I've taken the liberty of copying the following from The Secular Web (thanks, Saige!):

In 1603, James I became King of England. He inherited the benefits of the Elizabethan age: the developing attitude of tolerance, the strong spirit of intellectual excitement (prompted by such men as Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson) and broad interest in religious matters. James was something of a Bible scholar, and is said to have tried his hand at translation. In an attempt to ease some of the tensions among Christians, he responded to a suggestion of Dr. John Reynolds of Oxford, a Puritan, that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken. Forty-seven scholars and learned clergymen were appointed to the translation committee (James' letter of authorization mentions fifty-four). Among the guide rules developed for translation were the following:

  • The Bishops' Bible was to be followed and only altered where necessary.
  • Old ecclesiastical terms were to be retained.
  • No marginal notes were to be included except to give suitable alternate readings or to cite parallel passages.
  • Wherever Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Bible, or the Geneva Bible, were closer to the original text, these translations were to be followed.
The finished product, the famous King James Version of 1611, was not a perfect work, and in 1613 a revised edition appeared. As a result of sharp criticism, a third revision was made in 1629. Unfortunately, the Codex Alexandrinus had not arrived in England in time to be consulted, and eminent scholars were pressing for a new translation. The King James Version went through further revisions, one in 1638, another more extensive one in 1762 and in 1769 still another, in which spelling and punctuation were brought up to date. The Rheims-Douai version was revised in 1749 by Bishop Richard Challoner.

Excerpted from Old Testament Life and Literature by Gerald A. Larue

Context: English Bible Translations

The King James Version (otherwise known as the Authorised Version) is one of the more significant English translations of the Bible. Commissioned by King James and completed in 1611, it became one of the most used English translations of the Bible for several centuries. It follows the Bishops Bible (1568) as the English Bible of the reformed Church of England.

The English in the King James Version is sufficiently old to warrant a number of more modern English translations of the Bible. As far as I know, many evangelicals now prefer these slightly more modern translations:

Complete texts of these translations are available from http://bible.gospelcom.net/

The scholars who translated the King James Bible in the 1600s (or rather, edited and revised the translation started by William Tyndale) were careful to keep themselves anonymous. ("deliberately cultivated anonymity" is how one author puts it) Their identities, along with some interesting details about the translation process, were finally revealed in 1958 when thirty-nine pages of their working notes were found in Oxford's Bodleian Library.

How big a difference does good editing make? Consider this first draft of famous scripture:

I understood, I cared as a child, I had a child's mind, I imagined as a child, I was affected as a child.*
And how big a difference can translation make in the final meaning? Well, the word ekklesia being translated as "congregation" instead of "church" is widely credited with giving people the idea that holy communion could happen anywhere, not just in a cathedral. And when presbyteros means "elder" and not "priest" you've just paved the way for the Reformation.
* For the unfamiliar, the final copy reads "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child." Reads better, doesn't it?

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