Did the Members of the High Commission Court Have Any Influence on the KJV?

by Rick Norris

Most likely, most believers today know very little about the High Commission Court in England in the late 1500's and 1600's. On the other hand, believers during the 1600's knew a great deal about the great power of the High Commission Court. The Church of England used the High Commission Court and the Star Chamber to force everyone in England to conform to this state church.

Walker pointed out that the High Commission Court "could examine and imprison anywhere in England and had become the right arm of episcopal authority" (History of the Christian Church, pp. 406-407). John Brown stated that this Court's "methods of investigation were described as worthy only of the Spanish Inquisition" (English Puritans, p. 76). Neal also observed that this Court's methods "were almost equal to the Spanish Inquisition" with its "long imprisonments of ministers without bail or bringing them to trial" (History of the Puritans, p. xi). Thomas Smith noted that John Cotton (1585-1652) complained that "the ecclesiastical courts are dens of lions,' "cages of uncleanness, and roosting places of birds of prey, the tabernacles of bribery, forges of extortion, and fetters of slavery, a terror of all good men, and a praise to them that do evil" (Select Memoirs, pp. 391-392). In 1610 during the reign of King James I, Babbage stated that "the House of Commons addressed a Petition to the king for the redress of grievances arosing through the Court of High Commission" (Puritanism and Richard Bancroft, pp. 286-287). Alexander McClure noted that Archbishop Richard Bancroft "was the ruling spirit in that infamous tribunal, the High Commission Court, a sort of British Inquisition" (KJV Translators Revived, p. 217).

What possible connections or links are there between this hated High Commission Court and the KJV? Directly under King James I, Archbishop Richard Bancroft, a leading member of this Court, was the overseer for the translation of the KJV. He approved or made the rules for the translation, and he clearly had the power to force his views on others. A KJV translator claimed that Bancroft made at least fourteen changes in the KJV before it was published.

Other members of this High Commission Court were KJV translators Lancelot Andrewes and George Abbott. Abbott became Archbishop after Bancroft died. Other KJV translators that were Bishops were most likely also members of this Court. A disciple or follower of Lancelot Andrewes, William Laud (1573-1645), who was a leader among the younger Anglicans during the reign of James, would become the Archbishop during the reign of Charles I, James's son. Frere described Laud as "the man who was to take up Andrewes' work and carry it out into practice by energetic means" (English Church, p. 371).

Some may question whether the High Commission Court with its "distinguished" members such as some KJV translators and several Archbishops can be fairly compared to the Inquisition. As members of this Court, George Abbott and Lancelot Andrewes urged the burning at the stake of two men for their religious views and King James approved this sentence.

The brutality of some of the punishments issued by this court are shocking. The example of the treatment of one Puritan preacher, Alexander Leighton, in 1628 or 1629 illustrates this brutality. For writing a book that condemned the institution of bishops as "antiChristian and satanic," the High Commission Court issued a warrant for him. He was taken to Laud's house and then to Newgate prison without any trial. Leighton was put in irons in solitary confinement in an unheated cell for fifteen weeks. Smith stated that the roof of his cell was uncovered so that the rain and snow beat in upon him (Select Memoirs, p. 428). None of his friends nor even his wife were permitted to see him during this time. According to four doctors, Leighton was so sick that he was unable to attend his supposed sentencing (Ibid.). Durant noted that Leighton also "was tied to a stake and received thirty-six stripes with a heavy cord upon his naked back; he was placed in the pillory for two hours in November's frost and snow; he was branded in the face, had his nose spit and his ears cut off, and was condemned to life imprisonment" (Age of Reason Begins, pp. 189-190).

In 1615, Archbishop Abbott, a High Commission Court member, "forbade anyone to issue a Bible without the Apocrypha on pain of one year's imprisonment" (Moorman, Forever Settled, p. 183). This order was likely aimed at the Geneva Bible with its 1599 edition printed without the Apocrypha. Archbishop Laud can be linked to using the power of the High Commission Court to make the KJV the officially approved translation. Conant noted: "So pertinaciously, indeed, did the people cling ot it [the Geneva Bible], and so injurious was its influence to the interests of Episcopacy and of the 'authorized version,' that in the reign of Charles I, Archbishop Laud made the vending, binding, or importation of it [Geneva Bible] a high-commission crime" (English Bible, p. 367). Was it the power of this cruel High Commission Court that finally forced believers to give up their beloved and popular Geneva Bible?

Does this documented information that some of the KJV translators were members of this court that was known as a "terror of all good men" relate to the claim that these men were "superior translators?" How could truly godly men take part in the cruelty of this court? Why did none of the KJV translators condemn the many abuses of power by this Court? Why did King James or the KJV translators do nothing to stop this Court's persecution of true believers?

Had the KJV translators and the Church of England adopted the view of the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible? Cloud noted that a note in the Rheims on Matthew 13:29 stated: "Heretics may be punished and suppressed, and may and ought, by public authority, either spiritual or temporal, to be chastised or executed" (Rome and the Bible, p. 132).