This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, and it’s worth remembering how that timeless translation has had such power to transmit the idea of self-government – first in America’s founding, and still today.
When King James I commissioned scholars to produce a translation, he wanted one for all the people. They hewed closely to the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but they also brought out the spirit of the Word, producing a text of beauty that accentuated the power and glory of God.
The words were of the people and yet distinct from the people, in the manner that a king is of the people yet set above them. Verily, the language was set apart, with an elegant simplicity that transcended the coarseness of casual conversation. The translators viewed Christ (whom they understood as the living Word) as fully human, and yet more than human.
Not only did they seek readability, but listenability. The text flows naturally from the tongue. This enabled the words to sink deeply into the soil of Britain and her colonies, most significantly, America.
Ironically, the king, as head of the Church of England, commissioned a translation that gave the people a direct connection with the Bible – and made a priesthood (and a national church) less necessary. Faith became more individual. Americans found the word choices brought out the Bible’s original emphasis upon Christ as sovereign king. This led them to a greater sense of what it is to be governed by God, and to be self-governed under the laws of God.
By the time of the American Revolution, the colonists proclaimed they would have no king but Jesus. The translators rendered Paul’s words:
“[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
America would go on to become a beacon of freedom. A fine Bible translation had touched humanity.