John Rainolds (also Reynolds) was born about Michaelmas, 1549, in the village of Pinhoe, near the city of Exeter, Devonshire. He was one of five sons born into the Roman Catholic family of Richard Rainolds. John adhered to his father’s loyalties until his attempt to convert his brother William from Protestant views had precisely the opposite effect intended. Each convinced the other that his view (the other’s view) was correct!! (McClure). While William lived and died loyal to the papacy, John developed strong if moderate puritanical convictions. These led him to champion the Reformation in England, and his initiative makes him the true father of the King James Version of the Bible.
A dedicated scholar
Rainolds entered Oxford University in 1562 aged thirteen, and spent his entire life within its precincts. Beginning at Merton College, he soon moved to Corpus Christi College, where he became a Fellow three years later, at the early age of seventeen! There he “wholly addicted himself” to the study of the Holy Scriptures. After six years of tutoring, he was made Greek Lecturer there in 1572. One of his students was Richard Hooker, another Exonian from the English west- country. Hooker’s work is still studied today for its explaining (to many at least) what Anglicanism is about – distilled into fine English prose.
Exeter Cathedral Churchyard
Rainolds himself read all the Latin and Greek fathers, and all the ancient records of the Church that he could come by. He studied Aristotle and wrote a commentary that was highly praised. Also he practiced a style of writing, later called Euphuistic . . .based on alliteration and classic patterns of formal balance.(1)Says McClure:
Nor did this flood of reading roll out of his mind as fast as it poured in. It is stated that “his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf, page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read.” He came to be styled “the very treasury of erudition;” and was spoken of as “a living library, and a third university.”
A champion of reformation
The year 1578 was a significant landmark in Rainold’s career, as he debated contentious theological issues. This was after John Hart, a Roman zealot, challenged all the learned men in the nation to public debate. Reynolds contended against the authority of the papacy, at the instigation of one of the Queen’s privy councillors.
Among six conclusions which he propounded, expounded and defended in public disputation at Oxford was a statement that “the authority of the Holy Scripture is greater than the authority of the Church.” (2)Rainolds composed some doggerel to fill out this proposition. It concluded as follows:
And these books hath the Holy Ghost set sooth for mortal wightesWhich being interpreted is:
That we in counte of faith and light might follow them as lights.
Avant all ye, who braine-sick toyes and fancies vain defend:
Who on humane traditions and Fathers favours depend.
The holy written word of God doth show the perfect way
Whereby from death to life arise, from curse to bliss we may.
And the Holy Ghost hath set forth in these books truths for the mortal but strongAfter several rounds, the Romish champion acknowledged defeat and left the field. These debates were recorded and widely published, and they put Rainolds in higher public standing.
That we, believing them to be true by faith in the revealed word, might follow them as lights to guide us.
Be off with you! You, who vainly defend your brain-sick toys and fancies:
Depending on mere human traditions and approval of ‘the Fathers’
The holy written word of God doth show the perfect way
By which we may arise from death to life, and from the curse to an eternal bliss. (2)
A gifted teacher and pastor
In 1586 Rainolds moved to Queen’s College, appointed by the Queen to be Royal Professor of Divinity, the express purpose being to strengthen the English Church against the Church of Rome, and to widen the breach between them. A series of lectures was founded by Dr Francis Walsingham so that Dr. Reynolds could use his knowledge in strenuously opposing Romish corruptions. To do this, he had to resign his fellowship in Corpus Christi, which was much closer to Rome in spirit. Anyway, he was tired of all the “dissentions and factions there,” as he says, “having made him weary of the place.” He was Master at Queen’s; nevertheless he returned later to become President of Corpus Christi in 1598.
In 1593 the Queen had appointed Rainolds Dean of Lincoln. However, Elizabeth was no lover of the puritan mind, and she “schooled Doctor Reynolds for his obstinate preciseness, willing him to follow her laws and not run before them.” (3) Nevertheless, she did not refuse to recognise his teaching gifts, and formidable theological knowledge. But, when the Queen offered to make him a bishop, he declined it in preference for the studious academic life. He questioned the hierarchical value of episcopacy, as being then set forth:
In a letter to Sir Francis . . . Dr. Reynolds observes, --”All who have labored in reforming the Church, for five hundred years, have taught that all pastors, whether they are entitled bishops or priests, have equal authority and power by God’s word; as the Waldenses . . Wiclif and his scholars, afterwards Huss and the Hussites; and Luther, Calvin, [and others]. . . (McClure)
Rainolds was keen to pass on his knowledge to younger minds. Energetic, patient and sharp-witted, he engaged his students at will, conversing with them “so familiarly and so profitably that whatsoever men desired to learn from him in any kind of knowledge,” they could daily draw from his mouth “as an ever springing and never failing well.” (3)
A man of initiative
Hampton Court Palace
When King James called Rainolds to head up the Puritan delegation at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, Rainolds was President of Corpus Christi College. The delegation included Laurence Chaderton, John Knewstubbs, and Thomas Sparke. These four were carefully selected as more compliant Puritans, who would ‘know their place’ in the presence of an Archbishop, eight senior bishops, six cathedral deans and four privy councillors,’ - none of whom was particularly friendly to the Puritan viewpoint. (4). Rainolds argued for no surplice, no unbiblical confirmation, no use of a cross as some magic talisman, no kneeling at communion. King James enjoyed demolishing their arguments for reform in a five hour dialogue, dismissing Puritan reasoning with an “I have spoken’ approach, designed to humble them, or humiliate!
Poor, dignified, generous Reynolds and Chaderton stood as if in the stocks, the royal squibs falling around them. . . . James was treating them like extreme schismatics from the outer reaches of Anabaptist lunacy. Nothing like this had happened under Elizabeth . . . . [A] more distant less engaging monarch, basing her authority on the aura of that very distance, would not have countenanced it. James enjoyed the roughness of theological argument.
Into this fierce overheated atmosphere, where the mild divisions in the Church of England were being whipped into extremity by the quick, intellectual, joky, combative, slightly unsocialised banter, argument and bullying of the King . . . the first suggestion, the seed of the King James Bible, dropped.(5)
Reynolds was hoping the recent Bishops’ Bible would be acknowledged as inferior, at least to the Geneva Bible. As a close student of Calvin’s commentaries, he would like to have heightened its authority under the new King. Problem was the Geneva Bible had annotated notes which statedly limited the King’s authority, much to the King’s displeaure. Rainolds asked,“May your majesty be pleased that the Bible be new translated, such versions as are extant not answering to the original?” The aim was that ‘one only translation of your Bible be seen as authentic and read in your church.’(6)
Rich linguistic resources had been published since the earlier sixteenth century Bibles had appeared. There was greater access as a result to not only the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin Text, but also to new grammars and lexicons in those languages. This was thanks to such scholars as Immanuel Tremellius and Theodore Beza.
The labours of these masters inspired a whole generation of biblical scholars and Reynolds was, in all probability, among those who, party issues aside, wanted to see an English Bible which was as accurate as it could possibly be. The existing situation was unsatisfactory to many(6)
A disciplined man
Rainolds became a member of the first Oxford company who translated the Old Testament prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Twelve Minor prophets. Also Lamentations.
Work on the new Version was not easy for Rainolds as he had health problems. “He had long been less than robust, coughing more than he liked. Some of the Oxford translators began to meet weekly in John Reynolds’s rooms in Corpus Christi College, to perfect the work, notwithstanding the said Doctor, who had the chief hand in it, and all the while sorely afflicted with gout.” (5)
When the King visited him in 1905 at Corpus Christi College, normal group translation work stopped temporarily. Rainolds would return to his rooms, having delivered a lecture to the King, only to resume private study. He believed in taking extreme pains – and took them - poring over the biblical sources, crafting shapely English phrases to suit the majesty of the Text. (7)
Students at Oxford
A godly man
One of the letters which have come down to us from Rainolds explains his estimation of the Bible. For him, the sum of the New Testament was contained in Paul’s letter to Rome, and the Gospel of the apostle John. The sum of the Old Testament was found in the Psalms and in the prophet Isaiah. Having said that, he then explains how we obtain true Biblical wisdom:
Divinity, the knowledge of God, is the water of life. . . . God forbid that you should think that divinity consists of words, as a wood doth of trees. . . . True divinity cannot be learned unless we frame our hearts and minds wholly to it. . . . The knowledge of God must be learned of God. . . . We have to use two means, prayers and the reading of the holy Scriptures, prayers for ourselves to talk with God, and reading to hear God talk with us. . . . We must diligently give ourselves to reading and meditation of the Holy Scriptures. . . . I pray God you may.In this context he urged study of the word of God in the Hebrew and the Greek, “out of the very well-spring, not out of the brooks of translations.” (7)
It was Rainolds’ godliness, which put him off-side with his generation on the question of stage-plays, writing a pamphlet against them:
They meditate how they may inflame a tender youth with love, entice him to dalliance, to whoredom, to incest, inure their minds and bodies to uncomely, dissolute, railing, boasting, knavish, foolish, brainsick, drunken conceits, words and gestures.” (7)Mocked by some in their day and ours for their closure of the theatre, the Puritans’ successors lived to see them open again in the reign of Charles II, who shocked even the French with conduct unworthy of a King (Spivey's Kings and Queens of England). Stage plays had become more corrupt and obscene than ever. (7)
the Globe theatre
Rainolds died on the 21st of May 1607, leaving a great reputation for scholarship and high character.
1. Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, pp. 22-23.
2. Paine, pp. 170 - 171.
3. Paine, pp. 24 -25.
4. McGrath, Alister (2001) In the Beginning Lon: Hodder. See the 3 minute video (The Bible revolution: King James Conference) of the King James Bible Trust.
5. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 57, 148
6. Wilson, Derek (2010) The People’s Bible: The remarkable history of the King James Version, OX: Lion. p. 205, note 3; p. 86.
7. Paine. Pp. 84-86; 24.
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