Peter Gurry gave a brief history of
printed English Bibles up to the King James, focusing on their text-critical
marginal notes. The first of these editions was Tyndale’s of 1525, printed in
Tyndale’s second edition, the first
complete NT, was printed in
This 1534 edition, Tyndale’s third, contained substantial marginal notes (but none of a textual nature), very interpretative and marked with stars. For example, the word “sandals” which had been introduced to the English Bible by Wycliffe, was retained, but with a note at Mark 6:9 explaining what they were. Like the second edition, this 1534 NT has chapters subdivided into paragraphs, and lacks the line in John 8 about the adulterous woman’s detractors being accused of their own conscience.
We now move on to the Whittingham NT
of 1557, printed in
|A conjectural emendation offered in the |
margin of the 1611 KJV.
Finally: the KJV. Up until now, title pages of English Bibles have been keen to point out the inclusion of notes to help the reader, but not so the King James, even though it contained 6000 marginal notes in the OT and 300 in the NT. Instead, the editors actually felt a need to apologize in the preface for providing the notes. In doing so, they took a slight swipe at Sixtus VI, who disallowed any variety of readings in the margin of his Vulgate.
The variant notes read much as do those in modern editions: “As some read” or “many copies wanting.” Most variant notes are indistinguishable from translation notes, usually starting with “Or.” About three-fourths of the NT notes are just alternate renderings. Acts 13:18 has a conjecture, proposing ἐτροφοφόρησεν for ἐτροποφόρησεν. [This is, as far as Peter could see in a quick run through the margins, the only note in the entire KJV with Greek in it – but Daniel Buck has observed that there’s another one on the same page: τα οσια at verse 34].
I John 2:23 is the only place the KJV
uses typefont to indicate a textual variant, instead of a marginal note. That
variant was found either in the text or margin in their Greek sources. The KJV
editors included many more variants than the
And now some conclusions.
● It is striking how many editions
made their notes a selling point, for which
● Those who produced these English Bibles knew that many of their readers would be reading the Word of God in their own language for the first time. So they also included extensive book prefaces. Tyndale’s preface to Romans is the longest in the whole NT, longer than Romans itself – and almost entirely directly translated from Luther.
● Early English Bible translators made only a vague distinction between translation differences and textual differences. They didn’t see them as distinctly as we do.
● Finally, I’m not sure we’ve improved much on the KJV notes.