400-Year Anniversary of the KJV Dead Ahead

Here in the U.S., in 2011 many people are likely to overlook one of the most significant anniversaries we’re likely to see in our lifetime: the 400-year anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version of the Bible, more popularly known as the King James Version (after James I, the monarch who commissioned it). Over in the UK, pundits are already talking about it and trying to coach the public on what sort of attitude it should have towards the event. In a nutshell: the KJV was a big influence on the English language and culture . . . now move on, nothing else to see here.

How on earth can even the most brazen secularist ignore the religious meaning of the KJV, perhaps the greatest artifact of Christian culture in the English-speaking world? “Oh, well, it was really just an instrument of political and social control. . . . I found quotes by two or three people in 1611 who were unhappy with the translation, so it must have been a hack job. . . . blah, blah, blah.”

If you saw me walk up to an extremely beautiful woman and fixate on one imperfection in her appearance, would you think I had sort of missed the point?

Yes, the KJV was meant to advance a particular agenda, but it was an agenda that its advocates sincerely believed arose from the teaching of Scripture itself. You see, in 1611 theological disputes actually mattered to people, and James I, whatever his failings (and despite what you’ve been told, homosexuality was most likely not one of them), was an accomplished theologian.

This translation was heard weekly (or even daily) from the pulpit or lectern by the overwhelming majority of people in the English-speaking world for centuries and shaped the way people spoke, wrote, and thought. Now we’re going to be subjected to cultural critics tell us that its importance is all about the form and not the content. They’re even warning people not to let Christians “claim” the KJV. I guess we’ll all have to work on controlling our gag reflex next year while celebrating the real significance of this text.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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