top of page

What's Special About the King James Bible?

Q. What makes the “King James Bible” so special to some of my Protestant friends?

A. The Church does not deny the Eucharist to all who are divorced, but rather to those who have attempted to remarry without first obtaining an annulment — that is, the Church’s authoritative judgment and public recognition that the first attempt at marriage was in fact invalid.

The text is a revision of the earlier “Bishops’ Bible” (1568), rather than an original translation. But other previous English translations were consulted as well, such as the (Catholic) Rheims New Testament (1582), which had considerable influence on its language. Though the Church of England had separated from Rome more than seven decades before, a battle still raged for its soul. More traditional believers, wishing to preserve many Catholic elements of faith and practice, defended the institution against the zeal of the more radical reformers, the Puritans in particular.

Authorities responsible for the new version hoped to avoid these radical influences.

For that reason, they instructed the scholars to reject innovations that the Puritans had made in religious terminology, such as replacing “baptism” with “washing” and “church” with “congregation.” A close examination of the text shows that other more “Catholic” terms such as “bishop” (1 Tm 3:1) and “bishopric” (Acts 1:20) were also retained — no doubt to the chagrin of radical reformers who opposed the very notion of such an office.

The language of the KJV is quite beautiful and has exerted extensive influence on English literature and speech. Nevertheless, as the English language itself changed, and as scholarship in ancient languages and archaeology made new discoveries, Protestant authorities called for revised versions and new translations. One of the best known is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), published in the United States in 1946 and 1952, which was actually a revision of the KJV and also has two Catholic editions (1965, 2006)) approved by the Church.

Those Protestants who insist today that the King James Bible is the only legitimate English version of Scripture tend to view the Catholic Church unfavorably. So they might be startled to learn that the first edition of the KJV actually included the Deuterocanonical books — that is, the books of the Catholic Bible that are lacking in present-day Protestant Bibles.

In addition, since many contemporary editions of the KJV include extensive commentaries presenting fundamentalist Protestant teachings (such as the popular Scofield Bible), its devotees might be surprised to learn that such notes were originally banned from this version. The scholars were instructed to avoid sectarian ideas by including only the marginal notes necessary to explain certain Hebrew or Greek terms.

bottom of page