Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message 2011
In his annual New Year address, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, looks forward to the year ahead and the 400th anniversary year of one of the most important books in history - the King James Bible. Dr Williams reflects on how the King James Bible can offer a vital 'big picture' for our lives and for David Cameron's 'Big Society'.
It has been described as the single most important publication in whole of history: it was the book which laid the foundations of the United Kingdom. This year, a series of events will be held to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible which was 'made by the whole island to be used by the whole island'.
The Authorised Version today is not the text which was published in 1611. Hundreds of changes in vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation have been made.
There were some notable errors in the 1611 version:
Instead of having the parables of vineyards, we had the parables of vinegar.
A further print run is 1631 by the Royal Printers had a rather more serious omission: they missed the word 'not' out in the 7th commandment, such that it read: 'Thou shalt commit adultery'.
What is published now is the version revised by Benjamin Blayney, an Oxford man, in 1769, and quietly adopted by printers.
Words not in the original Hebrew and Greek, but added by translators to elucidate the sense, were inserted in small Roman type, in italics.
Four hundred years ago, such a font was considered to appear subsidiary in importance. Our use of italics today is to emphasise, so the modern editions, with the print in Roman and these added words in italics, give the opposite impression of what the translators intended.
Yet there is something of the majesty and grandeur of God Himself in this translation: its cadences are poetic perfection and its vocabulary is a breath away from divinity. Coming during the life of Shakespeare, in the years immediately following his greatest tragedies and his richest poetry, one senses the imprimatur of the Bard himself upon the heavenly spark of Godhead.
In her Christmas broadcast, Her Majesty the Queen reminded us that it was commissioned by her ancestor James VI of Scotland and I of England. This was Britain's Chalcedon, which brought brief respite from certain theological tensions and ecclesial conflagrations which were a mark of the era. Like the Book of Common Prayer, the Authorised Version facilitated a measure of unity.
These works remain the bedrock and foundation of the Church of England, while Jesus remains its cornerstone and the Monarch its Supreme Governor. The King James Version of the Bible is worth celebrating because it is a national treasure which ranks with our greatest achievements. Let us thank God for those who were tortured and died that we might have the Holy Scriptures in the vernacular. And let us that God that the vernacular which is preserved is that of the English language at its zenith.