The Origin of the Title “The Authorized Version” for the KJV

I have long thought that the proper term for the King James Version is “the Authorized Version.” At times, I’ve wondered if that title isn’t more of a British title, since most Americans prefer “King James Version” or simply the “King James Bible.” But I recently read a historical essay by David Bebbington, professor of History at the University of Stirling, Scotland, in which he points out the fact that the King James Version was not always known as “The Authorized Version.” Bebbington’s essay, “The King James Bible in Britain from the Late Eighteenth Century,” appears in a collection of important historical essays published by Baylor University Press (2011) under the title, The King James Bible and the World It Made (edited by David Lyle Jeffrey).

Bebbington argues convincingly that the King James Bible did not enjoy universal acclaim in the eighteenth century until the very end of that period. In a post at my personal blog, I excerpted Bebbington’s conclusion, which argues that “the enthusiasm for the translation of 1611 rose and fell with the growth and decay of Romantic sensibility.” In the excerpt provided below, I would like to quote his description of how the title “the Authorized Version” came to be used for the King James Bible.

A fourth explanation of the rising tide of admiration for the translation of 1611 was its redefinition as “the Authorized Version.” The title emerged for the first time in a debate provoked by the creation of the [British and Foreign] Bible Society. Whereas the society’s evangelical supporters considered the new agency a bulwark of the existing social order, the High Church party thought it a sinister development. It threatened the work of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the established Anglican organization for circulating the Scriptures. Furthermore, the timing was unfortunate. During 1804, the year of the society’s foundation, Napoleon’s forces were poised to invade the country, and in the heightened alarm, the equal presence of Dissenters alongside Churchmen on the society’s committee seemed poentially subversive. Had not Dissenters once killed an English king, Charles I? Thomas Sikes, the High Church vicar of Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, warned that, when the production of the sacred text was being entrusted to “sectaries,” nobody could be confident that they would not tamper with the translations. In order to calm such fears, John Owen, one of the society’s secretaries, replied that the organization was limited to producing versions “printed by authority.” When an opponent pointed out that this restriction had not been stated formally, the society hastened in May 1805 to revise its constitution so as to read, “The only copies in the languages of the United Kingdom to be circulated by the Society, shall be the authorised version, without note or comment.” Thus the phrase “the authorized version” was launched on the world as an apologetic device for the Bible Society. By 1819 the phrase had been heard so often that it crept for the first time into the Times newspaper, though still with a lowercase “a,” showing that it was not yet a title. The steady growth of the usage is documented in the number of times in each subsequent decade the phrase occurred in the Times: 1820s, 7; 1830s, 41; 1840s, 61; 1850s, 91. By the last of these decades, the expression was starting to be capitalized, demonstrating that it had emerged as a title. Thereafter “the Authorized Version” became the standard term for the 1611 Bible in Britain, where the phrase “King James Bible” was hardly ever used. The new title surrounded this particular text, as it was originally intended to do, with an aura of unique legitimacy. It helped forward the process by which the version became embedded more deeply in the national culture. (pg. 53-54)

You can pick up a copy of this book at any of the following online retailers: CBD, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Baylor University Press.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Baylor University Press for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

National Geographic Features the King James Bible and Its Legacy

This month, the King James Bible is featured in National Geographic Magazine. You can read the entire article here. The article is written by Adam Nicolson, author of God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible.

For some reason the global impact of the KJV morphs into a discussion of Rastafarianism. But the article is a worthwhile read, nonetheless. My thanks go to James Snapp for alerting me to this article.

40% Discount on KJB: The King James Bible – The Book that Changed the World (DVD)


Westminster Bookstore has a special deal on the DVD documentary: KJB: The King James Bible – The Book that Changed the World. This DVD is a first-rate and tells the story of the making of the King James Bible well. I have reviewed the DVD in full here.

At 40% off the regular retail price, this may be the time to pick up this DVD. You can also compare the price at ChristianBook.com and Amazon.com.

Here is the trailer:

Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible

I stumbled upon this video tribute to the King James Bible, made by the folks at St. Helen’s Church in London. It looks at the history of the King James Bible and seeks to answer these questions:

Was the King James Version the first translation into English? (1:08)
Was the King James Version King James’ idea? (3:00)
Who was the King James Version against? (5:30)
Was the King James Version a fresh translation? (7:40)
Was the King James Version the most popular Bible of its time? (10:48)?

A Short History of the KJV from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

[HT: Adrian Warnock]

Christianity Today on the Legacy of the King James Bible


The latest issue of Christianity Today features a cover story on the influence of the King James Bible. Mark Noll, the noted evangelical historian, authored the article entitled: “A World Without the King James Version: Where we would be without the most popular English Bible ever”.

The article explores an interesting question. Along the way you will learn things you didn’t know about the KJV. Here’s an excerpt which reveals that the problem of multiple and competing Bible translations is no new problem. Be sure to read the entire article, and check out this interesting quiz.

From about 1650 to 1960, when Protestants memorized the Twenty-third Psalm, they would always recite the last verse this way: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” But if the KJV had not become the favored translation, the memorized words would have depended on translation preference.

For at least 50 years after the KJV’s completion in 1611, various editions of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, were just as popular. Geneva’s adherents liked the down-home flavor of the translation and its helpful marginal notes. They would have memorized, “Doubtless kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall remain a long season in the house of the Lord.” Protestants who wanted to connect with their Catholic neighbors would have memorized this, from the Douay-Rheims translation: “And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.”

But Bible readers who wanted to use an officially authorized text—which the KJV never was—would have memorized the Bishops’ Bible of 1568: “Truly felicity and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of God for a long time.”

Of course, Protestants would have continued memorizing Scripture even with several popular translations in existence. But they would have done so privately, sincepublic recitation with several translations could be haphazard—much like it is today. And we would have lost some small sense of connectedness in the church and the broader culture.

~cross posted from my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed

In Honor of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible: A Video Review of A Visual History of the KJB

Today is the 400th Anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible. In honor of that, I tried my hand at my first video book review. Below, you’ll find a video review of A Visual History of the King James Bible by Donald L. Brake. While there are a few audio glitches, the stunning visual beauty of Brake’s book is put on full display. I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of this book as a way of celebrating this momentous occasion.


A Visual History of the King James Bible — A Video Review from Bob Hayton on Vimeo.

The book can be purchased from these retailers: Christianbook.com, Amazon.com or direct from Baker Books. Also, be sure to check out Dr. Brake’s other book: A Visual History of the English Bible (Baker Books, 2008).

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Baker Books. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

~cross-posted from my personal blog, FundamentallyReformed.com.

Dr. Donald Brake Interviewed on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

At Haven Today, a nationally syndicated Christian radio show and podcast, Dr. Donald Brake was recently interviewed on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible. Dr. Brake is the author of A Visual History of the English Bible (Baker Books, 2008) and the recently released A Visual History of the King James Bible (Baker Books, 2011).

I just completed reading through this fascinating book and will be putting my review up soon. The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible is next week, May 2nd. Dr. Brake’s interview will be very informative. Here are the links to the interview: Part 1 (April 25, 2011), Part 2 (April 26, 2011). More information is available on the interview at HavenToday.org. These interviews are only about 15 to 20 minutes long minus the commercial breaks (which is just music on the web-player), but they’ll whet your appetite for this book.

To see an excerpt of Dr. Brake’s A Visual History of the King James Bible, click here. You can order the book through Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, or direct from Baker Books.

~cross-posted from my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed.