The English of the King James Bible (aka the Authorized Version) was old-fashioned sounding and kind of strange even when it first came out in 1611.
Unlike the King James Bible, by 1611 most English-speaking people:
- Did not use “thou” and “thine” instead of “you” and “your”.
- Did not end verbs with -eth, such as saying “endeth” instead of “ends”. Even Shakespeare did not call his 1605 play “All’s Well That Endeth Well”.
- Did not use “thereof” as in “a cubit shall be the length thereof”. Most would have said “its length”, some would have said “his length”, the older form.
- Did not use words like granddaughter, accurately, skewed, expansion or battering ram – they first appeared in the King James Bible. So did “bushy” said of hair, “lost sheep” of people, “cut short” of speakers and “muddy” of thoughts.
- Did not use strange Hebrew expressions like:
- to fall flat on his face (Numbers 22:31)
- sour grapes (Ezekiel 18:2)
- from time to time (Ezekiel 4:10)
- to put words in his mouth (Exodus 4.15)
- like a lamb to slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)
- rise and shine (from Isaiah 60:1)
- a drop in the bucket (from Isaiah 40:15)
- a fly in the ointment (from Ecclesiastes 10:1)
That those expressions and hundreds of others now seem like natural English is thanks to the King James Bible. At a billion copies and counting, it is easily the most printed and read book in the history of the English language.
Not counting its new words and its strange Hebrew and Greek expressions, the English of the King James comes closest to how educated people spoke in London in 1525, nearly a hundred years before. That is because it is, in effect, a warmed-over version of Tyndale’s translation from that year. That is why it has all those thous and thines.
Here is Luke 7:4 in 1525 in Tyndale:
And they came to Iesus and besought him instantly sayinge: He is worthi that thou shuldest do this for him.
The King James in 1611:
And when they came to Iesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that hee was worthy for whome hee should doe this.
English had no letter J back then.
In 1769, with updated spelling and punctuation:
And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
But by the 1700s “instantly” had become misleading. In Tyndale’s time it meant “urgently, persistently”. In the 1550s it gained the sense of “immediately, without any intervening time.” By the 1700s that had become its main meaning.
By 2001, even “besought” was outdated. So was the lack of quote marks in the punctuation. By then a good rendering was the ESV translation:
And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,
As late as 1768, the English of the King James still seemed “bald and barbarous” to some. But by the 1800s writers and speakers like Tennyson, Dickens, Ruskin and Daniel Webster were gushing over it as a masterpiece of English prose.
– Abagond, 2016.
- English Bible translations
- influenced the writing of: