Did you know: King James Version

The bucket for our well

The preface gives these powerful images for what a translation does: "Translation is what opens the window, to let the light in. It breaks the shell, so that we may eat the kernel. It pulls the curtain aside, so that we may look into the most holy place. It removes the cover from the well, so that we may get to the water. . . . In fact, without a translation in the common language, most people are like the children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw the water with; or like the person men- tioned by Isaiah who was given a sealed book and told ‘Please read this,’ and had to answer, ‘I can not, because it is sealed’ (Isaiah 29:11).”

Three KJV myths

First, the KJV was not translated personally by King James I, though he did pride himself on his biblical scholarship and “as a young man and a good Protestant Scot had made his own metrical versions of thirty of the Psalms, and of the Book of Revelation.” And he doubtless appreciated the effusive two-page dedication that appeared in the front of every printed copy of the Bible. Second, although the British have since the early 1800s called the KJV “the Authorized Version,” the KJV was never authorized. The term “Authorized Version” is more aptly used of the Great Bible of 1539, prepared by Myles Coverdale, which Henry VIII in 1541 and 1547 (and Elizabeth I in 1559) commanded to be read in churches, under threat of penalty for those omitting to do so. No such proclamations from either king or bishops prescribed the use of the King James Version. Third, and also contrary to popular belief, “this version was not universally loved from the moment it appeared. Far from it. As a publication in the seventeenth century it was undoubtedly successful: it was heavily used, and it rapidly saw off its chief rival, the three Geneva Bibles. But for its first 150 years, the KJV received a barrage of criticism.” (See “No overnight success,” p. 22.) Source: David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (2003)

The “funny” version?

“The prose style of the King James Version lends itself well to parody. . . . Most often appearing in parody form are the twenty-third psalm (‘Roos- evelt is my shepherd, I shall not want’), the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount (‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’), and the Ten Commandments. The cadences of the seventeenth-century English prose of the King James Version lend themselves to improprieties intoned in solemn measure. “Two examples will illustrate the comic use of the Lord’s Prayer. In one, a small boy named How- ard inquires of his mother if he were named for God because they had prayed in Sunday school, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name.’ The second was used by the late Lord Mountbatten when in command of a battered, obsolete destroyer, the Wishart. He told his men to be very proud of the name of their ship for the entire fleet prayed ev- ery morning, ‘Our Father Wishart in Heaven. . . .’” Source: “The Bible in American Popular Humor,” in The Bible and American Arts and Letters, edited by Allene Stuart Phy (1985).

“Good enough for Jesus”

Apparently the 1952 publication of the Revised Standard Version—an American revision of the KJV—elicited the comment, “If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me.” This has been traced authentically to two sources, an elderly Texas woman and a middle Tennessee evangelistic preacher.

Eight KJV errors

Printers do interesting things to texts sometimes, and the KJV was no exception. In various printings over the years, certain errors were so egregious that those editions got their own sarcastic titles. Among these: 1. The “Judas Bible” 1611: This Bible has Judas, not Jesus, saying “Sit ye here while I go yonder and pray” (Matthew 26:36). 2. The “Printers Bible” 1612: In some copies Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” rather than “Princes have persecuted me...” 3. The “Wicked Bible” 1631: Omits an important “not” from Exodus 20:14, making the seventh commandment read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The printers were fined £300 and most of the copies were recalled immediately. Only 11 copies are known to exist today. 4. The “Sin On Bible” 1716: John 8:11 reads “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more.” 5. The “Vinegar Bible” 1717: The chapter heading for Luke 20 reads “The Parable of the Vinegar” instead of “The Parable of the Vineyard.” 6. The “Fools Bible” 1763: Psalm 14:1 reads “the fool hath said in his heart there is a God,” rather than “... there is no God.” The printers were fined £3,000 and all copies ordered destroyed. 7. The “Lions Bible” 1804: 1 Kings 8:19 reads “thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions,” rather than “loins.” 8. The “Owl Bible” 1944: “Owl” replaces “own,” making 1 Peter 3:5 read “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their owl husbands.” The error was caused by a printing plate with a damaged letter n.

Still life: lady and Bible

Currier & Ives recognized Bible reading as a typical activity of the American upper-middle class in an 1848 print.

By The Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #100 in 2011]

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