Thursday, January 13, 2011


2011, in case you haven't noticed, marks 400 years since publication of the most influential of all English translations of the Bible. This is of course the King James Version (KJV), aka the Authorised Version (AV). I already ran two posts on the KJV and its translators, inspired by Adam Nicolson's book Power and Glory. That was back in 2009 (November 27 and December 2). I concluded that the 50 clergymen who made up the revision teams were Expert or Advanced Native Translators but not Professionals, though some of them had their living expenses subsidised in the form of church appointments.

Since then, several other celebratory books have been published, including one by David Crystal in which he traces the KJV origin of hundreds of expressions that made their way into common English. And to think that there are still university departments of English Literature that don't include the KJV in their syllabuses, reading lists or libraries!

In the past few days, the excitement has spread to the press, with articles in The New York Times, The Independent, The Boston Globe, The Scotsman, etc., and as far afield as The Mormon Times and the Grand Junction Sentinel. They all praise the good influence that its style has had on English. They also give short histories of why and how it was made at the behest of King James I of England; and many emphasise that it was less an original translation than an amalgam and revision of existing ones, particularly the one made by William Tyndale nearly a century earlier. As much as 75% of it has been attributed to Tyndale. Here's a fragment from Tyndale:
"Whill he thus thought behold ye angell of ye Lorde appered vnto him in a dreame saynge: Ioseph ye sonne of David feare not to take vnto ye Mary thy wyfe. For that which is coceaved in her is of the holy goost."
and here's the same fragment in the KJV:
"But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
In another medium, Ann Corsellis has led me to a series of BBC Radio 4 radio programmes made with all the usual BBC excellence. It's composed of commentaries and readings. The initial reading from Genesis by Samuel West is thrillingly impressive, and it has a good introduction by historian Simon Schama. Catch it while you can: only three days left (see References).

Bible translating could be, and can still be, a dangerous pursuit. Tyndale was hounded out of England and executed by strangulation for his Protestant presumptuousness, and in Spain the dreaded Inquisition proscribed Bible translating for two centuries. Now comes bad news from Nigeria.
"Wycliffe Bible Translators reports that the translator/coordinator of the Tarok translation project in Nigeria was kidnapped in Jos on December 16... roughly 70 percent of the Tarok people are Christians. The New Testament and the Jesus film are already available in their language.
However, Tarok believers are eager for more background material. The Old Testament can provide a foundation to better understand Christ's teachings in their New Testament. A team was formed, and the project got underway.
Excitement grew as people began to understand how much their culture would benefit from both an oral and a written form of the Bible... The kidnapping is a crushing blow for the team. Please pray for the coordinator's safe release... Pray, too, for his family and for the Tarok translation team. As a result of this incident, the team was forced to cancel a translation-checking session scheduled for this month."

To be continued.

The Holy Bible Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly translated out of the Originall Tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and reuised by His Majesties speciall Commandement. Appointed to be read in Churches. London: Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie, 1611.
The image above is of the title page.

Adam Nicolson. Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible. London, 2003. 281 p.; many colour illustrations. Available in paperback.

David Crystal. Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Rachel Sauer. Translation leaves 400-year mark on faith, culture and language. The Daily Sentinel newspaper (Grand Junction, USA), January 10, 2011.

William Tyndale. In Wikipedia.

The text of Tyndale's New Testament, 1526 edition, can be read on the site of the StudyLight organisation,, which is a fantastic tool for comparing English Bible versions.

King James Bible at 400. BBC Radio 4, 2011.

Bible translator kidnapped. Mission Network News, January 10, 2011.


  1. Thanks! A big surprise tied into the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Version Bible:

    Two scholars have compiled the first worldwide census of extant copies of the original first printing of the 1611 King James Version (sometimes referred to as the "He" Bible). For decades, authorities from the British Museum, et al., have estimated that “around 50 copies” of that first printing still exist. The real number, however, is quite different!

    For more information, you're invited to contact Donald L. Brake, Sr., PhD, at or his associate David Sanford at

    You’re also invited to visit the website for more information.