King James Bible: Historical Timeline

Many of you know this is the 400 year celebration of the King James Bible. Here’s a timeline of the people, places and events that led up to and include the publication of this great English Bible.

  • 130 B.C. – The Hebrew language stops being used by the masses.  Only the highly educated can read the Old Testament in Hebrew.  The first major Bible translation is done.  The Old Testament is translated into the language of the day, Greek.  This translation is called, “The Septuagint.”  This is the Bible most in the first century probably read, including Jesus.
  • 90’s A.D. – The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, is completed by John on the island of Patmos.  The Old and New Testament are now complete.
  • 100-382 A.D. – The Gospel spreads like wild fire throughout the known world.  These people all need the Bible.  Hand-written copies of the New Testament in Greek are produced all over the world to try to keep up with all the new followers of Christ.  Over 20,000 of these copies exist to this day.
  • 382-1500 A.D. – The known world eventually stops using the Greek language in favor of Latin.  Jerome translates the entire Bible into Latin, it is known as the Vulgate.  The Vulgate is the all-time most used Bible translation in human history.  Used more than the original Greek and the King James Version.
  • 700 A.D. – The Psalms and some of the Gospels are the first to be translated in a new language called English.
  • 735 A.D. – On the day he died a man named Venerable Bede finishes the first complete translation of a New Testament book into English (the book of John).
  • 1384 A.D. – John Wycliffe, a theology professor at Oxford, is fired for believing the Bible rather than the Pope is our ultimate authority.  Because of this conviction Wycliffe and his followers produced the first complete Bible in English. Wycliffe died of a stroke the same year his Bible was completed.  The Wycliffe Bible is a translation from the Latin Vulgate.
  • Associates of Wycliffe, after his death, finish his translation. The Church at the time said only the priests can rightly interpret the Bible so it was illegal to have the Bible in a language other than Latin. Many of Wycliffe’s associates were burned at the stake with their English translations tied around their necks.
  • 1408 – A law is passed in England banning the translation of the Bible into English.
  • 1428 – 44 years after Wycliffe died his bones were exhumed and burned for having translated the Bible into English (they were really mad).
  • 1440 A.D. – Johannes Gutenberg invents the Printing Press.  It is no longer necessary to make hand-written copies of the Bible.
  • October 31st, 1517 – A young Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther challenges the church hierarchy of his day, like Wycliffe, by nailing his 95 theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany.  This act sparks the Protestant Reformation.
  • Part of the reformation passion is allowing every person to read the Bible in their own language. Martin Luther translates the Bible into German for his country.
  • 1525 – William Tyndale, educated at Oxford and Cambridge and fluent in at least 6 languages including ancient Hebrew and Greek, completes a translation of the New Testament into English.  He flees England to complete his translation in the more friendly protestant land of Germany.  This is the first English translation of the New Testament produced from the original Greek.
  • 1536 – Tyndale famously says he wishes a plowboy to know as much about God as the Pope.  Tyndale is burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.  His dying words are, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”  Tyndale’s translation was so good 90% of it would reappear in the King James Version (the King of England’s Version).
  • 1539 – An English translation called The Great Bible appears to try to give churches at least one English Bible in their possession.  It is named Great because of its very large size.
  • 1560 – The Geneva Bible becomes the first English Bible where the entire Bible (not just the New Testament) is translated from the original Greek AND Hebrew. It is also the first translation done by a committee of people.
  • At the end of the 1500’s England was torn between two Bible translations.  Most people used the Geneva Bible but the clergy felt it was below them to use the commoners Geneva Bible.  A solution was needed.
  • 1603: Queen Elizabeth dies and King James VI, who had ruled Scotland for 37 years, becomes King James I of England.
  • 1604: King James summons the religious leaders of England together to settle on a common English translation that can be used by both clergy and the masses.  47 men stationed at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey worked on the translation from original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  The translators, additionally, relied heavily on the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles.  Nearly 90% of Tyndale’s New Testament translation was used in the King James Version.
  • 1611: The King James Version, known in England as the Authorized Version, is published for the first time.  The purpose of the translators was not to make an entirely new translation of the Bible but, “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”
  • 1660’s: The King James Bible is not immediately a success.  It takes 50 years for the King James to surpass the Geneva Bible as the English Bible used by most people.
  • The King James Version has endured the test of time.  It has been referred to as, “the single greatest monument to the English language.”  What makes the King James so good? In one word, elegance.  It is not the most accurate, but it is the most beautiful.
  • Since 1611 the KJV has been “fixed” about 100,000 times to give us the translation of the KJV we have today.  Almost all of these “fixes” are minor spelling and punctuation changes.
  • It is impossible to gauge how many King James Bibles have been sold; estimates are simply in the hundreds of millions.  The King James will be the leading English Bible translation for more than 300 years until being surpassed in the late 1900’s by the New International Version (NIV)

12 Responses to “King James Bible: Historical Timeline”

  1. Excellent article ! It amazes me how the revelation of God’s word took place and continues today.

    I shall share this with my adult bible class…thanks Tim

  2. Concise and interesting synopsis of events leading up to writing of the King James Bible. Can I print a copy? My printer is in denial.

  3. man…i hope one day the bad guys hate me enough to dig up my bones 40 years after i die and burn them into ash

  4. C Michael Patton March 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    @Matt…good one brother!

  5. Thank you for posting, Tim. I have a few questions and comments:

    Did the Septuagint include all of the books of the present King James Old Testament?

    If the Bible was not completed in sequence book by book, I’m afraid it would be misleading to say nondescriptly (even in a condensed timeline) that once Revelation was written, the Old and New Testaments were complete. Would you please speak a bit to the canonization and non-chronological nature of the Bible?

    (will continue in next comment)

  6. (continued)

    I have read that it is “according to tradition” that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door, but that this is a legend. Rather, he wrote them by hand and made copies for circulation among academics for discussion. It was not Luther’s intention to gain such public attention, because he saw “reforming ideas as belonging within academic disputations,” and nonetheless the copies spread across Western Europe in a matter of two weeks. Luther explained his bafflement in a letter to a friend, saying of the theses, “They were meant exclusively for our academic circle here.” (Miles, p. 244, “The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought,” 2005)

    Lastly, could you please cite your information for those who are interested in further research?

    Thank you very much for your time!

  7. The idea that the Septuagint was accepted by the Jewish people and as a result Jesus is preposterous. If that is the case, why do the Jewish people have a fast day dedicated to the day that they translated the Hebrew Torah into Greek? The Septuagint story about the “miraculous” translation of the Torah is a fabrication and historical revisionism. Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic and there is no evidence that he knew Greek. Your timeline is flawed and biased. The pronouncements of Josephus is evidence that the typical Galilean didn’t know Greek let alone the Greek of the Septuagint.

  8. Nothing about Erasmus…?


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