luther in 1517. But John Wycliffe (1324-1384) has been dubbed the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” He and his followers, called Lollards, translated much of the Bible from Latin to English, greatly whetting the appetites of the English people to read the Bible in their own tongue.
William Tyndale (1494-1536) stands as perhaps the greatest of all English translators. He produced English translations of the entire New Testament from the Greek and much of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Tyndale’s translations were accurate, beautiful and excellent, so much so that about 80 percent of the 1611 King James Version is Tyndale’s wording.
A bittersweet fact is that in the same year that Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible into English (1536), King Henry VIII granted permission for the distribution of English Bibles. That quickly resulted in more English Bibles, including the Coverdale Bible in 1535, Matthew’s Bible in 1537, the Great Bible in 1539, the Geneva Bible in 1560 and the Bishops’ Bible in 1568.
English Queen Mary I, a fervent Catholic known as “Bloody Mary,” reigned from 1553 to 1558. Notice that the only English Bible coming together during that time was the Geneva Bible—produced in Geneva, Switzerland.
Ironically, Catholic Mary fueled the Protestant Reformation in England! The English were so horrified by the gory persecution that many then rejected Catholicism.
After Mary, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603. She outlawed all Catholic services even though three-fourths of her subjects still professed Catholicism. In trying to appease everyone, she incorporated both Catholic and Protestant elements into the Anglican creeds and worship. It was the Puritans who most strongly objected to this. They wanted to “purify” Christianity of all Catholic elements.
In 1603, on the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland assumed the throne as James I of England. On his trip to London to receive the crown, he was intercepted by a delegation of Puritan ministers with a list of grievances against the Church of England. The king responded by ordering a high-level conference to address “things pretended to be amiss in the church.”
The conference took place in January 1604 at Hampton Court, one of the royal palaces. The Puritan delegation was led by Dr. John Rainolds, who proposed a purer English translation of the Bible.
King James liked the idea for a number of reasons. One was that the most popular English Bible was the Geneva Bible, and the king wanted England (and himself) to have the prestige of a popular Bible that would be truly English, translated on English soil. The king also hoped a new Bible would help to unite Puritans with other Protestants as well as the Scots with the English.
The translating began with a team of 54 scholars. They finished their work in 1611, giving the world what we usually refer to as the King James Version.
Officially called the Authorized Version, it quickly rose to be the most popular English translation. Not only was it a highly accurate translation, but the English fell in love with its rhythmic and beautiful wording. The widespread reading, reciting and quoting of the KJV greatly influenced not only English literature but also spoken English from then on.
However, most will be surprised to learn that the English of the KJV was more Elizabethan rather than the common English during the reign of King James. For example, thee andthou were already falling into disuse, as well as the third-person singular verb ending -eth. But the King James translators chose to retain much of the wording from previous English translations.
Furthermore, the “King James Version” has undergone several revisions since 1611 to correct minor errors and to update spelling. The principle revisions were in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1653 and 1762. Today’s standard edition is that of 1762.
This writer has a copy of the 1611 version. Here is a passage from “The Newe Teftament of our Lord and Sauiour Iesvs Christ”: “Distributing to the necessitie of Saints; giuen to hospitalitie. Blesse them which persecute you, blesse, and curse not. Reioyce with them that doe reioice, and weepe with them that weepe” (Romans:12:13-15).
By 1700, the popularity of the KJV had eclipsed all other versions. Since then, many other English translations have been produced, but none even approached the popularity of the KJV until the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1952. It was the 1978 New International Version that finally dethroned the KJV as the most popular Bible version. At some point between 1986 and 1988 it began outselling the KJV. However, the popularity of the KJV has continued to remain high for a very long time.
The miracle of “spreading the gospel”
Jesus said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, andto the end of the earth” (Acts:1:8). He also proclaimed, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew:24:14).
Clearly, God’s plan calls for the effective preaching of the gospel all over the world in the end time to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. A parallel to that is the way the preaching of John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s first coming.
In the last few centuries, it is the zealous English-speaking people, usually with their beloved King James Bibles, who have been most responsible for the fact that “the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts:6:7).
This has been largely enabled by the far-reaching British Empire and the global power of the United States of America. A major reason that the United States has been blessed with wise laws, individual freedom and great success is that its founding fathers looked to the Bible for guidance. But the main reason Britain and America were blessed with great power is that God fulfilled His promises to bless the descendants of Joseph (Genesis 48).
Joseph’s father Jacob prophesied great blessings for the descendants of Joseph, including their being “a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall” (Genesis:49:22). Truly their “branches” have reached all over the world! (To learn more, read our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .)
Why did God plan to greatly bless these nations? It was not because of some kind of favoritism. One reason God enabled these nations to be powerful was so they could and would carry the Word of God to all the world!
The miracles of worldwide transformation and personal transformation
The world is a much better place—in many, many ways—than it would otherwise be because of the influence of the Bible. This is thoroughly explained in two fascinating books by Dr. D. James Kennedy: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (1994) and What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? (1998).
Likewise, you and I are much better people than we would otherwise be to the extent that we, with the essential help of God’s Holy Spirit, internalize and live by the transforming Word of God.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, he commented on how Timothy had been supremely blessed “that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy:3:15).
Then Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitablefor doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (verses 16-17).
The longest chapter in the Bible—Psalm 119—was written in praise of God’s Word. It tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm:119:105).
May you diligently study and drink in God’s Word so that it may always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path!