King James Bible: Queen marks 400th anniversary

The Queen at Westminster Abbey to mark the 400th anniversary

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has paid tribute to the King James Bible at a service to mark its 400th anniversary.

Dr Rowan Williams said the text was "extraordinary" and of "abiding importance".

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales also attended the service at Westminster Abbey.

The translation was ordered by James I in 1604 to help forge unity between religious factions.

The final editing of the "Authorised Version" of the King James Bible was completed in the Jerusalem Chamber of the Abbey in 1611.

Dr Williams told the congregation that the seventeenth century translators would have been "baffled and embarrassed" by the idea of a perfect translation of the Bible.

He said they had sought instead to convey the "almost unbearable weight of divine intelligence and love" into the English language.

Start Quote

They were contemporaries of Shakespeare, they could have walked over to the Globe and asked him what he thought”

End Quote Professor Pauline Croft King James Bible Trust

"The temptation is always there for the modern translator to look for strategies that make the text more accessible - and when that temptation comes, it doesn't hurt to turn for a moment - for some long moments indeed - to this extraordinary text," he said.

'Genius of language'

A new translation of the Bible had been proposed in 1601 at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Burntisland in Fife.

King James VI of Scotland, who went on to also become James I of England, attended the Assembly and three years later he commissioned what became known as the King James Bible at the Hampton Court Conference.

It was the work of 54 scholars working in six translation committees - or companies - based in Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster.

The Abbey event highlighted the book's impact on English language and culture throughout the world.

Expressions from the King James Bible such as "the powers that be", "the apple of his eye", "signs of the times" and a "law unto themselves" are still part of the English language."

Phrases such as "salt of the earth" and "biting the dust" come from the King James Bible

A trustee of the King James Bible Trust, Professor Pauline Croft, said: "People are always surprised how much of the language they use without thinking.

"It's just the genius of the language, they were contemporaries of Shakespeare, they could have walked over to the Globe and asked him what he thought."

Speaking before the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said the Bible's impact was not immediately recognised: "It took some time to establish itself. It wasn't really till the reign of Charles the First that it became universally used.

"But for the 350 years, certainly till about 50 years ago, it was the only translation of the Bible that everyone who spoke English knew. And it's been the biggest-selling book in history."

"People's Bible"
Ancient copies of the King James Bible are carried during a procession at Westminster Abbey Ancient copies of the Bible were carried during a procession to Westminster Abbey's altar

The Westminster Abbey event also celebrated the "People's Bible" - a hand-written version of the King James Bible completed by more than 22,000 people around Britain.

A bound copy of the Book of Genesis from the People's Bible was presented at the altar during the service.

The first two verses of the Bible have been hand-written by the Prince of Wales with others completed by people including Prime Minister David Cameron, actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales and the comedian and broadcaster Frank Skinner.

People in more than 200 towns across Britain - from the Orkney Islands to the Isle of Man, and Jersey, Whitby, Swansea and Wrexham - took part in the project.

In London those taking part in the Occupy London protest outside St Paul's Cathedral were also invited to write some verses.

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