May 2, 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible (KJV).
In 1604, King James I of England authorized a new translation of the Bible into English. A committee of scholars was formed and the work begun. It was finished in 1611– just 85 years after the first translation of the New Testament into English by Tyndale (1526).
Books on the influence of the KJV are numerous and often a bit ponderous. Two forthcoming resources, however, look promising: The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi (Thomas Nelson Publishers, May 2011) and a DVD, KJB: The Book that Changed the World. (Lions Gate, April 2011)
Three Reasons to Study the KJV and Its History:
1. The publication of the KJV played a key role in the Protestant Reformation, a revolution that changed the church forever.
2. The KJV altered the way we speak, think and write–even today. The KJV’s flowing, rhythmic prose profoundly influenced the literature of the subsequent 400 years.
3. The KJV is regarded as the seedbed of Western democracy and provides foundational ideas on human rights, justice, heroism, optimism, compassion, capitalism, family, and morality.
During the centuries that followed its publication, the Authorized Version, or King James Version as it came to be known, was the measure for a literate and well-educated person. The reason is easy to see if we are familiar with Charlotte Mason’s ideas on living books—and this is THE living book. Living books contain living ideas which “reproduce after their kind.”
The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows––the sustenance of living ideas. (School Education, p.121)
Can a Young Child Understand the KJV?
Miss Mason would say unquestionably, yes!
In Philosophy of Education, she quotes the poet Thomas Traherne’s description of his early memories of being read aloud the Scriptures. (One can only assume it was the KJV, since he lived within fifty years of its publication):
“When I heard of any new kingdom beyond the seas the light and glory of it entered into me. It rose up within me and I was enlarged by the whole. I entered into it, I saw its commodities, springs, meadows, inhabitants and became possessor of that new room as if it had been prepared for me so much was I magnified and delighted in it. When the Bible was read my spirit was present in other ages. I saw the light and splendour of them, the land of Canaan, the Israelites entering into it, the ancient glory of the Amorites, their peace and riches, their cities, houses, vines and fig trees . . . I saw and felt all in such a lively manner as if there had been no other way to those places but in spirit only. Without changing place in myself I could behold and enjoy all those. Anything when it was proposed though it was a thousand years ago being always present before me.” (p.40)
In Home Education, Miss Mason cautions us to remember the tender of the spirits of children and their openness to Scripture:
“We are apt to believe that children cannot be interested in the Bible unless its pages be watered down––turned into the slipshod English we prefer to offer them. Here is a suggestive anecdote of the childhood of Mrs Harrison, one of the pair of little Quaker maidens introduced to us in the Autobiography of Mary Howitt, the better known of the sisters. “One day she found her way into a lumber room. There she caught sight of an old Bible and turning over its yellow leaves she came upon words that she had not heard at the usual morning readings, the opening chapters of St Luke––which her father objected to read aloud––and the closing chapter of Revelation. The exquisite picture of the Great Child’s birth in the one chapter and the beauty of the description of the New Jerusalem in the other, were seized upon by the eager little girl of six years old with a rapture which, she used to say, no novel in after years ever produced.”
And here is a mention of a child of five. “The little ones read every day the events of Holy Week with me. Z. is inexpressibly interesting in his deep, reverent interest, almost excitement.” We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to ‘deal prudently,’ and to deal reverently. And that, because, as none can appreciate more fully than the ‘Darwinian,’ the attitude of thought and feeling in which you place a child is the vital factor in his education. (p. 245)
Five Ways to Learn More about the KJV:
• Use the KJV for copywork. Here is an online version.
• Watch this series of five, short videos which traces the history of the KJV.
• Learn more about King James I, a devout Christian, scholar, poet, and wise statesman here.
• When memorizing passages of Scripture use the KJV; the Psalms are a good place to begin.
• During this anniversary year, read aloud the KJV, instead of your preferred translation.