King James Bible

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The King James Version (or Authorized Version) of the Bible was the culmination of seven years of work (1604-1611) by about fifty English scholars and around twenty Church of England bishops, authorized by King James I of England. The result was a poetic masterpiece that has profoundly influenced the English-speaking world ever since. It was not the first English translation (William Tyndale had previously translated the Bible into English, and much of the Authorized Version was taken from Tyndale's version) nor was it the most accurate (modern translations benefit from better sources). Some mistakes in the translation of the King James Bible exist in very important passages. But the King James Version of the Bible was the most majestic and it has inspired English literature from Herman Melville to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For example, many cite Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech without acknowledging its source in the translation of Isaiah 40:4:

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

The King James translators described it as "Newly Translated out of the Original tongues."[1] The King James Version of the Old Testament was based on the Hebrew Masoretic text, codified in the Middle Ages. The New Testament was primarily based on Greek texts predating the Latin Vulgate. The translators explicitly acknowledged making use of previous English translations, however, and the Catholic Encyclopedia describes it as being essentially the Bishops' Bible, corrected by comparison with the Hebrew and Greek texts.[2] F. H. A. Scrivener, however, notes many passages which correspond to the Latin Vulgate rather than the Greek.[3] The King James Version is freely and fully available for searching online.[4]

A recent attempt to "update" the King James Version was the New King James Version, which most notably modernized pronouns such as "thou" and verb forms such as "art".

Some Christians believe that the original 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Bible is the only acceptable English translation of the Bible.[5] This is referred to by some Christians, especially those who do not hold to this viewpoint, as the "KJV-only movement". On the other side of the debate, many Christians avoid the King James Bible because of its archaic language, advances in scholarship's understanding of ancient languages, and discovery of (arguably [6]) more reliable manuscripts. Note that the King James Bible uses British spellings like "favour" rather than "favor" (Acts 2:47).

The King James Version uses a total vocabulary of only about 8,000 words.[7] In contrast the English Standard Version, published nearly four centuries later in 2001, draws upon a larger English vocabulary that developed in the interim and uses nearly 14,000 different words.


The King James Version used italics to indicate words that had no exact equivalent in the original text, but had been supplied by the translators for various reasons, usually to make the text read properly in English. Modern style is to use italics for emphasis, and their different use in the King James Version can be misleading to modern readers. Many modern editions of the King James Version omit the italicization.

The King James Version does not use quotation marks to designate spoken words because the English language had not yet developed quotation marks as standard usage.

The King James Version uses "that" rather than "who" to refer to people, which is incorrect (and dehumanizing) grammar today.

The King James Version uses "king" and "kingdom" hundreds of times in translating the New Testament, even though there were no real kings at the time of Christ or now. In James 2:8 there is a reference to "royal law" and the King James Version makes numerous other references to "royal". But the King James Version was commission by King James during a period of the powerful English monarchy, and King James promoted the divine right of kings.

The King James Version frequently and repetitively uses "and" (and also "but") to begin a sentence. For example, seven straight verses -- Luke 4:11-17 -- begin with the word "and"; ten straight verses -- Luke 4:58-67 -- also begin with the word "and", and perhaps more than half of the verses in the entire Gospel of Luke use that now-disfavored beginning. The King James Version also frequently uses "behold", which is poetic but seems archaic today. One of its most common words is "spake" (archaic form of "spoke"), which it uses 644 times.

Like Shakespeare, who wrote his plays shortly before the KJV was written, they use the archaic "anon" to mean "very soon." See, e.g., Mark 1:30.

The King James Version does not make full use of the possessive form, instead often spelling things out in wordy and cumbersome form rather than using an apostrophe "s". See, for example, the cumbersome lack of the possessive at Luke 5:33: "And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?" The KJV also fails to make full use of the variety of punctuation available, such as avoiding the exclamation point.[8]

The King James Version contains some arguably feminist language, such as "prophetess" (Luke 2:36)[9] and gender neutral language for "man" (see, e.g., Luke 3:4; Luke 3:16; Mark 9:17)[10] Also, the KJV uses "children of God" perhaps as a gender neutral version of "Godly men," with some seeing that neutralizing the gender has the effect of inserting a connotation of submission that might be more characteristic of Islam than Christianity. Modern versions picked up on this, and use "children of God" far more pervasively than the KJV did. In Luke 4:34, the KJV refers to "Holy One of God" rather than "Holy Son of God."

The King James Version translators did not have access to earlier ancient manuscripts that were discovered in the 1800s. As a result, the King James Version includes passages that are not in the earliest ancient manuscripts.

The translators were predominantly literary types, such as poets, without much input from scientific types who might have recommended some wording having more physical connotations, or linguistic scholars who could point out the details of scientific terminology. For example, "owph" is translated as "fowl" rather than the linguistically and scientifically correct "winged creature."

Some of the key terminology in the KJV is archaic today. For example, the KJV refers repeated to "Esaias", and many readers may not understand that as a reference to "Isaiah".


  1. The actual title-page inscription is "The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment. Appointed to be read in Churches. "
  2. The Authorized Version, Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. F. H. A. Scrivener, The New Testament in Greek according to the Text Followed in the Authorized Version. Cambridge: University Press, 1881; The appendix on pages 655-6 gives a list of the passages corresponding exactly with the Latin version against the Greek.
  6. Maurice A. Robinson, New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case for Byzantine Priority
  7. See Essay:Best New Conservative Words.
  8. Note, however, that the KJV does use both the possessive and the exclamation point in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Luke.
  9. though it refers to a rebellious Jezebel women in Rev. 2:20 as such
  10. where gender specific language is absent.

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See also