No King James Version?

The title page to the 1611 first edition of th...

The 400th anniversary year of the King James Version is now over, but it is still interesting to ponder what the world would be like without the profound influence of that translation of the Bible not only on Christian worship and practice, but on the language, metaphors, and poetry of the English Language. As one believer is said to have stated, “if the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!”

Over at Christian Century, Mark Noll, Professor of History at Notre Dame University,  suggests what the impact might have been if the King James Bible had never existed. Some of the costs he imagines are “awkwardness” in corporate worship and problems with Bible memorization. On the other hand, the promises might well have included less of an inclination in Protestant Christianity to believe that the Bible offers a singular message. Furthermore, the KJV provided a perspective on slavery and servanthood that allowed supporters of slavery in the Americas to argue that slavery had divine sanction.

Because the King James Version now holds such a respected place in Protestant history, we forget how controversial it was four hundred years ago. Noll invites us to remember both the good and the ill:

When the KJV became the cultural and literary standard for the entire English-speaking world, it was easier to focus on the literary excellence of the translation without stopping to face the divine imperatives and promises that are any Bible’s primary reason for existence. The pervasive cultural presence of this Bible also made it easy to exploit scriptural words, phrases, images, and allusions for their evocative power, even when those uses contradicted the Bible’s basic spiritual meaning.


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