, Newburyport, MA


May 12, 2014

A look at the King's English


To abbreviate a long and fascinating story, a not-wholly-pious king, King James, in response to a Protestant complaint, authorized the creation of a proper English Bible in 1604. He appointed 47 scholars representing a wide diversity of views to work on it. Divided into three committees meeting in three different places to address different parts of the revision, these men, amazingly, were able to come together, reach agreement, and produce a completed work in 1611.

The result was a document which deeply influenced English, “infusing its richness of texture, familiarity of phrasing, fund of imagery, force of simplicity into the very texture of our cultural heritage … informing much of our sense of community, of common language, [and] of belief …”.

Says one scholar, “… the ultimate standard of English prose style is set by the King James version of the Bible.” Charles Dickens’s statement that “The New Testament is the best book the world has ever known or will know” has been echoed in one form or another by scores of great writers and statesmen.

Johannes Gutenberg’s printed Latin Bible (1450) had paved the way for the KJV to be widely distributed to both churches and individuals. It is hard to imagine, but estimates of the number of copies of the KJV printed since its initial publication range into the billions.

In America, the first English Bible was printed in 1782 and widely distributed, influencing, said Noah Webster “[the] forming and preserving [of] our national American language.”

At least 250 phrases in common modern English usage came from or through the KJV. “Salt of the earth,” “Blind leading the blind,” “The skin of his teeth,” “The scales fell from his eyes,” “Give up the ghost,” “The grapes of wrath” and “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” are among many apt, colorful metaphors still in use.

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