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Lancelot Andrewes
Bishop and Scholar
26 September 1626

ely anglican org andrewe.jpg (4836 bytes)Advocates of the modern versions of the Bible often assume that they are the products of scholarship far superior to that of the translators of the King James’ Version of 1611, but this assumption is not supported by the facts. The learned men who laboured on our English Bible were men of exceptional ability, and although they differed among themselves on many matters of church order, administration and doctrine, they approached the task with a reverent regard for the Divine inspiration, authority and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. To them it was "God’s sacred Truth" and demanded the exercise of their utmost care and fidelity in its translation.

The most learned men in the land were chosen for this work and the complete list shows a high proportion of men with a profound knowledge of the languages in which the Bible was written. Of the 54 who were chosen a few died or withdrew before the translation was started and the final list numbered 47 men. They were divided into six companies and a portion was assigned to each group. Everyone in each company translated the whole portion before they met to compare their results and agree upon the final form. They then transmitted their draft to each of the other companies for their comment and consent. A select committee then went carefully through the whole work again, and at last two of their number were responsible for the final checking.

Lancelot Andrewes, a member of the Westminster Committee, had his early education at Coopers Free School and Merchant Taylors School where his rapid progress in the study of the ancient languages was brought to the notice of Dr. Watts, the founder of some scholarships at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Andrewes was sent to that College, where he took his B.A. degree and soon afterwards was elected Fellow. He then took his Master’s degree and began to study "divinity" and achieved great distinction as a lecturer. He was raised to several positions of influence in the Church of England and distinguished himself as a diligent and excellent preacher, and became Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I. King James I promoted him to be Bishop of Chester in 1605 and also gave him the influential position of Lord Almoner. He later became Bishop of Ely and Privy Counsellor. Toward the end of his life he was made Bishop of Winchester.

It is recorded that Andrewes was a man of deep piety and that King James had such great respect for him that in his presence he refrained from the levity in which he indulged at other times. A sermon preached at Andrewes’ funeral in 1626 paid tribute to his great scholarship – "His knowledge in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic, besides fifteen modern languages was so advanced that he may be ranked as one of the rarest linguists in Christendom.

"A great part of five hours every day he spent in prayer, and in his last illness he spent all his time in prayer – and when both voice and eyes and hands failed in their office, his countenance showed that he still prayed and praised God in his heart, until it pleased God to receive his blessed soul to Himself."

No reasonable person imagines that the translators were infallible or that their work was perfect, but no one acquainted with the facts can deny that they were men of outstanding scholarship, well qualified for their important work, or that with God’s blessing they completed their great task with scrupulous care and fidelity.

It is remarkable that the literary style of individual members of the company of translators was generally inferior to that of the version which they jointly produced. The explanation of this is that they exercised their wisdom in leaving undisturbed the simple style and vocabulary of the earlier translators. If they had cast the translation in the mould of the more ornate style of their own period it is doubtful whether their work would have triumphed for so long as it has. They made many thousands of small changes, most of which improved the rhythm, clarified the meaning, or increased the accuracy of the translation.

They were indeed "learned men" – and their scholarship was accompanied by a deep conviction of the Divine origin of the records which they were translating. Learning and faith went hand in hand to open the storehouse of God’s Work of Truth for the spiritual enrichment of millions from generation to generation, over a period of more than 350 years.

     Text adapted from The Learned Men (no longer available)
       Image from A Brief History of Ely