400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

  400th Anniversary of the King James Bible


Allen J. Huth, President

The Ezra Project

March 16, 2011

This year marks the 400 anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611.  The King James Version of the Bible is the most printed book in the history of the world, with over one billion copies printed and counting.   From a religious or literary perspective, it is a good time to look back at the most published book of all time.

The Bible was first written in Hebrew and Greek by 40 authors over a span of 1600 years.  Its first translation from the original languages was to Latin in 382 AD and was known as the Latin Vulgate.  By 500 AD the Bible was translated into over 500 languages.  All copies of the Bible were handwritten until 1455 when Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Books could finally be mass produced instead of hand-written.  The first book ever printed on the Gutenberg printing press was the Bible in Latin.

Getting the Bible into English was not an easy task.  For example, in 600 AD, the beginning of what became known as the Dark Ages, a law was passed that no one could have a Bible in any language except Latin.  This prevented common folks from reading the Bible, giving the Catholic Church full authority over the interpretation of Scripture. 

The Dark Ages were followed by the Protestant Reformation.  In the late 1300’s, John Wycliffe lead the world out of the Dark Ages with one goal:  get the Word of God back into the hands of the masses in their own native language.  He went about the task of translating the New Testament from Latin to English.  Wycliffe completed the translation in 1380 and distributed dozens of hand copied English New Testaments. 

John Hus, a follower of Wycliffe, proclaimed that people must be able to read the Bible in their own language.  Hus was martyred at the stake in 1415 with Wycliffe’s manuscripts used as kindling.  Prior to his death, he said “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”  Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention to the church door at Wittenberg.  

William Tyndale printed the first full Bible in English in 1535.  Numbered verses and margin notes came in 1560 through another English translation known as the Geneva Bible.  William Shakespeare quoted hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible.  The Geneva Bible, not the King James, was the Bible brought to America by the Puritans.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in the early 1600s, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James of England. In 1604, clergy members approached the new king about their desire for a new translation of the Bible.  About 50 scholars were assembled.  They reviewed past translations such as Tyndale’s New Testament, and the Geneva Bible.  From 1605 to 1606 the scholars did private research.  From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled.  In 1610 the work went to press and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inches tall) pulpit Bibles came off the press.   They were actually chained to every church pulpit in England.  Later, normal-size printings began so individuals could have their own personal copies of God’s Word.

The King James Version was actually driven by the Anglican Church, not Protestants.  It took decades for the King James Bible to overcome the more popular Geneva Bible used by the Protestant Church. Today, many Protestant Churches embrace the King James Bible as the only legitimate English language translation…yet it was not even a Protestant translation.  It was actually printed to compete with the Protestant Geneva Bible.  However, the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible are 95% identical in text.

Though the Geneva Bible was the Bible brought to America by the Puritans, the King James Bible was the first version printed in America.  While America was at war with England, there was an embargo on imported English goods, including Bibles.  So the United States Congress authorized the printing of the King James Bible in 1782.  It was the only Bible ever authorized by the U.S. Congress.

We have now had the Bible in English for 400 years.  It is the most published book in the history of the world.  It has been referred to as the most loved, unread book in history.  In honor of the 400th year of the Bible in English, why not dust off a Bible and get between the covers of the best seller of all time.  

For more on the history of the Bible in English, visit www.greatsite.com, the source for much of this information.