Cathedral in Canterbury, England, is the center of the worldwide Anglican
Church -- the third largest Christian organization in the world. But since the
Anglican Church also is the official Church of England, there is a business
office -- a residence called Lambeth Palace -- across the Thames River from
London’s Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. And next to Lambeth Palace
is an old medieval church known as “St. Mary at Lambeth,” where, for centuries,
the archbishops of Canterbury and their families worshipped when they were in
was announced this Easter weekend that the missing remains of five archbishops
had been discovered in a crypt beneath the church. One of these archbishops was
Richard Bancroft, who was archbishop from 1604 to his death in 1610. He was the
“chief overseer” of the King James Bible.
St. Mary’s crypt was discovered during renovations to the church that have been
carried out since 2015. The crypt was not disturbed, but a remote camera on a
pole was stuck into the tomb through a hole in the wall. Bancroft’s coffin was
not alone, but accompanied by 30 other lead coffins, several of which contained
the remains of later archbishops.
was perhaps the most important figure in the creation of the King James Bible.
To begin with, James became king of England in 1603, after being born the king
of Scotland. He was raised and educated within the Calvinist Scottish church.
At this time, the Church of England was undergoing difficult and protracted
internal debates between the traditional churchmen and the Puritans.
Puritans were heavily influenced by Calvinism, like England’s new king. They
hoped he would be an ally in their attempts to reform the Church of England and
petitioned him, as the church’s head, to institute key changes.
convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604 to address their
concerns. It was not a success for the Puritans. Bancroft, who was then bishop
of London, was widely known as a fierce opponent of the Puritans. He helped
persuade the king to reject the Puritan calls for church reform.
James shared one desire with the Puritans, which he granted. That was their
request for a new, “authorized” translation of the Bible. But, even as he
acceded to their request, he added a twist: James put the anti-Puritan Bancroft
in charge of the project.
James hated the Calvinist Geneva Bible with a passion, widely used among Puritans.
The source of that hatred was that it included interpretative notes, many of
which expressed anti-monarchical ideas. Since James believed strongly in the
divine right of kings to rule their subjects, these were especially
infuriating. The new Bible, he made clear, would have no notes, just
Bancroft pioneered a new approach to Bible translation, one which helped the
translation overcome the political and religious conflict in which the project
was conceived. Earlier translations had essentially been done by individuals,
without consultation or review. Bancroft brought together 47 experts in
biblical studies from Oxford, Cambridge and London. Here, he was surprisingly
even-handed, bringing in the best scholars whether they were establishment or
divided the experts into six companies: three for the Old Testament, two for
the New Testament and one for the Apocrypha. There were multiple levels of
review, with himself having the final say. This ensured that the translation
was both accurate and pleasant to hear.
last goal was important, for nearly all England agreed that the last official
Bible translation of the church, known as the Bishop’s Bible, was plodding,
dull and uninspired. The churchmen did not like it, and the people who listened
to it every Sunday found it boring. To have any chance of success among the
people, the King James Bible needed attractive prose.
by all accounts, the King James Bible succeeded. Within 50 years, its “majesty
of style” made it the widest circulating English Bible. It traveled to the
American colonies, where it was frequently reprinted. For more than 300 years,
it was the main Bible used in the English language, and no other Protestant
Bible could compete with it.
Bancroft, whose burial site we now know, was a partisan bulldog for the Church
of England establishment. Yet he guided the creation of a new Bible translation
that lasted for more than four centuries and was accepted by most branches of
Labels: Archbishop Richard Bancroft, Bible translation, Calvinism, Geneva Bible, King James Bible, King James I, Puritan, St Mary in Lambeth, Version