St Bride's: News - 400th Anniversary Celebration of the King James Bible

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St Bride's: News

400th Anniversary Celebration of the King James Bible

Introduction to the Service

The King James Bible has been described as "The noblest monument to English Prose" but why is this marked out as being so significant, why are we celebrating the 400th anniversary of its publication, and what makes the text so special that it is deserving of all the praise heaped upon it?

Read on...

To explore this question further, we need to go back 400 years. The ascension of James I to the English throne was a moment of Renaissance within the British Isles. Artists like Rubens were painting, William Byrd was composing motets for use in both Anglican and Catholic liturgy and Shakespeare was adding the finishing touches to his final play. Decadent masks and balls were held at Hampton Court Palace throughout the cold winter of 1603 where King James and his court had settled in order to escape the plague which was running rife through the streets of London.

It was to Hampton Court that James called the greatest Churchmen of his day in January 1604. He called them in response to the Millenary Petition which had been submitted to him by the Puritanical wing of the Church. However, James, perhaps the most scholarly monarch ever to inhabit the throne, did not budge an inch, aware that without the hierarchy of the Church of England, his authority as King would be severely threatened. But from his conference emerged the idea of a new translation of the Bible; it was really just an afterthought. A member of the Puritan faction appealed for one Bible to be read by all. James saw his chance. He declared that there should be a new translation, without the anti-monarchist footnotes which were to be found in the Geneva translation; a translation which would at once unite the Church and bolster the position of the divinely appointed monarch. This was the version that was published seven years later and became known as The Authorised Version or The King James Bible.

It was translated by some of the top scholars in the land. The translators met at Stationers' Hall in 1609-10 where they read aloud their work to each other and corrected it, to produce a final version. The majority of the translators were churchmen and were rewarded for their labours with stipends and promotions within the Church of England. They worked from a variety of different sources: from the English translations, The Bishops Bible, the Geneva Bible. Tyndale's text played a huge part in this translation and even traces of the Catholic Rheims New Testament can be found within its pages.

Their work became the book we know today. Their words are ingrained in our collective mind. David Crystal has recently assessed the text and found 257 phrases that come to us from the King James Bible and are used in our speech. For three hundred years this was the only Bible that was heard in our Churches and for many it was the only book to be kept in the home.

And even more modern translations use this as their basis. So ingrained is the King James Bible that we read it in our literature and hear it in our music, often subconsciously. From Henry Purcell's 'Hear my Prayer, O Lord' through to Handel's 'Every Valley shall be Exalted' to the Stone Roses 'I am the Resurrection and I am the Life', the King James Bible comes to us in a variety of settings, and not always where you expect to read it. Open an Elizabeth Gaskell, a Toni Morrison or a Dan Brown, and there you find the King James Bible. Listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King and they are peppered with phrases lifted directly from the Authorised Version. It has been used to fight for human rights and to defend slavery. It has been used by believers and atheists alike. It has been used to defend and propagate Christian belief and also to criticise the Church and her leaders.

So what exactly are we celebrating this year? We are celebrating a body of writing which finds its origins 3,000 years ago in the Ancient Near East and still speaks to us strongly today. It has been moulded and shaped through history to speak to different audiences and situations. The King James Bible has stood the test of time; it is the translation which was spread across the globe and which has become ingrained in our mindset. But it is the universality of the King James Bible that makes it worthy of such celebration. The translation originally intended to unite two factions in the Church of England now unites Protestants and Catholics; believers and atheists; artists and musicians; authors and critics. It is a translation that speaks to us all, even when we least expect it. This is a celebration of our global community, our global culture.

The King James Bible is not a monument, nor is it something as prim as a piece of prose. It is a living and breathing organism, which takes on a new life every time it is heard. It touches the deepest parts of human nature and engages with our collective psyche in a way that no other work can. This is what we are celebrating in 2011 and this is what we will continue to celebrate each time we experience this remarkable work.

Review of the Service by Pádraig Belton
In the beginning was the Word: the beginning, certainly, of printing on Fleet St; and if more at the midpoint of the English language's present history, then the beginning of its elegance.

Read on...

Pádraig Belton

In the beginning was the Word: the beginning, certainly, of printing on Fleet St; and if more at the midpoint of the English language's present history, then the beginning of its elegance. In May 1611, the King James Bible first arose as a folio. The two years prior, from their worktables in Stationers' Hall and with a stipend from the Stationers, the General Committee of Review weighed edits to the 1568 Bishops' Bible-the 1539 Great Bible and Tyndale's 1526 translation laid out permanently for their inspection.

Early editions teemed with errors; a 1631 imprint, by omission of the negative in the Seventh Commandment, rendered adultery compulsory. In 1612, Psalm 119, perhaps tellingly, reads 'printers (not princes) have persecuted me without a cause.' (Cambridge University Press, in 1653 and 1 Corinthians, held out hope 'the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom'.) Perhaps as a revision rather than supplanter of former English bibles, it was never entered in the Stationers' Register.

Precisely four centuries later, the successor Stationers and their Bishop convened in St Bride's and Stationers' Hall, joining two Bibles from the first batch, behind them processing from Church to Hall. Continuing its peregrinations over the 100 days subsequent, one Bible donated in 1865 to St Giles-without-Cripplegate will round 17 churches of the City, concluding at St Paul's the 4th October.

In his address at St Bride's, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, observed this Bible could not have been written much after 1611: once there was no longer a King James, tensions between Puritans and High Churchmen began bubbling towards Civil War. (The ancient General Committee of Review gathered in Stationers Hall for its proximity to Chartres's Calvinist predecessor George Abbot, who from the Old Deanery oversaw translation of the Gospels, Acts and Book of Revelation, before in March 1611 becoming Cantuar.)

Like the Bible, the evening was a bit of time in the making. By exertions of Liveryman Professor Timothy Connell, a King James Bible was procured for the evening from Norwich Cathedral, a Geneva Bible lent from St Paul's Cathedral, and a modern handwritten and illuminated St John's Bible from St Martin-in-the-Fields. The Ven. David Meara, Rector of St Bride's and Archdeacon of London, conceived the idea for a service at St Bride's a year ago; notes Christopher McKane, Master of the Stationers and previously a St Bride's churchwarden, 'he kindly agreed to advance the start of his own City celebrations, which go on until the autumn, so that it would fall within my year as Master,' boosting the bond between the journalists' church and the printers' and newspaper makers' livery.

The Rt Hon Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead and chair of the King James Bible Trust, addressed Stationers and other guests following a feast Canaaite in measure. Mr Field had first come to Stationers' Hall soon after the 2007 launch of the Trust, at Mr McKane's invitation to a Master and Warden's lunch; at his return visit, he noted the King James Bible had entwined with our language's DNA.

And of these new genes? By word, 84 per cent of the New Testament and 75.8 per cent of the Old is taken from Tyndale. Similarly, salt of the earth, filthy lucre, twinkling of an eye, signs of times, Jehova, scapegoat and Passover: Tyndalean usages each the General Committee saw fit to crib and popularise. Its style was already conservative (Shakespeare plumps more for 'you' over 'thou', -(e)s for third-person singular over -eth) and Latinate (John Bois in his diaries shows the General Committee deliberating in Latin). Where Tyndale's translation hugged the original tight, the King James is freer with articles: 'In the beginning God created the Heauen, and the Earth. And the earth was without forme, and voyd.' All calculated the better to fill a nave. Or livery hall.


The Venerable David Meara delivered the Bidding:

We meet today to give thanks for the work of those scholars who, four hundred years ago, produced what we know today as the King James Bible. We celebrate the felicity of their translation, the stately and elegant prose of the Authorised Version which has inspired, strengthened, soothed and comforted men and women for centuries, and which continues to touch a chord in our hearts today.

We celebrate, too, the links between this church and the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, in whose Hall the translators met to produce the final version of the King James Bible.

This service also inaugurates a period of public readings from Scripture, as a copy of the King James Bible travels around the City churches within the Square Mile - a procession which will reach its climax at a service of celebration in St Paul's Cathedral in October.

We pray that as this translation of Scripture has challenged, nurtured and inspired previous generations, so may the Holy Bible in all its translations continue to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, piercing the heart, and illuminating the understanding of men and women everywhere.

We salute tonight a supreme monument of the English language, the King James Bible, as we celebrate its 400th anniversary.



The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London



Hats off to the Stationers' Company! The final revision before the publication of the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611 was made possible by the generosity of your Company. The revisers were assembled in Stationers Hall hard by the palace of the Bishop of London, George Abbott who kept a close eye on the business and who had been a member of the Oxford Company responsible for the translation of the greater part of the New Testament.

Your company supported the enterprise by paying a stipend of 30 shillings a week to the scholars who included the Reverend John Bois, a Cambridge Greek lecturer. His notes of some of the 10 months of discussions survive and give us an insight into the process of revision. They worked through the whole text with earlier translations open before them. The result was offered as a revision not a new work and this is the reason why the AV when it was published was not entered on the Stationers' Register.

Bois had his idiosyncrasies. His biographer reports that he had started his academic career by reading medicine until in reading many books on the subject "he was conceited that whatsoever disease he read of, he was troubled of the same himself."

In Cambridge John Bois supplemented normal teaching with a 4 am Greek Lecture read in his bed to such young scholars who preferred "antelucana studia before their own ease and rest." [Fuller]

Finally in 1611 the finished product was sent to the Royal Printer, Robert Barker. The first edition of the King James Version was printed in Northumberland House near Aldersgate.

The work was done in haste and teems with misprints easier to understand and forgive if you have ever struggled to read the black letter gothic type face which was used. In the 1612 study edition yet another inaccuracy was introduced in the text of Psalm CXIX: 161 which reads, "Printers have persecuted me without a cause". The most notorious error appeared in the edition of 1631. The negative was removed from the 7th commandment in Exodus XX and this made adultery compulsory.

The King James Version was not an immediate best seller. For one thing the puritan inspired Geneva version continued to be printed in its easy-to read roman type face. There were about 70 editions of the Geneva Bible produced between its publication in 1560 and 1640. It is estimated that about a half a million copies were sold in England alone. When it was discouraged by authority, false imprints were used on the title pages to suggest overseas provenance or that they were old editions.

It was Laud, as Archbishop of Canterbury who succeeded in leaving the field clear for the King James Bible by energetic efforts to ban the importation of better printed and cheaper foreign bibles on the plea of protecting the domestic printing and publishing trade. By 1644 there were only King James Versions available for sale and it became simply "The Holy Bible" - there was no other.

The King James version, however attained this status partly because of the success of King James's intention to detach the translation he commissioned from the taint of religious polemic at a time when he still hoped that a great Council could be assembled to bring peace and repair the unity of Christendom. The panel of translators contained doughty puritans like George Abbott. The bible which he helped to translate was not intimately bound up with the Laudian regime and did not share its fate. It was the fruit of a reign in which tensions in the English Church had not developed into an overt breach.

Hence it was, that the version exported to the nascent English speaking colonies in the New World was that of King James. In America the King James Version has preserved an iconic status. Our guest, Barach Obama swore the presidential oath on the bible Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration in 1861. Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior used George Washington's copy which he in turn had used in 1789.

The question remains however whether the events of this 400th anniversary year will prove to be a long and ceremonious leave-taking or whether re-assessment of the significance of the 1611 translation will confirm its place in the living culture of the English speaking peoples and renew its life as a sacred text used in the worship of the church and not merely cherished as a literary artefact.

The King's instructions to the Translators directed that they were to use "circumlocution" and language in which meaning was to be "set forth gorgeously". There was to be light but as Adam Nicolson says, there was to be "no terror of richness" - richness of the kind found in Jacobean art and decoration. The English of the Authorised Version was never the language of the street but a middle way between the demotic and Greek and Hebrew. Plainness was to be married to majesty in stately language which has had a profound influence on English sensibility ever since.

Our first lesson was the work of the company meeting at Westminster under the chairmanship of the Dean, Lancelot Andrewes.

Andrewes and his company had been charged to consult previous translations and as is well known they were largely dependent on William Tyndale's pioneering work but it is instructive to compare the Tyndale and Andrewes versions of the very first words of Genesis. Tyndale begins, "In the begynnynge God created heaven and erth. The erth was voyd and emptie, and darcknesse was upon the depe and the spirit of God moved upon the water."

Andrewes' version reads, "In the beginning God created the Heaven, and the Earth, And the earth was without forme and voyd, and darkenesse was upon the face of the deepe: and the Spirit of God mooved upon the face of the waters."

The sense is very much the same but Andrewes includes the definite articles before heaven and earth in his desire to adhere as closely as possible to the style of the Hebrew original. The effect of the whole is less racy but more stately in a version that was after all designed to be read and heard in public.

Much nonsense has been talked about the alleged incomprehensibility of the AV. The tens of thousands who listened to Martin Luther King's speech at the great civil rights march in Washington did not find that his rhetoric, derived from the prophet Isaiah in the King James Version, jarred - it was neither obscure nor lacking in contemporary resonance.

There is of course a place for the demotic in conveying biblical teaching and there is no denying that language has changed and that we have changed over the past four hundred years but the evidence of huge appreciation of the King James Bible in this quatercentenary year should not be ignored.

The philosopher John Gray in an article in the New Statesman argued that "the return of religion as a pivotal factor in politics and war is one of the defining features of the age, and it is time that Paine, Marx and the other secular prophets were gently shelved in the stacks ... the books that have most formed the past and are sure also to shape the future are the central texts of the world religions."

Political discourse and analysis has been confined to narrow channels in a stultifying recital of economic indicators. Just how one- dimensional our view of the world has become was revealed by the visit of a senior Chinese Communist official at the time of the Beijing Olympics. We had been introduced by a mutual friend and despite the urgings of his Foreign Office minder that he should move on he plied me with questions about Christian faith, the state and society prefaced by a stern injunction "Don't try to deceive me, I have read the New Testament." In a very pragmatic Chinese way he acknowledged that every society needed spiritual glue and a shared moral compass. He was wondering whether Christians might be useful allies at a time when there were signs of fragmentation in China.

In the beginning according to the Bible, "God created man in his own image". It is this idea which has done more than any other to provide a foundation for human dignity and equality and it is no accident that the cultures which have developed these notions have grown out of Judaeo-Christian soil and a biblical world view.

The great 20th century Prime Minister, Clement Attlee said that he believed "in the ethics of Christianity but not the mumbo jumbo". One of the questions for the 21st century is whether the ethics have a sustainable foundation without what Attlee describes as the "mumbo jumbo".

Professor Wolterstorff of Yale argues in a recent book [2008] Justice Rights and Wrongs that it is not possible. Inalienable and equitable rights were not possible within the accepted moral framework of the ancient world. Full and equal rights in democratic Athens for examples were confined to adult, male, free born citizens. The decision of the Christian ecclesia from the beginning to enrol women, slaves and children in the new Israel was seen as deeply subversive.


This is not to argue for a "Bible-says-it-all-politics" which has been out of fashion since our disastrous flirtation with it 350 years ago. It is simply to recognise that all politics rest on assumptions; myths if you like, properly understood not as fairy tales but as archetypal stories about the human condition. Both our economic activity and our political life must have ground beneath them. Human beings are not just blind globs of idling protoplasm but we are creatures with a name who live in a world of symbols and of dreams and not merely matter.

The Christians in the New Testament used a venerable translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Their bible, the Septuagint, was over three hundred years old by the time St John set down his gospel. I hope that the celebration this year of our four hundred year old bible might make some contribution to releasing the energy of the scriptures to fertilise our rather one dimensional understanding of our destiny as a nation and as a human race.


Genesis 1: 1-8, 24-28, 31

Read text...

 1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

 4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

 5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

 6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

 7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

 24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

 25And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

 26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

 28And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

 31And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

John 1: 1-14

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second epistle.jpg

 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 2The same was in the beginning with God.

 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

 7The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

 9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

 10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

 12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

1 Corinthians 15: 51-57

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 51Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

 52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

 54So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

 55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

 56The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

 57But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


St Bride's Choir directed by Robert Jones and accompanied by organ played by Matthew Morely performed the following:

Alleluia, I Heard A Voice - Weelkes (Revelation 5: 12-13)
Rejoice In The Lord - Redford (Philippians 4: 4-7)
Set Me As A Seal - Walton (Song of Solomon 8: 6-7)
The Lord Bless You And Keep You - Rutter (Numbers 6: 24-26)

All my hope on God is founded
Thou, whose almighty word
Ye holy angels bright

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