400 Years Ago This Month
The year 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Also known as the King James Bible or the Authorized Version, the KJV became the most published book in the English language. It has been in print continuously for 400 years. In spite of newer “modern” language versions that have appeared across the years, the KJV remains today a favorite translation for many. The beauty and poetry of its language is unsurpassed by the more modern translations. It is the version with which I grew up and the bible verses that I remember today from childhood are verses in that translation.
In spite of its archaic Elizabethian-era language, the KJV has had a profound influence on the entire English speaking world and has been translated into almost 800 different tongues. Even many non-Christians quote from the KJV without realizing it! Consider the following phrases: “at their wits end” (Psalm 107:27,) “with the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20,) “reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7,) “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13,) “riotous living” (Luke 15:13,) “eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38,) “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7,) “reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7.)
The KJV was born of unusual circumstances. King James I, formerly King James VI of Scotland, was crowned king of England and Scotland in 1603, after the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England. At that time, there was much religious turmoil in those countries between the established Church of England (Anglican) which was the state church and the rising influence of the Puritans, who were separatists. Then, throw in the effects of the Protestant-Catholic rift, which had lingered since the time of Henry VIII’s defiance of the Pope in the 1500s.
To make matters more sticky, the mother of James I was Mary, Queen of Scots, a cousin of Elizabeth I and a Roman Catholic. Mary had abdicated the throne of Scotland in 1567 in favor of her only son, who become James VI of Scotland. Mary, after abdication, continued to “stir the pot“, so Elizabeth had her first imprisoned and then beheaded to eliminate the continuing friction.
In England at that time the Church and the State were synonymous and dissension within religious ranks was considered by the monarchy as dissension with the government. In an effort to unify people of differing religious beliefs, King James I commissioned a team of scholars in 1604 to begin work on a new translation of the Bible. Up until then, “… Each party and sect used the version which best suited its own views and doctrines. Here, thought James, was the chance to rid the Scriptures of propaganda and produce a uniform version which could be entrusted to all.“ 1
John Pollack, a specialist in the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library says, “King James had political reasons for ordering a new translation of the Bible … It was a ‘state sponsored project,’ funded and organized by the government in an attempt to unify people of differing Christian beliefs.” 2 The result was the “Authorized” (by the king) version, first released to the public on May 2, 1611. The library at the University of Pennsylvania has an original copy of the 1611 printing of the KJV, which was on display there through the end of April. The library’s website (see note 2) is the source of the accompanying photos of the king and the cover of the original Bible.
– Jim Barbee, Historian
1. Winston S. Churchhill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, – Volume 4 “The New World” (New York: Barnes and Noble,1993. Originally published 1956), 153.
2. Greg Johnson, Penn marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/2011-05-05/features/pennmarks-400th-anniversary-king-james-bible , Accessed and downloaded 05 May 2011.