King James and Baptists: Not a Love Story

This year – in case you’ve not already noticed – is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. And the KJV’s 400th anniversary follows closely on the heels of the 400th anniversary of Baptists, celebrated a mere two years ago.

So, was there a connection between Baptists and King James I those four centuries ago?

Indeed. And the connection may surprise most Baptists today.

In brief, the story goes like this: Baptists were birthed advocating separation of church and state, a heretical concept that enraged King James. Before Baptists appeared, the King thought he had put together an excellent plan for preventing heresy and ensuring church/state union. The plan was called the Authorized Bible (later known as the King James Bible). By controlling the Bible that his subjects used, the King could control his subjects.

The upstart Baptists, however, proved to be a burr on the seat of the King’s throne. One year after the Authorized (King James) Bible debuted, Baptist co-founder Thomas Helwys, a vocal advocate of the separation of church and state, openly scolded James. Here’s what Helwys (partially) said (the illustration herein):

“The King is a mortal man, and not God, therefore he hath no power over the mortal soul of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for then and to set spiritual Lords over them.”

For his treason, Helwys was cast into Newgate Prison (the Alcatraz of that day), where King James held him until Helwys died about four years later, becoming a Baptist martyr for his unwavering commitment to the separation of church and state.

James’ hatred for Baptists continued, and he sought to “harrow out of England” the troublesome heretics. Although never fully realized, his crusade against Baptists did result in severe persecution of the sect throughout England.

Ironically, the Bible that was intended by a hater of Baptists to be a weapon against heretics such as Baptists – is today considered, by some Baptists, as the only true translation of scripture.


  1. The KJV was a politically driven translation, setting the tone for later ones in such issues as hierarchy, patriarchy, church discipline (see pastoral dictatorship), etc.

  2. Good reminder. I am wondering if Helwys ever commented on the KJV, and which English translation did he use?

  3. Man-kind always forgets that the Holy Spirit wrote the Holy Bible. If we believe that He is all-knowing, and omni present, we must agree also the The Holy Spirit watched over its translation by men so learned all appointed by King James, and finally the updated version. We can also be confident that the KJV was never authorized by Parliament. It is God's creation, edition, version, correction, and deserves no other authorization. The KJV is the Holy Bible. Every revision belongs only to the group that adopts it. See "Why King James?"

  4. Bruce, so which translation did early Baptists use?!

  5. My book, A Great Silence in the Land, contains in the Appendix a Brief History of the Bible. pgs 1-3, 121, 123, and tells of the early editions of the Bible, all of which were consulted faithfully by the learned men who were apointed by King James for the new translation. God determined the time of this translation when there were men so learned in languages. Just as He has raised up men in every age to a particular ability.
    Please check out my website, and if interested click on the link that takes you to read some of the pages. Scroll up and down for additional pages. KW Swain

  6. David and Neil,

    My apologies for the tardy reply; I just now read the comments to my own blog post! Sheesh …

    While early Baptists 1) were often versed in Latin (such as Smyth and Helwys), they also 2) borrowed from their Puritan ancestors an affinity for the Geneva Bible, and thus typically used that Bible until the KJV became fashionable. Also, they often took liberties in quoting (early on) from the Geneva Bible. That is, they would start with the Geneva Bible, but might replace a word here or there with another of their choice.

    To see this in action, check out the biblical quotes Thomas Helwys employs in A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, and compare them to the Geneva Bible text.

    – Bruce

  7. A few points: 1) Godly men haven't always worn the title Baptist, but they have always held as a standard God's Word; 2) God has often used those that did not love him to bring about his ends (Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus); and 3) King James only gave this translation his name, not his work. More relevant is the motive and character of the translators.

    The value of a translation is judged by its preservation of God's Word, both verbal and plenary. The name Baptist is not a mark of achievement, but a commitment to find the truth of God's Word and follow it. If Baptists came to accept the KJV, may be it was because they saw that God had by a weak vessel's hand brought forth a treasure.

  8. To AN Morton. Exactly! Except….the translators of the KJV were of the highest ability in languages and they consulted every translation attempted by others. We can be as sure of them as we are of the holy, lowly men of old–sure that their work is the inspired Word of God. Yes, it was later edited and some language changed from the Queen's English to more modern, but the marginal translations made sure that no meaning was thrown away. It is the Word of God.

  9. "Good" King James, in addition to his hatred of Baptists, didnt think highly of his translators. He placed them under a timeline to complete the translation under penality of death. Therefore many of the passages were rushed into translation and had to be corrected over time by the ASV, RSV, NRSV, NKJV and NIV. As a poetic version of Scrupture it is hard to beat and suitable for reading. However for academic study and personal Bible study KJV is severely lacking.

  10. Oh, Tim. I am amazed. Holy paradoxes, spiritual meanings thrown out for clarification by groups who simply could not understand this foolish old document? Three years in the translation into English compared to fifteen, twenty-seven years, arguments, and the eventual hundred or so revisions that answer the mystical questions for any group who feels it has the key? I'm sorry to be sarcastic. That doesn't get us anywhere with age old disputes. Whichever bible you use, remember, understanding is a personal, individual thing, but you do have a Partner to call on. He understands it perfectly. Prayer is a powerful study help.
    Back to King James. The most important thing about him is that he was King. God used him ,as unholy as he was, to move the world forward to a the fulfillment of a prophecy: when the gospel of Christ has been spread throughout the world, then will the end come.

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