Appreciating the King James Bible, 400 years later

This year marks the 400th anniversary of arguably the single most influential book in the history of publishing: the King James Bible (abbreviated KJV or KJB). As the May anniversary date approaches, numerous books and many more articles are cropping up to reflect on the KJV’s history and significance.

We’ll be sharing interesting articles and other items about the KJV as the anniversary approaches. If you don’t know why the KJV remains so important 400 years after its initial publication, a recent article at The Times is a good place to start, explaining why the King James Bible remains influential today. The article explores the translation’s humble, almost accidental origins, and traces its influence through the centuries:

One cannot read far in the literature on the KJB without coming across the word “influence”; [author] Geddes MacGregor, again reaching for the superlatives, described the KJB in 1968 as “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language”. Yet, as David Crystal comments in his genial and entertaining Begat: The King James Bible and the English language, “evaluating the notion of ‘influence’ proves to be remarkably difficult”, and many writers, when challenged to demonstrate the influence of the KJB, tend to retreat into vague generalizations about its distinctive rhythms and cadences. Crystal prefers a more precise approach. His method of quantifying the influence of the KJB is to count the number of idioms it has contributed to the language. Begat takes the reader on a gallop through every biblical cliché in the book – girded loins, whited sepulchres, feet of clay, lands of milk and honey – and the many ways in which they have been creatively adapted in the media and popular culture.

The English language retains a huge number of stock phrases and idioms, such as those mentioned in the quote above, that first appeared in the KJV and remain in use today, which is a particularly impressive accomplishment given that the KJV translators did not make high literary style a top priority in their work.

Another good introduction to the KJV’s importance can be found in an article at Reformation21 that lists four traits that make the KJV important.

With so many modern Bible translations available, have you ever taken the time to read the King James Bible? Even if it’s not the Bible you usually reach for when you do your Scripture reading, give it a try this year in honor of its 400th anniversary. You might start by reading a few of your favorite Bible passages in the KJV—perhaps the Creation account or the Sermon on the Mount. Beyond representing a major triumph of Christian scholarship, the KJV carries a trademark eloquence that can resonate even today.

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Posted by Andy

Filed under History, King James Version, Translation