Posts tagged with: King James Bible

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Tuesday, November 19, 2013

lincolnOver at the Liberty Law Blog, Daniel Dreisbach looks at Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how it “reverberates with biblical rhythms, phrases, and themes.” He writes that Lincoln was “well acquainted with the English Bible – specifically the King James Bible. Those who knew him best reported that Lincoln had an intimate and thorough knowledge of the sacred text and was known to commit lengthy passages to memory.” Excerpt from Dreisbach’s essay:

No political figure in American history was more fluent in biblical language or adept in appropriating the distinct cadences and vernacular of the King James Bible than Abraham Lincoln. He routinely incorporated into his political prose direct quotations from and allusions to the Bible, as well as a diction resembling the distinctive language of the Jacobean Bible. He often appropriated the Bible and bible-like rhetoric to give authority, moral gravity, and solemnity to his political statements. The Gettysburg Address, perhaps better than any other example of political rhetoric, illustrates how a gifted communicator borrowed language merely resembling the King James Bible to great rhetorical effect. The address contains no direct biblical quotations; however, there are few clauses that do not echo the cadences, phrases, and themes of the King James Bible.

The address begins: “Four score and seven years ago.” Although not an actual biblical quotation, this formulation resembles the psalmist’s familiar calculation, as rendered in the King James Bible, for a man’s “threescore and ten” years of life on earth (Psalm 90:10). From the opening phrase, Lincoln put his audience in a biblical frame of mind.

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I remember in a seminary class a student ripped into all the flaws and translation mistakes that mark the Authorized 1611 version of the King James Bible. The professor, of course well aware of any flaws in the translation, retorted that it was good enough for John Wesley and the rest of the English speaking world for well over three centuries. The professor made the simple point that it was the standard English translation for so long and there is really no way to diminish the depth of its impact upon the world and the English language. This week marks the 400th anniversary of the translation.

“Reap the whirlwind,” “a law unto themselves,” “labor of love,” and “the root of all evil” are just a few examples of vernacular expressions given to us through the King James translation. Its impact on political freedom, literature, and music is indeed deep. Those in the Protestant tradition should know the stories of the English translators, like William Tyndale, from which the King James Version is largely shaped. The path that translated the Scriptures into English was purchased with blood and often violent martyrdom.

In Benson Bobrick’s book Wide as the Waters: The story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired, he says of the translation:

In the end, the King James Version was such a book, wrote Macaulay (In his essay on Dryden) that ‘if everything else in our language should perish it would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.’ Its subsequent impact on English (and American) literature might be traced in a thousand ways – in the work of religious writers like Milton and Bunyan, or their more secular brethren like D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, and Defoe. Without the King James Version, it has been said, ‘there would be no Paradise Lost , no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Negro spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.’

On Christmas Eve in 1968, Apollo 8 crew members Jim Lovell and Frank Borman took turns reading from the first ten verses of Genesis. The footage of earth from a brand new vantage point captivated viewers across the world. It was the largest television viewing audience ever at the time. Below is Lovell and Borman reading from the King James Version: