1. King James Bible – The KingThis year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. In January 1604, King James I of England commissioned a new English translation of the Bible. Himself a scholar, he was dissatisfied with the existing English translations.
Between 50 and 60 Hebrew and Greek scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster worked on the project, completing the translation in 1611. It is the most influential book ever published in English.
Sir Winston Churchill said of it,
“The scholars who produced this masterpiece are mostly unknown and unremembered. But they forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world.”American journalist and English scholar H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) lauded it as “probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.”
Who was James Stuart (1566-1625), the king who sponsored the new translation? King James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne of England and Ireland as King James I upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch. James was the first to rule over all three realms simultaneously.
2. King James Bible – ImpactLate one night after a hard 3-day ride, messengers told Jim Stuart that his distant cousin Bess had died. Bess had run her affairs by the motto “Always the same,” but when Jim took over, he was ready for change.
Jim was a brilliant scholar, linguist, poet, dramatist, and outdoorsman. This is the story of a change Jim orchestrated – one of the most influential and enduring changes ever, and one that bears his name. It’s a story of murder, intrigue, burning at the stake, scholarship, and courage. It’s the story of the King James Bible.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, the most influential version of the Bible (KJV) ever published.
Israeli diplomat and author Michael J. Pragai said of the KJV,
“The milestone in the story of Britain’s involvement with the Holy Land was the translation of the Bible into English. As a result of this translation, the entire web of English history, Church, tradition, and law was infused with the Biblical tradition of the Hebrew nation. For the span of some three centuries the Bible became the single most powerful influence in English culture.”The King James Bible was the dominant expression of God’s Word for the English-speaking world for most of four centuries. This runaway all-time best-seller has been in print for 400 years without a break.
The impact of the King James Bible on English language and western culture is beyond estimation. It’s the only book that has over 1 billion copies in print.
American journalist and scholar H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) lauded the KJV as “probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.”
English speakers today use over 1,000 sayings like
”thorn in the flesh,”
“eye for an eye,”
“wolf in sheep’s clothing,”
“writing on the wall” or
“the truth shall make you free,”
often with little awareness that they are quoting from the KJV. This is far more than from any other source including Shakespeare.
Playwright and skeptic George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) is the only person to have won both a Nobel prize and an Oscar. He wrote admiringly of the KJV translators,
“They carried out their work with boundless reverence and care, and achieved a beautifully artistic result. They made a translation so magnificent that to this day the common human Britisher or citizen of the United States accepts and worships it as a single book by a single author, the book being the Book of Books and the author being God.”In a lecture at the University of California Berkeley in March 1911 on the 300th anniversary of the KJB, former President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) said,
“The great debt of the English-speaking peoples everywhere is to the translation of the Bible…as it was put forth in English three centuries ago. No other book of any kind ever written in English–perhaps no other book ever written in any other tongue–has ever so affected the whole life of a people as this Authorized Version of the Scriptures [KJV] has affected the life of the English-speaking peoples.”The influence of the King James Bible on English culture, language, life, and morals is truly without equal. Despite its flaws, it’s been a huge blessing from Yahweh, as it continues to clearly proclaim salvation truth to condemned souls.
3. King James Bible – InfluenceThe King James version of the Bible (KJV) is widely recognized to be a “Mount Everest” of English language, literature, culture, and spirituality with respect to its significance and influence. Geddes MacGregor, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at USC and author of A Literary History of the Bible said of the King James Bible,
“Historically it is the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language.”Sir Frederic Kenyon, British paleographer and scholar of ancient languages, said of the KJV,
“The literary influence of the King James Version is well known. Not even Shakespeare has more profoundly affected our literature. The most godless of men, provided only that he has inherited English for his mother tongue, is confronted with the influence of the King James Version of the Bible almost wherever he turns. It has been injected into the stream of the language. It has invigorated and enriched all subsequent English prose.”
“The King James Bible, though indeed the greatest literary monument of the English-speaking world, has never been merely a literature. It has guided through the path of life and the valley of death a billion hearts and minds that it has taught, consoled, and enlightened.”
“So deeply has its language entered into our common tongue, that one probably could not take up a newspaper or read a single book in which some phrase was not borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, from King James’s version.”Robert Lowth, former professor of poetry at Oxford, called the KJV “the best standard of our language” and “the noblest monument of English prose.”
Historian and poet Thomas Babington Macaulay evaluated the KJV:
“A book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.”Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, wrote,
“The King James Version stands as a monument of English prose and also as an abiding contribution of the English Reformation, not only to the spirituality but to the culture of the entire English-speaking world.”The influence of the King James Bible on English culture, language, life, and morals is truly without equal. Its impact is beyond estimation. The King James Bible has been the dominant expression of God’s Word for the English-speaking world for most of four centuries as it has guided millions of people through life on earth and to life beyond the grave.
(From his book Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages)
4. King James Bible – John WycliffeEnglish Bibles have sold 6 billion copies–incomparably more than any other language including the original Hebrew and Greek languages. How did the Bible get into English? The King James Bible was not the first English Bible. That appeared around 1382 when John Wycliffe (1328-1384) translated Jerome’s Latin version, called the Latin Vulgate, into English.
Wycliffe gave his handwritten translation to itinerant preachers who spread it throughout England. Hand copying took ten months, so distribution was limited; it was also banned by government edict in 1409.
In 1415 Wycliffe was declared a heretic for his unlicensed translation of the Bible. His body was exhumed and burned to ashes.
Inspired by the winepress, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. Later he added moveable type. Reproduction speed rocketed to 240 pages per hour. In 1455 he printed the first Bible in Latin. Gutenberg’s invention spread across Europe and enormously facilitated Bible distribution to the masses.
By 1611 Gutenberg presses were widespread. This fostered rapid distribution of the King James Bible throughout the English-speaking world.
5. King James Bible – Royal CeremonyQueen Elizabeth II celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible with a royal ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey on Wednesday Nov 16, 2011. The queen’s husband Prince Philip and son Prince Charles joined her along with 2,000 worshipers in honoring the King James Bible.
It’s the “DNA of the English language,” according to Melvyn Bragg, broadcaster, member of the House of Lords, and author of The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011. This is because it’s the most influential book ever published in English. It’s impact on language, culture, and society is unsurpassed.
For example, Bragg disputes secularists who claim democracy came from classical Greece. Instead he credits it to the King James Bible. He says,
“Greek democracy was very limited. It included a small proportion of men, no women, no slaves, no foreigners. The idea of it being open to all with an equal voice coincided with the introduction of the KJB, and it was in that Bible that the ideas found their feet and were spread.”Early editions of the King James Bible were presented at the altar and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a sermon rendering tribute to the extraordinary translation.
Official recognition and celebration of the anniversary is significant in a country which has become almost totally secular after having been the seedbed of Christian missions to the world for centuries.
6. King James Bible – William TyndaleThe first to translate the Bible directly from Hebrew and Greek into English was William Tyndale (1494-1536). He published the New Testament in 1525 and the Pentateuch shortly thereafter. Wide distribution of his translation thwarted the Roman Catholic Church’s determination to control access by keeping the Bible in Latin and out of English.
Tyndale was a superb Greek scholar. He was so fluent in 7 languages that strangers could not tell which one was his native tongue.
One day arguing about ecclesiastical authority, a clergyman told Tyndale, “We had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale replied,
“I defy the Pope and all his laws. And if God spare me, I will one day make the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scripture than the Pope does.”Tyndale was not easily cowed. He even publicly opposed England’s King Henry VIII with a 1530 book condemning as unbiblical Henry’s intended divorce from Catherine of Aragon (to marry Anne Boleyn).
Tyndale smuggled thousands of his New Testaments from Europe into England inside bags of flour.
In Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, John Foxe reports an interesting story.
In 1534 Bishop Tunstall was frantically trying to intercept and destroy Tyndale’s Bibles as they were smuggled into England. Traveling through Antwerp, Belgium on state business for King Henry VIII, he learned of Tyndale New Testaments for sale. Figuring that destruction in Antwerp would prevent appearance in England, he arranged with a knowledgeable English merchant Augustine Pockington to purchase the Bibles.
Pockington was a clandestine Tyndale supporter and a clever businessman. He arranged to sell Tunstall the New Testaments for four times their normal rate, and Tunstall burned them in Antwerp.
Tunstall did not know that Pockington had outfoxed him. Tyndale was revising his New Testament translation and delivered the first edition to Pockington to sell to Tunstall. Tyndale financed the printing of his second edition with the Bishop’s money.
The Roman Catholic Church disapproved of Tyndale’s work. He was tried for heresy, strangled, and burned at the stake before he finished translating the Old Testament. His last words cried out at the stake were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
Eighty years later, the King James Bible, sponsored by another king of England, was based on Tyndale’s work. A 1998 scholarly analysis showed that Tyndale’s translation accounted for 84% of the New Testament and 76% of the Old Testament books he translated.
Tyndale broke the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on the Bible, and his work was the foundation for subsequent English Bibles. He’s the “Father of the English Bible.”
7. King James Bible – Bible Wars(Continuing the series on the King James Bible…) Multiple English versions of the Bible competed for use in the 1500s.
John Rogers and Myles Coverdale picked up Tyndale’s work and finished translating the Old Testament from Latin and German versions. Published in 1537, it was known as the Matthew Bible because Rogers published it under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew.
Myles Coverdale prepared the Great Bible based on Tyndale’s work and the Matthew Bible; he removed politically objectionable notes and translations. Published in 1539, the large size earned its name. It was the first “authorized” English Bible in that King Henry VIII authorized it to be read in Church of England services.
Controversy and persecution over Bible translations peaked under the reign of Bloody Mary (1553-1558) when 300 Protestants were burned at the stake as heretics. This included John Rogers, publisher of the Matthew Bible, and Thomas Cranmer, publisher of the Great Bible.
Queen Mary’s persecution drove Protestant scholars to Geneva where Coverdale, Knox, Calvin, and others prepared the Geneva Bible. Based on Tyndale’s work and the Great Bible, it was the first English Bible translated entirely from Hebrew and Greek and the first to use numbered verses.
The Geneva Bible was history’s first study Bible. For the first time, a mass-produced Bible offered notes, study aids, maps, and indexes. This along with its stronger language, convenient size, and modest price led to its popularity over the Great Bible.
The Geneva Bible was published in over 150 editions from 1560 to 1644. It was the main English Bible of the age. Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Bunyan, Knox, and Cromwell all used the Geneva Bible.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the seventh installment in the Story of the King James Bible series celebrating its 400th Anniversary.
Read the prequels:
1. King James Bible – The King with videos
2. King James Bible – Impact
3. King James Bible – Influence
4. King James Bible – John Wycliffe
5. King James Bible – Royal Ceremony
6. King James Bible – William Tyndale
Read the sequel:
8. King James Bible – King & Bible – coming next week…
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Thursday December 15, 2011 A.D.