Monday, August 31, 2015

King James Bible Eliminates Tyrants and Tyranny

The early Pilgrims, Puritans, and Scottish Presbyterians are widely reported to have brought the Geneva Bible to America for their personal reading. (The King James Bible, first published in 1611, did not become the consensus bible until nearly a century later.)
The Washington D.C. Capitol Rotunda gives an illustrated example for the Pilgrims as shown here:
The Embarkation of the Pilgrims painting was commissioned in 1836 by the US Gov’t for the Capitol Rotunda. (Note the open Geneva Bible in the hands of John Robinson.)
There are a number of references saying that John Adams and Benjamin Franklin read the Geneva Bible.  Apparently,  Franklin was sufficiently impressed with the illustration on the frontispiece of the Geneva Bible to use it as the theme for his proposal of the First Great Seal.  

Geneva Bible Frontispiece is shown here:

In contrast to the restrained message of Exodus 14:14, the motto on Franklin’s Great Seal went one step further by inscribing it with "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."  

The King James Bible was not meant to endorse Franklin’s chosen motto. Quite to the contrary, the underlying purpose for publishing the KJB was to supplant the Geneva Bible, and reinforce the edict that the divine right of kings as being sacrosanct. Just consider, for example, the King James Bible "translation" eliminated every occurrence of the words, “tyrant” and “tyranny,” whereas the Geneva Bible has 400 occurrences for both tyrant and tyranny.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Excellent piece, Ray. King James also burned the works of Jesuit Francisco Suarez for his argument against "the divine right of kings." The Calvinist and Catholic oppositions to the concept were independent but coherent.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, while the Geneva Bible in both its translation and ancillary marginal notes is well-recognized as having a strong anti-monarchical viewpoint, it is also seen as not being a Catholic-friendly text. I think it's safe to say that George Washington would not have approved of those marginal notes that gave an excuse for promoting an anti-Catholic bias.

Ray Soller said...

The Adam Nicolson statement from his book, God's Secretaries, "The word 'tyrant' ... occurs 400 times in the Geneva text," appears to be an exaggeration. A word count for'tyrant' contained in the The 1599 Geneva Bible - Patriot's Edition ( comes up with a number that's less than 100. Adding another 40 occurrences for 'tyranny' doesn't help much.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sure. I'm saying that the Catholic and Calvinist arguments against the divine right of kings ran parallel, not together.

Although you'll find that the liberal Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius borrowed heavily from Suarez on natural law. There was a confluence, although a Protestant would be loath to admit it. See also the Jesuit Bellarmine vs. divine right and James's defender Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.

names like Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Washington are rightly praised for their contributions to our freedom. But most Catholics are unaware of how the writings of Saint Robert Bellarmine, SJ, (1542-1621) influenced the development of our rights, and that this influence came indirectly through one of the chief defenders of the so-called Divine Right of Kings, Robert Filmer.

In most American colleges and High Schools, the development of Constitutional law is traced along lines that begin in ancient Greece and Rome lead to the philosophies of Algernon Sydney (who was executed for treason in 1683) and John Locke. It is undeniable that Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and George Mason, author of Virginia's Declaration of Rights, were intimately familiar with the classical and contemporary scholars from Aristotle onward. And it is not unreasonable to conclude they were familiar with writers who opposed popular sovereignty and defended the absolute power of kings.

One such book found in Jefferson's personal library (now in the Library of Congress) was Patriarcha, by Protestant theologian Robert Filmer, who was the court theologian to King James I. It is a treatise in defense of the Divine Right of Kings, which Jefferson obviously read because the book's margins are full of his notes.

The most interesting aspect of Patriarcha from a Catholic perspective is that the first pages discredit and attack the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine, who was one of the most eloquent and prolific defenders of freedom the Catholic Church has ever produced. It was customary that writers dealing with political and religious controversies begin their books by presenting their nemesis as an anti-thesis, which in Filmer's case was Bellarmine's position that political authority is vested in the people and that kings do not rule by divine right, but through the consent of the governed. This was a radical idea in the early 1600's, though it is widely accepted today.

In Patriarcha, Filmer quotes Bellarmine directly as follows: "Secular or Civil authority (saith he) 'is instituted by men; it is in the people unless they bestow it on a Prince. This Power is immediately in the Multitude, as in the subject of it; for this Power is in the Divine Law, but the Divine Law hath given this power to no particular man. If the Positive Law be taken away, there is left no Reason amongst the Multitude (who are Equal) one rather than another should bear the Rule over the Rest. Power is given to the multitude to one man, or to more, by the same Law of Nature; for the Commonwealth cannot exercise this Power, therefore it is bound to bestow it upon some One man or some Few. It depends upon the Consent of the multitude to ordain over themselves a King or other Magistrates, and if there be a lawful cause, the multitude may change the Kingdom into an Aristocracy or Democracy' (St. Robert Bellarmine, Book 3 De Laicis, Chapter 4). Thus far Bellarmine; in which passages are comprised the strength of all that I have read or heard produced for the Natural Liberty of the Subject." (Patriarcha, page 5.)

Imagine what Jefferson must have been thinking as he read the opening paragraphs of Patriarcha, a direct assault on the Roman Catholic scholarship of Bellarmine...

See also p. 104 here. Calvinists would of course not acknowledge their debt to Catholic thought, but this does not mean a debt did not exist.

Good discussion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Blogger Ray Soller said...
The Adam Nicolson statement from his book, God's Secretaries, "The word 'tyrant' ... occurs 400 times in the Geneva text," appears to be an exaggeration. A word count for'tyrant' contained in the The 1599 Geneva Bible - Patriot's Edition ( comes up with a number that's less than 100. Adding another 40 occurrences for 'tyranny' doesn't help much.

Thx. I was going to ask your source. The point still holds though, if it's 100 for Geneva and zero for King James. I'd appreciate an authoritative source for future citation, though. [A patriot's edition of anything will set secular teeth on edge.]

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