The translators of the King James Bible were scholars of the highest caliber. Many of them were among the very top scholars of England and Europe. As a body they were masters not only of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, but also of the cognate or associate languages that are necessary for research into ancient documents relative to the Bible. These include Persian, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Chaldee. Many of the KJV translators were men of unusual piety, as well, and were bold in their denunciation of “popery.”
John Bois (Boys) (1561-1643), Fellow of Clare Hall College, Cambridge, had a good spiritual heritage. His father William was converted under the ministry of the Lutheran reformer Martin Bucer when he was exiled from Strasbourg, Germany, and was teaching at Cambridge; and William had subsequently hid out in the countryside during the reign of Mary. During those days he met and married Mirable Poolye, “a pious woman, and a great reader of the Bible in the older translations,” and they had several children, all of which died young except John. When John was at Cambridge he would often walk the 20 miles to his mother’s house for dinner and return again in the evening. The respect that he had for his mother is evident in what he wrote in the flyleaf to her Book of Common Prayer: “This is my mother’s book; my good mother’s book. Her name was first Mirable Poolye; and then afterwards Mirable Bois; being so called by the name of her husband, my father, William Bois. … She had read the Bible over twelve times, and the Book of Martyrs twice; besides other books, not a few.”
Taught by his father, John could read the whole Bible in Hebrew at age five. Within six months of his admission to St. John’s College, Cambridge, the 14-year-old Bois was writing letters in Greek to the Master and Senior Fellows of the school. “It was a common practice with the young enthusiast to go to the University Library at four o’clock in the morning, and stay without intermission till eight in the evening” (McClure, Translators Revived). Bois was an exact grammarian who had read sixty grammars (Paine, The Men Behind the KJV, p. 67). Bois was a Greek lecturer at St. John’s College for 10 years, and “during that time, he voluntarily lectured, in his own chamber, at four o’clock in the morning, most of the Fellows being in attendance! It may be doubted, whether, at the present day, a teacher and class so zealous could be found at old Cambridge, new Cambridge, or any where else,–not excluding laborious Germany.”
At one point Bois determined to study medicine, but finding that “whatever disease he read of, he was troubled with the same himself,” he gave it up!
When Bois was 35 years old, the Rector of Boxworth, Mr. Holt, left in his will an unusual request. He wanted Bois to succeed him as vicar of Boxworth on the condition that he would marry his daughter. The scholar drove his buggy over to meet the girl and after some visits and “taking liking each of other” he agreed to the arrangement. In 1596 Bois became Rector of Boxworth, and two years later the now thirty-seven- or thirty-eight-year-old bookworm married the late Rector’s daughter. “While thus absorbed in studious pursuits he left his domestic affairs to the management of his wife, whose want of skill in a few years reduced him to bankruptcy. He was forced to part with his chief treasure, and to sell his library, which contained one of the most complete and costly collections of Greek literature that had ever been made. This cruel loss so disheartened him, as almost to drive the poor man from his family and his native country. He was, however, sincerely attached to his wife, with whom he lived in great happiness and affection for five and forty years.”
Even with the late start, the Bois’s were not slack in producing children. They had four sons and two daughters. Bois told them “funny and delightful stories after supper” and prayed with each of them every day. One died in infancy; two in their teens; another at age 30. Only two survived their father. Robert and Mirabel (named for his mother) died in 1623 within a month of each other, of smallpox. The heartbroken father wrote, “Never has there been a more bitter night for me than that in which my Mirabel died.”
Bois made almost daily trips from Boxworth to Cambridge, and allowing his horse to find his own way he would use the occasion to study!
Bois was charitable to the poor, but wise in his charity. “He ‘chode the lazy,’ knowing that charity’s eyes should be open, as well as her hands.”
Even in his old age, Bois spent eight hours in daily study.
Though a great scholar, he aimed for simplicity in his preaching, desiring to make himself easily understood by the humblest of his hearers.
“Up to his death, his brow was unwrinkled, his sight clear, his hearing quick, his countenance fresh, and head not bald.” Asked the secret of his longevity, the octogenarian ascribed it to the observance of three rules, given him by one of his college tutors, Dr. Whitaker: First, always to study standing; secondly, never to study in a draft of air; and thirdly, never to go to bed with his feet cold! He also ate only two meals a day, dinner at midday and supper in the evening, and didn’t take any food and little drink between meals, except on occasion, “upon trouble of wind a small quantity of aqua-vitae [a brandy-like spirit] and sugar.” We are not told how often he had wind trouble.