The King James Version (KJV) Bible is widely acknowledged as among the finest works of literature in the English language.
Ranking alongside contemporary works of William Shakespeare and companion to The Book of Common Prayer, The KJV Bible gave voice to the emerging character of the English speaking people.
A Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12: 7)
Hailed as the liberator of the English tongue in worship, the King James Version was actually less about freedom for the language of faith and more about controlling the conversation of religious change.
Still popular today for its poetic and lyrical use of language and named by virtue of its regal authority, The King James Version (KJV) has the alternative title of The Authorised Version (AV) Bible.
So great was the impact of the new Bible on everyday English life that many of its words and phrases have entered the English language as common sayings and figures of speech. The ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ of the King James Version, archaic even at the time of writing, still pepper hymns and prayers today adding a veneer of reverence and tradition to public worship.
For Everything there is a Season (Ecclesiastes 3: 1)
But not all the credit for opening up the Bible to the common man and woman can go to King James. There were other English language Bibles well before King James saw the wisdom of a state authorised version. For many years before that even attempting to translate the Bible into the common tongue was seen as an act somewhere between heresy and treason.
Yet devout men and scholars were determined to risk torture and death set God’s word free for anyone to read, hear and understand. Although partial translations were written as early as the 7th century it wasn’t until the age of printing that large scale circulation of common language Bibles became possible and, in equal measure, dangerous.
By the time of the King James Version there were already printed English language Bibles circulating and widely read. These included Tyndale’s translation of the 1530s which would be the foundation text for later English Bibles – including the King James, although Tyndale himself was executed for his pioneering work.
All Things to All Men (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Despite Tyndale’s fate, more English translations quickly followed. These included the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560 and the Bishop’s Bible of 1568. While the Great Bible and the Bishop’s Bible were to some extent ‘authorised versions’ brought about decree of Elizabeth I, The Geneva Bible was less welcomed by state and church establishment.
The Geneva Bible had two revolutionary features that made it attractive and practical for the increasing number of ordinary people able to read the English Language. The big advance of the Geneva Bible – and a feature retained by the King James Version and in practically all modern versions, was the introduction of numbered verses.
Numbered verses made navigation of the Bible’s more than 31,000 verses. A simple reference located any one verse and allowed the reader to cross-reference and link together common themes and ideas. In short, an ordinary man could start to interpret the Bible for himself.
Fight the Good Fight (Timothy 6:12)
Less popular with King James, when his turn came to authorise a Bible, was the Geneva’s inclusion of explanatory ‘footnotes’. These gave the views and interpretations of the Bible’s translators – which were openly and strongly anti-monarchist.
The Geneva Bible’s footnotes in relation to pharaoh and other biblical kings introduced the notion that you can still obey God even if you disobey or rebel against a bad or godless king. It was the Geneva Bible that Cromwell’s Puritan army carried into battle in the civil wars and inspired them to victory over James’ son, Charles I.
It’s hardly surprising that when King James instructed his college of 47 theologians and scholars to create his new authorised version, they were ordered not to include any footnotes and to avoid any interpretation that challenged his divine right to rule as God’s sovereign king on earth.
The Ends of the Earth (Zechariah 9: 10)
When it finally left the presses of the king’s franchised monopoly printers, the newly authorised version didn’t please all of its readers. For the traditionalists, this new common-tongue translation was a step too far. For the Puritans looking for a radical church without king or bishops at its head, the new Bible wasn’t modern enough.
Over the centuries the KJV Bible has endured as the baseline biblical text of the English speaking world. Despite its alleged imperialist bias, debated contemporary relevance and proven inaccuracies of translation, the Authorised Version holds its place in the Bible bestsellers lists outsold on an annual basis only by the New International Version (NIV).
Newer versions of the King James have been produced with the aim of preserving its lyrical beauty while at the same time enhancing its relevance and readability. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the 1950s maintained the original’s popularity in a world of rapidly changing language use.
Further modernisations appeared in America with the American Standard Version (ASV) and the New American Standard Version (NASV). Its latest and most modern version, the New King James Version (NKJV) of 1975 retains all the stylistic beauty of the original. Well loved phrases and verses are clearly recognisable and read with the freshness of modern spoken English.
From Strength to Strength (Psalms 84: 7)
Written to read out loud as well as studied in private, the KJV or its modern equivalent the NKJV, is still the Bible of choice for public presentation or when the reader needs to let an audience know this is the Bible they’re hearing. Never out of print since 1611 and now more than 400 years old, the presses will be adding more King James Bibles to the billions already printed for a long time to come.
For Eden.co.uk's complete range of KJV Bibles, study Bibles and special large print, pocket and presentation editions, simply click on underlined text and follow the link.
Quick Guide to The King James Version (KJV) Bible
What is it?
- The English language translation of the Bible authorised by King James I in 1607.
- The classic English language Bible that can trace its roots back to Tyndale in 1536.
- The work of art that carried the faith of English speaking Christians to the world.
What will it do for me?
- Connect you to the earliest expressions of faith and belief in common English.
- Give you the Bible in lyrical and poetic language that’s recognisably sacred.
- Provide an understanding of the character and roots of English speaking spirituality.
Over to You
At Eden.co.uk you can find a truly interactive Christian community helping you find all you need to live, learn and grow your faith.
The King James Bible has been the popular best selling Bible in English for more than 400 years, and continues to sell well despite many newer translations.
- Why do you think the KJV retains its popularity despite its old fashioned language and more modern translations?
- Do you think the King James is the only translation anyone needs or is it time to stop printing a 400 year old book?
Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips – beautiful, bizarre and brilliant at Eden.co.uk
April 16th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison