THE KING JAMES BIBLE CELEBRATES 400 YEARS
It is found at churches, motels, prisons, courthouses, battlefields, weddings and funerals. Its words have inspired writers from William Shakespeare to Walt Whitman, while its scientific principles about wind and water cycles are understood by meteorologists and oceanographers.
Sailors heed its advice to predict the probability of storms, while musicians from George Frederick Handel to 20th-century pop groups have used its passages to create hits. It has even accompanied astronauts to outer space and
While some believe it is God’s divinely inspired Word, others assume it is merely a collection of poetry, fables, battle accounts, and platitudes, often employing its sayings without realizing it—telling someone to be “bold as a lion” or “cunning as a serpent,” or that he will “reap what he sows.” Even those who do not believe the Book’s authenticity can recite, “money is the root of all evil” (actually a misquote), “time and chance happen to all,” and there is “nothing new under the sun.”
Undisputedly, the Bible has influenced people across the globe for millennia—whether one is religious- or secular-minded. One particular translation, however, has withstood the test of time—the King James (or Authorized) Version (KJV). Surveys reveal that one third of all Bible versions across the world are King James. In all, more than six billion copies have been published—just over one billion in the
The year 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of what has been called a “timeless literary masterpiece.” Celebrations took place around the world, conferences on its creation were held, and numerous movies and books were produced detailing its inception.
“According to Google Insights, a service that compares search volume patterns, the phrase ‘King James Bible’ was searched 9 percent more this year compared to the previous seven-year average…keyword phrases that included either ‘King James Bible’ or ‘King James Version’ were searched more than 2 million times per month,” a press release by kingjamesbibleonline.org stated. How did this version of the scriptures come into existence—and more important, what significance does it hold today?
KJV’s origins can be traced to
Until that time, the Bible was primarily accessible to clergymen in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) or Latin. Therefore, lay members who wanted to hear God’s Word had to listen to it being read at churches in Latin, a language most did not understand.
Many Bible translations, such as the Catholic Latin Vulgate and John Calvin’s Geneva Bible, also contained strong theological and political leanings, with opinion-based commentaries. Some who tried to produce their own copies, such as William Tyndale, who created one of the first unofficial English versions, were burned at the stake!
The translation commissioned by King James was intended to make the Bible accessible not only to those who understood Latin, but also to the general English-speaking populace.
On July 22, 1607, work commenced on the KJV. Fifty-seven of the best scholars were chosen for the task. The new work was to be a “literal” word-for-word translation using only the original Hebrew (Masoretic) text and Greek (Byzantine/Revived/Antiochian text) manuscripts.
Scholars were divided into six groups. Three translated the Old Testament, two the New Testament, and another the Apocrypha, which was later discarded.
After each group completed a section, it was submitted to another group of 12 men for review. These individuals added certain words to ensure the text flowed smoothly in the English language. But the words they added were not in the original text, and in some instances, only muddled certain passages. These words remain italicized in print copies today.
Translators worked hard to ensure the KJV could be read in churches, and that those who heard it would understand it. This meant they avoided scholarly language and colloquialisms.
“The translators were instructed to follow strict ‘rules of translation,’…approved by James, designed to minimize the risk of producing a Bible that might give added credibility to Puritanism, Presbyterianism, or Roman Catholicism. The deliberate exclusion of any form of marginal annotations or notes was regarded as a matter of special importance…” author Alister McGrath wrote in his book, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.
The translation took two years to complete and another nine months to review for accuracy by yet another group of selected scholars. At its completion, it was considered one of mankind’s most amazing mental feats. Its completion signaled the beginning of a chapter in history in which global citizens could, for the first time, live without fear of being killed for simply desiring to read the Bible.
It is believed that a similar effort today could never rival what the more than 50 translators accomplished then—without the help of modern technology. Indeed, in the beginning of the Bible, the translators themselves declared in the preface, “Great and manifold were the blessings…which Almighty God…bestowed upon us the people of England…But among all our joys, there was no one that more filled our hearts, than the blessed continuance of the preaching of God’s sacred Word among us; which is that inestimable treasure, which excelleth all the riches of the earth; because the fruit thereof extendeth itself, not only to the time spent in this transitory world, but directeth and disposeth men unto that eternal happiness which is above in heaven.”
But not everyone was happy about King James I’s efforts. During the translation process, he survived an assassination attempt called the Gunpowder Plot.
Finally, in 1611, the KJV was completed. It was designated 95 percent accurate.
Since that time, only minor modifications have been made, many which involved spelling. In the New King James version, “thou,” “thee,” “thine” and “thy” have been replaced with “you,” “your,” “their” and “they.”
In most instances, however, these versions are not as popular: “Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor,” a New York Times editorial stated.
“The great achievement of the King James translators is to have arrived at a language that is both ordinary and heightened, that rings in the ear and lingers in the mind. And that all 54 of them were able to agree on every phrase, every comma…is little short of amazing…”
Pastor David Jones
(excerpts borrowed from R.T.)