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George Abbot


George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the translators of the King James Bible, was born on October 29, 1562, in Guildford (of Surrey, England; burial place of Lewis Carroll). He entered Baliol College, Oxford, in 1578, was made Master of University College, and was made Dean of Winchester in 1599.

In 1604, Dr. Abbot was the second of eight scholars at Oxford chosen by King James I to translate the New Testament (excluding the Epistles). In 1608, he assisted in a design to unite the churches of England and Scotland in an act that brought him into special favor with King James. He quickly became Bishop of Lichfield (1609) and then Bishop of London (1610). In 1611, the king elevated him to the highest church office in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As archbishop, he opposed King James and later Charles I on several occasions, including the Book of Sports (1618) by which King James promoted recreations on Sunday. He was a Calvinist in theology and supported the simplicity of worship promoted by the Puritans. However, he strongly opposed any separation from the Church of England.

He had a part in the last two executions for heresy in England. As a Bishop, he had voted to support the execution of Bartholomew Legate for the heresy of denying the deity of Jesus Christ. Legate was burned at the stake on March 18, 1611. The last execution for heresy occurred on April 11, 1612 when Edward Wightman was burned alive. Though many claims were made against him, prominent among them is Wightman’s denial of infant baptism. Several of Wightman’s descendants were prominent Baptist preachers in colonial America.

On July 24, 1621, Abbot accepted an invitation to go deer hunting with Edward Zouche on his great estate. He was a poor shot with the bow but the gamekeepers wanted to aid the archbishop in getting a kill, so they kept beating up game for him. He warned them to keep their distance, but to no avail. An erring shot from his cross-bow glanced off a tree and into the arm of one of the keepers by the name of Peter Harkins. He shortly bled to death.

The archbishop was greatly grieved by the incident. He immediately withdrew to the hospital he had founded in Guildford. He bestowed such a generous settlement on the widow that she soon married a second husband. For the remainder of his life, he fasted one Tuesday (the day of the incident) each month. But the archbishop suffered in other ways. His friends avoided him and his enemies openly attacked him. They claimed that one who killed a man should not sit in the highest church office in England.

Though he remained as archbishop until his death (with a temporary dismissal), his life was not a happy one. In addition to his genuine grief, his fickle friends, his outspoken enemies, and his conflict with two kings over various issues, he was hounded throughout his life by the man who would follow him as Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Laud was high church in every way. His influence continued to rise and he opposed Abbot on every side. Laud was preferred by King Charles and replaced Abbot after his death. Archbishop Abbot died on August 4, 1633.

George Abbot wrote a number of works. They include:

  • Six Lectures on Divinity  (1598)
  • Exposition of the Prophet Jonah  (1600); the result of over 250 sermons from the book of Jonah which he preached on every Thursday from 1594 to 1599.
  • A Brief Description of the World  (1617); his bestselling book, it remained in print for 65 years.
  • Treatise of the Perpetual Visibility and Succession of the True Church  (1624)
  • Judgment of the Archbishop concerning Bowing at the Name of Jesus  (1632)

Additional Resources:

  • The Men Behind the KJV  by Gustavus S. Paine
  • Translators Revived  by Alexander McClure
  • God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson
David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 18:1

Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.