And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live. Deuteronomy 8:3
As we begin to celebrate the King James Bible's 400th Anniversary, have you considered its legacy and influence upon you and the world around you? Can you name a document or a book or even an idea that has had more impact and resonance in Western culture, language, literature, and political structure with positive sociology than the good old, tried and true, most spectacular and reverent, the majestic King James Bible? The fact is, no! Consider the influences from William Shakespeare whose works, according to many academics in English Literature, have shaped our language, but most of them would also say the KJV outperforms it many times over because of its being in the hands of far more people, including educators. Consider how it impacted the United States Founding Fathers who relied upon it to shape our constitution as well as the new union's common communication structure as it did in England prior, and for other movers and shakers, like two other Williams, Tyndale and Wilberforce, who shaped a modern and kinder England.
The King James Bible's Influences upon Literature
The two great literary classics of influence to Western thought and English Literature were Shakespeare and the King James Bible. Both were created during the same time, out of the same literary movements to reform language so to give continuity and structure along with a proper, Oxford Dictionary that was a referenced, moral foundation to society, and then used to teach literacy. The KJV was birthed in 1604-1611, while Shakespeare produced most of his work during 1589 and 1613. From research by many scholars in this area, each was influenced by the other. Moreover, the KJV has the lion's share of it as many of Shakespeare's characters, metaphors, and plot devices come directly from the very, even more poetic, Word of God. The Merchant of Venice probably contained the most allusions to the Bible.
There are many other great classics of literature that have left their mark with their legendary creations crafted from characters, plots, stores, metaphors, and symbolism from the KJV. Consider the great English epic, Beowulf; although a poem from the early eighth century, it was fully set in literature, KJV English style, in 1731. It talks about God and sin, redemption, and the villain Grendal as one of Cain's descendants. Another great work is John Milton's Paradise Lost, an account of sin, grace, redemption, humility's struggle and journey in life, and the God of love and redemption whose hand is out to us. Consider Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with the story of Adam's fall and paradise lost in Eden to characters seeking freedom and grace with similar themes. Walt Whitman's Children of Adam contains allusions from the KJV Bible. My personal favorite is the great novelist Herman Melville who penned my much loved book as a youth, Moby Dick, who used the King James to form his distinct writing style and who infused his work richly with biblical metaphors and lessons as have countless other writers, poets, and wordsmiths.
All these works and countless more fit into this category, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterwork, The Great Gatsby with the main protagonist as a Jesus-like character with an ambition for redemption in the midst of suffering, death, and a regeneration. Also to be considered are Tennyson and Dickens as well as thousands more. So many great works of literature and thought owe their debt of gratitude to the King James Bible. Many movies, television, and poetry have the KJV Bible as their motifs; they include mercy and love as the most important eternal themes for humanity and the pursuit of a joyful life and liberty in the midst of sin and suffering that all great works of both fiction and nonfiction have in either direct adage or symbolic meanings.
The King James Bible's Influences upon Culture
Did you know that the KJV Bible is the most widely read book in the world? The Bible is quoted more often than any other piece of literature in history and has had more influence on our language, culture, and laws than any other book or idea ever published. It has been more influential than the U.S. Constitution, the "Magna Carta," or any philosophical or political idea. The KJV Bible is so important that it has influenced much we take for granted in the world from science, technology, and even our political system! And, I have not even brought up the Holy Spirit yet!
And many of our sayings come directly from it:
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
All things must pass
A man after his own heart
A wolf in sheep's clothing
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Apple of your eye
As old as the hills
At their wits' end
Baptism of fire
Bite the dust
Bread of life
By the skin of your teeth
Can a leopard change its spots?
Cast the first stone
Eat, drink, and be merry
Ends of the earth
Fall from grace
Flesh and blood
Feet of clay
Fly in the ointment
Fight the good fight
Give up the ghost
Gird your loins
Holier than thou
How are the mighty fallen
In the twinkling of an eye
It's better to give than receive
Labor of love
Law unto themselves
Let there be light
Living off the fat of the land
Love thy neighbor as thyself
Love of money is the root of all evil
Man does not live by bread alone
Many are called but few are chosen
No rest for the wicked
O ye of little faith
Old as the hills
Out of the mouths of babes
Pearls before swine
Physician, heal thyself
Powers that be
Put your house in order
Reap what you sow
Red sky at night; shepherds' delight
See eye to eye
Set your teeth on edge
Sign of the times
Skin of your teeth
Straight and narrow
Strength to strength
Swords into ploughshares
The blind leading the blind
The root of the matter
The salt of the earth
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
Thorn in the flesh
To everything there is a season
Wages of sin
White as snow
Woe is me
Writing is on the wall
The King James Bible's Influences upon You!
The role of good government is to protect; that of good literature is to inspire. Both seek to serve and mature people into healthy relationships. The role of God and His Word is to bring people to Christ and create healthy relationships and civility. God's primary purpose in our lives is to bring us out of our self-destructive and self-seeking nature, and into the reclamation of redemption in Him; this is the work of Christ. Any good novel also has this theme of the journey of life in the face of adversity as its core plot; with God, it is the drama of our redemption.
Yes, there are better translations; ones closer to the better and older Greek and Hebrew texts, better suited for today's language and cultural situations. For example, key words that are in the KJV are very antiquated and have a different meaning or no meaning at all to most educated people with English Literature degrees today. How we use words and phrases has drastically changed in the last couple of generations, let alone after four hundred years. In my seminars, I teach students to use a good quality modern translation like the ESV (English Standard Version) that is an update to the others I recommended for decades, such as the NASB, New American Standard Bible, or even the NIV (New International Version). Also a good paraphrase, like the NLT (New Living Translation), is useful to help you pick up what you may have missed with the others.
However, there is something missing from these-a sense of holiness, reverence, and majesty. It is like visiting a great cathedral that was built hundreds of years ago where we can marvel at the architecture, the stained glass windows that tell the stories of our faith, and that give a sense of reverence that a modern church lacks; sometimes, one may have a hard time telling modern churches from a movie theater. Yes, a modern church is more practical, more comfortable, easer to maintain, easier to get to, and easier to get to the bathrooms; and yet, the majestic factor that points to God's power, sovereignty, and holiness is missing. A modern, popular Bible may have a multi-colored picture on the cover, a hard or paperback binding, and a catchy phrase on the cover that may be more marketable and attractive, especially to younger folks. Someone recently showed me a very cool metal, camouflaged box cover for his Bible, which was a paraphrase. But, something was missing-that sense of wonder, dignity, majesty, and magnificence. A leather-bound parchment Bible in the King James language speaks to us in the authority and power of God. It points us to His holiness and character that is so often lost in our modern translations. So, even though I may study the other translations and the Greek text, my personal favorite when I teach is the ESV. I tend to preach from the NIV, for the pew Bible's sake, and I use the NLT for my devotions. Yet, I turn to the good old faithful KJV for my memorization, for quoting and reference, and when I teach and when I pray, often for that sense of majesty to help me align myself to Christ. And, I am ever so thankful for it!
With the KJV Bible and the good literature that it has infused, our problems become less as Christ becomes more; then, we will get love, reverence, respect, holiness and thus our relationships right. We have to get love right and practice it if we want to have a good church, a good family, and a contented and meaningful life. We can't be constrained to what we think or what others have to say; we must be conformed to the Word as our primary means of instruction and guidance. Besides; what is more important for us to learn than what love and mercy are? Without love and the poetry of language to commune with God and others, we have nothing. If we praise our Lord with tripe language, what does this show of our character and what deeds we have done or could do, yet do not love or learn or have a respect for His Majesty.
The KJV, the cursor to the Spirit of Truth
The Spirit of truth, found in the Gospel of John, is a work of The Holy Spirit, the Authority who guides us to the Way of God and the revelation and understanding of His Truth and discernment from the "spirit of error." That God's presence is continually residing in and around us as a special favor we have as believers. The image is as God dwelt in His Temple so He now dwells in our hearts, minds, and actions, exhibiting His faithfulness by our faithfulness. That which is revealed and written in His Word, the Bible, we understand and teach with logic and inspiration that will never contradict His written Word (John 14:6, 15-31; 16:13; Rom. 8-11; 2 Cor. 4:6; 1 John 4:6; Rev. 3:20).
Our Lord Refers to God's Holiness and the KJV shows us to His Righteousness, and His Holy Decrees and principles that are infallible, knowable, and that profit us in the here and now as well as what we take into and live with for eternity. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth, the Supreme Being whose precepts we are to emulate and that are true Truth. The Holy Spirit inspires and preserves the Word of Jesus that are then transcribed by the Disciples to what we have in the Bible. The Holy Spirit also teaches us, helps us understand, memorize, explain, and elaborate on God's Word. The Disciples needed this to carry out the great commission and for the Church to continue beyond today as the KJV so eloquently displays. But, our passion to one translation or our commentary and teaching must never twist, contradict, or water down what is in the Bible nor are we ever to insert anything that is not there (Neh. 9:20; Psalm 119, all, especially v. 142; 151; 143:10; Matt. 24:35; John 1:17; 16:13; 17:17).
Have you ever wondered why Jesus "needs" to use us to proclaim His Word and tell others? Why does He not just audibly reveal Himself to all? Well, He does not need us, but chooses to use us for a greater good. Because, the proclamation of the Gospel is not easy; it takes demonstrators- people to live it out. Just telling someone, even from God, doesn't get much of a response as seen in the Old Testament, because people naturally hate God. So the Holy Spirit must reveal Christ to them to entice them to believe, and then they need to see the product demonstrated. That is what we do in servant evangelism. We are called to learn and we need the info to know Who Christ is and then what He calls us to. Both people who are saved and those who are not all need love. We need the love from Christ so we have it to give to others, whether they will receive it or not. If we do not learn and love, we can't grow in faith and maturity or share the faith. In contrast, if all we do is learn and we are not transformed, we just become dumb, fat, and useless sheep who become annoying and not servant leaders and evangelists of God. Because faith and being His witness or exhibiter is a matter of how we are over what we are; how we are is more important than what we say!
Yes, The King James Bible has indeed been the most extensively read work of faith and literature in the English language. It has influenced everything from art to Bob Dylan to politicians, the Simpsons on TV, the recent movie, Book of Eli, comic books, and reggae music and rap to pop culture to the way we live and speak. So, be grateful for the translators and the inspiration of God's breath upon this most trusted and treasured document that the English language has ever produced.
© 2011 Richard J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/