Skip to comments.Happy 400th Birthday to the King James Bible -- The Most Influential Book in the English Language
Posted on 05/06/2011 11:09:57 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
While [King Henry VIII] was still Catholic, William Tyndale sought permission to translate the Bible into English so that even a boy who drives the plow might know Scripture. Permission was denied, and Tyndale moved to Germany where he completed the first translation of the English New Testament made from Greek. It was published in 1526, and over the next ten years 50,000 copies were smuggled into England. Tyndale was betrayed, captured, and in 1536 killed for the crime of publishing the New Testament in English.
Although his body was burned at the stake, Tyndale had unleashed an enormous demand for Bibles in the vulgar English tongue. A number of translations were printed, including the Bishops Bible and the immensely popular Geneva Bible, which was the Bible Shakespeare read and the Bible Puritans carried to New England.
Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603, sought to bring peace among religious factions. But more importantly for our story, varied creative forces came together then to form the most splendid age in English literature. James VI of Scotland was a product of this season of creativity. When James VI became king of all Great Britain and Ireland in 1603, he called a conference to try to settle differences between Anglicans and Puritans. Out of this conference came the decision to create a new translation of the Bible.
The King James Bible is the best-selling English-language book of all time. It has been in print continuously for 400 years. It has helped form our language; it has given context to our literature; it has inspired our music; and for centuries it was the one book a family would own and read before all others
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False. He was tried and convicted of heresy in Belgium. (The bill of indictment, IIRC, lists several charges, none of which are "published the New Testament in English". And why would people in Belgium care, anyway? They didn't speak English.)
Paradoxically, Tyndale took the Pope's side against Henry VIII over the question of the latter's marriage to Katharine of Aragon. Tyndale was hunted down and "fingered" to the Belgian authorities by an agent of a (by then) Protestant king.
Thanks, Campion. Always nice to have the facts straight.
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An unbeliever argues that our language and culture are incomplete without a 400-year-old bookthe King James translation of the Bible. Spurned by the Establishment, it really represents a triumph for rebellion and dissent. Accept no substitutes!
I visited Berkeley Castle a few years ago, the home of my English ancestors.
John Trevisa, an associate of John Wycliffe and one of the translators of Wycliffe’s bible (which pre-dated the King James by more than two centuries) was vicar at Berkeley in the late 1300s. He is later mentioned in the preface to the 1611 King James translation.
The molding that surrounds the Berkeley Castle chapel ceiling has the words of Revelation engraved on it, as Trevisa wrote them. What he did would have been punishable by death, even with the protection of Lord Berkeley.
These men risked their lives making scripture available to the common man. I felt both awe and great respect for them as I looked that the Berkeley ceiling. They deserve honor and gratitude.
Tyndale—I must say—does not get proper credit for the quality of his translation. Later translations owed a heck to his version. It played a great role in the transition to “modern”English. If he had not been such a contrary cuss, he would have lived a life more like Luther’s, and died in his bed.
They, like Tyndale, got caught up in politics. Wycliffe and his associates were acting in a time of great turmoil. The Black Death had wiped out some many peasants that their labor was at a premium. That set them against nobles and the Church—which was a major landowner in England. If Luther had no come down on the side of the princes during the Peasant Rebellion in Germany, he would have been finished.
Languages evolve. Even English.
The Tudors were a notoriously dysfunctional family who cared more about political power and the privileges of the ruling class than anything else.
It is debatable whether Henry VIII or Mary was the worst. My vote would go to Henry because 70,000 Englishmen (out of a population of 2.5 million) were executed for mostly petty crimes and perceived acts of treason during his reign. Mary had more people butchered on an annualized base, but her reign was mercifully short.
England controlled vast territories in present day France before the Tudor clan came to power. By the time the Grim Reaper came for Mary, they had nothing and their very survival as a nation was in peril. Religion meant nothing to the Tudors except a tool to achieve and hold political power.
It is precisely these type of experiences and the subsequent events which they spawned (the English Civil War, the misrule by the Stuart clan, the Salem Witch trials, etc.) which led our founding fathers to forbid the establishment of any state religion on the national level.
A lot of Catholic haters like to parade out these type of atrocities as proof Catholicism is false. All they really do is prove that any religion cooped by the state and political tyrants can be perverted to false ends. In the case of the martyrdom of Tyndale, they can't even involve the Catholic Church by proxy. But that doesn't fit their agenda. So the actual facts are simply ignored.
Not necessarily. Merely translating the Scriptures didn't get one into trouble -- St. Bede the Venerable did it, for example -- until later on, when it resulted in suspicions of Protestant sympathies. The Church's objection to Wycliffe and (moreso) Tyndale was the editorial comments they included in their translations.
For anyone sceptical of the centrality of the KJV to English literature I recommend this outstanding work of nodern scholarship:
Even the unbeliever will be impressed.
Most influential book in history - the Vulgate
Even Wycliffe, a young man at the time of the plague, did his most important work in the decades after.
The labour shortage resulting from the plague did, of course, do much to bid up wages and improve the lot of peasants over the next three centuries or so. But the tradition of religious freedom would require another 500 years or so to take firm root in the Old World, with America getting ahead of the curve by a century or so.
It was thus inevitable that these early reformers got caught up in politics, either as an initial means of self-defense in cases like Wycliffe and Luther or as an eventual means to trade places with their former oppressors as in cases like Cromwell and Calvin.
The publication of the King James Bible overshadowed any of these men as a means to bring about the concept of religious freedom and establish it as a cornerstone concept in our new nation.
The Lollard movement was associated with the instability of society. Which is the major reason why there was no English translation of the Bible after the invention of the printing press. There was in every other nation. It was more an anti-clerical movement than a religious reform, and since Huss was influenced by it, that made the Crown even more intolerant. Henry V was a heretic hunter for that reason.But the Reformation had nothing to do with relgious freedom as we understand it. That is not what Luther meant by Christian liberty. Cathokics tried to tar Luthger as a Hussite, but he kept his skirts clean by using the protection of his Prince. Luther was strictly an Establishmentarian.
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Absolutely the Vulgate!
True, the KJV is in Modern English (i.e. English from Shakespearan times). Prior to that you have middle English (Chaucer) until the Great Vowel Shift in England, completed in roughly 1550.
The KJV and Shakespeare are in Early Modern English
Middle English must not be understandable to you, here's a sample from Chaucer:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open y
e (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke
And Middle English dates from 1066 after Old English merged with French (that's why you have two terms for the same thing -- boeuf or beef from the French and cow from the Old English)
Old English is even more difficult for a Modern English speaker to fathom:
here's a sample of the Lord's Prayer in Old English
Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum,
Sī þīn nama ġehālgod.
Tōbecume þīn rīċe,
And this lasted just 500 years, as did Middle english. Modern English -- most folks can't understand Shakespeare which was early modern English and English is evolving further. Modern English woudl be replaced with post-modern English (example -- most folks don't know the difference between can and may among many other words leading to a further simplification of the language, perhaps the perfect tenses will be removed), why for most people today reading Shakespeare (Modern English) is difficult -- so works in Modern English like Shakespeare would be as intelligible in 400 years as Chaucer is to a person today...
I'm not sure about your last statement. the KJV probably played a big part in creating Modern English (not in "fixing"), but that also includes Shakespeare and yes, the OED later.
however, English is not "fixed" -- or else it would face the same problem as French which tried to keep the language 'contained' and ended up killing itself. English is continuously evolving, which is good for its longevity, but it's already seriously splitting into English languageS (just as Latin split into regional dialects that only by the 10th century really became separate languages
How it changed a Nation? hmmm... well, King James was Scottish by birth and nationality, and his reign was before the Act of Union in 1707, so it didn't change the United Kingdom as a nation. Did it have an influence on the Scottish and Welsh? Probably, but more so on the English. It did lay the groundwork, but the changing of the "nation" was really done by Henry VII's time -- in the 14th century, the English were still listed as "one of the Germanic nations" in church councils and at the time of James I, the population was still only 4 to 6 million in England and Walese with maybe 2 million in Scotland -- a very tiny country compared to France (25% of Europe's population) or Italy (Germany was still underpopulated and still heavily forested -- in fact prior to the late Middle Ages Germany was still heavily wooded like we see in "Gladiator"), anyway, I digress
So, the changing was done earlier, the KJV helped, and Oliver Cromwell (though I personally dislike the man) did the majority of the part in this change of national perception as "English". This was only reinforced in the later wars with France and raised to its heights in the Victorian Era.
James when he first entered England was given the Millenary Petition by the Puritans trying to get him to remove the Anglican episcopal structure
James rejected this as it was also a threat to the very organization of the state (as evidenced in the later Puritan overthrowal of the monarchy and despotism of Cromwell)
He executed Edward Wightman at the stake in 1612 along with Bart Legate (a precusor of the Quakers) -- though looking at the direction in which the Quakers are heading now....