400 years of KJV


Challenges to the authority of the King James Version are a proper part of the critical scrutiny to which all texts should be submitted in an open society. What is remarkable is that such scrutiny does not subvert the affection that English speakers have for the KJV. The principal reason for this affection, even for readers who use other translations, is the aural quality of its prose. Modern translations are normally intended for private study, and so are usually read silently. The KJV was, as its title-page pronounces, ‘appointed to be read in churches’: it was a translation intended to be read aloud and understood, and so it was in countless churches, chapels and households. Its prose has a pulse that makes it easy to read aloud and easy to memorize. When Adam ungallantly blames Eve for the fall, he says (in the KJV) ‘she gave me of the fruit and I did eat’ (Genesis 3: 12); he uses ten simple monosyllabic words arranged in a line of iambic pentameter, which was the verse form used by Shakespeare. This is prose with the qualities of poetry, and it would be hard to think of any modern translation of which that can be said.

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

9 thoughts on “400 years of KJV”

  1. Yes! It is the version I still love. I just read a new book of poems by Richard Jones and in “Revision,” a prose poem, no doubt a significant choice, he praises the Revised Standard Version as “a model of accuracy, clarity, and euphony.” It gave me pause. I may think of the RSV now as prose and the KJV as poetry, but I will have to look more closely at both, and still might…well, judge not!

  2. Well, pace Richard Jones, I’m a total KJV fanatic (and that without being particularly religious, I have to say). The KJV ‘Song of Songs’ alone wins the whole argument hands down, in my book – never mind all the terrificness of the KJV Psalms…

  3. My writing uses very spare language, but I tell you, those rich burnished image-bearing cadences of the King James Bible are way better than any “clearer” translation.

  4. I suspect the KJV has been a huge influence on my own writing, especially my rhythms. I’ve been reading it since I was a teen, despite not being religious in any conventional sense. The only modern translations that come close are Everett Fox’s and Robert Alter’s IMO.

  5. I love my KJV, too! I have not yet read a Book of Common Prayer, but I have been reading about it in The Death of Adam, essays by Marilynne Robinson. So I will look for this 1662 edition. Thanks!

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