A Word to the Wise: King James Version marks 400 years

By: Tom Rupp, Special to the Telegraph
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This month my son celebrated his 22nd birthday and my stepson turned 32. There is also another big birthday remembrance. This year, the King James Version of the Bible celebrates the 400th anniversary of its introduction onto the world stage. The May issue of Christianity Today devoted its cover story to celebrate and the most recent issue of Christian History deals in depth with how this much-revered and oft-quoted book came to be. It was not as neat and clean as one might think. So many of our distinct expressions came from the King James Version. Phrases such as “city on a hill,” “a house divided,” “apple of his eye,” “the quick and the dead,” “reap the whirlwind” and “two-edged sword” for starters. Oh, and I almost forgot “skin of my teeth.” There are many more expressions that have found their way into our everyday language. For hundreds of years the KJV has especially informed American culture. Robert Alter asserts, “The KJV determined the foundational language and symbolic imagery of a whole culture. It created a stylistic precedent for the American ear in which a language that was elaborately old-fashioned, that stood at a distance form contemporary usage, was assumed to be the vehicle for expressing matters of high import and grand spiritual scope.” You only have to read the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King for starters to see the truth in that statement. In fact, every recent president has had the language of the KJV Bible worked into speeches. Ah, but times are changing, as they always do. We now have numerous translations and paraphrases in English that sound more palpable to the 21st century American ear. I once tried to read the Message version of Psalm 23 at a funeral. It didn’t work. People still want to hear, “The Lord is my shepherd.” I have a slight bias towards the KJV. When I first became a Christian I read an old KJV cover to cover three times in one year, starting at Genesis, slugging through the laws of Leviticus, naming every name in 1 Chronicles, on and on to the last “Amen.” Kenneth Curtis said, “The rhetorical world of an America dominated by Biblical locutions has passed away, and a new world has taken its place.” So happy birthday, King James Version. You have lived a good life. Maybe you have a few more years left in you. Tom Rupp is a Bible teacher at Capital Bible College. He can be reached at