[notice]Celebration of the book that changed the way people worshipped by bringing God’s word to the masses; and which changed and enriched the English language[/notice]
The world’s best-selling and most influential book of all time is 400 years old this year and events have started in South Africa and throughout the English-speaking world to celebrate this landmark.
The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (KJV) provides an opportunity to reflect on the history and achievements of this remarkable book that was commissioned by King James 1 in 1604 and which was completed in 1611. Here are a few KJV facts:
- The KJV was not the first English Bible but it was the version that succeeded in bringing God’s word to ordinary people around the world. It was aboard the Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers on their way to America, with sailors sailing the seven seas and with missionaries to India and Africa. It was also the Bible of the 1820 Settlers who came to South Africa.
- The KJV has had an enormous influence on the development of the English language. According to David Crystal, a linguist and expert on the development of the English language, nobody, not even Shakespeare, has done as much as this Bible to shape the modern idiom. Many an idiom or saying, still in use today, was coined by the KJV. “A fly in the ointment” (Ecclesiastes 10:1), “A wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), “By the skin of your teeth” (Job 19:20) to name but a few. The majesty of its most sonorous passages, the austere beauty of its prose and the wealth of its idioms have delighted readers and inspired writers for centuries.
- The KJV has sold non-stop for 400 years, selling some 1 billion copies, making it the clear best seller of all time.
- Bible Societies throughout the word distribute about 600 000 copies of this Bible every year. In South Africa the Bible Society distributed nearly 33 000 copies of this Bible last year and a further 38 000 KJV Bibles were downloaded to cellphones free of charge as well.
- The KJV was translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek by a team of 54 scholars working in six committees. While the English of the original 1611 version is difficult to understand today it reflected the spoken English of its day. No further revision was made to it for an amazing 270 years although it was realised that there were translation errors, so some amendments were introduced in the 1700s. A full revision, known as the Revised Version, was published in 1881. The currently popular New King James Version (NKJV) was first published in 1979 (New Testament) and 1982 (complete Bible).
- The official 400th anniversary of the publication of the KJV is May 2, 2011.
KJV 400 events
In South Africa a team of eight motorcyclists, aptly named the Word Riders, this week rode a meandering route from Port Elizabeth to Johannesuburg via the Freestate and Kwazulu-Natal to draw attention to the 400th anniversary of the KJV and to distribute free Bibles to schoolchildren in poor communities along the way. You can read their daily blog to share in the joy they experienced as they watched the faces of children receiving Bibles in their own tongue, and blind children hearing audio Bibles in their language.
The Word Riders tour was one of a number of projects planned by the Bible Society of South Africa to focus attention on the KJV and on Bible translations in all the languages of South Africa. The society will hold an exhibition at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in June/July, a theological day, an exhibition, ‘The Book of Books’, at the National Library in Cape Town and a Songs of Praise event in Durban. The society will also publish a special commemorative edition of the KJV with supplementary material in full colour which will be available at R125 per copy.
In the United Kingdom a stamp has been issued to commemorate the KJV 400th anniversary. The King James Bible Trust has arranged a range of events, including The Bush Bible: 72 plays inspired by the books of the Bible, commissioned by the Bush theatre, staged in St Paul’s; James: the Musical; and a competition for new church music inspired by the KJB. This week a Sussex church hosted a complete reading of the KJV by church members from March 21 to March 27.
In North America the KJV anniversary year is being marked by a number of exhibitions of rare English Bibles and Bible manuscripts, symposia and special services. Meanwhile Australia is celebrating with special exhibitions and festivals.
The 400th anniversary has also inspired some interesting online offerings. Here are a few:
The Youtube KJV – where you can be part of an ambitious project!