How odd that the most famous Bible in history should bear the name of a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, ego-driven homosexual who rejected all demands for reform within the church.
James VI of Scotland, son of imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, was raised in drafty Scottish castles by self-serving lords. He grew up religious and well-trained in theology. He went to church every day. But he was rude, rough, loud, conceited, and bisexually immoral. He was also shrewd. At age 37 he managed to succeed his cousin, Elizabeth I, as England’s monarch.
As he traveled from Scotland to London, he met a group of Puritans bearing a “Millenary Petition” signed by nearly 1,000 pastors. It demanded renewal within the church. The Puritans, stirred by the Geneva translation of the Bible and by Foxe’s popular Book of Martyrs, wanted to purify the church.
The established clergy opposed Puritan demands, and the new king realized his kingdom was torn. He convened a conference for church leaders at his Hampton Court estate on January 12, 1604, and the Puritans vigorously presented their concerns. James rejected their requests, sometimes thundering against them, white with rage. At the conclusion of the conference he flung his arm toward the Puritans, shouting, “I shall make them conform or I will harry them out of this land, or do worse.”
Many of the dispirited Puritans, abandoning hope for the Anglican Church, began worshiping in small groups as they felt the Bible taught them. They were tagged Separatists, but from these persecuted cells came the Baptists in 1611, the Pilgrims who fled to America in 1620, and other dissenting groups.
But on one issue at Hampton Court the king and Puritans had agreed. When Puritan John Rainolds requested a new translation of the Bible, James promptly approved it, saying, “I have never yet seen a Bible well-translated. But I think the Geneva is the worst.” Seven years later the Authorized Version was unveiled, ironically making vice-prone King James one of the best recognized names in English church history.
The Lord controls rulers, just as he determines the course of rivers. We may think we are doing the right thing, but the Lord always knows what is in our hearts. (Proverbs 21:1-2)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 12.