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The 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible

Barbara McClintock, C. Tr.
Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council


The year 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of a Bible translation known as the King James Version (KJV). King James, crowned in 1603, ordered a new version of the Bible in 1604, perhaps to heal a rift in the church Go to note 1. A committee was formed of Church of England translators, who were well versed in Biblical scholarship and in the languages of the original texts: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Go to note 2. They worked on the KJV for seven years, publishing it in 1611.

The KJV draws heavily on the translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale, who was executed for heresy on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1536 Go to note 3. Tyndale was noted for using the original Hebrew and Greek texts for his translation into English, something which had not been done before Go to note 4. Since it was considered heresy to translate the Bible into the vulgar or common language, Tyndale was ultimately strangled and burned at the stake. However, some historians believe that Tyndale was executed not for committing heresy, but for writing a tract in 1530 called The Practyse of Prelates, which opposed the King's divorce from Catherine of Aragon in favour of Anne Boleyn. The heresy charge was almost just a pretext Go to note 5. Fortunately, Tyndale's translation was preserved because it had been distributed earlier by means of the printing press. Moreover, four years later, King Henry ordered the publication of a Bible translation that was based on Tyndale's work Go to note 6.

Scholars point out the influence of Tyndale on the KJV translation of the Bible, whose powerful phrasing and colourful idioms have moulded and influenced the English language for the past 400 years. Needless to say, the Bible is the top selling book of all time. It remains to be seen to what extent new translations of the Bible in modern language will be accepted and whether they will replace the traditional version.


Return to note 1 Roy M. Pitikin, "The King James Bible: 400 and Going Strong," The Huffington Post, last modified October 10, 2011.

Return to note 2 Ibid.

Return to note 3 James Urquhart, "The Book of Books," The Financial Times, last modified October 28, 2011.

Return to note 4 "William Tyndale," Wikipedia, last modified November 23, 2011.

Return to note 5 Ibid.

Return to note 6 Ibid.