The King James Bible

I received another e-mail today with this request:

A nice piece on the history and influence of the King James Bible of 1611? (…) The AV just celebrated its 400th anniversary which went surprisingly unnoticed in the media.

Well, my biblical studies at Fribourg made scant reference to the King James Bible, though I remember taking Old Testament oral examinations with Father Dominique Barthélemy OP, one of the greatest biblical scholars of the twentieth century and a real personality at the Biblical School of Jerusalem. I found with this man a great love of the Scriptures and a deep theological vision founded on the Wisdom literature, the Messianic Prophecies and the entire history of God’s People. He would talk to me of his love of the Great Bible and Anglican biblical scholarship, citing Lightfoot in particular.

For the history of the Bible in English and the King James Bible in particular, I refer you to a good general introduction at Authorized King James Version. This Wikipedia article has links at the bottom of the page for a number of excellent searchable resources. So, I have nothing to add in terms of scholarship on this subject. However, I can offer a couple of general reflections.

With some Anglicans, the King James Bible tends to be something of a single-issue or hobby horse. It is certainly a beautiful translation and a monument of English writing. That is undoubted. Many quaint expressions have found their way into English culture, and this influence cannot be denied. When I quote from the Bible, I always quote from the King James and from the Prayer Book Psalter, which is an earlier translation, attributed to Miles Coverdale.

There are certainly better translations from the original Greek texts. I subscribe to the school of thought that considers the Septuagint (in Greek) as a more ancient and authentic version of the Old Testament than the later Hebrew versions in use in the Jewish community. Nonetheless, scholars have always compared the two versions. The Latin Vulgate was translated from the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament, and about the finest English translation of the Vulgate is the Roman Catholic Douai-Rheims version. But, that translation was from the Latin rather than directly from the Greek. For accuracy of rendering of the Hebrew and Greek texts, probably some of the more modern Bibles are preferable for study, like for example the Jerusalem Bible.

I do believe in continuing to use the King James Bible for liturgical Scripture readings except the Epistles and Gospels contained in the Prayer Book for the Eucharist (more or less the Sarum lectionary) and taken from the earlier English bibles.

That being said, my usual liturgical fare is the Sarum missal in Latin and the Monastic Breviary in the same language, so, for me, the King James Bible is of relative value in that context. Like Latin, classical English has become by usage a liturgical language and forms strong cultural attachments. That aspect should never be underestimated. It is very bad pastoral practice to alienate people from their culture!

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4 Responses to The King James Bible

  1. Luke DeWeese says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  2. Are you sure about the BCP Epistles and Gospels being taken from earlier versions of the Bible? I thought the old lessons were replaced by AV passages in the 1662 edition.

    • I may be wrong. It is something I had heard, with the idea that it was in a way parallel to the Roman liturgy with the pre-Vulgate Old Roman Latin texts. It would seem logical for the lessons to be made to conform to the KJB in 1662.

      • William Tighe says:

        There may be some confusion here between the 1662 BCP Epistles and Gospels, which IIRC are from the authorized Version, and the Psalter, which in that 1662 BCP remained in the Coverdale version.

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