King James Bible going strong at 400
The translation — the Old Testament from Hebrew, the New Testament from Greek — was assembled by 47 translators in six committees working in London, Oxford and Cambridge, and it emerged seven years later at a propitious moment.
"English was in a particularly fluid state. Both the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible appeared around this formative time and stamped their imprint on the newer forms of the language," says Alister McGrath, professor of theology, ministry and education at King's College, London.
The date in 1611 when the first edition emerged from the press is uncertain — many celebrate anniversary on May 2 — but it was a turning point. The King's Printers had a monopoly on printing Bibles, and by 1650 the King James Version had driven the rival Geneva Bible out of the market.
Jonathan Swift, writing in 1712, believed the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, "being perpetually read in churches, have proved a kind of standard for language, especially to the common people."
"I am persuaded that the translators of the Bible were masters of an English style much fitter for that work, than any we see in our present writings," said the author of "Gulliver's Travels" and dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.
Book of Common Prayer
The King James Version was more of a popularizer than an innovator in forming the English language.
"No other translation reached so many people over so long a period as King James. And this probably explains why so many of its usages entered public consciousness," David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, wrote in his book, "Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language."
Crystal traced 257 expressions in modern English which are in the King James Version, but only 18 were newly minted. The rest originated in earlier versions. Among the KJV's unique contributions are "east of Eden," "how are the mighty fallen," "beat their swords into plowshares," "get thee behind me," and "a thorn in the flesh."
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