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God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible Hardcover – April 29, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 166 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The King James Bible remains the most influential Bible translation of all time. Its elegant style and the exalted cadences of its poetry and prose echo forcefully in Shakespeare, Milton, T.S. Eliot and Reynolds Price. As travel writer Nicolson points out, however, the path to the completion of the translation wasn't smooth. When James took the throne in England in early 1603, he inherited a country embroiled in theological controversy. Relishing a good theological debate, the king appointed himself as a mediator between the Anglicans and the reformist Puritans, siding in the end with the Anglican Church as the party that posed the least political threat to his authority. As a result of these debates, James agreed to commission a new translation of the Bible as an olive branch to the Puritans. Between 1604 and 1611, various committees engaged in making a new translation that attended more to the original Greek and Hebrew than had earlier versions. Nicolson deftly chronicles the personalities involved, and breezily narrates the political and religious struggles of the early 17th century. Yet, the circumstances surrounding this translation are already well known from two earlier books-Benson Bobrick's Wide as the Waters and Alister McGrath's In the Beginning-and this treatment adds little that is new. Although Nicolson succeeds at providing insight into the diverse personalities involved in making the King James Bible, Bobrick's remains the most elegant and comprehensive treatment of the process.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The quip about the Bible being the greatest book ever written by a committee is just a quip, but the English Bible that King James I commissioned in 1604 really was committee work. Each of six committees, or companies, as they were called, was charged with translating a different portion of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The Translators (their official title, and as such, capitalized) were far-from-saintly Anglican clergymen and scholars, selected to exclude radical Puritan sentiments from the finished translation (James had had enough of Puritan divisiveness while on the throne of Scotland). Their handiwork was to be the preferred pulpit Bible, so it had to be accessible in vocabulary and tonally. In that respect, the Translators succeeded so brilliantly that their style remains the quintessence of sacred prose to this day. Religious utility wasn't, however, the primary original purpose of the King James Version. Rather, the KJV was an element of James' grand dream of forging a harmoniously united realm out of the faction-ridden one he inherited from Elizabeth I. In that respect, the book was a failure, for not until after the Puritan American colonies embraced it (ironically, given its anti-Puritan conception) did England accept it. Nicolson tells the KJV's story so well that his book may prove to be the KJV's indispensable companion for years to come. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (April 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060185163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060185169
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #491,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. E. Cantrell VINE VOICE on May 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
As always, visiting and reading the words of the previous 63 reviews has proved to be enlightening and useful. Because of certain comments and objections offered in the past, it seems to me that I should begin with statements of what this book is NOT:

--This book is not an advocate of any particular religious issue, sect or cause.

--This book is not a Bible study or, indeed, any sort of religious study guide. Those seeking an exposition of religious truth should turn away right now. This is not for you.

--This book is not an academic text, being largely free of any formal thesis and paying no particular homage to whatever Theory happens to be on the academic boil these days. Academic drudges burrowing for material with which to footnote their footnotes will be wasting their time here in a manner even more dramatically pointless than usual.

--This book is not a self-consciously designed "easy read" written in words and phrases suitable for the comprehension of fourth graders. This author occasionally dares to quote people who lived four hundred years ago in their own words, styles and spellings. Consider this passage: "I am persuaded his Royall mynde reioyceth more with good hope, wch he hathe for happy successe of that worke [the new Bible], then of his peace concluded with Spayne." [Page 65-66 of the hardcover edition] If that taxes your reading skills to the breaking point, seek enlightenment elsewhere.

This book does provide an overview--or perhaps more accurately, a sketch of religion and politics in 17th century England. In many ways, the two words were alternate terms for the same phenomenon, much as they are in Baghdad today.
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Format: Hardcover
These observations come from a reader who is a scholar of neither the Bible nor British history and for whom Nicolson's book was the first venture into literature pertaining to the creation of the King James Bible. In multiple ways, then, these are all first impressions. They also represent the reactions of a reader who was steeped in the conservative Protestant ethic prevalent in the Bible Belt of the United States, a broad area of the country where the King James Bible is taken as the literal Word of God and is not to be submitted for interpretation, much less translation. Yes, there are many there who fervently believe that every word in the King James Bible is represented precisely as the Christian deity placed it in the minds of the holy ones who set it on paper and that the King James Bible is the only "true" Bible that has ever existed. Even when one does not subscribe to such a literalist and historically ignorant approach to the contents of the Bible, growing up in such an environment leaves lasting impressions. With this as background, I found Nicolson's work informative and enlightening.
Understand that Nicolson's book is not "Bible study": It does not deal with issues of spirituality; it does not attempt to explicate biblical passages; and it does not care whether or not heaven and hell exist or whether or not God is dead or alive-or has ever existed. It does deal with the social, cultural, economic, and governmental milieu that existed at the time King James VI of Scotland and I of England directed that a new translation be made of the Greek and Hebrew texts comprising the Bible. It explains why yet another Bible was to be created-in addition to the multiple versions that already existed.
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Format: Hardcover
There are a good many churches in America who insist that the use of any Bible other than the King James Version is anathema. The joke goes that one of the members of such a sect declared, "If it was good enough for Saint Paul, it is good enough for me." The truth is that the KJV is good enough for any English speaker, more majestic than any other version, and that it is a foundation of the English-speaking world more than even Shakespeare is. How this astonishing book came to be composed is Adam Nicolson's story in _God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible_ (HarperCollins). It is a successful account of how diverse personalities, European history, and religious fashions produced a timeless classic.

There were English Bibles before 1611. The KJV grew out of a conference at Hampton Court where the new king took up grievances of the Puritans; the Bible was a byproduct of the conference. James was heartened by the idea of a new translation. He distrusted the widely used Geneva Bible because it had marginal notes about how people ought to view kings, notes he viewed as seditious. Less self-servingly, he thought an authoritative translation might bring religious peace to his conflicted land. The translation was his personal project. There are plenty of jokes about how committees invariably complicate rather than solve problems, but Nicolson shows that in Jacobean England, individuality was distrusted and "Jointness was the acknowledged virtue of the age." The KJV was a product of 54 translators, broken into teams and organized in a fashion that would befuddle a modern CEO, and they followed general or specific rules laid down by King James.
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