Four hundred years ago, history was made. In the early years of the seventeenth century, the English language, and the Christian faith, were changed forever, when the reigning British monarch (at the suggestion of some Puritans) declared that the Bible would be translated into the English of the day in what would be called an ‘Authorized Version’. We know it better by the name it was given in honour of the monarch: the King James Version. It was first produced in 1611.
Nothing has influenced English literature, or English Christianity, to the same extent as has the KJV. Yet initially, it was not widely accepted! There had been several English Bible translations made in the years following the Protestant Reformation, and a few of those remained popular into the 1600s, most notably the Geneva Bible. So when this “new innovation” came along in 1611, people were not quick to adopt it.
Once it took, however, it took for good: after a couple of revised editions (you’d hardly be able to read the original 1611 edition, because the language has changed so much), no other Bible translation in English was employed as much as the KJV until the introduction of the Revised Standard Version in the 1950s, and the New International Version in the 1970s. Since the middle of the twentieth century, there have been many English translations made, all with the intent of being as close to the original languages as possible, while being eminently readable by a contemporary audience.
Many folks miss the fact that the same intent was true of the king’s 17th century translation as is true of modern translations: faithfulness to the original languages, and readability by a contemporary audience. See, folks in the 1600s actually talked the way the KJV reads. Thees, Thous, Whithersoevers and Forsooths were part of the everyday language of the people. It was a “modern translation” in 1611 when it was produced, just as Good News For Modern Man was modern when it was produced in 1966, and The Message was modern when it was produced in the 1990s. Language is always changing, so Bible versions change along with the language.
What I love about this is that God speaks your language, no matter what that language is. God speaks Hindi and Urdu, Cantonese and Mandarin, Twi and Fante, Arabic and Farsi. And many, many more. That’s why God’s Word needs to be in these languages. And that’s why Bible translation continues to be an important parachurch ministry. God, whose love is universal, speaks the heart language of all the people of the world.
So when we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version – a landmark Bible translation in English – let’s pray for the work of Bible translators everywhere, that it will prosper so that those who speak the 3000-plus languages which still lack even one word of Scripture translated will be able to read about how much God loves them in their own tongue.
We take for granted having the Bible in our language, but for many in the world, it’s still something for which they wait.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119.105, NIV).
Read the Bible today, in your heart language, and thank God for the gift of his Word.