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1611-2011: The King James Version of the Bible

Fires of Faith: A three-part BYU-TV production about the Bible's role through the ages in spiritual life, freedom and political change

The early history of the Bible is one of an epic struggle of the common people to gain knowledge and power over their own lives by obtaining what they considered this most precious of books in a language they could understand. Governments and churches did their utmost to withhold it from them. The people ultimately prevailed, with the struggle highlighting the gift of the Bible and the value of fighting for freedom.

William Tyndale's translations in the early 1500s accounted for 80-90 percent of the later King James Bible. In 1536 Tyndale was burned at the stake in England for his efforts. He was around 42 years old.

In 1604 King James I, newly ascended to the throne and a learned person himself, sponsored 47 top English scholars who brought forth a new English version of the Bible, the Authorized King James Version, in 1611.

The Bible is the book that shaped England and the U.S. more than any other, and is the best selling book of all time. The KJV gave a tremendous boost to what has become the most influential language in the world, English. It has had more impact on the language than any other book, with the Book of Common Prayer ranking second and Shakespeare (a contemporary of King James I and the KJV translators) third, according to a scholar in this video series. These books gave the English a newfound respect for the capacity and eloquence of their language.

The translators who worked on the King James Bible worked first and foremost for accuracy, truth and clarity. Secondly, but not a close second, they wrote for eloquence of language: how it sounded when read out loud. The abilities of the King James Bible scholars were probably superior to what can be found today, says one of the experts in this series.

Pilgrim John Alden brought a copy of the King James Bible with him on the Mayflower in 1620 and Puritan John Winthrop brought a copy to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, later called Boston, in 1630.

From the Bible we have such expressions as "Hiding your light under a bushel," "Going the extra mile," "The powers that be," "Let there be light," "Eat, drink and be merry," "Am I my brother's keeper?" and many more. These and other biblical expressions are universally used and understood throughout America and the U.K. by believers and nonbelievers alike.


(4 min 26 sec)

From BYU-TV Introduction:

Part 1: Yearning for the Word

In the 15th century, an English Bible was forbidden to the people of England, even though in most of Europe (France, Germany, Denmark . . . ) the Bible was available in the vernacular.

From the beginning of Part 1: Hundreds of years ago on an obscure European island [England], a book was born that transformed the world: a book that gave rise to the world's greatest language and changed the way much of the world was governed, a book that outsold all other books ever written, a book that cost thousands of men and women their very lives. A book that is increasingly relegated to the role of religious relic, rather than revered as a revolutionary text that changed the world. As this book is increasingly forgotten, so might be those who gave their lives that the book might live.

(51 min 57 sec)

Click to watch Part 1

Part 2: Martyrs for a Book

English Church officials were frightened over what they saw happening elsewhere in Europe, where Martin Luther’s Reformation had taken hold. Noting the newly available Bibles to the people, they determined to keep the Bible from their own people in England. Learned men who worked illegally to make an English language Bible available to the masses became martyrs. Among them was William Tyndale.

(51 min 57 sec)

Click to watch Part 2

Part 3: The Coming Forth of the King James Bible

King James I ascended the English throne in 1603, succeeding Queen Elizabeth I, who had restored Protestantism to the country after it had been dismantled during the five-year reign of her half sister, the Catholic Queen Mary (Bloody Mary). Mary had succeeded her half brother Edward VI, a Protestant, who in turn had succeeded his father, who was also the father of Mary and Elizabeth, Henry VIII. It was King Henry VIII who had originally separated England from the Catholic Church so that he could be free of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (mother of Mary), to marry Anne Boleyn (mother of Elizabeth). Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, was Edward VI's mother.

Soon after King James I became King of England, the Puritans asked him for some changes in the Church of England (today's Anglican Church, known as the Episcopalian Church in the U.S.), including a change in the Church's Bible. James agreed, and set top scholars to work on what we know today as the King James Bible.

(51 min 57 sec)

Click to watch Part 3

*Sign of the times: Obama says we are no longer a Christian nation