|A Brief Review of
By Gordon Campbell.
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Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.
This year, 2011, marks the 400th anniversary of the translation and publication of the most influential and widely used version of the Bible in history. What we call “The King James Version,” or, more accurately, the Authorized Version was prepared under the direction of King James I, a British monarch who loved theology and who wanted God’s Word read from all the pulpits on English soil. He assembled “a group of bishops and moderate puritans” and charged them with producing an English translation of the Bible that could be used in the churches to communicate God’s truth in the language of the people.
Gordon Campbell’s book covers the history of the KJV from its inception to the present. About one-third of the book focuses on the original translators and how they approached their monumental task. There had been other English versions before the KJV – and the translators didn’t hesitate to borrow freely from Tyndale’s version or the Bishop’s Bible – but this English version would eclipse all others. Not only would this version have the approval and authorization of the British king (thus, the “Authorized” Version to be read in all the churches in England), but it would also come to be loved by millions of English-speaking Christians. Campbell’s own love for the majestic text is obvious: “It is the King James Version that has been loved by generations of those who have listened to it or read it themselves or to others; other translations may engage the mind, but the King James Version is the Bible of the heart.”
While at times Campbell can get so detailed that (in his own words) “the reader’s eyes may glaze over,” some of the most entertaining sections of the book relate to the many memorable misprints that various printings of the KJV have produced. In the first edition of the KJV published in small, personal Bibles (as opposed to large pulpit Bibles), Psalm 119:161 reads, “Printers have persecuted me without cause,” rather than “princes” who do the persecuting. In 1631 an edition later dubbed the Wicked Bible left out the word, “not,” in a crucial commandment, making it read: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The printers had to remove the books from sale and were heavily fined but, ten years later, the same printers left out the word “no” in Revelation 21:1 which then read: “And there was more sea.” A printing in 1795 has Jesus saying in Mark 7:27, “Let the children first be killed,” when what he really wanted was the children to be filled (or, fed). In 1801 an edition came out that changed “murmurers” in Jude 16 to “murderers” and so it became known as the Murderer’s Bible.
Campbell extols the virtues of the KJV not so much in terms of its literary merit, but in its profound impact on the religious culture of the English-speaking world. Its influence is acknowledged by virtually every knowledgeable Christians, according to Campbell, and in the United States the KJV has enjoyed “a central and prolonged presence in the religious life of the nation.” The KJV was the Bible of our nation’s founding fathers, its classic English style and cadence shaped American literature, and, in the words of President Howard Taft, speaking at the version’s 300th anniversary in 1911, “its spirit has influenced American ideals in life and laws and government.”
Bible is just one of several books being published in honor of the King James Version during this anniversary year. If you want an expansive history of the version’s origins and influence from a deeply admiring but certainly not blind-sided author, Gordon Campbell’s book is the one to read first and to refer to often.
Douglas Connelly is the senior pastor of Parkside Community Church in Sterling Heights, MI. His mother still listens to a recorded version of the King James Bible every night as she falls asleep.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com