The King James Bible: 400-year-old bestseller

In 2011 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of this historic biblical translation.

VANCOUVER, Wash., February 3, 2011 — Four-hundred years ago in a small London neighborhood residents burrowed deep in their beds enjoying the luxury of the last hour before dawn, unaware of the furious activity a few doors down at the printing shop. Inside the typesetters loaded presses while printers turned the huge handles that pressed plates and paper to the inked typesets.

The printing of this book changed the English literary landscape for all time. Along with the works of William Shakespeare this new book would forge a culture, develop a modern English language, and define the lyrical beauty of biblical expressions. It is popularly known today as the King James Bible.

King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition by Gordon Campbell

King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition by Gordon Campbell

In 2011 we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible.

But is this really the beginning of the World’s Best-Selling Book? Was the King James Bible the first Bible in English? And, if this 400 year old book is so influential and wonderful, then why are there so many English translations today? Why don’t we just use one Bible?

We know Moses and Jesus did not speak English. When then, was the Bible  translated into English? The story might surprise you.

The Bible did not appear in English until the 14th century.

The story of the English language is the story of the historical movements and cultural influences that channel the words and thoughts, not to mention the hearts and lives of people throughout the ages.  To glimpse the history of the language of the Bible is to glimpse our own story.

 English as a language, like all languages, has been evolving for centuries. However, unlike many languages, English came onto the scene rather late in history and developed rather rapidly. When Jesus roamed the hills of Judea during the Roman period of history, English as a language did not exist.

Ancient England communicated in a language referred to as proto Anglo-Saxon. It included both Germanic and Celtic elements.  Not until the sixth century did a form of English take shape known as Old English. During this period the British were tossed about by an influx of invasions that infused flavor and texture to the English language. English was being shaped by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who battled with the Scots and Gaels who shared the land. During the early development of English, only small portions of the Christian scriptures were put into verse, generally from Latin translations.

This battle for a distinct language continued until the Norman Conquest in 1066. From the French Norman influence until 1500 the Englishman spoke Middle English. The Norman invasion brought a new element into the English language. French became the official language of the land. This period brought about an evolution from Anglo-Saxon to an Anglo-Norman or Middle English. English developed into a language immortalized by Chaucer. For the first time an English language emerged that modern discerning readers can understand. John Wycliffe, sometimes referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation translated the entire Bible into English (1382).
Modern English (1500-modern day) reached its summit in the period of the translation of the famous King James Bible and the literary works of William Shakespeare. The powerful and universal influence of English culture developed under Queen Elizabeth I (sixteenth century) and sustained by King James I now had a Bible in English. The stage was set for the massive printing of an English Bible.

Donald L. Brake, Sr. writes The World’s Bestselling Book, a column that can be found at The World’s Best Selling Book in The Washington Times Communities.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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