King James Version
Yesterday (May 2) marked the 412-year anniversary of the first publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611. Without question, that publication has been the most influential and widely published book ever put to press – and with good reason – it is the word of God. Now to be accurate, there is some debate among historians as to the exact date, but most have settled upon May 2, 1611. Today, the KJV or Authorized Version of the Bible remains the most widely published text in the English language, according to the British Library. The story behind its origin is a fascinating one. 12 years ago (2011), on the 400-year anniversary of the KJV, I did a message telling the story of the King James Bible – the king behind its beginning and the 50 scholars and 7 years behind its translation. However, as one celebrates the KJV, we must also remember that before the KJV, there was the work of William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English and lost his life for it in 1536.
My intent in mentioning this anniversary is not to fuel a debate over which translation is the best or the accuracy of the text but to rejoice at how God has providentially worked in preserving His Word. I assure you that I understand the issues related to translations, manuscripts, textual criticism, and grammar. I’m often asked, “What Bible should I read?” My response is always the same, “The one you’ll read!”
As we celebrate this anniversary, there are numerous common phrases from the KJV that are well-known and used by people who are clueless as to their origin:
• “The salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13)
• “The apple of his eye” (Deut. 32:10)
• “You reap what you sow” (Gal. 6-7)
• “The blind leading the blind” (Matt. 15:14)
• “By the skin of your teeth” (Job 19:20)
• “A fly in the ointment” (Eccl. 10:1)
• “My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5)
• “In the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52)
• “The straight and narrow” (Matt. 7:14)
• “There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9)
As with any publication, there were small changes made, and it was not until 1769 that the KJV became pretty much set.
One of the more humorous aspects of its publication and printing was the publication in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London who were tasked with reprinting the KJV. They mistakenly omitted the word not from Exodus 20:14, which contains the 7th commandment, causing the verse to read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” That publication became known as the Wicked Bible, the Adulterous Bible, and the Sinners Bible.
I grew up using the KJV and have always appreciated how God has richly blessed it. Many wonderful books have been written about the KJV, and one in particular sums up the richness and beauty of the KJV with these words: “The legacy of the KJV is unbelievable. All modern translations are measured by it, and after 400 years, it’s still the primary Bible for hundreds of thousands of readers. Its literary beauty and cadence and diction make it marvelous to read.” (A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Story of the World’s Best-Known Translation written by Don Brake Shelly Beach).
As we celebrate this milestone, let’s pray that God will continue to use the KJV and other translations of God’s word to bring people to the Savior and cause them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Savior.