Christian Study Guides and Books

King James Version: Its History and Impact

In the four centuries since the King James version of the Holy Scriptures was first published, no one book has affected mankind more than this one. Winston Churchill declared, “The scholars who produced this masterpiece are mostly unknown and unremembered, but they forged an enduring link, literary and religious between the English-speaking people of the world.” The King James Bible (KJV) has inspired people in all walks of life, from poets, pastors, laborers, homemakers to politicians and heads of state.

King James I of  
EnglandKing James VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, ruled Scotland for more than thirty-five years, when Elizabeth I died without an heir. He then became King James I of England and ruled both countries for 22 additional years. Shortly after his coronation of King of England he was approached by a group of Puritans armed with a petition to reform the Church of England. In response to the petition, which was signed by more than 800 clergymen, the King convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. During this conference it became apparent that many of the problems within the church could be addressed if a new, more accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures was authorized and the King James Bible was born.

Fifty-four of the best biblical scholars and linguists were appointed to the project. Late that year forty-seven scholars, all from the Church of England, were ready to commit to the work. The men were all proficient in Hebrew and Greek, using the Masoretic text for the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus for the New Testament. They were directed by the King to translate “out of the Original tongues: and with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties special Commandment.” In addition to the Bishops’ Bible, their primary source, the scholars also considered the Tyndale Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible and Douay Bible, while completing the new KJV translation.

The translators were not paid directly for their work, but the King asked the Archbishop of London, Richard Bancroft, who oversaw the project, to write to all the bishops encouraging them to appoint the scholars to paid positions as they became available. Many were supported by Oxford and Cambridge and others were promoted to positions within the Church of England.

The scholars carefully approached the work of Bible translation, mindful of the beauty of divine revelation. Accuracy was paramount in the translation, but the melodic cadence of the language was also an important element of their work They read it aloud to one another, rewriting phrases to implement the best rhythm and punctuation. After three years the scholars completed the translation, and then spent three more years reviewing and revising their work. The King James version of the Holy Scriptures was finally published on May 2, 1611, in London by Robert Barker, “Printer to the Kings most Excellent.”

KJV BiblesFour hundred years later, most of us cannot imagine the impact the KJV Bible had on the lives of English society; its importance cannot be overstated. The beauty and influence of the KJV transcended personal faith and became an intrinsic part of English culture. Many households could only manage to acquire one book: a Bible. The King James Version was an essential primer for the young child; students were often taught to read with the family Bible. They would copy passages of scripture to learn handwriting, and memorize verses for recitation.

The King James Bible inspired nearly every great English writer since its first printing. Alistair McGrath declared, “Without the King James Bible there would have been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Handel’s Messiah, no Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg Address.” Virtually every element of our lives has been shaped by the King James Bible.

Other translations in more modern English have gained a following in the last century. While some readers feel that a newer translation is easier to understand, the King James Version has remained the ultimate standard. Its’ beautiful, melodic flow of words has been quoted more than any other piece of English literature.

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