Saturday 20 August 2011

Received Idas about The King James Bible

The King James, or Authorised, Version of the Bible was published in 1611. And it seems to have attracted both myths and criticism ever since.

It is written in a poetic and archaic form of English – archaic from our point of view, because 400 years have passed; and poetic possibly because the original is poetic. The KJV was largely based on an earlier version by William Tyndale (a marker near the Houses of Parliament shows where he was burned to death for his work). “Saint” Thomas More condemned him for "discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his beastly brutish mouth" (i.e. he translated the Bible into English).

A new book on the translation of the King James Version (from the original Hebrew and Greek) seems to be apologising for it: it was archaic even when written, the committee of scholars lacked the common touch, the 18th century hated it, some bloke compiled a “greatest hits” of silly verses about sewing pillows to armholes. And nobody spoke like that even at the time.

And yes – I haven’t read Campbell's book, only the reviews - but they led me to compile some of the myths about the KJV.

“Some of the most hateful e-mails I get are from professing Christians who hate the KJV.” says (I think he's an "onlyist" who thinks that only the KJV will do.) goes on to give a sample of those hateful emails: " is a quote from Britannica concerning the KJV...'it avoided uniform literalness of translation in favor of a rich use of synonym.' In other words, it abandoned the normal or street language of the Biblical manuscripts. [The KJV gives the word of God] a highly theatrical taste, and theatre has a way of distorting real-life situations."

The “people of its time” did not speak the English of the King James Bible (often referred to as “Kings English”). The KJV was translated into this already “archaic” form of English because it was the most perfect form of English, our language is not getting better over time it’s getting worse.”

And the says: “The KJV was a monumental work for its time and its language exceptional; it is extremely literal and yet is written in a form of polished English not found in modern versions and translations.” (So which is it: literal, or full of synonyms? Don’t know what they mean by “polished”.)

More myths:

The language of the King James Version was archaic even by 17th century standards.

Shakespeare was on the translation committee.

David Crystal says he found “only” 257 phrases that we still use today, and they’re from Tyndale.

The King James Bible had a terrible effect on religious language. For centuries it persuaded Christians, when talking to or about God, to use cod Jacobean English. Stephen Tomkins, Guardian March 11 (How could the translators NOT have used Jacobean English? In 1611?)

It was consciously archaic (rather than being slightly archaic owing to the use of earlier versions).

King James wanted the language to be the Vox Reg not Vox Pop, so it was somewhat elitist from the start, unlike the Book of Common Prayer which managed to combine both the RP (received pronunciation) and Vernacular of its day. The Rev David Grieve

"Peradventure the editor hath no copy of Holy Writ in the office, save the King James Version only. Howbeit the great multitude of believers knoweth this translation not. And he (or she) who quoteth the words of Jesus in ancient form, sheweth plainly that he (or she) considereth them to be out of date. Wherefore let them be quoted in such manner that the people may understand." Guardian style book (The Guardian really doesn't like the KJV.)

David Edgar, author of a play about the compilation of the KJV, wrote an article about it in The Guardian Feb 19 2011

“Celebrants of this year's anniversary have enjoyed pointing out the ironies of the translation: that it was commissioned to mollify the losing faction at a religious conference; that far from "inventing the language", it was written in archaic prose; and – most surprising of all – that it was made not by an individual genius but by six largely anonymous committees.”

“Coverdale's 1535 version consisted of a revision of Tyndale's New Testament and Pentateuch, supplemented by Coverdale's own translation of the rest. Coverdale had no Greek or Hebrew, and his translations from Latin and German are arguably the more elegantly effective as a result, changing Tyndale's "go in into thy master's joy", for instance, to "enter thou into the joy of thy Lord".” (Weird!)

“For the 1611 reader, the Bible was overlaid with an antique patina: the increasingly outmoded "thou" as the singular of "you", the "-eth" ending to verbs as opposed to the current move to "s" ... "thereof" for the contemporary "its". The consistent – you could say persistent – use of conjunctive phrases such as "And it came to pass" (on which Tyndale rings the changes) gives the work a ritualised, almost plainsong feel.”

"At a conference on the King James Bible in Stratford three years ago (out of which grew my play about its making, Written on the Heart), it was tacitly forbidden to comment on the obvious upside of the translation's conservatism: its literary beauty."

Make up your own mind:
Bible Gateway
Blue Letter Bible (gives Hebrew and Greek)
KJV etext


  1. Strangely we seem to have in our collection: New English version, New International version, New Revised Standard version and last but by no means least, the one single Bible we use now is New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. As far as I can see, it is the only true and accurate "study" Bible free from the corruption of listening to philosophers after the death of the disciples that gives the "false" religions these fallacies like the so called "Trinity" and the perverted meaning of heaven and hell and the blind refusal to believe in Adam and Eve. So if Adam and Eve never existed then WHY did God sacrifice his Son Jesus? Because it only makes sense if Adam and Eve did transgress and lost everything God gave them including perfect health in everlasting life, they sinned and all their heirs inherit that sin and early death.