Perhaps you’ve heard. It’s been the source of newspaper, magazine and television stories as they all pay tribute to the anniversary of the King James Bible. It’s a sprightly 400 years old.
On one point do all writers and reporters seem to agree: It’s old but not particularly cherished because few people read that version of the Bible these days. Its once-solid popularity has been eclipsed by the wildly successful New International Version (NIV). Now I, lover of beautiful words and lilting cadences that I am, do read it, almost exclusively, but I admit that I am definitely in the minority among my friends and family.
“But do you really understand what it says?” Nicole asked, raising an eyebrow, skepticism filling her big brown eyes.
“Yes,” I replied firmly. She narrowed her eyes. She didn’t want to call me a liar. She didn’t even want to say in the more poetic way of the King James Bible: The truth’s not in you.
Before the King James Version there were two other versions translated from Greek, but this one seemed to take a stronger hold, perhaps owing to the beauty of the language in the time of Shakespeare. The Protestant Christian King assembled his experts in 1607. It took four years but the KJV was released to the public in 1611. It was one of the most significant events in Christian history since Christ’s resurrection.
All that aside, I have to disagree with those who say its popularity has fallen to the wayside. After all, every one of us quotes the King James Bible regularly. And the thing is that you probably don’t even realize that many phrases that are commonplace in our lexicon come from that Bible.
Without the King James Bible, we wouldn’t have these sayings: “drop in a bucket,” “my cup runneth over,” “see eye to eye,” “wit’s end,” “the powers that be,” “in the twinkling of an eye,” “fell by the wayside,” “root of the matter,” “labor of love,” and “fight the good fight.”
Whenever Mama thought someone would try to overcharge for something or take undue advantage, she said, without fail, “You better watch him. He’ll set your field on the fire.”
Mama’s people in the mountains often used phrases from the King James to describe modern-day situations. Still, I was surprised when I ran across that scripture one day in II Samuel. Absalom’s servants stole Joab’s barley by “setting his field on fire.” It’s really quite clever if you think about it — KJV readers translated ancient words to cover everyday situations like theft. Who says it’s too hard to understand? After all, Mama’s people were mostly uneducated but they grasped it with seeming ease.
At the same time that King James’ scholars were scurrying to translate the Bible, the famous bard, William Shakespeare, was scribbling away, using the same words now considered antiquated, those sentences that use “thy,” “thee” and words that end with “th” as in “cometh.” Many of the phrases that ole Will created through his quill, have, too, become an integral part of our everyday conversation.
From Will’s quill came these expressions: “bated breath,” “all the world’s a stage,” “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” “a brave new world,” “fair play,” “foregone conclusion,” “come full-circle,” “give the devil his due” and “good riddance,” to name but a few.
So, the question becomes this, at least “in my mind’s eye” (Shakespeare’s words, not mine): If the King James Bible and Shakespeare are ancient relics, then why do we continue to use their words daily? Why can’t we find modern words that say it as well or even better?
I guess because, as the KJV says, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.