Monday, August 15, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about the King James Bible.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 15th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Thanks again to everyone who is sending me questions for the mailbag and ideas for the Weekend Edition- they are all helpful! Today we head to a recent question, inspired by the Weekend Edition two weeks ago on Eugene Peterson and the Message- David wrote:

“Is there a Saturday episode dealing with the KJV? Is there enough interesting political/historical stuff happening in & around that translation to make for an interesting long-form episode? Or, if not, maybe it’s a Monday mailbag question.”

Ok- two things. First, David did not tell me where he was writing from- and thus, I get to assign him a city of origin. I’m leaning towards Gas, Kansas in large part because of the childish puns I could make if I weren’t an esteemed doctor of history.

So- the King James Bible is probably, the most important book ever printed in the English language. It helps that it is amongst the very first books printed in English- although not the first. Before the King James Bible became the authorized version in 1611, there had been Tyndale’s translations which were complied and completed with the Coverdale Bible and Matthews Bible of the 1530s. Henry VIII authorized his own Bible- the Great Bible in 1539.

During the persecution of Protestants by Henry’s daughter Mary many of them fled to Calvin’s Geneva. Where they produced the Geneva Bible- it used the same textual tradition as the previous ones. Still, it translated the Old Testament from Hebrew instead of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). It was one of the earliest printed Bibles to come with what we might consider “study notes.”

The Bishops Bible was another “authorized” version- a Kind of counterweight to the Geneva Bible, which was protestant but too Presbyterian for the Anglican Bishops.

The King James Bible- or Authorized version was put together over seven years by 47 English scholars in Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge under the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King James- the first Stuart king. He was trying to find a peaceable situation in the rocky Reformation settlement in the British Isles.

Being the “authorized” version, it would be the standard for all English Bibles for the next few centuries. There were many “newer” Bibles in English, but they would follow the textual tradition put forth by the standard set forth by this version in 1611. A few years ago, David Crystal wrote a book called “Begat” that traced the development of the English idioms using the King James Bible. He counted some 257 from “my brother's keeper” to “out of the mouths of babes,” “bite the dust,” “go the extra mile,” and a “wolf in sheep's clothing”. To say the modern English language was formed by the King James Bible and Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Tempest was published the same year as the King James Bible) isn’t far-fetched.

But, language is dynamic and changes. And while there had been unauthorized updates to the KJV, the growth of archaeological studies in the 19th and 20th centuries unearthed troves of ancient Biblical texts. These new collections- sometimes referred to as the Alexandrian texts would be collected by the likes of Wescott and Hort and then by Nestle and Aland. The older tradition- the so-called Byzantine texts would be referred to as the “textus receptus” or “received text.”

The King James and now New King James use the older Byzantine textual tradition- the same that gave us the Vulgate of Jerome and Luther’s German Bible.

And if you read the NIV or NRSV or ESV or most any other English translation, you are reading a version based on these newer “Alexandrian texts”. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here- but if you have a non-KJV go to the end of the Gospel of Mark and see what your Bible says. I recommend John Barton’s A history of the Bible and Jaroslav Pelikan’s “Whose Bible Is It” if you want to get into the textual traditions.

There are some Christians- a small minority who claim that the King James Bible is the divinely approved translation. This would be a claim of faith and very hard to argue from the standards of textual criticism- it is more of a claim from authority and not text.

There are a lot of interesting things when it comes to the Bible we read today- the translations and traditions. I’m always up for more questions along these lines. Thanks for getting us going, David, who we have decided is one of the 475 people who live in Gas, Kansas.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows it's only a 4-hour drive between Toad Suck Arkansas to Sweet Lips Tennessee- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has just spent far too much time looking up silly town names. Giggling perhaps a little too hard at a few whose names I’ll refrain from using on this family broadcast. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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