Happy 400th!

When I get online every day, my homepage pops up, which has a quick list of news articles from around the world. Most days I ignore these articles, but today one caught my interest:

King James Bible: Queen marks 400th anniversary.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15754581

My first thought was, why on earth would Queen Elizabeth be celebrating the anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible? And even beyond, why the heck did the liberal media care?
Sometimes I’m really slow. 
Before that, I should mention that I’ve been aware that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the KJV for some time now. I teach an adult Sunday School class in my congregation where we have spent the entire year (to my utter delight) studying the New Testament out of the KJV. My church, the LDS/Mormon Church has asked that all English speaking members use the KJV. So I have grown up with it. To say that I love teaching out of the KJV would be a gross understatement. I eat up every moment of it. It’s been so awesome and I’ve learned so much just this year!
So I’ve been interested in any articles talking about the 400th anniversary of this incredible book. With that, I saw earlier this year that BYU had produced an awesome documentary (no, that is not an oxymoron) that is entitled “Fires of Faith.” It is a three-part documentary going through how the King James Version came to be in 1611. You can check it out here. It is very, very well done and informative. I had no idea how much controversy was involved, or how grateful we should be to have this beautiful translation of God’s word.
But even with all this, I still couldn’t figure out what the Queen of England had to do with anything.
Again, I’m really…really…slow sometimes.
It finally hit me that this is the anniversary of the KING James Version of the Bible, as in King James I, King of England in 1611. As King of England, James I was also the head of the Church of England, and sanctioned this particular translation.
Okay, so that explained why the British Monarch, namely Elizabeth, would want to celebrate. But still, front page news?
Then I remembered that British Monarchy isn’t like our US Presidency. You aren’t elected into it, you are born into it. Or in other words:
Queen Elizabeth II is King James’ great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter. (That’s nine greats if you’re counting.) Of all the people in the world to help celebrate, surely she should be one of them. How would you like having your ninth great-grandpa’s name on your Bible? Cool, eh?
I also got to thinking today about how less than a decade after this translation was finished, the first permanent settlers sailed for America. Only 9 years later! That can’t be a coincidence. Especially considering how much of Colonial America was shaped by the Bible. The article above even points out how much of today’s English is influenced by the language of the KJV.
Another thing I learned (can you tell I’m excited?) is that it took 54 scholars to create the KJV. I knew it was a lot, but didn’t know it was that many. Not only that, but those scholars were contemporaries with William Shakespeare who died in 1616. In fact, they could have just walked across the field and asked, “Hey Shakespeare, what do you think of this particular passage?” or more accurately, “Pray tell, Sir William, what dost thou thinkest of said passage below?” Which explains why, at times, reading the KJV feels like you’re reading Shakespeare.
And yes, I agree–partially–with people who say that the King James language can be very cumbersome and difficult to understand. It can, but it is also absolutely, positively beautiful. And well worth it, in my opinion!
For example, in most new English translations of the Bible, the common phrase is rendered “Faith, Hope, and Love.” And yet in the King James Version it says “Faith, Hope, and Charity.” What is the difference between love and charity, you may ask? Well, charity isn’t just any love, it is defined as “The Pure Love of Christ,” which is something far greater than just love.
Apply that to an excerpt of Paul’s great sermon in 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve listed just a few verses side by side to show a quick comparison. The NIV, a popular version of the Bible today, is on the left, while the traditional KJV on the right.  Note the difference in language.
And if you go back and substitute “The Pure Love of Christ” in place of every use of the word “Charity,” the language becomes even more powerful.
“And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not (the pure love of Christ), I AM NOTHING…Now abideth faith, hope, and charity (which is the pure love of Christ), these three; but the greatest of these is charity…Follow after charity (the pure love of Christ).”
So yes, the KJV can be a bit cumbersome and confusing at times, but it is also incredibly, amazingly beautiful. And poetic. I think it is well worth the effort! But even beyond, I think the King James Version of the Bible has shaped our society, our language, and the history of America more than we will ever know.
Happy 400th KJV!
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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

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