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Scholars from around the country gathered in the Morris Cultural Arts Center Oct. 28-29 for a celebration more than 400 years in the making.
They joined faculty and students to celebrate the 400th birthday of the KJV, the first widely distributed English-language translation of the ancient book, at the “KJV@400: A Story of Biblical Proportions” conference.
Topics ranged from the actual printing of the KJV to the impact it has had on the world.
Although the King James Bible was not published until 1611, the idea was put forth in 1604 when King James I held a meeting at Hampton Court Palace and agreed to the petition for the creation of a new English language Bible.
While the king commissioned 47 translators to work on the new translation, William Tyndale, who produced one of the earliest English translations of the Bible, merited most of the credit for the KJV’s completion. In fact, Dr. Gerald Bray, a lecturer at the conference who is the research professor of divinity history and doctrine at Samford University, said that as much as 90 percent of the King James translation is actually the work of Tyndale.
The exact publication date of the KJV remains a mystery because the book was originally considered a revision of the Bishop’s Bible, one of the first English versions of the Bible. The new version was therefore not registered as a new book, said Dr. Liana Lupas, curator of the Rare Bible Collection at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City who spoke at the conference.
Historians do know that the KJV was not the first attempt to make a Bible available to English speakers, but the advantage this translation had over others was its backing by the king, who took a personal interest in the project, Bray said.
The English language always evolves, which was the case in early 17th-century England, he added. The scholars and theologians who penned the new translation sought to unify all of the English-speaking people by establishing a standard Bible.
“The King James Version of the Bible was an attempt to impose a common language on the people of the time,” Bray said.
Dr. David Jeffrey, distinguished professor of literature and humanities at Baylor University, also spoke about the King James Bible as a unifying text that the English people could read. He added that the translation pushed a common language to the forefront of people’s lives and the English culture.
Senior Sally Grimes, a student worker in the Dunham Bible Museum who attended the conference, said she learned important spiritual lessons through Jeffrey’s explanation of the KJV’s impact on English speakers. “Dr. Jeffery discussed the importance of keeping the spiritual language of Scripture despite a push to convert all biblical terms into modern English, and I loved the idea of keeping biblical language sacred as an act of worship,” she said.
The KJV influenced not only people living in the 17th century but also the Victorians, whose literary works were largely shaped by its legacy. Dr. Timothy Larsen, the Carolyn and Fred McManis professor of Christian thought at Wheaton
College, said Victorian-era authors used the KJV to develop metaphors that were clear to readers at the time because of the book’s commonality.
This version of the Bible had a profound impact on England, which spread to America through British colonization, said Dr. Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College. He added that it was the most widely read book in both America and England from 1660 to 1950, shaping world culture in areas such as law, politics and music.
The Dunham Bible Museum’s collection shows this connection by featuring manuscripts of biblical books and translations alongside works of art inspired by the text.
Grimes said she hopes that people who visit “KJV@400,” an exhibit that is currently on display in the Dunham Bible Museum, will be able to see its impact on the world.
“The scope of influence that the King James Bible had on our literature, music, thinking and language is immeasurable,” she said.