There’s been a lot in the press about the Bible, as it’s 400 years since the King James Version was first published. You may believe that the Bible is full of fairy tales, legends and nonsense and is only for the misguided; or you may believe it’s the inspired word of God. Or you may think that the King James version is just wonderful literature. Whatever one’s opinion, most would agree that it’s had a massive influence on the literature, culture and law of our country.

Whenever we talk about something being a labour of love, or a friend being a man after my own heart, or we moan about a thorn in the flesh, which will soon pass: or we find out that someone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or demand crossly if we are our brother’s keeper, or watch the TV programme Ashes to Ashes, or say that we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die – we are quoting from the King James Bible. The phrases have entered so deeply into our language that we don’t even notice them.


What was so great about it? Well, there had been other English translations before. But this was the first time that the King had taken the initiative, and got together the best scholars, and asked them to produce an English translation, which was then officially authorised for use in all the churches. Also for the first time, everyone in the country began to hear the Bible in a language they could understand – previously it had all been in Latin. Add to that Cranmer’s prayer book in English, and people began understanding the services, too.

I strongly suspect that this led to ordinary people being able to think for themselves about religion, in a way that had only been accessible to scholars before. If the Bible had not become available in everyday language, I wonder if even our reformation would have been so widely spread? Once people started comparing the teaching of the Bible with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, which at that stage of our history had become very corrupt, they realised that they didn’t have to believe what they had been told by the church, because the original teaching in the Bible was somewhat different.

Provided they could read, of course … that’s why there is such a lot of Bible reading in services, and why the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer are still written up in big letters in so many old churches – because people were taught by constant repetition, until education and literacy caught up.

It caused lots of arguments, of course, and Bible versions still occasion disagreements to this day. I myself grew up with King James, but happen to believe that the Bible is there to be understood, and therefore an accurate modern translation is more accessible and useful.

The Bible (which after all is not a western invention but was slowly and painstakingly put together by scholars in the middle east) is still being translated into languages all over the world, so that people can hear it in their own tongue, the language of the heart. We have various friends involved in this very exacting work, and heard a funny story recently from one who has spent her life painstakingly translating into the Mixtec language of a Mexican tribe. Carol says

“After we revise a book, we check it with other Mixtecs to make sure it speaks clearly and correctly. One “checker” who often gives valuable input is a market stall lady. Recently I was going over 1 and 2 Thessalonians with her in the market. It was not an ideal place to do this, because of loud music blaring from only two stalls away. But she seemed amazingly adept at tuning it out, to concentrate on my reading, so I persevered. At one point in order to be heard above the din, I found myself literally yelling “MAY GOD THE FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST GIVE YOU GRACE AND PEACE!” (from 2 Thessalonians 1:2)


Mixtec pots

It was odd to shout a blessing of God’s peace at the top of one’s lungs. But in another way, it’s so very appropriate – because that’s how we often experience it: not just in the quiet, but in the middle of the stresses and noisy busy-ness of our lives.”

Carol ends:

“So that’s my 2011 blessing prayer for each of you: in the midst of whatever happens, and wherever you may be, “MAY GOD THE FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST GIVE YOU GRACE AND PEACE!” ”



  1. I have missed the readings from it on the radio but my brother has been listening and been very taken with it – it seems to have brought it to life for him.

    I have the Revised Standard Version which has wonderful illustrations in which I was given on going at my secondary school. I still use it. Also have the New Jerusalem bible which is a Catholic bibible but have to say I prefer the RSV and only use the Jerusalem one for the readings that aren’t in the RSV. (hasn’t got pictures either :no: )

    As always a wonderful and well-informed and interesting post – thank you so much! 🙂


  2. My mother once told me how beautiful were the words of the King James’ vershion, and that it was the very best English that had ever been recorded.
    I am most fond of, “Lighten our darkness oh Lord, and by Thy great mercy, defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” And ‘nunc dimitis’ and all those wonderful Choral Evensongs when the little choirboys sing the lovely Psalms, and has generated some of the best and most famous Anglican Choral musice.
    I miss the English Anglican worship, and most of our American churches are nothing like it. It is said “the beauty of language, music and emphasis on choral worship in England has no comparison.”
    Thank you for this wonderful write-up, gillyk.


  3. I have read both the king james version and the good news bible of which is very helpful for some ones first reading,my children were given the good news bible with pictures when i taught in sunday school so much easier for them to understand. I prefer the king james version for myself. Wether you believe the word depends a lot perhaps on how wordly you are and how needy you are and how much you want to believe, personally i like to think of there being a god and even if you dont believe in the storys being for real they relate to life today, the same kind of things can happen even though some say they dont they do. Having been brought up to believe that the bible was the word of god it stayed with me i am glad i dont rely on this world alone to supply me with all i need for there gets to be less and less worth while or lasting.xx


  4. Wycliffe’s version was interesting as it was written in the vernacular of the day and could be read to any person in the street and they would understand it …something you couldn’t do with the King James version at any stage in its 400 year history – it also enjoys the distinction of being the first translation into English. It caused enormous contraversy by making its meaning accessible and not needing to be explained.

    As you know, I believe that far too much is invested in what christians call ‘scripture’ and it is misquoted to justify all sorts of nonsense. I can’t condone the idea that some people have, that the bible is the undulterated word of god and every last bit of it has the same status as law. It’s extremely worrying when loonies and cult leaders do untold damage using this idea. I realise that the experiential approach to faith is just as fraught …but I prefer it.


    1. I agree that it can be misquoted and taken out of context and when abused in this way, can and does do a great deal of harm. But I don’t think this rules out the enormous impact it has on millions of people who find it their spiritual food and drink.


  5. I rather took to James Naughty’s academic introduction to the composing of the King James I/James VI Bible on Radio 4. The King was, binding together a country of disparate but ‘god-fearing’ people by his understanding of their underlying beliefs and social controls. It was a clever political development, and as you say, it made religion accessible to the masses in language of their day.


    1. I greatly enjoyed what I heard of Naughtie’s presentation. The prayer book had its political reasons as well, of course, although Cranmer famously affirmed that he wanted something that would be ‘understanded by the people.’


  6. I have a huge, heavy Victorian bible of….well, Biblical proportions. I was thumbing through the Old Testament the other day and was struck by the power and majesty of the language.
    I’m sure the Good News Bible has its place but it just doesn’t compare.


    1. :)) No doubt about the language! The GNB was developed for people for whom English is not their first language, and works to a reduced vocabulary. Great for many people, but in my opinion not good for reading aloud, nor for serious study.


  7. Thank you Gilly. My daughter Christie was fascinated to learn that the King James version was written at Hampton Court Palace, where she ran to every morning while visiting me.
    I hadn’t realised that so many of our every day expressions came from that version.


    1. Yes, it must have been quite a gathering! I gather that those scholars were no slouches – some could speak 10 languages fluently.

      That is only a sample – there are loads more phrases we use everyday. We just don’t think about them, they are so much part of our heritage.

      thanks, Janet, for one of your always-interesting comments!


  8. Well you know I am a Pagan…but respect other’s religions and also take time to understand them.

    Yes I agree with you about the language to English and giving people access to READ for themselves….although at that time, many could not……but it remains that now they are able to.

    I have many theories as you are well aware about Biblical issues….from God is a Spaceman to whatever…. and also have theories on some of the ‘miracles’ that were performed….were they just a person KNOWING… herbal or other properties of the land?

    I always am drawn to …
    2nd Corinthians 4:18

    Oh please do not get me wrong when I say I relate to a modern day magician…but it begs thought….

    While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.


    P xx


    1. Thank you, Pauline, I always appreciate learning about your ideas. I agree, knowledge is both seen and unseen – but the point St Paul is making is that our focus in this life should be on the ‘unseen’ things of eternal life. He was suffering from persecution, beatings and imprisonment, but he was saying that inwardly he was being renewed every day through his faith in Christ.

      When it is real, it is wonderful. But I accept that others think differently.


  9. I think it would be nice if for this one year we all used the Authorised Version in church before returning to the more modern translations (or not, as the case may be).


    1. We’ve always worked with ‘non-book cultures’ and people who find church very alien, so anything we can do to make it a more comfortable and welcoming place, and to lower the cultural threshold, has been important. I think if we were to be in a different sort of church then it would be fun. We did work in a church with 2 congregations, one which wanted everything modern, and one which loved everything ancient. In the end we did things alternately – one year, the 9 lessons and carols from KJV, the next, from NIV … worked well!!


      1. When we voted on the form of service we would use, we opted for modern form with traditional language with just one person expressing a preference for modern language.


      2. Yes, it’s interesting how deeply ingrained the traditional forms are. I once visited a lady in hospital who was dying. She hadn’t been to church for years but had done so when she was young. She indicated that she would like me to pray with her, so I did so, extempore, then on impulse began ‘Lighten our darkness’. I was deeply touched to see her lips begin to move with the same words. People who want to chuck out all the traditional stuff are, in my opinion, chucking out the baby with the bathwater!


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