Gained in Translation; the Bishop of Birmingham Tells Diane Parkes Why the King James Bible Remains a Cornerstone of Our Culture and Society 400 Years after It Was First Published

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Parkes

The King James Bible was the end result of seven years of work by a committee of top scholars. For years they pored over every chapter, every verse and every word.

First published in 1611, the King James or Authorized version, is one of countless translations and paraphrases of the Bible and yet it remains at the heart of Christianity today.

So why is this version so special? Recently succeeding to the throne of a country riven by religious differences King James I of England ordered the new translation to be written in an attempt to bring God's word to the public - and to heal the rifts in the church.

From 1604-1611 a translation committee of more than 50 scholars debated every single word, looking into its origins and its contemporary meaning to a divided church. Derived from ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts with reference to earlier translations into the vernacular, the new Bible was to appeal to a populace who were generally illiterate so was designed to be read aloud. Definition, sound and politics all played their part in the King James Bible.

Initially it failed to gain widespread support but little by little this translation gradually replaced its predecessors becoming the Bible of the Englishspeaking world.

Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Rev David Urquhart says there are reasons it remains pre-eminent.

"When this Bible was created it, above all, aimed to be a text which people could understand and enjoy," he says. "Famously, before any verse was agreed it was read aloud and that means we have these wonderful sections and phrases, many of which have entered the English language and the hearts and minds of the people of England.

"These are not only some of the great theological phrases but also the jargon which has become words that are used all the time. Let there be light, the powers that be, filthy lucre, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, O ye of little faith. Studies of this language help us to appreciate just how deep it has gone into our ordinary phrasing.

"The other reason it is so important is that some traditions regard it as not just authorised but authoritative.

This is partly because it has been around for a long time, partly because it is in English and partly because the teaching of the various traditions has been based on that translation.

"The King James version of 1611 is not precisely accurate, as some of the best scholars of Hebrew and Greek can demonstrate, but it is a reliable translation.

"The other thing that it is valued for is that it was produced at a high point in the English language. It is connected in history with the publication of Shakespeare's plays and other great poetry and writing. So those who have studied literature recognise the King James Bible as being from a high point of English literature."

With the Bible translated into English, its words and stories would become familiar to people up and down the country.

"For human beings to have heard the Bible every Sunday meant that the truths in the Bible and the truths about God and Jesus could become part of their daily lives," says Bishop David. …