THE KING JAMES
(Investigator 139, 2011,
The King James Bible
prepared for England's King James (1566-1625) is 400 years old this
the KJV introduced many memorable phrases into English use, and
influenced English language and literature more than any other book or
Chances are you've heard
or used the following or similar:
there be light
of the living
in sheep's clothing
my brother's keeper?
writing on the wall
them by their fruits
to the slaughter
of the law
are the mighty fallen
of an eye
of his teeth
the first stone
change his spots?
not lest you be judged
pearls before swine
in my side
in the ointment
patience of Job
leading the blind
and you shall find
of the earth
Many other phrases you've
probably heard but not used in daily conversation such as:
tree of the knowledge of good and evil
Lord is my shepherd
valley of the shadow of death
Father in heaven
Deliver us from evil
Consider the lilies of the field
is a man profited, if shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
so loved the world
Sacrifice for sins
root of all evil
Forgive them for they know not what they do
David Crystal (2010)
comes up with over 250 phrases and words made popular through the KJV
compared to about 100 for William Shakespeare's writings.
The KJV began coming off
the printing press of Robert Barker, the King's printer, in May 1611.
The title page declares it is "appointed to be read in churches" which
is why it's the "Authorised Version".
In 1604 King James held a
conference of England's top theologians and linguists in his palace.
Forty six Church of England clergy plus one non-clerical scholar were
assigned to six committees based in Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster.
Money for the project was raised by donations from universities,
bishops and wealthy parishes. The committees translated the Old
Testament from available Hebrew texts, the New Testament from Greek and
Latin, but also consulted previous English translations principally
William Tyndale's work and the Geneva Bible.
Parts of the Bible had
been available in England for centuries but Oxford scholar William
Tyndale (1494-1536) in the 1520s was the first to translate from the
original languages. Fresh translations were at the time illegal as the
reigning King (Henry VIII) did not want the Protestant reformation of
northern Europe to enter England. Tyndale, however, famously declared
that he wished to see even ordinary ploughboys reading the words of
God. He translated the New Testament and the Pentateuch but was then
captured and burned at the stake.
In 1535 came the
Coverdale Bible, England's first entire Bible, permitted by Henry VIII
and adapted from Tyndale's version with the rest translated from the
Latin Vulgate and Martin Luther's German version.
English Bibles were
suppressed again by Catholic Queen Mary. But in 1560 English Protestant
exiles produced the Geneva Bible and dedicated it to Mary's successor,
Queen Elizabeth. About 300,000 copies were printed in 100 years. It had
numbered verse divisions and explanatory notes in the margin and was
intended to be understood by ordinary people. The practice of
"prophesying" began in which congregations had Geneva Bibles open and
could question the speaker.
Some Geneva Bible
explanatory notes were political, even seditious — for example that a
corrupt king might be deposed by his subjects. This and its use of the
word "tyrant" may account for King James ordering a new translation
without marginal notes and minus the word "tyrant" for the Church of
The KJV had many further
differences to better reflect existing Church of England practice and
for greater solemnity in public reading. "Church", "bishop" and
"priest" replaced Tyndale's "congregation", "elder" and "overseer".
Many phrases that entered English from the KJV actually come from
Tyndale. The Macmillan Dictionary of Biography says:
"His superb use of
the words and rhythms of the English language is enshrined in the
Authorized Version of the Bible, of which his translation formed the
Some KJV English was
already old-fashioned in 1611. "You" was already replacing "thee" and
"thou". And the "eth" or "est" ending for the present tense as in
"heareth" "believeth", "teachest" and "restest" was already changing to
"s" or "es" — "hears", "believes", "teaches", "rests".
Many opposed the KJV as
an uninspired substitute for God's real version the Geneva Bible. The
Geneva was more useful to Puritans and Parliament during England's
civil war, but when the monarchy was restored in 1660 the KJV, as the
book of the winners, triumphed.
For generations the KJV
became the only book many families owned. It guided families, churches
and government in matters spiritual, ethical, political and economical.
McGrath (2001) writes: "Without the King James Bible, there would have
been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim's Progress, no Handel's Messiah, no
Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg Address."
On its first centennial
in 1711 the KJV stood supreme among English Bibles. It had helped
consolidate England's Protestant Reformation, was known by every
educated person, was read in churches and schools, was influential in
art, theatre and literature, and was a motivator of science and
scientists. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), for example, who is sometimes
considered the greatest scientist of all, believed the Bible and wrote
more about it than on science.
The second centennial,
1811, saw higher criticism underway but also the founding of missionary
societies to fulfil Jesus' prediction: "And this gospel of the kingdom
shall be preached in all the world…"
The third centennial,
1911, saw Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (future US presidents)
praise the KJV as America's national book, public Bible reading and
memorization of passages still popular, but also criticism by
increasing numbers of higher critics and atheists.
The fourth centennial,
2011, sees the KJV increasingly replaced with new updated Bible
translations, Christianity expanding in China and Africa, hundreds of
Bible critiquing books available in libraries, and worldwide Bible
debate on billions of Internet pages — a modern equivalent of "proclaim
upon the housetops." (Matthew 12:3)
Some English words have
changed meaning since 1611. For example in 1611 "quick" and "quicken"
meant "living" and "make alive", and "the elect" meant "the chosen".
Tony Blair (Prime Minister) read I Corinthians 13 from the KJV at the
funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 but altered "charity" to "love".
Changes in English and discoveries of ancient manuscripts have resulted
in many new Bible translations, but in sales the KJV still ranks near
Bobrick (2001) argues
that The Bible and its various translations did more than help develop
the language. It also inspired the essentials of democratic government.
The Bible's teachings and principles — such that authority ultimately
comes from God in whose sight all individuals are equally important and
that incompetent leaders should be replaced — empowered whole
populations to reject the tyranny of arrogant rulers and the "divine
right of kings".
Bobrick traces The
Bible's impact in the Reformation, the English Civil War, the founding
of the American colonies, and the American Revolution, and shows that
Scripture was an ally to all who demanded the rights of the individual
and their enforcement through democracy.
Many Christian apologists
have tried to establish the authority of the KJV (and other Bibles) by
seeking significance in numbers. "Seven" and "four", for example, are
said to be biblically significant, on which basis some predicted
Jerusalem would experience 7 x 4 = 28 sieges with Christ's second
coming interrupting the 28th. But that failed. Others tried to make the
6-day week correspond to 6000 years from creation followed by
Armageddon, but that too failed.
That such numerical
approach can seem impressive but is coincidental and trivial, is seen
in Psalm 46. The 46th word in Psalm 46 (KJV) is "shake" and the 46th
word from the end is "spear" and in 1611 William Shakespeare, whose
writings had perhaps the second greatest influence on the English
language, was 46 years old!
The more objective method
is to evaluate the Bible's accuracy by reference to modern science and
check the Bible verse after verse, whatever is testable.
The evidence includes
such 20th century discoveries as the hearing ability of snakes
(KJV—"adder"); the cud-chewing of hyraxes (KJV—"coney"); the
"strangling" of prey by lions; the ancient existence of a Cush/Sudan
(KJV—"Ethiopia") empire; hundreds of geographical locations and names
of people; the nonsense of racism; the potential for worldwide
destruction from Space; the healing benefits of happiness; and much
more. Hundreds of names and teachings are provable by reference to
modern science, and the total is still increasing.
confirmations of Bible statements initially used the KJV. This shows
that the evidence is not being sneaked into new Bible translations
after science discovers it but was there all along.
All this does not mean
the KJV is God's inspired translation as some claim. Dr. J.P. Smyth
Today's translators have ancient manuscripts such as earlier
scholars never dreamed of;
science of textual criticism which identifies the relative usefulness
of ancient manuscripts began long after the KJV was published;
ancient languages are now better known, allowing more precise
200 English words in the KJV have changed their English meaning.
To conclude let's read
from the KJV:
For the word
of God is
quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword,
piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the
joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of
the heart. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
And I saw another angel
fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach
unto them that dwell on earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and
tongue, and people. (Revelation 14:6)
Alter, R. 2010 Pen of
Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible, Princeton University
Callick, R. The
Australian Inquirer, April 30-May 1, 2011, p. 7
Bobrick, B. 2001 Wide
the Waters The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it
Inspired, Simon & Schuster
Croft, P. The Making of
the King James Bible, BBC History Magazine, March, 2011, pp
Crystal, D. 2010 Begat:
The King James Bible & the English Language, Oxford University
Jensen, M. KJV 400, Eternity,
May 2011, pp 5-6
McGrath, A. 2001 In
Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and how It changed a
nation, a Language, and a Culture, Doubleday
Smyth, J.P. nd How We
Out Bible, Sampson Low, Marston & Co, p. 134
The Companion Bible
THE ORTHORIZED VERSION OF 1611, 1972, Bagster & Sons.