The King James Version
For over 400 years, the King James Version has been the trusted translation for millions of believers, capturing the majesty of God's Word and shaping the worship of generations.
An Enduring Legacy
The KJV translation begins.
Commissioned by the recently crowned King James I, 47 translators gathered at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster to begin the work of updating the primary translation of the day, the Bishop’s Bible.
The KJV is completed.
After a careful review, the KJV was completed and first published in 1611.
Milton drew on the KJV for Paradise Lost, even using Genesis 3:12 word for word: “She gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
The text of the Messiah comes from the KJV, such as Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given …”
His famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was preached from the KJV, including Luke 12:5, “But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell … ”
George Washington drew on the KJV throughout his life, including dozens of references to resting “under his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:4).
She took many notes in her KJV, such as on Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think … ”
Throughout his ministry, Spurgeon preached from the KJV, and said the translation was, “as a rule, marvelously correct and singularly forcible.”
Isaiah 26:2 is engraved on the gate to Harvard University: “Open ye the gates that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter.”
In his evangelistic crusades around the world, Billy Graham preached from the KJV.
Churchill quoted Matthew 7:7 in a broadcast during World War II: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"
Achebe, who was educated on the KJV, used Matthew 4:16 in No Longer at Ease: “The people which sat in darkness saw great light … ”
Martin Luther King Jr.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. draws on multiple passages, including Amos 5:24, “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
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The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
New to the KJV? Here's what to expect.
Since 1611, Christians have turned to the King James Version of the Bible for a faithful and beautiful rendering of God’s Word. Its rich tradition has guided generations of pastors, authors, and scholars, while its reverent language continues to shape our words today.
The KJV was translated in the beginning of the 1600s. The scholars translating it were among the top scholars of their day, and most were deeply familiar with literature and poetry as well as with theology and ancient languages. They were also intent on creating a translation that would last for generations, so they avoided recent changes to the language, often using words and phrases that sounded formal even then to ensure the dignity and longevity of the translation.
That said, the KJV is remarkably readable for a four-hundred-year-old book. This reflects the translators’ original goals, which were written down in the preface to the first edition: “We desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.”
For clarity, translators favored simple words, especially one-syllable words. This helps to keep the translation understandable today, as well as contributing to its stately cadence.
When the KJV was translated, fewer people were literate, church was structured a little differently, and it was the norm to read out loud rather than silently. As a result, people were more likely to hear the Bible than to read it. The KJV reflects this with a majestic rhythm that is almost musical at times.
Calling God “Thou”
Today, “thou” sounds strange and formal to us, but it was once a sign of closeness. In early modern English, there were two forms of you, as there still are in many other languages, such as Spanish, French, and German. “You” was plural, but it was also used to show respect or formality. “Thou” was singular, but it was only used with close friends, family, or subordinates.
Scholars differ on why the KJV uses “thou” for God. Some argue it’s an attempt to stay close to the Latin “tu” or to emphasize the one-ness of God. Others point to the intimacy of our relationship with God, seeing “thou” as a display of the affection and trust we feel towards our heavenly Father.
In the centuries following its translation, the KJV remained one of the most widely read and studied books in the English language. Memorized by countless students and preached on countless Sundays, its phrases gradually entered our everyday language: “how are the mighty fallen,” “the skin of my teeth,” “at their wit’s end,” “in the twinkling of an eye,” “a thief in the night,” and hundreds of others.