Year of the King James Bible

This year, the King James version of the Bible, also known as the Authorized Version, turns 400 years old.

There’s a bit of a buzz in Britain about this, including a rather interesting radio documentary, which was the first thing I heard after London midnight last night. This version, so it goes, shaped the language, arguably empowered the poor and outcast, shaped British identity (don’t care about that so much) and is plainly beautiful.

You have seven days to listen to it, too.

Perhaps it was preaching to the choir, but when it comes to the Bible read in worship, I do prefer the King James. I know that’s quite out of fashion for liberals, but I know what stirs me and what doesn’t, and none other come close. I suppose that’s not only because the King James is written in English, but helped shape what English has become. And besides, this was the language that nurtured the Murrays and Ballou and really nearly all English-speaking Protestants until a hundred years ago, and very many now.

Plus, in the United States, it is in the public domain. By use, it has become the people’s voice. By law, it cannot be alienated from them. Worth a fair consideration by Unitarian Universalists.

Categorized as Bible

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. One of the aspects of the publication of the KJV was that it immediately changed the religious conversation in England and Scotland. Before, the debate was between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. After the KJV, translated as it was by Anglicans and Puritans, the conversation became centered upon the question, “What sorts of Protestants will we be?” Had the nation reverted to the Roman Catholic faith then the population would have to stop reading the Bible in the native language and forget any ideas that might have been derived from that reading. The KJV changed the world.

  2. I once served a church that overly fixated on contemporary language translations of the Bible. I cringed when I heard the overly literalistic version of Psalm 23. That version went something like…

    The Lord is my sheep herder,
    Therefore I do not want anything.

    KJV does have legitimate translation issues, but it does present excellent poetry. And as we try to reach beyond the literalistic layer of the Bible, poetic language engages us at the gut level of emotion and experience. Many contemporary language translations rob the Bible of its poetry, and in doing so re-inforce literalistic readings of scripture.

    For that reason, this liberal if asked to choose, will choose KJV over many contemporary English translations.

  3. Yay, you wrote about the KJV anniversary! I’ve been looking forward to this anniversary celebration….

    You write: “…when it comes to the Bible read in worship, I do prefer the King James.”

    Yes, the KJV sounds better; I too am extremely fond of it. But when you’re trying to get children and young adolescents (and even previously unchurched adults) to understand what the Bible is actually saying, the KJV tends to get in the way. I mean, the whole point of the KJV was to allow ordinary people to actually understand the Bible.

  4. I think we try to make the Bible do too much in worship, particularly with respect to teaching. That’s certainly the reason Protestants have respected preaching, because the word does not interpret itself.

    So I wouldn’t say the point of the KJV was to be more understandable — the language was archaic even then — but to be more accessible. Literally, for the people to have access to it. Cheap printing, near-universal literacy and a media culture set to overload has changed the meaning of access to data, information or even sacred texts.

    That’s one reason I like to preach on short texts. When using the lectionary, I’ll willingly abridge the reading. There’s a time and a place for in-depth and comparative study, and seated in a pew isn’t it.

    A blog post, perhaps.

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