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King James Version of the Bible
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King James Version of the Bible

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The King James Version (KJV) is an English translation of the Holy Bible, commissioned for the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of England. First published in 1611, it is perhaps the most influential English version in America. Though often referred to as the Authorised Version (AV), it was never officially sanctioned by the English monarchy or the clerical hierarchy of the Church of England. It is no longer in copyright in most parts of the world but has a special position in the United Kingdom, relating in part to the established religion.

Table of contents
1 Starting the project
2 Literary qualities
3 Subsequent history
4 Copyright status
5 See also
6 External links

Starting the project

Its development began when King James I called a conference at Hampton Court in 1604. Eventually seven different editions of the King James Version were produced, the most recent of which was produced in 1769, and it is this edition which is most commonly cited as the King James Version (KJV).

The motivation behind the KJV translation was in large part due to the Protestant belief that the Bible was the sole source of doctrine (see sola scriptura) and as such should be translated into the local vernacular. By the time that the King James Bible was written, there was already a tradition going back almost a hundred years of Bible translation into English, starting with William Tyndale. At the time of the King James Bible, the authorised version of the Church of England was the Bishops' Bible. The Bishops' Bible, however, enjoyed little popular esteem, and its popularity was eclipsed by the Geneva Bible, whose marginal notes espoused a Protestantism that was too Puritan and radical for King James's taste.

At the Hampton Court conference, King James proposed that a new translation be commissioned to settle the controversies, and hopefully, to replace the Geneva Bible and its offensive notes in the popular esteem. King James gave the translators instructions, which were designed to discourage polemical notes, and to guarantee that the new version would be conformed to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. The instructions he gave said:

The King James Version translators worked in several committees, based at Oxford University, Cambridge University, and Westminster. They worked on certain parts separately; then the drafts produced by each committee were compared and revised for harmony with each other. The committees were:

to the 1611 first edition of the King James Bible shows the Twelve Apostles at the top. Moses and Aaron flank the central text.  In the four corners sit Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, authors of the four gospels, with their symbolic animals.]]

Literary qualities

The King James Version has traditionally been appreciated for the quality of the prose and poetry in the translation. However, the English language has changed somewhat since the time of publication and the translators of the Bible used a version of English that was somewhat anachronistic and archaic even at the time of publication. For example, the King James Version uses words such as "ye", "thee", and "thou", and uses phrases such as "Fear not ye" (instead of "Do not be afraid"). This means that modern readers often find the KJV more difficult to read than more recent translations (for the same reason that they often find Shakespeare more difficult to read than more recent authors). Here are some brief samples of text that demonstrate its translation style:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:13-18)

Like the earlier English translations like Tyndale and Geneva, the King James Version was translated from Greek and Hebrew texts, bypassing the Latin Vulgate. The King James Version Old Testament is based on the Masoretic Text while the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus as published by Erasmus. The King James Version is a fairly literal translation of these base sources; words implied but not actually in the original source are specially marked (either by being inside square brackets, as shown above, or as italic text).

One aspect of its style was originally due to grammatical uncertainty. At the time William Tyndale made his Bible translation, there was uncertainty in Early Modern English as to whether the older pronoun his or the neologism its was the proper genitive case of the third person singular pronoun it. Tyndale dodged the difficulty by using phrases such as the blood thereof rather than choosing between his blood or its blood. By the time the King James translators wrote, usage had settled on its, but Tyndale's style was familiar and considered a part of an appropriately Biblical style, and they chose to retain the old wording.

There are some differences from modern Bibles, which are based in part on more recently discovered manuscripts. Some conservative fundamentalist Protestants believe that the newer versions of the Bible are based on corrupt manuscripts and that the King James Version is more authentic than more recent versions. See King-James-Only Movement.

The King James Version tends to be less sanitized than later versions. This can be seen in numerous verses, for example, 1 Samuel 25:22 and 34, Lamentations 1:17 and Revelation 1:13.

Subsequent history

While the King James Version was meant to replace the Bishops' Bible as the official version of the Church of England, it apparently was never specifically approved to do so. It nevertheless began to replace earlier editions in the Church of England.

Its acceptance by the general public took longer. The Geneva Bible continued to be quite popular, and continued to be reprinted well into the period of the English Civil War, in which where soldiers of the New Model Army were issued Genevan New Testaments called "The Soldiers' Bible." One early printing of the King James Bible combines the King James translation text with the Genevan marginal notes. After the English Restoration, however, the Geneva Bible was held to be politically suspect, and a reminder of a repudiated era. The King James Bible then became the only current version circulated among English speaking people.

Current printings of the King James Bible differ from the original in several ways:

Current printings of the King James Bible are typically based on an edition published at Oxford University in 1769. That edition applied the device of supplying italics for absent words much more thoroughly, corrected a number of minor errors in punctuation, and made the spelling consistent and updated. Current printings of the King James Bible are typically based on the 1769 Oxford text rather than the 1611 text.

Thomas Nelson has printed a romanized facsimile of the 1611 first edition of the King James Bible, ISBN 0517367483.

Copyright status

In England, the "Authorised Version" is subject to a perpetual Crown Copyright held by the British government. This is because the printing of the KJV was originally covered by Letters Patent which means that to this day it comes under the Crown prerogative section of copyright law in the United Kingdom. It was protected by this means due to its status there as an official document of the established Church of England. The British government licenses all printings of the text in England, typically by designating one printer as the authorised publisher; other printers must obtain a sublicence from that one.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge also possess the right to print editions of the Bible, and many English printings are issued or licensed by the university presses. Annotated study Bibles escape the monopoly by being labelled as "Bible commentaries," and can also use the text.

The monopoly holds no force in Scotland, where the Church of England has never been the established church, nor in Wales. Elsewhere in the world, the text of the King James Version has long since become a part of the public domain.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publishes an approved edition of the Authorised Version in English that includes cross references to the Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture.

See also

External links