year 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the
King James Version of the Bible. England’s King James I commissioned nearly 50
scholars and translators to revise an already existing text – the Bishop’s
Bible of 1568. In their words, they set out not to make a new translation of
the Bible, but “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one
principal good one.” This included gleaning the best from such well-known
versions as Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s and the Geneva Bible.
1611 King James Version went through an intense, nearly three-year editing
process by six translation committees. The six teams met to tackle pre-assigned
sections of Scripture and each team eventually had to check on the work of the
others. The balance between Anglican bishops and Puritan zealots on the
committees was almost a guarantee that no one doctrinal slant would dominate, a
rarity in 1611.
final manuscript has a richness and majesty of style that remains unsurpassed
to this day. Few English-speakers are not affected by the rich poetry of the
Psalms or the moving tones of “Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy
name” and “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.”
1611 phrases as “bring hither the fatted calf,” God forbid,” “eat, drink and be
merry” and “my cup runneth over” have traveled around the world. Coming from
the age of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Raleigh, the King James Version appealed
to an audience well used to striking, punchy phrases.
was destined to be a hit. The literary critic Peter Ackroyd claimed that the
1611 Bible “invigorated the consciousness of the nation” and through the spread
of the English language it positively affected many other nations as well. It
is not too much to say that the King James Version gave a centrality and a
commonality to Protestant Christianity that endured until very recent times.
the King James Version had weaknesses as well. The translators of 1611 did not
have access to the wide body of since-discovered Greek manuscripts we possess
today. They based almost everything on one so-called “Received” Text from the
Greek region of Constantinople. Today we know there were other whole families
of manuscripts that would have strengthened the King James Version immensely
had they been available at the time.
men of 1611 knew their work was imperfect. They presented their new translation
to the church, as they put it, “with all humility,” never imagining that some
misguided descendants would feel they had produced the true infallible text.
Their attitude of being open to fresh inputs and insights from the Holy Spirit
is an example that can help Christians today as we face our own religious
divisions. And if this anniversary year of the King James Version prods us to
rededicate ourselves to reading the Bible in any translation, it will have been
a great success.
Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.