The source book of the sacred words of my childhood, the King James Version of the Holy Bible turns 400 hundred years old in 2011! This fact will be widely celebrated in many places around the world… and rightly so. The KJV has left an indelible impression. The KJV was not the first English Bible, but it was the first one widely published. It became in some ways as influential as the ideas of the Reformation themselves. The KJV publishing coincided with advancements in printing, and suddenly a common language sacred Scripture was more available than ever before. English was the language of the common folk of the emerging British Empire… and as sailors and government officials and traders spread out over the globe, many took their KJV Bibles with them! It is also probably not a great stretch to credit the KJV with an assist for making English the “world’s” unofficial language of trade and diplomacy because of its widespread influence.
Until this period (the 1600’s) the Word of God existed mainly in Latin, and dwelt mainly in the hands of the hierarchy of the Roman Church and those wealthy enough to commission a hand crafted copy. If the sword of truth is that deeply in the sheath, then it becomes all the more easy for clergy abuses and Church corruption to go unchecked. And most problematic of all, a subtle drift away from the truth becomes undiscernable… It is easy to drift when the compass (God’s Word) is absent.
It is also worth noting that an estimated 160 million Christians still make the KJV their primary text.. even though the NIV did take over the “leading” version crown in about 1988 and has held the title since then.
There are some passages that will probably never sound quite right without the good ole’ KJV prose (Psalm 23 comes to mind). As I recall many of the men in my childhood church even prayed in the unique style of the KJV… you know, with a heavy emphasis on “thee” “thou” and “thine.” Since I grew up in rural East Texas, I have to say that “thee,” “thou,” and “thine” mixed with a Texas “twang” create a sound King James probably never imagined.
I have not preached from the KJV on a regular basis since 1983. Honestly, these days I rarely even open it to cross-reference my preferred NIV texts in sermon preparation… but I feel a nostalgic connection to the spiritual formations that developed in me through the KJV’s words that will be with me forever.
So, what is the most appropriate way to celebrate such a meaningful anniversary? I plan to preach a few sermons from the KJV later in the year and do a few readings in our Salem worship services. But that is really just a token. The most meaningful way to celebrate the 400th KJV anniversary is to make sure we do not take for granted the abundant supply of God’s Word today. It is great to have a common language Bible so available, in whatever your preferred version, but if we don’t make use of it, then what real difference does it make. So… whatever your preference for regular use (for me it has been the NIV since 1983), or the NASV, or the New KJV, or maybe through the years you have stuck with the KJV…. whatever the case, if you really want to celebrate this anniversary, READ your BIBLE, whatever version you have settled on.
(So what fond memories does the KJV evoke in you? What version have you settled on for your daily devotions and study?)
And the truth shall set you free!