Friday, 20 May 2011

400 years of the King James Version of the Bible

Last summer I was talking to a farmer in his field when he suddenly bent down and plucked up a blade of green grass.  “See this,” he said, “this is a miracle!”  In the story of creation, at the beginning of Genesis, hardly had dawn broken when God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass.”  There are over 3000 types of grass with hundreds of uses.  Our word 'paper' comes from 'papyrus' a form of grass.  Grass provides straw for thatching roofs and hay for feeding cattle in the winter.  Millions of animals depend upon grass and are designed with teeth that will cut off the precious blades without pulling up the roots.

700 BC Isaiah wrote, "All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever." It is true that all flesh is grass.  When we eat bread we eat wheat which is grass!  There is no constituent in the human body that cannot be found in grass. Like grass we all fade and fall.  The brilliant brain, the beautiful body, the nimble fingers become dust.  The once inspired brush and pen lie lifeless.  The melodious voice falls silent, passions evaporate and all earthly treasures are left behind. 

This year we celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the Kings James Version (KJV) of the bible. It had a modest print run, sold loose-leaf for 10 shillings or bound for 12, and was riddled with errors, misplaced words and typos. But when published in London in 1611, a new English Bible, stamped with the royal imprimatur of King James 1, would change history. With its classical style and the majestic cadences of its poetry and prose, echoing Shakespeare and Milton, the King James Version remains the gold standard among Bibles, 400 years after its first appearance. Though supplanted by dozens of other versions that employ less archaic language, the King James Bible has burrowed into the English-speaking consciousness. Many of the KJV’s phrases, that have crept into the English language are “giving up the ghost,” “my brother’s keeper,” “salt of the earth,” “scapegoat,” “filthy lucre,” “sign of the times,” and many others.

The new KJV opened the eyes of many ordinary folks because it was published in straightforward English — for its day. My personal preference is not to read the KJV, in 2011 I think we need to present the bible, the word of God, in straightforward English for our day and generation, for me the New Living Translation is my preferred option. After all one of the main aims of the writers of the KJV was to get the Bible into the hands of the everyday man and women, something I believe is still important today.