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King James Version of the Bible

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The King James Version or Authorised Version of the Holy Bible was translated into English for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of England, first published in 1611 and was the authorized version for use in the Church of England and became perhaps the most influential English version in America. Its development began when King James I called a conference at Hampton Court in 1604. It is no longer in copyright in most parts of the world but has a special position in the United Kingdom, relating to in part to the established religion. Eventually seven different editions of the King James Version were produced, the most recent of which was produced in 1769, and it is this edition which is most commonly cited as the King James Version (KJV).

The motivation behind the KJV translation was in large part due to the Protestant belief that the Bible was the sole source of doctrine (see sola scriptura) and as such should be translated into the local venacular.

The King James Version has traditionally been appreciated for the quality of the prose and poetry in the translation. However, the English language has changed somewhat since the time of publication and the translators of the Bible used a version of English that was somewhat archaic even at the time of publication. For example, the King James Version uses words such as "ye", "thee", and "thou", and uses phrases such as "Fear not ye" (instead of "Do not be afraid"). This means that modern readers often find the KJV more difficult to read than more recent translations (for the same reason that they often find Shakespeare more difficult to read than more recent authors). Here are some brief samples of text that demonstrate its translation style:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13-18)

Unlike earlier English versions of the Bible, the King James Version was translated from Greek and Hebrew texts, bypassing the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version Old Testament is based on the Masoretic Text while the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus as published by Erasmus. The King James Version is a fairly literal translation of these base sources; words implied but not actually in the original source are specially marked (either by being inside square brackets, as shown above, or as italic text).

There are some differences from modern Bibles, which are based in part on more recently discovered manuscripts. Some conservative fundamentalist Protestants believe that the newer versions of the Bible are based on corrupt manuscripts and that the King James Version is more authentic than more recent versions.

Current printings of the King James Bible differ from the original in several ways:

  • The original printing of the King James Version included some books of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon. They began to be omitted in approximately 1769, and the most common printings of the modern day rarely include them. However the coronation service requires, or required, an "unmutilated" edition.

  • The original printing also included a number of variant readings and alternative translations of some passages; most current printings omit these.

  • The original printing also included some marginal references to indicate where one passage of Scripture quoted or directly related to another. Most current printings omit these.

  • The original printing contained two prefatory texts; the first was a rather fulsome Epistle Dedicatory (http://www.ccel.org/bible/kjv/preface/epistle.htm) to "the most high and mighty Prince" King James. (external link) Few American printings reproduce this; many British printings do. The second, and more interesting preface was called The Translators to the Reader (http://www.ccel.org/bible/kjv/preface/pref1.htm) (external link), a long and learned essay that defends the undertaking of the new version. It observes that their goal was not to make a bad translation good, but a good translation better, and says that "we do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession. . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God."

  • The original printing was made before English spelling was standardised. They wrote "v" invariably for lower-case initial "u" and "v", and "u" for "u" and "v" everywhere else. They used long "∫" for non-final "s." The letter "j" occurs only after "i" or as the final letter in a Roman numeral. Punctuation was used differently. The printers often used ye for the, and wrote ã for an or am and so forth when space needed to be saved. Current printings remove most, but not all, of the variant spellings; the punctuation has also been changed, but still varies from current usage norms.

Thomas Nelson has printed a romanized facsimile of the 1611 first edition of the King James Bible, ISBN 0517367483.

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