This year marks four centuries since the King James Version of the Bible was published, in May 1611, and throughout the year essays and sermons are celebrating what is considered the classic version of Scripture in the English language. Yet new translations still keep coming. Is the KJV the most popular Bible no one reads?
The King James Version – “KJV” is the common shorthand – has become a cultural monument. Historians and other scholars agree that the King James Bible has shaped English-speaking religion, arts, culture and common speech. Phrases like “Out of the mouths of babes” and “signs of the times” and “a voice crying in the wilderness” and dozens of other familiar sayings had their origin in the KJV. The language of the Bible has so deeply affected writers that it is a source of literary as well as religious inspiration.
Moreover, the King James Bible is in the public domain in the United States, making it easy to publish and easy to find. Despite its ubiquity and stature, however, the language of the KJV is considered too archaic for contemporary ears, and in the last three decades that has led to a proliferation of translations using modern English and idioms.
Still, the King James Version remains the most beloved of Bibles, and the 400th anniversary has brought a shelf full of books and appreciations of its importance. Around the English-speaking world, conferences, exhibits and other events are planned.
This edition of ReligionLink provides writers with resources and background for covering this milestone.
In 1604, King James I of England ordered a committee of dozens of scholars to produce a new translation of the Bible into English to rectify some of the errors of previous versions and bolster the teachings of the Anglican Church. The result of that committee’s work was published in May 1611 and eventually became known as the King James Bible, the pre-eminent translation in the English-speaking Protestant world.
But various communities of Protestants also continued to adapt the KJV to their own theological outlooks, and in recent years have produced a plethora of new translations. In fact, an update of the influential New International Version translation favored by evangelical Protestants is being published this year. And the New American Bible used by Catholics has just undergone a revision.
Revising the Bible has actually been an ongoing process since the earliest centuries of Christianity, when St. Jerome produced the “Vulgate” version of the Bible, the first official text in Latin, which was then the lingua franca of the Western world. That version was the most enduring translation – until the KJV came along.
Books published in connection with the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible:
- A Visual History of the King James Bible by Donald L. Brake and Shelly Beach
- Begat: The King James Bible & the English Language by David Crystal
- Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 by Gordon Campbell
- Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible by David Teems
- The King James Bible After 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic and Cultural Influences, edited by Hannibal Hamlin and Norman Jones
- The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today by David Norton
- The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation by Leland Ryken
- The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version by Derek Wilson
- Verily, Verily: The KJV – 400 Years of Influence and Beauty by Jon Sweeney
Earlier influential books about the KJV:
- God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson
- In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture by Alister McGrath
Articles of interest
- Read “A World Without the King James Version,” written by the evangelical church historian Mark Noll, in the May 2011 edition of Christianity Today.
- Read “When the King Saved God,” a column in the May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair by prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens, who argues that “our language and culture are incomplete without” the King James translation of the Bible.
- Read “In the Beginning Was the Sound,” an essay in the spring 2011 issue of Intelligent Life magazine by English Catholic author Ann Wroe, who praises the beauty of the KJV.
- Read “Modernity and Religion,” an April 11, 2011, “Sightings” essay by Martin Marty that discusses the evangelical penchant for adopting Bible translations other than the KJV. Marty also refers to an essay on the KJV by Diarmaid MacCulloch in the Feb. 3, 2011, London Review of Books.
- Read “The Once and Future Bible: Why We Still Need the KJV,” a March 25, 2011, column at Crosswalk.com by Stan Guthrie.
- Read a March 12, 2011, Chicago Tribune story, “For some Christians, King James is the only Bible,” about the loosely defined “King James Only” movement among some Christians.
- “Let Us Now Praise KJV” is a Feb. 16, 2011, column by Scott McLemee in the periodical Inside Higher Ed that claims the King James Bible “is the only one with any flavor; the rest are as appetizing as a sawdust sandwich.”
- “The King James Bible’s language lessons” is a collection of essays by leading writers on the importance of the King James Version. It was published in The Guardian newspaper on Feb. 19, 2011.
- Read a Feb. 9, 2011, review essay in The Times of London on several books that examine the KJV.
- Read a Jan. 8, 2011, New York Times op-ed about the significance of the King James Bible.
Organizations and resources
- Cambridge University, the original printer of the King James Bible, has a dedicated mini-site.
- The King James Bible Trust was established to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landmark book. The information hub includes news, the text and an international listing of events.
- Somersault Group, in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a publishing consulting firm founded by a number of former executives at the evangelical publisher Zondervan. It is extremely knowledgeable about Bible publishing. View “The Bible on Steroids,” a presentation at the 2010 RNA conference. Contact 616-796-4128.
- The evangelical Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson, a leading publisher of the KJV and owner of the New King James translation, has developed products, resources and events in celebration of the 400th KJV anniversary. Nelson also published Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible by David Teems. Media contact is Kelly Hughes in Chicago, 312-280-8126, Kelly@dechanthughes.com.
- The International Society of Bible Collectors offers a list of Bible collections and museums.
Events and conferences
- The American Bible Society, which translates and distributes Bibles around the world, will hold a KJV 400 celebration in New York on July 9-10. President R. Lamar Vest is a trustee of the King James Bible Trust. Contact through the media relations office, 212-408-1200.
- The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., will feature “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible”; the exhibit will travel to 40 libraries. Contact Steve Galbraith, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger, through the press office, 202-675-0342.
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was staging a reading of the King James Bible the week of April 17-25.
- The U.K.-based King James Bible Trust maintains an extensive list of conferences and events, many of which are in the U.S. and would provide an ideal local peg.
- The Society of Biblical Literature, the professional association for biblical scholars, lists conferences and resources. John Kutsko is executive director of the Atlanta-based organization. Contact 404-727-3038.
- Timothy Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University, a blogger at Huffington Post and the author of The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. Read his March 21, 2011, post on the King James Bible. Contact 216-368-2221, email@example.com.
- Donald Brake co-authored A Visual History of the King James Bible. Brake is dean emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Ore. Contact through media relations at the school, 503-251-6452, or through publisher Baker Books in Grand Rapids, Mich., 616-676-9185.
- Gordon Campbell is the author of Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 and editor of a 400th anniversary edition of the Bible that preserves the original printer’s errors, both for Oxford University Press, one of the original publishers of the Bible. Campbell summarizes his work in a blog post. Contact Campbell, a professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester, through publicist Susan Fensten at the press, 212-743-8305.
- David Crystal is the author of Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. Listen to a Dec. 22, 2010, NPR interview with him about English idioms derived from the KJV. Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University in Wales. Contact him through publicist Susan Fensten at Oxford University Press, 212-743-8305.
- Leonard Greenspoon is Professor and Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. A specialist in biblical translation, he wrote “The KJV and the Jews,” an essay at the website of the Society of Biblical Literature. Contact 402-280-2304.
- Alister McGrath is professor of theology, ministry and education and head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College, London. A prolific popular writer, his books include In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him through one of his current U.S. publishers, Westminster John Knox Press in Louisville, Ky., email@example.com.
- Adam Nicolson is the author of God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. Nicolson was featured in a 2011 BBC documentary on the Bible. Read a 2003 PBS NewsHour interview with him. Contact him through his literary agency, U.K.-based Capel & Land or Romily@capelland.co.uk.
- David Norton is a professor of English at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and author of The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today. Contact Norton through publicist Nicole Villeneuve in New York, 212-337-6567, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jon Sweeney is the associate publisher at Paraclete Press, and his most recent book is Verily, Verily: The KJV – 400 Years of Influence and Beauty. His blog about the KJV is called KingJamesBibleGeek. Read a Feb. 28, 2011, Huffington Post column by Sweeney, “Happy 400th, King James Bible!” Contact email@example.com.
- Derek Wilson, an author who specializes in history, wrote The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version. He is a frequent speaker and media commentator. Contact him through literary agent Charles Walker, CWalker@unitedagents.co.uk.
- Graeme Bird is associate professor of linguistics and classics at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. Read an April 6, 2011, column he wrote about the KJV. Contact 978-867-4352 or email through the college website.
- Benson Bobrick wrote Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired. He specializes in writing about history. Contact Bobrick, who lives in Vermont, through literary agent Russell Galen at Scovil Galen Ghosh, 212-679-8686 ext. 16.
- Harvard’s Houghton Library is exhibiting rare Bibles noted for typography or design in “The Bible in Type: From Gutenberg to Rogers.” Contact Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts at the library, 617-495-2444.
- The Massachusetts Bible Society hosted a talk on the KJV by Jon Sweeney, author of Verily, Verily: The KJV – 400 Years of Influence and Beauty. Contact 617-969-9404.
- Philip Jenkins is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Penn State University and a much-published author. Listen to a Jan 7, 2011, NPR interview with Jenkins on the KJV. Contact 814-863-8946.
- Katharine Doob Sakenfeld is a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature and the William Albright Eisenberger Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. She served as a member of the NRSV translation committee. Contact 609-497-7967.
- David Bartlett teaches New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and is also an emeritus professor at Yale Divinity School. He wrote “The King (James) and I,” an essay at the website of the Society of Biblical Literature. Contact 404-687-4608.
- Hans J. Hillerbrand teaches religion at Duke University. His specialty is the Reformation, and he has written about the King James Bible. Contact 919-660-3511.
- Laurie Maffly Kipp is an associate professor of religious studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She edited the Penguin Classics edition American Scriptures and can talk about the role of the King James Bible in American religious history. Contact 919-962-3927.
- Steven M. Sheeley is a former professor of religion at Shorter College in Rome, Ga., and currently vice president with the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He co-authored two books on English Bible translation. Contact 404-679-4500.
- Ray Van Neste is assistant professor of Christian studies and director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Contact 731-661-5532.
- Allen P. Ross is Beeson Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He was a member of the team that reviewed the ESV Bible translation. Contact 205-726-2072.
- Hannibal Hamlin is an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, Columbus. A specialist in Renaissance literature and culture, he co-edited The King James Bible After 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic and Cultural Influences. Hamlin is organizing a May 5-7 conference at OSU on the literary and cultural influence of the KJV. Contact 614-292-6869.
- Leland Ryken is professor of English at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago and author of The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation. Read a January 2011 blog column by Ryken called “What Makes the King James Version Great?” Contact 630-752-5790.
- Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion hosted a conference April 7-9 titled “The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011.” Contact Scott Carroll, Research Professor of Manuscript Studies and the Biblical Tradition and director of the Green Collection of biblical texts and artifacts, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Also at Baylor, David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities and author of The King James Bible and the World It Made, which is to be published in November 2011. Contact 254-710-7555, David_Jeffrey@baylor.edu.
- The traveling exhibit called “Passages,” which will open in Oklahoma City on May 16 and travel to the Vatican in October, introduces and features items from the Green Collection, a collection of 30,000 biblical texts and artifacts owned by the Green family, founders of the crafts retailer Hobby Lobby. The collection includes items related to the King James translation. Read an April 3, 2011, Oklahoman story about the Vatican venue. Media contact is the DeMoss Group.
- Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. He has taken part in four translation projects. Contact 303-762-6897, email@example.com.
- The Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University has a special exhibit this year featuring the King James translation. Contact director Diana Severance, 281-649-3287.
- Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He has translated books of the Bible and written extensively on the literary aspects of the Bible, most recently Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lori Anne Ferrell is a professor of early modern history and literature at Claremont Graduate University in California. She wrote The Bible and the People. Contact 909-607-2652.
- Tremper Longman III is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. He has been active in Bible translation and is a member of the committee that produced the New Living Translation. Contact 805-565-6168.