A Book Review of God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible

Posted by: in Uncategorized on February 16th

A review of God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson.

No other book rivals the King James Version Bible in terms of its depth, beauty, accuracy,

clarity, and immeasurable impact on history in Western culture and the hearts and lives of believers. This Bible can be found everywhere from the family coffee table to personal devotion, and quoted from the lips of politicians on Capitol Hill. The echoes of its influence and grandeur can be heard from the passionate preachers of the American Great Awakenings to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, and finally still reaching listeners today. The poetic prose and majesty of its verses have comforted the broken and grieving and been a guiding light to the lost for over 400 hundred years. For the lasting legacy this has created, who can we thank for this work? The Translators. Those men worked so tirelessly to translate the inspired oracles of God. God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson uncovers the hidden lives of the men, the Translators, behind the bestselling book the world has ever known.

Nicolson provides readers a glimpse into the political and religious setting of Jacobean England during the reign of the complex monarchs King James VI and I. Although not a translator himself, King James agreed to commission this project. James’ keen oversight and discernment planted the framework for the Bible that did not aspire for “innovation” but had an overwhelming burden to grasp for originality and authenticity stretching back to the original church. Nicolson’s striking words capture the heart, humility, and brilliance of the Translators. The Translators, a total of 54 scholars, unparalleled, accomplished, disciplined extraordinary men of their time.

Nicolson confirms the beauty of English prose. Words and phrases are not chosen to match the vernacular of the day but chosen “for its richness, its suggestiveness, its harmonic resonances.” The language that challenged the reader, humbled human reasoning and spoke with authority, admiration, and reverence. Poetic prose clothed in majesty, reflecting light from the Father of Light: English “pushed towards the conditions of a foreign language”. No editors, no redactors, Q sources, or any sort of postmodernity. Nicolson wrote, “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 would have written. . .”

Throughout the book Nicolson wrote with a foreboding tone, imitating the words of a prophet. Jacobean England had a religious fervor that unfortunately today Western culture does not. The Translators were not concerned with appealing to the modern consciousness of that day,

submitting to the opinions of their audience, or worried about being entertainers or politicians. They knew their job was to be God’s secretaries and literally translate the Hebrew and Greek “out of the original sacred tongues… an exact Translation of the holy Scriptures…”, no humanistic authorship involved, no innovation only to follow Christ and imitate the words of the Master. The Translators have received criticism for using antiquated English, when “in fact it was a form no one had ever spoken.” I wonder if the English of 2024, after much considerable erosion and extinction, can stand in judgment of the English of the KJV.

Although I hold this book in high regard, I have disagreements with Nicolson on the subject of manuscripts. The Translators used the best manuscripts available. This translation had been protected from the hidden agenda of Westcott and Hort, but that subject is beyond the scope of this book. That said, Nicolson meticulously researched the Translators and I consider this book to be a wonderful introduction to the history and context of the King James Version.



Savanna is a lover of springtime, coffee, books, and food. She has her B.S. in Nursing from Indiana University and a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Indiana Bible College. She attends Calvary Tabernacle where you can find her serving on the Welcome Team or Calvary Store, singing in the choir, or worshipping in the pews. She loves to use the power of words to reach and empower this generation.

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