King James Version of the Bible 400 today!

May 02, 2011

It took a while for the KJV to become the Bible of choice.  In fact, it took decades just to overcome the more popular Bible in Protestant Churches, the Geneva Bible. But by the late 17th Century it was seen as 'the' English language Bible. The KJV had more copies in print than any other book in a very short time. It was used in church, memorised by adults and children and eventually translated into other languages. As literature it has had significant influence on literature, music, art and law across four centuries.

It was called by many the "translation to end all translations" and drew on a number of key Bible's at the time, including the 'Tyndale New Testament', the 'Coverdale Bible', the 'Matthews Bible', the 'Great Bible', the 'Geneva Bible' and the 'Rheims New Testament'. The great revision of the 'Bishop's Bible' (an earlier translation) produced by the Church of England in 1568 was chosen as the basis for the creation of a new version for the Church. The development began in 1605 and the KJV was assembled from 1607 to 1609. It went to print in 1610 and in 1611 the first of the pulpit folio versions (40cm high) were being printed. Just one year later individual versions were available in a size similar to that which we use today.

In a few decades the KJV was being read in all Church of England churches and widely in other protestant churches. It was a key tool in the development of Bible teaching for children and was the Bible memorized by children at home and eventually in classes at church and school. It became the Bible of public ceremonies, and was the source of language for great hymns, literature and music. As well, it became a key tool in mission throughout the world.

Bruegel's 'Tower of Babel'
The KJV Bible enabled unparalleled access to the Scriptures, both as Christian teachings and as a book of literature. It has had a huge impact. In Western society the language and narrative of much great music, drama and art has some basis in biblical characters, metaphor and imagery, its key themes (e.g. redemption, forgiveness, substitution etc) and narrative storylines (e.g. the parable of the Prodigal Son).

My British colleague and Linguist Professor David Crystal suggests that no less than 257 words, idioms or expressions were popularised by the KJV of the Bible; more than Shakespeare's combined writing. In short, the KJV Bible has been a great influence on Western thought and the arts. Of course, there are many other translations of the Bible today in many languages, but the King James Version still has a special place in Christian and world history.

Related Posts

'The Redemption of Children's Literature' HERE

'God's Story Reflected in Children's Literature' HERE

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