Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy 400th Anniversary to the King James Version of the Bible

In Catholic circles the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible understandably passed on Monday without much notice and certainly with no fanfare. Not having been raised a Catholic I grew up reading from and listening to the King James Bible exclusively. I was probably in my twenties before I read from any other version of the Bible. In recent years I have started to once again use the KJV in my private devotional reading of Sacred Scripture. I agree very much with what Peter Hitchens wrote earlier this year in an article to mark the KJV's anniversary lauding its beauty and timelessness: "it is not simply a translation, but a poetic translation, written to be read out loud to country people in large buildings without loudspeakers, to be remembered, to lodge in the mind and to disturb the temporal with the haunting sound of the eternal."

Something else I read this week that is worth passing along is a a very good and rather funny sermon preached to mark this noteworthy occasion delivered at St. Michael’s Cornhill by Rev. Peter Mullen. Dr. Mullen achieved notoriety a few years ago with what he thought was an uproariously funny anti-homosexual ditty that he posted on his blog, drawing the attention and ire of the British press and the attention of the Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres, who preached what I thought was a very good sermon at the Royal Wedding last Friday. Mullen publicly and sincerely apologized for his gaffe. In any case, in his sermon Dr. Mullen compares and contrasts the poetic beauty of the King James Version with the less than inspiring, although perhaps more literally translated, modern English versions. The New Jerusalem Bible is the one most singled out for the inadequacy of its language. One example will suffice:

The King James Version says, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord..."

In the New Jerusalem Bible this degenerates into tasteless obscurantism:
"If you live in the shelter of Elyon and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai, you can say to Yahweh..."


  1. Perhaps it's just that the family bible that most Catholic families had was the Douay Rheims translation.
    We had a large family bible. It was one of those things your parents received on their wedding, and it remained in a dusty corner, never to be touched.

    Obviously, the KJV was far more widespread that the DRV. I've never really done a comparison of them. Although i'm not terribly fond of the NAB, it is the one I use simply because it is the bible i've had for the longest.

    I think the KJV still has great appeal due to its traditional use, as well as the timelessness that it communicates in using what is considered today to be old English. It sounds more solemn, and reminds us of a more eternal character of scripture. These things should not be overlooked for they have that great advantage over more contemporary translations.

  2. What many people fail to recognize is that even in 1611 the language of the KJV was archaic, which the translators saw as fitting for religious use. I quite agree with this, which is why, for example, I am looking forward to the new translation of the Mass.

    I use multiple translations of the Bible, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NAB, ESV, even Eugene Peterson's The Message, and now the NABRE, which only has a new translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the NT remains the 1986 translation.