The King James Version, or Authorized Version, of the Bible remains a favorite Bible for many believers and non-believers alike. The believer reads it as God’s Word and the standard for life, and many non-believers read it for comfort or simply because it is a beautiful piece of literature. What are the origins of this revered version of the Bible? What does it mean to be ‘authorized’ and ‘authorized’ by whom? Let us look into the past and see the history of this beautiful rendition of God’s Word.
Spiritual State Of The Time
In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the church in England was using a Latin translation of the Bible and their services were being conducted in Latin. English citizenry were speaking and writing more in English every day. The Protestant Reformation, sparked by the actions and beliefs of Martin Luther, urged individuals to read, and live by the teachings of, the Bible. This began to pose a significant problem in that the regular church attendees were unable to read the Bible for themselves. They increasingly had to rely on the clergy to read and interpret the Bible for them. The established clergy of the day increasingly used their ability to read the Bible to lord it over the common citizen. The citizens of England began to desire to have a Bible in English that they might read themselves.
Therefore, a sequence was set into motion to give the English people a Bible in the English language. In 1526, William Tyndale published the first New Testament in English. Tyndale translated the New Testament from its original language, Greek. Myles Coverdale published the first complete Bible in English in 1535. This publication was based mostly on existing translations in German, Latin, and English, not on the original languages.
The Ire Of A King Becomes The Beginnings Of A New Bible
The Geneva Bible, published in 1560, was the King James Version’s biggest rival. However, the Geneva Bible contained marginal notes that were not favorable to the kingship. Therefore, although the people loved the Bible, the royalty sought to dismiss or even destroy it.
King James wanted to discredit the Geneva Bible. He did not like the notes it contained that questioned the idea that kings were divinely sanctioned by God. He believed that kings should be respected and obeyed unconditionally. The notes contained in the Geneva Bible concluded that tyrannical kings should not be obeyed, but possibly overthrown. In hopes of ridding the world of the Geneva Bible, King James authorized a new translation of the Bible. This is why the King James Version of the Bible is also known as The Authorized Version.
The Trustworthiness of the Translation
This new translation would be translated from the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The new translation was carried out following such strict guidelines that, “…the translation now being set before the public can be thought of as representing the best possible distillation of the wisdom, grace, and beauty of existing translations, corrected where necessary against the original biblical documents in their original languages” (McGrath, p. 189).
The King James was published in 1611. The simple fact that it is still one of the most popular Bibles used today attests to the fact of its accuracy. Regardless of the political climate of the times, or the moral condition of the man after whom the Bible takes its name, the translators of the King James Bible were dedicated to their task. They were much more concerned with a faithful word-for-word translation than the translators of the Bible versions before them (Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva).
Even though there have been substantial advancements made in the field of language translation, and older biblical manuscripts in the original languages have been found that were not available to the translators of the King James Bible, the variations in the texts were minor. “Not a single teaching of the Christian faith is affected by these variations, nor is any major historical aspect of the gospel narratives or early Christianity affected” (McGrath, p. 242). In other words, the King James Version of the Bible remains a trustworthy rendering of God’s Word.
A Beautiful Work Of Literature
Many people believe the King James Bible to be a literary masterpiece. Many Christians I have met choose to memorize Bible verses from the King James rather than any other version because it is so beautifully translated.
At the time the King James Bible was being translated, the English language was in the final stages of being formalized and organized. It is believed by many that this was the height of the English language. Two of the most widely identified defining influences on the formation of the English language are still said to be William Shakespeare and the King James Bible. However, “…there is no evidence that the translators of the King James Bible had any great interest in matters of literature of linguistic development” (McGrath, p. 254). The translators strove to achieve a word-for-word translation; therefore, this indicates that the beauty and grandeur we see in the King James Bible is the direct result of its Author, Almighty God.
The late Henry M. Morris, who was a staunch King James supporter, had this to say about his favorite Bible translation, “…the beautiful prose of the King James is a treasure which should not be lost. It has been acclaimed widely as the greatest example of English literature ever written…It is also noteworthy that the King James was produced during the period when the English language and literature had reached their zenith of power and expressiveness” (Morris, p. 33).
Some Interesting Ancient Catchphrases
It is interesting to note that some of the catchphrases still in use today came straight from the original languages of the King James Bible as they were translated.
From the Old Testament:
“to fall flat on his face” (Numbers 22:31)
“a man after his own heart” (I Samuel 13:14)
“to pour out one’s heart” (Psalm 62:8; Lamentations 2:19)
“the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20)
From the New Testament:
“the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13)
“a thorn in the flesh” (II Corinthians 12:7)
“to give up the ghost” (meaning “to die”: Mark 15:37; John 19:30)
“the powers that be” (Romans 13:1)
Many Christians revere the King James Version of the Bible above all others. They see the beauty of its prose and poetry to be unsurpassed by any other version of the Bible, new or old. This article was written in order to satisfy my need to know the origins of this translation of God’s Word, as well as to encourage those who use the King James Bible to have confidence in its doctrinal and spiritual integrity. While we may now have a better understanding of the original languages from which it came, “…the King James Bible retains its place as a literary and religious classic, by which all others continue to be judged” (McGrath, p. 300).
McGrath, Alistair. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. Doubleday, 2001.
Morris, Henry M. Defending the Faith. Master Books, 1999
The Holy Bible, KJV