Believe it or not, honor the King James Bible

This year marks a significant anniversary in the English-speaking world, one that even the most devout may have forgotten. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the King James Bible, perhaps the most famous book in the English language and Anglo-American history.

To own such a literary and linguistic treasure we must honor our brave ancestors who risked Vatican persecution to render it into English, without which we would not have our language and modern Christianity would be without its mysticism.

Prior to 1611 virtually all renditions of the Bible were written and recited in Latin, as decreed by the Pope. Therefore the priests and bishops of the parishes were the sole beings in control of this celestial knowledge, with the peasantry not understanding this “dead” language. That is, until King Henry VIII of England came along.

Many people know the story of King Henry VIII: an iron-fisted ruler who, unsatisfied — for one reason or another — with his wives, took control of the churches away from the Pope and formed the Church of England, thereby granting himself permission to divorce five of his six wives. Though never originally intended to be part of the later Protestant Reformation, the establishment of the Church of England nevertheless led to many Englishmen considering having the Bible written in their own language.

Though various translations existed during the 1500s the Puritans, who saw so much wrong with religious establishments of the day, were not satisfied.  In 1604, meticulous translations from the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic versions into English commenced.

There were some significant mistranslations though.  For example, in Isaiah 7:14 it says, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.” The word originally used in Hebrew was “almah” (young woman), not “bethulah” (virgin).

When translated in to Greek “almah” was substituted for “parthenos” (young woman or virgin; virgin sounds more divine). Regardless, once the new version came out it affected everything it touched.

Our modern expressions and phrases derive from the Bible, especially when used by historical figures. To read the works of Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Blake, and others one sees numerous references to and from the Bible.

To think of Abraham Lincoln saying anything else but, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” is like Franklin Roosevelt not saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

There are also so many daily phrases we use for things that aren’t even related to Christianity, such as “An eye for an eye,” “Turn the other cheek,” “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” “My cup runneth over,” or “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Heaven).” Without these our language would not be the same.

Granted, the King James Version may seem like more of a class in archaic English than a religious doctrine, so newer ones like the New International Version exist. But it does seem to lose its luster.

For example, in Revelations 3:20 Jesus in the old version says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” The newer version says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Compared to the old version, the newer one sounds like a cheap self-help book written by Joyce Meyers, and no one would really take it seriously.

So don’t take for granted this treasure of language, idioms, poetry, and prose. After all, the Spanish have Don Quixote, the Chinese have Confucius, the Greeks have Homer, and the Indians have the Kama Sutra.

The King James Bible is the foundation for our language and Anglo-American speech. Stay with the basics!


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