By what authority did the translators of the KJV (and other translations) change the name of the book of YAAKOV (Jacob) to JAMES? The original Greek states this author’s name as “IAKOBOY”, or Jacob in English. Thank you.

You are correct in your awareness of the Old Testament designation “Yaakov” (Hebrew) and the New Testament designation, “Iakboy” (Greek).

Tracing the etymology of a word is a fascinating endeavor. And as it is translated from language to language, or even its development within a language, spelling and pronunciation often change. Beyond the Greek and the Hebrew, this word went through several stages of the Latin language (i.e., Old Latin, New Latin, Late Latin), and there were further influences of the word through the barbarian tribes that overran Western Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries. In England this involved two distinct blending of languages–the first by the Anglo-Saxons (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes), who overlaid their language on top of the (1) Latin & (2) Celtic (two dialects: Brythonic and Goidelic) amalgamation as they conquered much of England between the fifth and seventh centuries, and second, by the Norman/Vikings, who overlaid their language upon all of that during the eleventh and twelfth centuries!

One of the reasons the English Language is such a rich one is because of the blending of these linguistic strains which created totally different words for identical things: for example: lamb-mutton, brotherly-fraternal, etc.

The words Jacob and James come out of this matrix. Jacob follows the French/Norman tradition (Jacobin, for example), and James comes out of the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

The use of “James” in the King James Version was not something they had to think about. It was already imbedded into their language as the equivalent of “James” or “Jacob.” Since this translation from Greek and Hebrew involved putting the text into readable and understandable English, they chose the popular word already in circulation.

Actually, three common English names come out of this: James, Jacob, and Jack.

Hope this answers your question.

Thanks for writing.

Jimmy Williams, Founder
Probe Ministries

James F. Williams was the founder and past president of Probe Ministries International. He held degrees from Southern Methodist University (B.A.) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.). He also pursued inter-disciplinary doctoral studies (a.b.d.) in the humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. Over a thirty-five year period, he visited, lectured, and counseled on more than 180 university campuses in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. He also served on the faculties of the American, Latin American, and European Institutes of Biblical Studies. Jimmy won his (and his family's) 14-year battle with Alzheimer's when he graduated to heaven in September 2019.

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  1. Oyit Samuel 8 years ago

    Thank you for your explanation but I’m afraid it’s not enough. King James put his name in the bible knowing that Jacob it’s not same as James. In fact why didn’t they just remove Jacob from old testament to avoid further confusion. The book of james is called the book of Jacob in arabic Bible.

  2. Michael Gleghorn 8 years ago

    Hello Oyit,

    Thanks for writing. The King James version was published in 1611. At this time there was already a long history of English Bibles observing this distinction. For example, the Geneva Bible of 1560 (NT published in 1557) also uses “James” instead of “Jacob” – and King James was not even born at this time. He was born in 1566. Additionally, Tyndale used “James” in his NT translation (1526), and so did Wycliffe in the 14th century.

    As to why they did not translate “Jacob” as “James” in the Old Testament, I must say I don’t know. The Geneva Bible, as well as Tyndale and Wycliffe all follow this convention as well.

    Hence, whatever the explanation for this, I don’t think that we can blame it on King James. There was a long history of translating the names in this way before he was even born.

    • Koli Peneha 8 years ago

      Even In Africa Local Languages It’s Called Yakobu Not James

  3. Jack 7 years ago

    Iames is an early English translation from the French Gemmes name for Book of James (Jacob) Becomes James in late English when the “J” is introduced into the English language.

    James comes the French translation…. Original is clearly Jacob never James (IMHO) Ck early Latin Vulgate

    Greek: Yakobos =James root is Yakob = Jacob,
    Latin: Iacobus (james) root = Iakobos (Jacob)
    Late Latin Iacomus ( diphthong) “m sound like b”
    Old French Gemmes
    Middle English: Iacomus or Iames
    Late English: James

    Reason never changed back: (just my op) Book Of Jacob sounds Old Test. Jewish… on the other hand Book of James sounds New Test. More Western, more the idea that Jesus is for everyone/global not just for jewish community.

    Again, just my op…that and $dollar buy you a soda! 🙂

  4. Jennifer Giuliano 7 years ago

    My comment is that as early as the first one hundred years when the Gentiles took over the church they started hating the Jewish people ,the very people who started the church. Thus removing anything that sounded Jewish . Replacement Theology sprung up . Not only is the book suppose to be Jacob but Jesus is not the name of our Lord .The Father named his Son Yeshua Rabbi Yeshua the Messiah Jacob is the half brother of Yeshua . Should have kept the names as there were ..Note : Try calling Muhammad by another name and see where that gets you !!!!!!!!!!!!
    P.S in my Chinese version the name of the book is Jacob Not james !

    • Bob Collesidis 4 years ago

      I am not a biblical scholar, but Paul the apostle was certainly not a Jew hater! (Romans 9:1-5) He wrote his epistles in Greek, and called our Lord, Iesous Christos (Greek spelling: iota eta sigma omicron upsilon sigma, chi rho iota sigma tau omicron sigma) which is where we get the English version of His name, Jesus Christ. Christianity is inclusive enough to have the Bible, including names, translated into more than 2000 languages so far. The analogy to Mohammed does not work because Muslims consider Arabic to be the only holy language, which is why they recite prayers and the Quran in Arabic, even though most don’t understand it.

  5. jon 5 years ago

    This explanation is not true. When you get ito etymology Ya cob is a Hebrew name more importantly it possesses the name of the Most High Yahuah (Yah). James is a Anglo Saxon name. No where is it even a dirivitive of the name Ya cob. While Jacob is a transliteration James is not. Let us remember the Word of the Most High was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by Hebrews for Hebrews, not Gentiles. The New Testament are nothing more than references of the Old Testament. Anglo Saxon had nothing to do with scribing the Word of God like they would lead you to believe. In short James is King James who wanted to insert himself in scripture.

    Don’t take my word study for yourselves. While Yeshua (Jesus) became a sacrifice and was resurrected for all man kind. The scriptures is not a book written by Europeans, it was written by Hebrews. Not Jews but Hebrews.

    Again while this explanation sounds cool it is not remotely true.

    • Sue Bohlin 5 years ago

      Hi Jon,

      I think Jimmy Williams’ perspective is not that far off from yours, as he invokes the etymological unfolding of words over time. Unfortunately, he’s not in a place where we can ask him to clarify his research. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  6. Ron Craig 2 years ago

    Hi Sue. I appreciate the fact that Mr. Williams is no longer with us to defend his writing. Someone above said they are not a biblical scholar. Well, I can say that I am. God called me, after decades of education in and application of Ancient Greek and no specific desire of mine, to translate the Scriptures. I told him it was a tall project for me, but He promised to be with me and guide me. So I asked Him where do I start. He said to start with the book of James. I opened the Greek and was stuck on the first word for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t understand why it said Jacob instead of James. I asked God and He just said to research it. As I did I was floored! While some want to imagine a linguistic connection between Jacobus and James, there is none. They make the same mistake one contributor above makes from Jacomus to Gemmes. But professional Linguists, such as myself, admit that the connection is not there. We have to concede that they are two different names and nowhere near equivalent. While the arbitrary substitution of James for Jacob by Wycliffe I have not verified, I understood that King James made a decision that all Jacobs born in New Testament times should be named James in English, because, as he reasoned, saints shall not bear the name of the least godly of the Patriarchs. Yes, that was the sentiment. So in the Genealogies in the New Testament, if there is a reference to a Jacob who was born prior to Jesus, he retained his less godly name of Jacob and if he was born at the time of or after Jesus’ birth, he would be renamed the superior name of James. Ego stroking I am sure, to make such a decision for the translators of God’s Testimony and correct God on the matter.

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