The first printing of the King James Bible in 1611 was done with great care and attention to detail. Subsequent printings, on the other hand, were not always guided by the same lofty standards. As a result, printing errors began to make their way into the text. As those errors multiplied, scholars determined that something should be done. Revisions were in order.
The first two major revisions of the King James Bible came courtesy of Cambridge University, first in 1629 and then again in 1638. The aim of these revisions was to restore the proper text by eliminating misprints and correcting minor errors in translation. Cambridge scholars also made changes to the original text by incorporating a more literal interpretation of certain words. (These literal interpretations were not new. They had been included in the original King James Version as margin notes.)
Printing errors didn’t end with the Cambridge revisions. For more than 120 years, new mistakes accrued. Eventually, misprinted editions became a problem of scandalous proportions. Two of the leading universities in England—Cambridge (again) and Oxford—began work on updated standard editions. Francis Sawyer Parris oversaw the Cambridge edition, and Benjamin Blayney oversaw the Oxford edition. The Cambridge edition was finished first, in 1760, but the Oxford version, which was finished nine years later, superseded it.
Blayney’s exacting work on the Oxford revision calls to mind Psalm 12:6: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”
His revisions fall into five categories. The first is the use of italics. Blayney used italics to identify words that are inserted into a passage to make the meaning clear but aren’t found in the original Hebrew or Greek text.
The original 1611 version used small “roman” type to identify such words. Because of printer’s errors and other factors, however, not all of those words were properly identified. The 1769 Oxford edition is much more heavily italicized than the original.
The second category of revisions involves very minor changes to the text itself. For example, in the 1611 version, Matthew 13:6 contains the phrase “had not root.” In the 1769 version, the phrase is changed to “had no root.”
The third category involves spelling (“sinnes” is changed to “sins”), capitalization (“holy Ghost” is changed to “Holy Ghost”), and punctuation. In the century and a half since the original version was written, the rules of writing had changed. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation had become more standardized. Blayney attempted to introduce this standardization into the Bible text.
The fourth category involves changes to the margin notes, including removing references to the Apocrypha. The fifth category involves correcting a handful of printing errors, including changing “might” to “night” in Matthew 26:34.
On the surface, it may seem as though the 1611 edition has undergone an extensive overhaul. But that’s not necessarily the case. The essence of the original King James Version remains intact today. If you were to compare a current edition of the text to the original, you would find that they are remarkably similar.
The writer of Hebrews says,
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
If the King James Bible is a sword, we can think of the revisions as a way of “sharpening” the blade. It’s a process of removing and correcting elements that might dull its impact.
This article includes material from the King James Study Bible, Full-Color Edition from Thomas Nelson. To learn more about this Bible, watch the video!