This May marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Credited with democratizing religion and rivaling Shakespeare’s influence on the English language, the KJV can be called “The Book That Changed the World.” “Designed to give the commoner as much access to the Word of God as the Pope and clergy, made it a revolutionary political symbol as well as a religious one,” according to the Rev. D. John Harris, curator of the Bible Society’s exhibit of rare editions of the King James Bible which is now touring around the world.
King James VI of Scotland (soon to be King James 1 of England, Ireland, and Scotland) summoned a conference at Hampton Court Palace near London in 1604 hoping to work out differences between Church of England Bishops and Puritans. He then ordered a new translation as a state-sponsored project that was funded and organized by the government in an attempt to create unity within his kingdom. He felt the previous English translations of the bible (particularly 1534’s Tyndale and 1560’s Geneva Bible) posed a threat to the stability of his monarchy. Fifty-two English scholars, the leading scholars of Hebrew, Latin and Greek, worked on this Authorized Version. King James reportedly translated some of the Psalms – and it was published seven years after the work was commissioned, in 1611.
The King’s Printers had a monopoly on printing Bibles, and by 1650 the King James Version had driven the rival Geneva Bible out of the market. 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.”
David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales states, “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.” Crystal traced 257 expressions in modern English that are in the KJV, including:
- “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
- “Hallowed by thy name”
- “The skin of my teeth”
- “The root of the matter”
- “Turned the world upside down”
- “Get thee behind me”
- “Beat their swords into plowshares”
- “East of Eden”
Recent news articles on the King James Version and its anniversary
- King James Bible still speaks volumes at 400 by Robert Barr of the Associated Press
- King James Bible’s 400-year reign by Mark A. Kellner of The Washington Times
- The King James Bible Trust