Happy Birthday, KJV! 400 Years

May 2, 2011, commemorated a special day in printing history. It was the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, one of the most beloved English translations of all time.

The actual translation work began in January 1604 at the order of King James I of England and was completed in 1611. It came as a result of the Hampton Court Conference at the request of the Puritans, who insisted that people know God’s Word.

The king, however, had a different motive: He wanted a translation that would unify the Church of England.1 The translation team consisted of about 50 men who were university scholars. Then it was reviewed by bishops. Because the KJV alone was authorized by the king of England to be read in churches, it came to be known as the “authorized version.”

The KJV has been the standard translation for millions of people for hundreds of years.2 At one time it was the only Bible available in the English language. Today there are many translations, but the King James Version remains a top seller around the world. In the original 1611 printing, the translators dedicated their scholarship to the man who authorized the project, King James I. Here is the dedication in modern English spelling:

TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE, JAMES by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. THE TRANSLATORS OF THE BIBLE, wish Grace, Mercy, and Peace, through JESUS CHRIST our Lord….And now at last, by the Mercy of God, and the continuance of our Labours, it being brought unto such a conclusion, as that we have great hope that the Church of England shall reap good fruit thereby; we hold it our duty to offer it to your Majesty, not only as to our King and Sovereign, but as to the principal mover and Author of the work….So that, if on the one side we shall be traduced by Popish persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor Instruments to make Gods holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness.3

The translators knew God’s Word changes lives. Their work continues hundreds of years later, impacting lives for eternity.

Today most Bible publishers outside Great Britain have no problem securing the King James text because it passed into the public domain many years ago. However, in Great Britain, the rights are still held by the British Crown under perpetual Crown copyright. Publishers must be licensed to reproduce the Authorized Version. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the rights are held by the Queen’s Printer; in Scotland, by the Scottish Bible Board.

Today in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Queen’s Printer is Cambridge University Press.4 Other royal charters also grant Oxford University Press the right to produce the Authorized Version independently of the Queen’s Printer.

In Scotland the Authorized Version is published by Collins under license from the Scottish Bible Board. The terms prohibit anyone other than the holders, or those authorized by the holders, from printing, publishing, or importing the King James Version into the United Kingdom.

ENDNOTES
  1. “King James Bible,” <christianbook.com/Christian/Books/cms_content?page=73598&sp=57401&action=New+Ticket>.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The Holy Bible (1611: Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 3–4.
  4. “King James Bible Copyright Status,” Mid-America Christian University <kingjamesbible.info/king-james-bible-copyright-status.php>.

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