Published on April 21st, 2011 | by Stephanie S. Smith
The KJV Legacy
This year marks the 400-year anniversary of the King James Version, the historical translation commissioned by King James in 1611, that has left its mark even today on language, literature, and faith.
Today, we can walk into a Christian bookstore and find a whole section dedicated to Bibles with various translations. Bible translation choice is a privilege. We even get to choose between customizable details, such as wide margin, thin line, large print, study notes, and parallel Bibles. Biblical knowledge is widely available, and we are empowered to understand God’s Word given to us through commentaries, study guides, and faithful translations of the text.
Before the KJV
But before the King James Version, Scripture was not publicly available. Bibles were not owned by commoners; only the clergy possessed Bibles. And the only time commoners were exposed to Scripture at all was when the clergy read to them from the pulpit, in Latin, which they could not understand.
In centuries prior to the publishing of the KJV, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale both attempted to translate an English Bible for the people, but they were persecuted for their beliefs and during their lifetimes an English Bible remained an illegal concept. But in 1611, King James commissioned a committee of 54 scholars to return to the original Greek and Hebrew of Scripture and translate it into English, in what was then called the “Authorized Version.” For the first time in history, commoners and clergy alike could understand God’s words, and with the advent of the printing press, they could even own a personal copy of the Bible for their own reading and study.
The KJV revolutionized language, literature, and faith, in the way that it made Scripture accessible and available to the masses. Its majestic prose and poetry contributed significantly to the English language while it was still being developed; it has been said that 257 English phrases originated in the KJV such as, “a labor of love,” and “give up the ghost.” The KJV was known as “The People’s Bible,” for its groundbreaking approachability, and in subsequent generations, children were schooled in literacy primarily through reading this translation.
While we may not resonate today with language filled with thee’s, thou’s and vouchsafe’s, we can be grateful for the legacy that the KJV set into motion. We are indebted to the King James Version for bridging the gap between God’s Word and God’s children, something that we still benefit from today.