On the Anglican Authorized Version of 1611


I grew up in a Pentecostal church. At somewhere around age 7 or 8 I was given a King James version New Testament and instructed to read from it daily. I was relieved in my early teens when our church switched to the NIV. However now as an adult I keep being drawn back to the translation of my youth. When I hear scripture at Mass my mind is disturbed by the odder departures from traditional renderings. When scripture comes to my mind it is almost always as it is in the KJV. I have talked with other former protestants who report the similar problem of not being able to give it up. When my father returned to the Catholic Church I bought him a NAB, after a few weeks he told me (I paraphrase because I don’t remember his exact words) “It just doesn’t have the ring of the King James”.

I mean really what sounds better Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:” or “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger”
What is more memorable “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” or “Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings and of angels. If I don’t have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal.” Which would you rather carve in stone?

There is something about the King James version which is different, there is a literary beauty which haunts the memory. For good or for ill the King James Bible is the Bible in English. It has had a massive impact on the development of the English language, greater than Shakespeare. The following common colloquial expressions were introduced into English by the KJV.

“A law unto themselves” “A house divided” “A man after his own heart” “Apple of my eye” “Can a leopard change his spots?”  “By the skin of our teeth” “He gave up the ghost” “The writing on the wall”  “Labor of love” “No rest for the wicked” “Out of the mouths of babes” “Drop in the bucket”  “Put your house in order” “The blind leading the blind” “At their wit’s end” “In the land of Nod”

The literary importance is unquestioned, it flows beautifully in an almost musical manner, it is however a Protestant bible. Isn’t it full of biased renderings which under mind the Catholic faith? Isn’t it inappropriate for a Catholic to use this translation, it was the anti-Catholic Puritans who requested this translation be made after all?

I think there are a couple of places could be better from a Catholic point of view (the angelic salutation for example) but for the most part I think it’s decent. The way in which this translation came about reduced theological bias in translation.

When James I became King of England the Calvinistic Puritans (who at this point were still part of the Anglican Church) were creating all sorts of ruckus (a little later in English history they would start a civil war, kill the Monarch and outlaw Christmas). They requested an audience with the new king. He agreed to meet with four Puritan representatives. At the meeting they essentially made a bunch of demands… that bishops be abolished, surplices outlawed and generally the Anglican Church be made a sterile Calvinist icebox. Famously King James said ‘no bishops no king’ the only request he granted was for a new translation of the bible for the Anglican Church. You see the official ‘bishops bible’ translation was not popular, ordinary people were reading the Geneva bible which was full of Calvinistic and anti-monarchical notes. It was to his advantage to take up this request it made sense to produce a good translation and reduce Calvinistic influence by replacing a Puritan Bible with a more balanced Anglican one.

King James laid out the conditions for translation. Traditional ecclesiastical terms were to be maintained ‘church’ not ‘congregation’ for example. No explanatory notes were permitted only alternative translations of difficult words. The translation was to be done by a committee of 47 men, chosen for their abilities with the languages, the full spectrum of theological positions being represented. The committee was divided into 6 groups each group being assigned a portion to translate. They had to agree on their translation. Then the new translation was then read out loud to the entire committee and deliberated on taking into account how suitable it was for public proclamation (I am not aware of modern translations taking this into account, may this have contributed to the distinctive literary quality of the KJV?). The anti-Calvinist Bishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft had power to make final alterations. He made 14 including the use of the word ‘bishopric’ in Acts 1:20

Taking into consideration that we Catholics do not treat the Bible as a catechism and that the KJV is a high church Anglican translation, I think the devotional reading of it by Catholics is ok. With the development of the Anglican Ordinariate I think there will be/are many Anglican use Catholics privately reading it as well.

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5 Responses to On the Anglican Authorized Version of 1611

  1. cpttom says:

    The King James Bible is the version I first remember hearing outside of mass. I remember listening on my brand new transistor radio to Frank Borman and John Lovell of Apollo 8 in orbit around the Moon reading from the beginning of Genesis. It still rings true to this day.

    1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
    4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
    5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

    • bgpery says:

      Great story. I love the classic ‘heaven’ most modern translations have ‘heavens’

      The link isn’t working for me but I assume it is a recording of the event?

      I almost hate doing this to you, but contrast it with a popular paraphrase bible called ‘the Message”

      “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.”


      • cpttom says:

        Try this link instead: at about 1:10. I am betting they are reading from one of the little KJV bibles that the military gets from the Gideons or one of the other groups that gives out to the military

        Far as the modern translation. Wow, just wow. Why not just have a Dr Suess version?

  2. Tom B. says:

    I use the KJVA when praying my Daily Office in private. The Ordinariate’s official Mass and Office lectionary translation is the RSV-2CE (thank God–instead of the NAB), which is certainly one of the finest modern translations. But like you said, nothing approximates the Authorized Version in its mellifluous and memorable cadences. There’s a reason the Last Gospel in the Divine Worship Mass is taken out of the KJV.

    • bgpery says:

      I’ve found the Douay is nearly as satisfying. I think it’s because our Douay is Bishop Challoner’s revision which deliberately incorporated the KJV to a great extent.

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