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God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,194 Ratings  ·  241 Reviews
A network of complex currents flowed across Jacobean England. This was the England of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Bacon; the era of the Gunpowder Plot and the worst outbreak of the plague. Jacobean England was both more godly and less godly than the country had ever been, and the entire culture was drawn taut between these polarities. This was the world that created the King ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 1st 2001)
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William Blair
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another case of a book where what I learned was not what the book was about. Oh, I learned about the translation of the King James Bible, but this book is about much more. The previous translations. The history of England in the late, late 1500's to 1611. The death of Elizabeth. The ascension of King James. The Jacobeans. Queen Mary. Shakespeare. Robert Cecil. The Pilgrims. The Puritans. The Gunpowder Plot. The English of the KJB was not the English spoken by the English at the time. Even then, ...more
Alisa Hardman
Aug 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating. I have always loved the Bible and have read it since I was young. I also love language and often feel disappointed when I read newer translations that render the Bible into modern speech. So, the KJV is important to me and I liked learning about the men who helped create it. I think they relied on poor translations but used beautiful language. I was surprised to find how political the process of chooseing that language was. Politics rather than truth was the highes ...more
Literary Chic
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: at-home
While not an overly fascinating book, I found the content to be enlightening. I grew up in a KJV only religion that defined the KJV as the only inspired word of God. It was also seen as the final word in all matters of faith and practice. I found "God's Secretaries" educational and a less indoctrinated view of the KJV bible's history.
Katherine L
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book took me a while to get into. It probably took me a month, on and off, to read through it the first time. And then I sat down and read it again--and now find myself going back to read parts over and over.

The book weaves together a history of the Jacobean era, with all of its political and religious turmoil, with biographies of many of the major players involved in the translation of the King James Bible. In this section, the author explains the political and religious problems that the
Jane Louis-Wood
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a surprisingly exhilarating read and one that has changed significantly my perceptions of the period (and hence how I'll teach it in future). The original title was Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, but it was souped up for this edition to accompany the TV programme of the same name.

It's a very fine history of the making of what is arguably the most significant book in English; how it was collated and adapted from at least three previous versions
Howard Cincotta
Take a society riven by social and political conflict, where religious toleration is an alien concept. Then suggest that a committee drawn from that society – not an individual – produce one of the greatest and most enduring documents in the English language. This, of course, is the unlikely tale of the King James Bible, as related in this compelling and well-researched book by Adam Nicolson.

Committees can’t perform such literary feats – except when they do, and the King James Bible is perhaps t
Erik Graff
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: religion
We weren't allowed to use the KJV of the bible as a primary resource in college as well as in seminary. Too many words had changed, or even reversed, meanings since its publication in the 17th century. Koine Greek, the primary language of its 'new' testament, was not well understood by its teams of translators. Better, older versions of the texts, unavailable or unknown then, have been uncovered in the centuries since their work was concluded. The King James, while important in literary and soci ...more
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
eh, 2 and a 1/2...interesting, but he goes on and on in places
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-history
Back then, even a committee could write as beautifully as anything in English excepting perhaps only Shakespeare. This book has the terms of reference of the committee that wrote the King James Bible, and speculates on how it must have happened.

Not from the book, but can't resist adding Eliot's comment on first reading the Revised Standard Version: "It's the work of men who did not realize they were atheists."
FABULOUS book! I learned so much! This will always be a great reference book for me-- my copy is completely marked up with my notes and highlights!
Sandra D
I was raised in the KJV-only tradition, and can remember my dad in the late 1960s looking askance at teenagers and young adults in our congregation burying their noses in Good News for Modern Man. I made a number of attempts to read the KJV in my youth, and might have made it all the way through once. As beautiful as the language is, I couldn't really make heads or tails of it.

It was many, many years later that my husband finally lured me into tasting the forbidden fruit of the NIV. And, hallelu
Lee Harmon
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here’s an odd book. It suffers from a little deficiency, through no fault of its own: the story it has to tell (how the King James Bible came into being) is simply not very interesting. Most of the contributors to the King James Bible were obscure, and the historical setting is equally dull. It’s wrought with typical corruption of court, power squabbles, and serious disagreements over doctrine. What else is new throughout the 1500 years since the Bible’s books were written? Even telling the stor ...more
This book explores the contradictions of Jacobean England's culture, where religion and politics were inseparable and scholarship was bought by the Church of England (hardly a monolithic entity, but by necessity for its survival the servant of the monarch). The translators of the "authorized" version of the collection of writings by various men over many centuries, which we know as "The Bible" were a mixed lot, but all vetted by King James, for his own purposes and the shoring up of what must by ...more
When I was in 2nd grade in a public school, our teacher opened class every day with the pledge of allegiance, "America," and a Psalm from the King James Bible. The language and words of these psalms left a strong impression on me, something I have never forgotten.
I loved Nicolson's book. It is not just about religion, or the fine points of theology, or esoteric issues of translation. It is about the historical background which led to the decision by the king, James I, to call for a new transl
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Memorable for several reasons.

The instructions James I personally wrote to his translation committees reveal both his goals in commissioning the new version -- puritans at the time were reading the "Geneva Bible," whose text and extensive notes were exceptionally critical of "tyrants" and the power of kings generally -- and something of the difficulties facing anyone working on holy texts. For example, how does one handle the Septuagint, in which Greek texts used by Jesus and the disciples do n
Daniel Engesetter
Sep 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: interested parties
Anyone who has anything to do at all with the Bible in English should read this book. It is a description of the exhaustive work that went into the making of the King James Version of the Bible, and the political and social factors that influenced the translation. Nicolson painstakingly researched this historical work, accessing papers that were well over 300 years old in order to get clearer picture of what the translation process was like- hundreds of contemporary scholars were involved, many ...more
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not really a book about the translation process or even the making of the KJV. Instead the book deals more with the period and the tensions between the Puritans and the establishment church.

While some comparisons are made between the translations made for the KJV with other translations to demonstrate how much more "rich", poetic and fraught with meaning the KJV translation is, I thought some of the claims exaggerated. In the absence of any evidence that the translators did intend all the variou
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The title of the American edition, "God's Secretaries", is rather misleading. The book isn't so much about the ins and outs and technical details of translation process of the King James Bible, but about the cultural and religious context that surrounded it. Precious little is known of the actual process beyond the initial instructions given by James and the make-up of each of the six companies assigned portions of the Bible. Nicolson covers these details and discusses what little is known, but ...more
Greg Z
Jun 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I found this interesting, and I did learn a lot about the history of England in the early 1600s. But I didn't find anything here particularly noteworthy about "the making" of the KJB itself. If you're a huge history fan of this era and have a lot of knowledge, you'll probably find nothing new at all here. But maybe I've read so much fiction over the years that when I read a non-fiction book without a strong narrative thread, I feel cheated in a way. Nicolson's writing is strong and obviously wel ...more
I picked this up some time ago on a bargain table but reading "Misquoting Jesus" got me interested in reading it. A bit of a slog (writing-style wise) but still fascinating to see how much of the King James Bible reflects Jacobean thought and values. Every translation of the Bible is quite different and this book really demonstrates why--what pressures or influences affect the translators.
Leif Erik
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoy Anglican history
Shelves: religion
Lessions learned - the people who put together the King James bible were nuts and had questionable moral judgement to boot.

I liked this account of what is probably the seminal event of English christianity. Accessable and a fun read.
Feb 11, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Huh. Well, how about this.
Fraser Kinnear
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, english
God's Secretaries is a history of the time (early 1600s), the culture (Jacobean England), and the committee that created the King James Bible. The story of the committee's actual work process is not well documented, but the characters who led the various committees (Lancelot Andrews, Richard Thompson, Henry Savile King James himself...) were fascinating.

The fact that it was made by committee alone was interesting. What great works of art can make the same claim? The author reflects on the fact t
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible" by Adam Nicolson is a narrative in praise of one of the most gorgeous literary achievements of the English language. It was a product of Jacobean England, an era that also gave us Shakespeare. I was seduced by Nicolson's own delectable writing from the outset as he set forth with exquisite detail England in transition from the Elizabethan to the Jacobean era. He gives us a book worthy of its subject, written sumptuously and narrated by the ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my top reads this year. A combination of historical narrative, mini-biographies, and textual analysis, Nicolson doesn't whitewash the translators or translation, nor does he seek to tear them (or their society) down. The story of the translation of the KJV makes it more appealing better than the KJV-only crowd paint it to be - the KJV is the "best" translation because of it's times and purposes, not its inerrancy. Nicolson describes himself as "no atheist, but no churchgoer", which gives ...more
God's Secretaries opens by telling us that historians don't even know the names of all of the men involved in translating the 1611 King James Bible. On top of that there isn't much known about the named translators. Yet, the author continued with his project of writing a book about the making of the King James Bible.

It reminds me of Heal Thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the Seventeenth-Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People which is a book-length treatment of the life of Nicholas Culpepe
Jocelyn Bennion
Unnecessary sentences and words make it boring and hard to cut through the waste to find the interesting facts. Like the rules of the Bible committee. That Layfield went to the Caribbean right before translating Genesis. 'One of the King James Bible’s most consistent driving forces is the idea of majesty. Its method and its voice are far more regal than demotic.' 'It was, in other words, more important to make English godly than to make the words of God into the sort of prose that any Englishmen ...more
Chris Miller
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful wide ranging tour d’force of research, analysis and writing. Nicolson presents the creation of the Bible, as a product of its times and milieu. He covers the political situation, and the politics of the courtiers and the new King. He introduces many of the sections leaders and their expertise and ties them in to the ongoing rumblings of anti-Catholicism and Separatists. He invokes the “irenicon," or the uniting or bringing together of the church, state and people. About the o ...more
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A historical overview that helps understand the world and context in which the King James Bible was written. Insights include the diversity of translators, the reliance upon past translations (not reinventing every phrase from scratch), the role of the Puritans, the desire to elevate language and the principles of translation used in the KJV and other more recent works.
Michael Anderson
More about the English political and religious environment surrounding the desire for a new bible than it is about the translation process, sources, and decisions made during its construction. It's apparent that the author is really a fan of the KJV.
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Errors in Style and Accuracy in the KJV 2 23 Feb 20, 2014 06:30AM  
  • Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired
  • In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture
  • The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
  • Thomas Cranmer
  • Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages
  • Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom
  • God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization
  • The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died
  • Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades
  • A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization
  • The Gunpowder Plot
  • The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America
  • The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology
  • The Reformation (The Penguin History of the Church, #3)
  • The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible
  • The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul
  • Early Christian Doctrines
Adam Nicolson writes a celebrated column for The Sunday Telegraph. His books include Sissinghurst, God’s Secretaries, When God Spoke English, Wetland, Life in the Somerset Levels, Perch Hill, Restoration, and the acclaimed Gentry. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives on a farm in Sussex.
More about Adam Nicolson...
“A puritan is such a one as loves God with all his soul, but hates his neighbor with all his heart.” 2 likes
“The language of the King James Bible is the language of patriarchy, of an instructed order, of richness as a form of beauty, of authority as a form of good; the New English Bible is motivated by the opposite, an anxiety not to bore or intimidate. It is driven, in other words, by the desire to please and, in that way, is a form of language which has died.” 2 likes
More quotes…