Global Language and World Culture
The King James Bible

The King James Bible

The King James Bible
The King James Bible

The King James Bible, an article that analyzes its origin, importance and influences on the English language and on the English cultural, literary and religious world.

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
King James Bible
Ecclesiastes 10:19

All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
King James Bible
Ecclesiastes 1:8

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
King James Bible
Ecclesiastes 1:9

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
King James Bible
Revelation 20:12

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
King James Bible
Acts 1:9

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
King James Bible
Genesis 32:10

A great influence on the English language occurred in 1611, five years before Shakespeare died. This was the publication of the King James’s translation of the Holy Bible, a 14th-century translation by John Wycliffe, The King James Version, as it is called, was completed in 1611.

If Shakespeare gave the language its greatest poetry, the Bible gave it much of its greatest prose. This version of the Bible was not written by one man but by a team or committee of some 47 scholars. We know very little about them except that they were certainly men of literary genius, and we have their finished work as a proof.

King James Bible
King James Bible

The followers of John Wycliffe undertook the first complete English translations of the Christian scriptures in the 14th century. These translations were banned in 1409 due to their association with the Lollards. The Wycliffe Bible pre-dated the printing press but it was circulated very widely in manuscript form, often inscribed with a date which was earlier than 1409 in order to avoid the legal ban.

Because the text of the various versions of the Wycliffe Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and because it also contained no heterodox readings, the ecclesiastical authorities had no practical way to distinguish the banned version; consequently, many Catholic commentators of the 15th and 16th centuries (such as Thomas More) took these manuscripts of English Bibles and claimed that they represented an anonymous earlier orthodox translation.

In 1525, William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther, undertook a translation of the New Testament. Tyndale’s translation was the first printed Bible in English. Over the next ten years, Tyndale revised his New Testament in the light of rapidly advancing biblical scholarship, and embarked on a translation of the Old Testament.

Despite some controversial translation choices, and in spite of Tyndale’s execution on charges of heresy for having made the translated Bible, the merits of Tyndale’s work and prose style made his translation the ultimate basis for all subsequent renditions into Early Modern English.

Under the leadership of John Calvin, Geneva became the chief international centre of Reformed Protestantism and Latin biblical scholarship. The English expatriates undertook a translation that became known as the Geneva Bible. This translation, dated to 1560, was a revision of Tyndale’s Bible and the Great Bible on the basis of the original languages.

Soon after Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, the flaws of both the Great Bible and the Geneva Bible (namely, that the Geneva Bible did not “conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy”) became painfully apparent. In 1568, the Church of England responded with the Bishops’ Bible, a revision of the Great Bible in the light of the Geneva version.

King James I
King James I

While officially approved, this new version failed to displace the Geneva translation as the most popular English Bible of the age – in part because the full Bible was only printed in lectern editions of prodigious size and at a cost of several pounds. Accordingly, Elizabethan lay people overwhelmingly read the Bible in the Geneva Version – small editions were available at a relatively low cost. At the same time, there was a substantial clandestine importation of the rival Douay–Rheims New Testament of 1582, undertaken by exiled Roman Catholics. This translation, though still derived from Tyndale, claimed to represent the text of the Latin Vulgate.

In May 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Columba’s Church in Burntisland, Fife, at which proposals were put forward for a new translation of the Bible into English. Two years later, he ascended to the throne of England as James I. In January 1604, King James convened the Hampton Court Conference, where a new English version was conceived in response to the problems of the earlier translations perceived by the Puritans, a faction of the Church of England.

James gave the translators instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology – and reflect the episcopal structure – of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. The translation was done by 6 panels of translators (47 men in all, most of whom were leading biblical scholars in England) who had the work divided up between them: the Old Testament was entrusted to three panels, the New Testament to two, and the Apocrypha to one.

In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin. In the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the text of the Authorized Version replaced the text of the Great Bible for Epistle and Gospel readings (but not for the Psalter, which substantially retained Coverdale’s Great Bible version), and as such was authorized by Act of Parliament.

By the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version had become effectively unchallenged as the English translation used in Anglican and English Protestant churches, except for the Psalms and some short passages in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version supplanted the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English-speaking scholars.

With the development of stereotype printing at the beginning of the 19th century, this version of the Bible became the most widely printed book in history, almost all such printings presenting the standard text of 1769 extensively re-edited by Benjamin Blayney at Oxford, and nearly always omitting the books of the Apocrypha. Today the unqualified title “King James Version” usually indicates this Oxford standard text.

The outstanding prose works of the Renaissance are not so numerous as those of later ages, but the great translation of the Bible, called the King James Bible, or Authorized Version, published in 1611, is significant because it was the culmination of two centuries of effort to produce the best English translation of the original texts, and also because its vocabulary, imagery, and rhythms have influenced writers of English in all lands ever since. Similarly sonorous and stately is the prose of Sir Thomas Browne, the physician and semiscientific investigator. His reduction of worldly phenomena to symbols of mystical truth is best seen in Religio Medici (Religion of a Doctor), probably written in 1635.

It is impossible to estimate the importance or effect of the King James Bible on the English language. Listen to the simplicity but the power of the prose in these lines from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

King James Holy Bible
King James Holy Bible

What we call “modern English” comes from the period immediately following the publication of the Bible and Shakespeare’s death. We generally consider 1640 to be the beginning of modern English, and the language has changed remarkably little ever since. By the 17th century the language had discarded its grammatical complexities: no more declensions and a minimum use of the subjunctive. Grammatical gender had disappeared and English became the only European language to employ natural gender that is using feminine pronouns for things feminine, masculine pronouns for things masculine and the neuter “it” for everything else. How much simpler than in, say, German where a table is “he”, a postage stamp is “she” and a girl is “it”.

Then too, English gave up its second person singular – what on the Continent is known as “the familiar form” expressed by to in Italian. Spanish and French and du in German. In English this was “thou” and its use became restricted to poetry, church and a few provincial dialects. Instead, English, as you well know, now simply uses the plural form “you” for everyone and for all. In place of the grammatical complexities of Old English, the language became more exact in other ways. Modern English has a fixed system of word order more exact than exists in any other language and a highly sophisticated use of tenses which causes so much difficulty for a foreign student.

So the King James Bible, also known as the Authorized Version, has had a profound influence on the English language since its publication in 1611 and certainly played a significant role in standardizing the English language. In fact its translators sought to create a version that would be accessible and understandable to all English speakers, regardless of their social status or region. This helped to establish a uniform form of English across different communities.

What’s more it contributed to a great vocabulary enrichment since the translators of the King James Bible used rich and eloquent language, drawing heavily from the literary traditions of the time. They introduced many words and phrases into the English language that have since become commonplace, including “eye for an eye,” “the salt of the earth,” “scapegoat,” “fly in the ointment,” and “out of the mouth of babes.” Furthermore The King James Bible popularized certain phrasal patterns and idiomatic expressions that are still in use today. Its language has permeated various aspects of English-speaking culture, including literature, politics, and everyday speech.

The King James Bible has also had a profound impact on the moral and ethical values of English-speaking societies. Its teachings and narratives have shaped the cultural and religious landscape of the English-speaking world, influencing everything from laws and social norms to literature and art. Therefore the King James Bible’s influence on the English language is vast and enduring, and its legacy continues to be felt in both religious and secular contexts to this day.

For example the King James Bible has influenced numerous English writers and poets over the centuries, including William Shakespeare, John Milton, John Bunyan, and John Donne. Its majestic language and poetic style have left an indelible mark on English literature. Many famous literary authors have been influenced by the Bible, as its stories, themes, and language have permeated Western culture for centuries.

Here are some notable authors whose works show significant influence from the Bible. First we can quote John Milton, whose epic poem “Paradise Lost” draws heavily on biblical themes, particularly those found in the book of Genesis. The poem explores the Fall of Man, the rebellion of Lucifer, and other biblical narratives. Or Shakespeare’s works that are filled with biblical allusions and imagery. Many of his plays, such as “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” and “King Lear,” contain references to biblical stories and characters.

But how not to mention John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” who was deeply influenced by the Bible. His allegorical tale draws heavily on biblical themes and imagery to explore the Christian journey. And also Herman Melville’s masterpiece, “Moby-Dick,” that contains numerous biblical allusions and references. The novel explores themes of good and evil, redemption, and the search for meaning – all of which are deeply rooted in biblical tradition.

King James I of England and Scotland
King James I of England and Scotland

Even poets such as Emily Dickinson whose poetry often reflects her deep engagement with the Bible. Many of her poems explore religious themes, and she frequently incorporates biblical imagery and language into her work. Then there is T.S. Eliot, a renowned modernist poet, who drew extensively on the Bible in his poetry. His famous work “The Waste Land” contains numerous biblical references and allusions, reflecting his interest in Christian theology and symbolism.

But also Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Thomas Carlyle were influenced by the Bible. Last but not least we can remember Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky, though not writing in English, was influenced by the Bible in his Russian novels. His exploration of moral and existential themes in works like “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” resonates with biblical ideas of sin, redemption, and the human condition.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories by James Joyce, and the book contains a story with this title “A Little Cloud” that alludes to a Biblical passage, I Kings 18:44: “And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down that the rain stop thee not.” The little cloud is the harbinger of a great rain, which the prophet Elijah summons to end a drought.

The title “A Little Cloud” may also evoke the biblical phrase from the book of Job, where God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, saying: “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22-23, King James Version). This passage refers to the idea of small clouds holding great potential, possibly reflecting the protagonist’s aspirations and dreams in the story.

As a matter of fact in “A Little Cloud,” the protagonist, Little Chandler, dreams of becoming a successful writer like his friend Gallaher, who has achieved fame abroad. However, his dreams clash with the realities of his mundane life in Dublin, where he is trapped in a dull job and responsibilities of family life. The story explores themes of disillusionment, longing for escape, and the tension between dreams and reality.

The biblical allusion could be interpreted as suggesting that even small aspirations or desires, represented by “a little cloud,” can carry significant weight and have profound implications for individuals, especially when they collide with the harsh realities of life, akin to the “time of trouble” mentioned in the biblical passage.

To conclude this article we must consider that the Bible is one of the most widely printed and distributed books in history. Millions upon millions of copies of the Bible have been printed in numerous languages and editions over the centuries. It has been translated into thousands of languages and dialects, making it accessible to people all around the world. The Bible has had a profound impact on countless individuals across diverse cultures and time periods.

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