King James Bible

King James Bible
Earl McGehee, via Flickr

Ryan Geertsma and Robin Basselin look at an important part of the history of the Christian Bible - a translation that has continued to influence language and culture.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2

And I’m Robin Basselin. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

“An eye for an eye.”

“The blind leading the blind.”

“By the skin of my teeth.”

Voice 1

Have you ever heard one of these sentences? All of them come from the same place: the King James Version of the Bible. And now, these sentences are common English idioms. It is easy to understand the words of each sentence. But together, the group of words has a new meaning. For example, the saying, “an eye for an eye,” is not about eyes. Instead, it is about justice. It means that a punishment should be similar to the crime being punished.

Voice 2

Today, these idioms are often used by people who speak English. The Bible was not first written in English. It was first written, over thousands of years, in Greek and Hebrew. But it has been translated many times, into many languages. Translators make every effort to keep the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words. And the most famous English translation is the King James Version, or the KJV. In 2011, the KJV celebrates its 400 year anniversary. Today’s Spotlight is on the influence of the KJV on English language and culture.

Voice 1

Over the past 400 years, the KJV Bible has sold more copies than any other book. During this time, many sayings, language methods and stories from the KJV became part of common spoken English. Still today, people say things like: “the love of money is the cause of all evil.” But often, they do not know the origin of these sayings or stories. Experts argue that English speakers recognize more sayings, ideas and stories from the KJV Bible than any other book. But the men who first translated it did not plan to make a translation that would affect the future of English language and culture.

Voice 2

In 1604, King James the First was the king of England. He decided the country needed a new translation of the Bible. He believed that the Bible contained the guidance and truth of God. And he wanted all English speaking people to understand it. So King James chose 47 Bible and language experts to work in groups. They worked in three different cities across England. For 7 years these experts translated the Bible from its original languages. They wanted to create a version in 17th century common English. They wanted a translation of the Bible that priests and common people could understand.

Voice 1

The first King James Version of the Bible was printed in 1611. People have created many other English translations of the Bible. But for a long time, the King James Version was the most popular. Experts believe that the reason the KJV had such an effect on the English language and culture is because of how it was translated.

Voice 2

For many years, English speaking schools used the KJV Bible in their classes. They did this because the language was simple and easy to understand. Writer Jeanette Winterson, says,

Voice 6

“The King James Bible was written to be spoken or read aloud.”

Voice 1

Many church leaders read the KJV Bible to their church members. They liked the translation because its words were like poems or plays when they were read out loud.

Voice 2

As a result, the KJV Bible has had a strong influence on the English language. Its idioms and words became part of common speech. Some famous English writers like Charles Dickens, John Milton and Lord Tennyson, were influenced by the KJV Bible. Many other English leaders, writers and common people have believed the words and are encouraged by them.

Voice 1

The KJV Bible has affected English-speaking culture as well. The American human rights leader, Martin Luther King Junior often used the King James Bible in his speeches. He used its common sayings and ideas to support his beliefs about human rights.

Voice 2

The famous English writer, T.S. Eliot, also wrote about the Bible’s influence on the English language. He suggested there is another possible reason for its influence. He said,

Voice 7

“The Bible has influenced English literature. Not because it has been considered literature. But because it is considered to be the Word of God.”

Voice 1

However, there are some experts who believe the KJV’s influence is not as important as most people think. One of these experts is a man named David Crystal. In his book “Begat,” he compared the KJV Bible to other major works of English literature. He compares the KJV to William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is considered one of the most important writers of the English language. He wrote plays and literature around the same time that the KJV was translated.

Voice 2

David Crystal found that Shakespeare invented as many as 1,000 new English words. But the KJV Bible invented only about 40 new words. Shakespeare used about 31,000 words in his writing. And the King James Version used only about 12,000 words.

Voice 1

Crystal argues that those numbers prove that the KJV Bible has not influenced English language as much as some people believe. But other experts believe it is the simple language of the KJV Bible that made it such an important part of the English language. It was not the translator’s goal to invent new words and sayings.

Voice 2

In fact, the men who worked on the KJV Bible worked hard to use simple language. They wanted the translation to be as correct and clear as possible. They wanted every English-speaking person to be able to understand it.

Voice 1

For 400 years the King James Bible has been an important part of English language and culture. Some experts believe its influence will decrease as time goes on. But other people believe it is not the language of the KJV Bible that influences those who read it. Like T.S. Eliot they believe it is the message those words bring. There is evidence to support both sides of this debate. But even David Crystal admits that,

Voice 8

“No other translation reached so many people over such a long period of time as the King James Version.” 

Voice 2

Why do you think the KJV has remained so important over the last four centuries? Do you have any favorite sayings from the King James Bible? Do you think the King James Bible will one day lose its influence on English language and culture? You can e-mail your thoughts to

Voice 1

The writer of this program was Corrie Haluga. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at This program is called, “The King James Bible.”

Voice 2

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!


Have you ever read the King James Bible? Do you know any of the common English sayings from this book?


Avatar Spotlight
said on July 12, 2011

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD—- Proverb 21:31

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said on July 23, 2011

Congratulations, for more this program that said about Bible
Its very important for us

To Listen about The words God.

Tank everyone

Avatar Spotlight
said on July 17, 2012

The Bible translation was very important for people to know its history. This fact would change all cristians lives forever.

Karla,  Brasília, Brazil

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Rain Bows
said on July 17, 2012

Thanks for the program spotlight team.
And thanks to all those people who made possible that today we can read the bible, learn such good habits, and grow as a person.The job of those people made them sublime!
We should all feel invited to read the bible and learn from it all the time.

Greetings to everyone,

humble71's avatar
said on July 20, 2012

It’s very helpful to know the work of people in past years about the English translation of the Bible. King James took the decision to spread the words of wisdom in the Bible to be known for everybody in his Kingdom using practical english words and it was a support for english language that leads the communication in all the areas of knowledge all around the world.
The Bible has simple words of understanding and it’s not difficult to understand it , it’s so different when you read an article of any english newspaper nowadays , for this reason King James made a good job with the group of 47 experts who took 7 years to end the task.
Only one question I have in my mind, Is this the correct version of the Bible? Did they translate faithfully from the origin Bible scripts? How many do Bible versions exist?  Okey, The Bible is powerful , full of counsels, wisdom and guidance for our daily life.
Thanks Spotlight family, I feel good to open my eyes about so interesting topics everyday.
Good bye ,
Augusto Lenin , Quito, Ecuador

Avatar Spotlight
said on August 27, 2013

I think the King James Bible will never lose its influence on English language and culture. It will stay popular because of its simplicity and the sublime meaning to all Christians. The biggest value of the Bible is in its possibility to answer many questions the people ask during their life path.
Greetings to Spotlight!

Avatar Spotlight
God is Love
said on April 07, 2016

Matthew 6:33King James Version (KJV)

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 03, 2016

Thanks Spolight Program to help me understand more about the KJV Bible’s history and influence.
Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall not pass away.” So, I think that The Bible will influences or will not many people depend on us. If we read it without pratice it will not influence us and opposite, but Word of God shall not pass away.
My English is not good, there is something wrong. Hope everyone ignored. Thanks.

Ca Mau, Viet Nam

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on August 22, 2016

I think that the translation of the Bible into English had effect on English language and culture English more than Shakespeare and all the philosophers , poets and literatures for one reason mentioned by the program is that the Bible is the word of God, so the it affects be on the community and therefore on the language.
I also think that a translation of the Bible into the English language and to all the world’s languages ​​later served word of the Lord and the communities for understanding word of Lord.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on August 22, 2016

The fact that I have - at a house - one the Boly Book / the Bible by Arabic language and one by English language. And I read them both together every day when I read the section in Arabic and then read it in English, so I achieve two goals ; blessing by the word of God and learning English language at the same time. Also I read the Bible by English during Sunday prayers in my church (St. Matthew Anglican Church) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as well as the matter at a meeting Thursday of the home Bible study.
But I don’t know if these Bibles belong to the King James Bible or not because I don’t know much about (KJV).
I also have Bible sect ” Jehovah’s Witnesses ” named ” New World Translation Scriptures ,” which is slightly different from our holy book known. And I don’t know the source of his translation.
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
said on August 25, 2016

God teaches us by our religious leaders, teachers and parents. God teaches us by Holy Bible and the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God teaches us when we live in prayer. We are taught to become good children of God. We keep the law of God. We keep the commandments of God. We live in God, with God and by the power of God. We complete our life journeys. If everything is not by God there will be nothing that is durable and there will be nothing that is holy. We love the law of God and wish God’s promise. We always make much effort to walk on the way to become holy. We always make much effort to be worthy to obtain the kingdom of God.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 08, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Thursday 08, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Robin Basselin, Corrie Holuga, Ryan Geertsma, and Mark Drenth:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
Yes, I have.
Yes, I do. The Lord is my shepherd and nothing will lack to me.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 07, 2016

Thank you for this article. I grew up on the King James Bible, but I never knew that it was translated for reading aloud. Now that makes sense.

Unfortunately, the English language has changed so much over the centuries, the KJV is no longer “simple” to understand. Those who do not have a heritage with it (or with Shakespeare) will likely find it difficult.

Yet, as you said, its influence continues. You didn’t even mention it’s influence on Western music. Many KJV phrases stick in our heads because composers stuck them in their songs.

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said on August 03, 2018

I didn’t read this version yet. I never known about it’s existence and influence on English language, but I believe it is true. In my youth, I used read the bible constantly, but this habit was in the past.