King James Version´s Four-Hundredth Birthday

Happy 400th KJV,  Psalm 119:9-16,  May 8, 2011

What do the following phrases have in common?

Let there be light.
A fly in the ointment.
How are the mighty fallen.
Wheels within wheels.
Apple of his eye.
Den of thieves.
O ye of little faith!

They all appear in the King James Bible, which has had a greater effect on the development of the English language than any other book.

It's been 400 years, almost to the day, since the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible was first published. It is still the most popular and powerful book in the English language; an undisputed best-seller.

However, there were a few complications along the way. In its 1631 edition, read: "Thou shalt commit adultery."  Adultery, instead of being forbidden, was suddenly compulsory.

This was the first of several typos and the printers were heavily fined. After a correction was made, this edition became known as the Wicked Bible.

But this wasn't the only mistake in the King James Version, which was published for the first time on May 2, 1611. The 1612 version says, "Printers have persecuted me without cause."

The word printers should have been princes in Psalm 119:161.

A few years later, printers caused problems again. They left out the second negative in 1 Corinthians 6:9, which then read, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?" Clearly, "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Then the printers moved on to murder. In 1795, the King James Version had Jesus say, "Let the children first be killed" (Mark 7:27). What he really asked was that the children first be "filled" - that is, fed.

Just six years later, the "murmurers" of Jude 16 became "murderers." This edition quickly became known as the Murderers' Bible.

There you have it. The Wicked Bible and the Murderers' Bible aside, the KJV is the most influential Scripture translation of all time.

Despite a few printing errors, the book has had an incredible impact on Christian faith and English literature for the past four centuries.

For many of us, Psalm 23 simply has to be read in the King James Version. Nothing else will do.

As poetic and comforting as the KJV is, it was born in a time of conflict. When King James took the throne of England in 1603, the country was embroiled in theological controversy.

The establishment Anglicans were feuding with a group of reformers called the Puritans, and King James decided to side with the Anglicans - the group that posed the least threat to his authority.

But he was a shrewd politician and knew he needed to extend an olive branch to the Puritans. He agreed to commission a new translation of the Bible, one that took seriously the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The result was the Bible we now call the KJV.

This 400th birthday of the KJV is an opportunity for us to reflect on the power of the Word of God - a Word that has survived printing errors in numerous editions and retained its ability to bring a message from God straight into the hearts and minds of Christians today.

Today's passage is all about the Word, from beginning to end. It starts with advice to cleanse our way by guarding it according to God's Word (v. 9) and ends with the promise, "I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word" (v. 16).

Since the word for the day is ... the Word, let’s take a closer look at one particular word within God’s Word. And let's go back, as the translators of the KJV attempted to do, back to the original Hebrew of the book of Psalms.

The key word in these verses is dabar, which occurs twice in this passage and 22 times in Psalm 119. Dabar means speech, word, matter, affair, act, event, cause and thing.

Dabar is a rich and powerful word. In English, we have different words for speech, words, acts and things. But in Hebrew, they all roll together. A word and a thing are the same in Hebrew; a word can actually make things happen!

The power of speech is strong in the Bible, especially the Word of God.

"In the beginning," says the book of Genesis, "when God created the heavens and the earth ... God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" (1:1-3). God spoke ... and light was created, followed by water and sky and dry land and all the earth's creatures.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven," says God through the prophet Isaiah, "and do not return there until they have watered the earth ... so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (55:10-11).

God's Word - God's dabar - has the power to accomplish whatever God intends because it isn't only a word; it's an act and a thing.

"In the beginning was the Word," says the gospel according to John, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us" (1:1, 14).

The Word actually is God, according to John, and in Jesus it takes human form and lives among us, to show us the love and the grace of our Creator.

The Word is not just the spoken word, but is the flesh-and-blood embodiment of God's will and God's way. In Jesus, we saw God manifest and interacting with humanity. God showed himself to us in a tangible way. God is love is not just an idea, or a belief, but it’s also a person.

Never underestimate the power of God's Word.

King James had a sense of its power and attempted to position his new translation as a Bible for everyone - a version that would unify his kingdom and create a peaceful Garden of Eden on earth. Clearly, heaven didn't come to earth when the KJV was introduced, but the world did receive a translation that would advance God's kingdom for the next 400 years.

Our challenge today is to trust the power of the Word and let it shape us as children of God. We do this when we seek God with our whole heart, not just the portion that tunes into the worship service on Sunday morning.

"With my whole heart I seek you," says Psalm 119, "do not let me stray from your commandments" (v. 10). These commandments are designed to shape our actions at the office on Monday morning, at the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon, and in our living room Friday night.

(p. 6(5) “heart”) the psalmist seeks God with the heart (v. 10), the traditional seat in the OT of not only emotion but also of intelligence and volition. The expression "whole heart," found especially in the psalms. It refers to the person's undivided intention and behavior.

"I treasure your word in my heart," says the next verse, "so that I may not sin against you" (v. 11). This verse could also be translated "I treasure your promise* in my heart," which pulls us into the future and into the better life that God is creating for us. These verses echo the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, "[W]here your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).

When we look forward with anticipation, we trust that God will keep the promise made through the prophet Jeremiah: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33).

Sometimes we pray, God, help me to serve you, to obey you, to do what’s right. But without knowledge of what God’s word says and what God requires of us, how can we please God?

With the law of God within us, written on our hearts, we will better live our lives and have an intimacy with God that will help us navigate life’s obstacles. Hebrews tells us that “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of the soul and the spirit, judging the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb.4:12). Romans challenges us to be transformed by the Word of God (Rom.12: 1,2).

Our attitude toward God's Word should always be open and forward-looking, trusting that the Lord will write the law on our hearts and shape us into more loving and faithful people. So, take delight in God's decrees and embrace the promise of the psalm: "I will meditate on your precepts and not forget your word."

Is your treasure a luxury SUV, a flat-screen wall-mounted TV or a diamond bracelet from Tiffany? If so, your heart will relentlessly pursue these dreams - and maybe even attain them. But what will you lose in the process? You can gain the whole world and lose your soul. This is the very real danger of storing up treasures on earth, "where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19).

This is the way of peace in this life, and everlasting joy in the next. By making God's Word our treasure we will put our hearts at peace.

King James wanted a translation of Scripture that would create harmony in his kingdom. He didn't get it. But what he received was something far greater: a Bible that for hundreds of years made God's Word accessible to countless millions.

It's a reminder that God's Word, whatever the version, can bring us peace and provide instruction on staying on the good path of right living. Amen.



  June 2021  
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