The King James Bible, the most famous version of the world’s most influential book, was published on this day in history, May 2, 1611.
“The King James, or Authorized, Version of the Bible remains the most widely published text in the English language,” claims the British Library.
Commissioned by King James I of England in 1604, it is famed for its artfully written versions of Old and New Testament tales; its success bringing the Word of God to English-speaking commoners; and its influence on the American colonies.
“In commissioning the first complete English translation of Christianity’s most sacred book, the King hoped to end protests by the Puritan faction of the Church of England,” the website MapsoftheWorld.com notes.
“The result, beyond simply an authoritative text on which to continue building the national religion, would have far-reaching influence on the language itself.”
A 1616 printed King James Bible translated by James I is shown on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2011. The Folger exhibition, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The King James Bible was definitively published in 1611, though the actual date of its first release is unknown.
Biblical scholars established May 2 as its most likely date in 2011 during the global celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version.
“The King James, or Authorized, Version of the Bible remains the most widely published text in the English language.” — British Library
King James I proved perhaps the most consequential monarch in the growth of the future United States.
He chartered the Virginia Company, which in 1607 established the first permanent English settlement in the American colonies.
Settlers landing on the site of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America. It was named for King James I, who supported the mission. (MPI/Getty Images)
Jamestown, Virginia, is named in his honor.
The King James Bible was widely read in the American colonies, though typically published in Britain.
It was often the book in the pulpit during the First Great Awakening of the mid-1700s that helped fuel the American independence movement.
Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia bookseller born in Scotland, published a version of the King James Bible in the American colonies in the 1770s.
It “became known as the ‘Bible of the Revolution’ because it was printed in small size so that copies could be distributed to soldiers in the Colonial army,” says the website of Cedarville University, a Christian college in Ohio.
The King James Bible “became known as the ‘Bible of the Revolution’ … distributed to soldiers in the Colonial army.” — Cedarville University
The story behind the King James Bible is packed with all the political and religious intrigue and conflict that defined the British monarchy for centuries.
Portrait of King James I of England (1566-1625). Found in the collection of National Museum Stockholm. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
King James VI gained the throne of Scotland at 1567 at just 13 months old. He became King James I of England following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.
Queen Elizabeth, among other legacies, ordered the execution of King James’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, in a brutal beheading in 1587.
His mother’s death opened the door for King James VI of Scotland to one day rule England at just 36 years old.
A team of about 50 scholars spent seven years producing the new tome upon his order.
The King James Version was not the first English-language Bible.
It was, however, the first Bible in English to have the stamp of approval of the monarchy, and the first therefore widely read by commoners in Britain.
The execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), the mother of King James I of England. The Queen was heard to repeat, “Into thy Hands O Lord, do I commit my Spirit,” many times as she went to her death. She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Previous English versions were written clandestinely, often at risk of death.
William Tyndale famously fled England for Germany to work on his English translations of the Bible in 1524 and 1525.
“Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” — William Tyndale, martry, early English Bible writer
Copies of his New Testament were smuggled into Britain, before Tyndale’s heresy was uncovered.
June 10, 1953: The first issue of the first edition of the “Authorized Version” of the English Bible, printed in London in 1611 by Robert Barker. Commissioned by King James I, it is also known as the King James Version. (Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“Tyndale continued to work on the Old Testament translation but was captured in Antwerp before it was completed,” Britannica writes of the scholar’s last days.
“Condemned for heresy, he was executed by strangulation and then burned at the stake at Vilvoorde (Belgium) in 1536.”
Tyndale’s legacy lives on today.
The martyrdom of William Tyndale at Vilvoorde Castle, Belgium in 1536. English scholar who became a leading figure in Protestant reform. After an engraving in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments of Martyrs, 1684. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The British Library attributes 80% of the King James Bible to Tyndale’s testaments.
The martyr reportedly cried before meeting his horrific death, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”