Monday, May 2, 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. While not the first English translation of scripture, the KJV has certainly become the cornerstone of modern translations of the Bible, continuing to maintain interest and influence within the world of faith. Often written off for its archaic language it is still in print. This year’s celebration of its publication in 1611 draws our attention to the circumstances of its production and its impact on the English language.
The Kings James Bible is the Bible of my youth. It is the first Bible I came to know and of course the first Bible I ever purchased was a large leather bound edition which still sits on my shelf. Today I tend to use the New King James version as my standard in writing and speaking. it is rare when I turn back to the KJV for reference but occasionally I do, just to remember what the “original” said. Its familiar words and cadences somehow sound a comforting resonance to my mind.
There are a number of books written in recent months to tell the story of the how this version came into existence. We published an article in the March/April Good News entitles, “The Book That Changed the World”.
The KJV was born out of the ferment of the England’s break with Rome in the sixteenth century and its subsequent internal battles between the Anglicans and Puritans. King James I responded to this turmoil by ordering a group of scholars to begin work in 1604 to begin a fresh translation based on the existing English translations. That there was a continuing effort to produce Holy Scripture in the common tongue was another remarkable part of the story. For more than two hundred years the Roman Catholic church had resisted translations of the Bible into any language that the man on the street could access. It was felt only the Church could read and interpret scripture for the masses. Men who dared to translate the Bible, like William Tyndale, were hunted down and burned at the stake. This resistance was felt even as the translators worked through the years.
Perhaps the most intriguing words to read in thinking about this 400th anniversary is the Preface written by one of the KJV translators. This Preface is usually omitted by publishers today. Reading it gives you the sense of the times and the reasons for a standard, accessible version of the Bible in the language of the people. This Preface goes to great length to explain their reason for providing a new translation. These principled and highly motivated men sought to set forth a translation that was the “word of God”. In their own words they tell us what they intended:
“Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principle good one”.
400 hundred years in print and use around the world tells us they succeeded. Those who take up the Bible and read it as the inspired Word of the living God will find comfort in time of trial, instruction in righteousness, and a way to reform our life. In it you will find revealed God’s purpose for your life. Make it a part of your life, every day.