The King James Bible

Last weekend Kris and I were in NYC, in Manhattan, to participate in a wondrous event commemorating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. The event was sponsored by the American Bible Society, and their office is on Broadway, and the invitation came from my old seminary friend, Phil Towner, who is now Dean of the Nida Institute at ABS. Splendid event.

The Reception Friday night began with meandering through an incredible museum-display of English Bibles, beginning with Wyclif and Tyndale and Coverdale and Whitchurch and the Geneva Bible and The Bishops’ Bible to the King James. I had not seen most of these Bibles and here they were — originals — beautifully displayed. Perhaps more attention should be given to Wyclif but I was overcome with excitement to see Tyndale. There it was, probably 83% of the King James, done by a man on a mission, a man on the run, and a man who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. None of us failed to mention this in the events that followed.

The reception, attended by more than a hundred, finished up with a brief talk by the world’s expert on the King James Bible, David Norton, a professor of English at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. (He didn’t fail to show us his office, a room with a view!)

We had a full day Saturday: it began with a full presentation by David Norton, who strolled through the history of the King James Bible with visual slides to complement his talk. My talk was on the theology of the New Testament translators of the King James as I have been trying to discern specific theological agendas in the KJB, but alas I find very little. What most don’t know, and it is always worth emphasizing, is that the KJB was a revision, and mostly conservative, of The (already existing) Bishops’ Bible. The KJB sought to find common and acceptable ground between the Bishops’ and the Geneva Bible (the Reformed read this one happily), with some glances at the Catholic Bible (Rheims NT). It did, and that is why we are talking about its 400th anniversary.My presentation was followed by a splendid sketch of the historical context of the KJB by Euan Cameron, a careful and judicious historian at Union Theological Seminary. Then a stimulating reminder by Marlon Winedt, a native of Curacao, on the significance of the KJB for non-English natives of the Caribbean — so significant I might add that sometimes they say the new translations are in the KJB tradition! KJB means authoritative and original.

The afternoon involved a video on the KJB, and I’d urge you to rent it or get it for your church: KJB – The Book that Changed the World.

And the evening meant a special banquet with an oral performance of some KJB passages by Max Maclean and then a stimulating, motivating talk to remind us of the value of Bible translations by Roy Peterson. We were honored to be there, and again reminded of the importance of supporting Bible translations today.

Sunday morning meant a special service, which we were not able to attend, at Calvary St. George’s, with Tom Wright giving the homily on God’s living Word. (Hidden in this was that Tom Wright’s own translation of the New Testament is soon to be published.) On Saturday Tom sat near us and I found him frequently peering into the KJB he was given at confirmation as a youngster. I, too, grew up on the KJB and my first (Scofield notes) Bible sits atop a bookshelf in my library.

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  • That was awesome!Thanks for sharing Scot…

  • Scot,
    sounds great! I gave a lecture on the KJB at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology in Baltimore a few months ago for the 400th anniversary. Interestingly, in 2008, Robert Alter wrote (in Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible) that the 400th year would be “marked more in academic circles than in the public domain.” He was right. People filled Carnegie Hall in 1911 (for the 300th year), but I wonder if ordinary Christians (are there such things?) are appreciating the legacy of the KJB in this day.

  • cas

    The On Eagle’s Wings exhibit is actually at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA), which is a separate entity, but in the same building as ABS.

    It features not only Bibles, but this compelling work by Makoto Fujimura:

  • Gerald

    Scot thanks so much for this post, I would
    have loved to have been there.

  • AHH

    Side issue — is “KJB” the standard academic acronym?
    To those of us in the pews, as far as I know, if we use an acronym it is “KJV” (for “King James Version”, I think), as in the “KJV-only” movement. Is some distinction consciously being made when one uses “KJB”? Have I been using an improper acronym all these years?

  • Scot McKnight


    KJB seems now to be the norm.

  • AHH

    I guess Wikipedia (fount of all knowledge) hasn’t caught up to the new norm; it only lists KJV and AV as abbreviations:

  • DaveAlan

    I’ve only seen KJV an AV over the past 27 years, but what do I know. I’ve never seen that until here, today. It’s just not possible somebody hit the b key instead of the v key? They are right next to each other.

  • Clay Knick


    This was splendid. Sounds like a whole lot of fun.

  • DaveAlan,
    scholars see the King James as not really a new version, but a revision of the Bishop’s Bible. that’s one reason academics prefer KJB to KJV (not really a slip of the finger on the keyboard!)

  • When I was in High School, I visited the reproductions of the Jerusalem Chamber at Bob Jones University. It was fascinating to see the variety of rare Bibles housed there. I also grew up on the King James Bible. It was the only option at the strict Christian school I attended. After memorizing entire books from KJB, I have a hard time reading any other version. Plus, I really like the language.

  • I simply love the KJV–it has been my main version since the early 1970’s. I love its language and its strength. Since I started teaching high school British literature several years ago, I have become much more appreciative of the king who was instrumental in giving us both Shakespeare and the KJV of the Bible.

  • Love the history of the KJB. As far as use today, there is a soft spot for it but with the dead sea scrolls we have better sources to translate from. So I’m not really desiring to still use it regulary (though I consult it in study) but I love that it tried to find common ground.

    I’m curious Scot on what agendas you might have been looking for. Anything historically that piqued your interest to search it out?

  • Terry

    Scot, what a wonderful event, a real privilege to participate in I’m sure. Thanks for sharing.

    Let me second your recommendation for, “KJB: The Book That Changed the World.” I watched it on May 2nd, and immediately ordered more copies for our store and have been able to encourage people all over the community to watch it. It is quite good.

  • JohnnyM

    The Chicago Manual of Style still lists the standard abbreviation for the Bible in the King James Version as “AV” standing for “Authorized (King James) Version.” Most translations still list the full title as The Holy Bible, New International Version or The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, etc.

  • One thing that causes so many people to under-appreciate the KJV is that so many of us have those pesky family or church members who are constantly throwing around KJV-only propaganda.

    I grew up with it, but I am 26 years old, and very few of those younger than me have used it at all. My home church (SBC) began making the switch to NIV as its primary about 15 years ago.

  • DRT

    sorry for going on the Wright tangent, but I have read his Romans and Corinthians for everyone books and was wondering if his translation would follow the translation he did in those?