The Elegant King James Bible

Celebrating 400 Years of Influence

KJV title page. (Photo courtesy of American Bible Society’s Rare Scriptures Collection)

This year commemorates the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Known today for its elegance, the KJV has immeasurably shaped the rhetoric and literary expression of generations of English speakers.

James I of England convened the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 for the purpose of bringing unity among various religious factions that were dividing the English people over the text of the Bible. John Reynolds, a leading Puritan representative, suggested that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken.

Some 50 scholars from three eminent institutions — Oxford and Cambridge universities and Westminster Abbey — were divided into six groups or “companies”; three companies were assigned the Old Testament, two were assigned the New Testament, and the sixth company was assigned the apocryphal books. These scholars commenced translating late in 1604, and their goal was to produce a fresh translation in an English style that would communicate clearly to all the people the message of Scripture and unite them around a common English Bible.

With the companies diligently checking one another's drafts, the manuscript was completed in 1610, and the Bible was published in 1611. First known as the Authorized version, because its authorizing patron was King James I, it quickly became known more widely and popularly as the King James Version.

In this landmark anniversary year, American Bible Society celebrates the historic achievement of the KJV translators and the precedent they set in the ongoing field of Bible translation. This legacy continues to ensure that the message of the Bible affirms the power of God to speak to every generation through the Holy Scriptures.

A Brief History of the English Bible

American Bible Society celebrates the historic achievement of the King James Version translators, who set a precedent in the ongoing field of translation.

3rd–2nd century B.C.
Septuagint Greek Old Testament

4th century A.D.
Jerome's Latin Bible (Vulgate)

ca. 1384
Wycliffe's Bible
John Wycliffe realized that a Bible in English was needed, and under his inspiration the first translation of the entire Bible into English was made from Latin.

Tyndale's New Testament, Old Testament Portions
When church authorities in England prohibited a new English translation, William Tyndale went to Germany where he translated the New Testament from the original Greek. He also translated portions of the Old Testament (Pentateuch, 1530; Jonah 1531). This first-printed English New Testament was published in 1526 and smuggled into England but frequently confiscated.

Coverdale's Bible
Like Tyndale, Miles Coverdale fled to Germany to complete a translation of the Bible. He used Latin and German versions as well as Tyndale's New Testament and portions of the Old Testament. This was the first printed English Bible.

Matthew's Bible
Matthew's Bible, a revision by John Rogers of Tyndale's work, contained additional sections of Tyndale's unpublished work and portions translated by Coverdale.

The Great Bible
Largely a revision of Matthew's Bible undertaken by Coverdale and incorporating good contemporary scholarship, it got its name because of the large format used to facilitate church use.

The Geneva Bible
A revision of the Great Bible, with decidedly Protestant commentary, produced by English Puritans in Geneva.

The Bishops' Bible
A revision of the Great Bible, prepared by Matthew Parker and others, served as the base for the revision ordered by King James.

King James Bible
For more than 250 years, the King James Bible was supreme among English-speaking people. During the last century, knowledge from newly-discovered manuscripts, archaeological discoveries and recent scholarship has led to its revision, and also to meaning-for-meaning functional equivalent translations, an approach to translation pioneered by Dr. Eugene A. Nida, a premier linguist and Bible translation theoretician, who worked more than 50 years for and with American Bible Society.

Selected Modern Translations into English

1881 – 1885
First “Revised Version” published in England

American Standard Version
A modification of the English Revised Version

1913 – 1924
Moffatt Bible

Jewish Publication Society Hebrew Bible

1923 – 1927
Smith-Goodspeed Bible, An American Translation

1946 – 1952
Revised Standard Version

1962 – 1982
Jewish Publication Society Tanakh
Torah (1962); Prophets (1978); Writings (1982)

1963 -1971
New American Standard Bible

The Jerusalem Bible

Good News Bible

The New English Bible

New American Bible

1973 – 1978
New International Version

1978-1986, 1991
International Children's Bible/New Century Version

1979 – 1982
New King James Bible

The New Jerusalem Bible

The Revised English Bible

New Revised Standard Version

Contemporary English Version

The Inclusive New Testament

New Living Translation

1999 – 2003
Holman Christian Standard Bible

English Standard Version

2004 – 2007
The Inclusive Bible

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