Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gary Palmer: Four hundred years later, KJV is still influential

  This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible that William Lyon Phelps said is "... is the foundation of Anglo-Saxon civilization."

  In 1604, King James I commissioned 54 scholars from Oxford and Cambridge Universities to produce one uniform translation of the Bible that all denominations could accept. It's unlikely that there has ever been another group of translators whose collective expertise in biblical languages was equal to this group.

  The 47 scholars who agreed to participate were arranged in six companies: two met at Cambridge and two met at Oxford Universities and both were under the direction of the royal Hebrew professors while two companies at Westminster Cathedral met under the supervision of the dean.

  Benson Bobrick, author of Wide as the Waters, wrote that because of the people's desire to read the Bible, the English translation, known as the Authorized Version in Great Britain, helped Great Britain become the most literate nation in the world. In terms of the language of the KJV, about 90 percent are Anglo-Saxon words with a vocabulary of only about eight thousand words for the entire translation and was the first major work of English prose based primarily on Anglo-Saxon words instead of Latin.

  The King James translation established the prose style for English and American literature and became the foundation of modern English language giving us words and phrases that are common parts of our language today. In his History of England, Thomas Macaulay, said that "... if everything else in our language should perish it would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power."

  Bobrick wrote, "Its subsequent impact on English (and American) literature might be traced in a thousand ways-in the work of religious writers like Milton and Bunyan, or their more secular brethren like D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, and Defoe. Without the King James Version, it has been said, 'there would be no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim's Progress, no Negro Spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.'"
  As Britain's literacy rate increased, it fostered a spirit of inquiry which led to people reading books and tracts that transformed the laws and government in Great Britain and ultimately laid the foundation for American political thought and our Founders' ideas about individual liberty and constitutional government.

  Including the 1611 edition, there were four other editions of the King James Bible which were published in 1629, 1638, 1762 and 1769; the last is the version that is most commonly cited today.

  "Next to the Bible itself," Bobrick wrote, "the English Bible was (and is) the most influential book ever published." According to Vanderbilt University Press, the KJV is the best-selling book of all time with more than 5 billion copies sold and it is the most frequently quoted book ever written.

  Russell Kirk concluded that it was the book that was to exert a stronger influence than any other in America. He wrote, "Read from American pulpits and in the great majority of American households during colonial times, the Authorized Version shaped the style, informed the intellect, affected the laws, and decreed the morals of the North American colonies."

  P. Marion Simms wrote, "No nation in all history was ever founded by people so dominated by the Bible as America." In fact, every American president except Franklin Pierce has been sworn in with their hands placed on a King James Bible. Some will argue that President Obama did not take the oath with his hand on the Bible because he had to re-take the oath of office after constitutional experts questioned the validity of the oath he took at his inauguration. Unfortunately, no one thought to bring a Bible, but at his inaugural, he took the oath with his hand on Lincoln's Bible.

  Even though it was published after the Jamestown Colony was established, the King James Bible was the book that had the greatest impact on the shaping of the American culture. G.K. Chesterton wrote, "[The English] did not really drive away the American colonists, nor were they driven. The [Americans] were led on by a light that went before."
  The light was the biblical light that the English Bible had given them: the idea of the equality of man. It was the idea of the sacred and equal importance of every man, as made in the image of God. But no single faith could claim it as its own.

  After four hundred years, the King James Version of the Bible still continues to influence America's political ideals, cultural standards and moral boundaries.
  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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