May 3, 2011

The King James Bible: 400th Anniversary




     I’ve always enjoyed reading the King James Version of the Bible, rather than the modern translations.

     The King James translation of the Christian Scripture was born when its first edition emerged from the press in 1611. Although the date is uncertain, May 2 is the date many persons celebrate the anniversary, because it was a turning point when the King James Version drove its rival, Geneva Bible, out of the market.*

King James Bible used in a wedding

     I read in a recent news article that British academic Gordon Campbell said other translations may engage the mind, but the King James Version is the Bible of the heart.”* Since I am a head thinker, not a heart, thinker, I am surprised that I prefer the “heart version” of the Bible.


     The other day my sister Nancy Lee and I were talking about her late son, Todd James Jay, who at a young age must have liked the poetic rhythms of the King James Version of the Scripture.

     “He read the Bible all the way through when he was nine or ten years old,” she said. “I think it was the King James Version because it was the one he was given for his confirmation.”

     She noted that she “didn’t make anything of it” because she felt that would have encouraged him to quit reading. But she “found him reading it when he went to bed…Todd was always a reader. He read it through twice that I know of….he had an interest in Revelation, that’s what he was really interested in.”

     Todd would tell his mother about the differences between the Old and New Testaments, which confirmed how much he read.

     “About the Old and New Testament, I know there’s a difference but you had to study it,” Nancy Lee said. “But Revelation…that’s hard for me to understand. Parts I do but the whole book…no wonder so many people have opinions on it.”

     My sister is proud that her son read it through.


     On April 30 I watched William and Kate’s royal wedding. The previous evening I had explored the roots of a new word, lobsterback.** With the King James 400th anniversary I find myself again in England:

Every Sunday, the majestic cadences of the King James Bible resound in Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal in London, in scattered parish churches in Britain and in countless chapels, halls and congregations around the world.*

     It seems many other persons, besides myself, also choose—or listen to—this version, which also may be heard in a pub or on a street — “the skin of my teeth,” “the root of the matter,” and “turned the world upside down” — or listening to the lyrics of Handel’s “Messiah.”

Still a best-seller, the King James Bible is being celebrated on its 400th anniversary as a religious and literary landmark and formative linguistic and cultural influence on the English-speaking world.*

Jonathan Swift, writing in 1712, believed the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, “being perpetually read in churches, have proved a kind of standard for language, especially to the common people.”

The King James Version was more of a popularizer than an innovator in forming the English language.

“No other translation reached so many people over so long a period as King James. And this probably explains why so many of its usages entered public consciousness,” David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, wrote in his book, “Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language.”

Crystal traced 257 expressions in modern English which are in the King James Version, but only 18 were newly minted. The rest originated in earlier versions. Among the KJV’s unique contributions are “east of Eden,” “how are the mighty fallen,” “beat their swords into plowshares,” “get thee behind me,” and “a thorn in the flesh.”*


Concurrent Resolution (House & Senate)

Recognizing the 400th Anniversary of the KJV

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–

(1) recognizes the 400th anniversary of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible being published;
(2) recognizes its lasting influence on countless families, individuals, and institutions in the United States; and
(3) expresses its gratitude for the influence it has bestowed upon the United States.


     During the first weekend of May, 2011, the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible was celebrated in Washington, D. C. Events varied from a May 3, 5:00 p. m. Rally at the Capitol Reflecting Pool to a Fine Arts Performance on the Campus of George Washington University. The performance featured former Metropolitan Opera singer – Ray Gibbs; Miracle Mansion Performers; classical pianist; Lonnie Shipman; vocalist Natica Stinnett, and dramatic William Tyndale Presentation****


     The King James Version of the Holy Bible has always been pleasant and preferred reading for me. I like the lilting poetic style of writing that the newer versions cannot match.

     Like my nephew Todd, I’ve read the Scripture through twice—even more. Perhaps I should spend some of my day rereading the poetic words in this Holy Book.




** Lobsterbacks and a Royal Wedding




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