The Linguistic Heritage of the King James Bible

Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Category: Contemporary Issues

Precious Seed

Understandest thou what thou readest? Acts 8. 30b 1

When people read the above text from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, they often react in at least two different ways. Some accept that this is an accurate translation of the original Greek text even though the form of the receptor language is not modern English. Conversely, there are those who think that a later translation would be more helpful, because they find that the form of English in the KJV is somewhat obscure and difficult to understand in parts. 

These differing views divide readers into two distinct camps, i.e., those who think that a literal or word-for-word translation of the Bible is more important than a translation that seeks to reproduce the meaning of the original text in idiomatic or more natural English. The main criticism of the KJV by many modern readers is that it contains archaic language and is outdated. But these objections are, surprisingly, nothing new. In fact, until Benjamin Blayney modernized the English text of the KJV in 1769, this was the general complaint of most readers of the KJV at that time! The intention of this article is not, however, to weigh up the differences in translational approaches, but, as our title suggests, to demonstrate the linguistic heritage of the King James Bible. One point that should be made at the outset is to correct the notion that the KJV translation had a great influence on the writings of William Shakespeare. In fact, the Biblical texts that appear in his writings are, in the main, taken from the Geneva Bible, since he produced most of his literary work between 1589 and 1613. 

C. S. Lewis once said of the Bible, and he specifically meant the KJV, that those who have rejected its theological pretensions nevertheless continue to enjoy it as a treasure-house of English prose.2 Why then should this version of the Bible have such an influence on the English language more than any other in history? Put another way, what made this translation so critical to the development and enrichment of our native tongue? The answer to this question is both simple and complex. Europe’s lingua franca up to the middle of the sixteenth century was Latin, but the Reformation, and other political changes, provided an opportunity for countries to reassert their own unique national identities. An important part of this process was the standardization of the national language. In many countries, this led to the creation of national academies that were specifically tasked to establish and define the vernacular language of the nation. Providentially, this did not happen in England, where the development of English became dependent on printed literature, especially the KJV. In hindsight, this might be considered as a perfect example of how God plans in history, Gal. 4. 4. Thus, the KJV helped to create a standardized English language that excluded local dialects but, at the same time, enabled the absorption of foreign words and phrases. English is particularly adept at borrowing words from other cultures – it has a certain elasticity of mind. 

How far the Bible, and this translation in particular, has impacted on our lives can be seen by the vast number of references that are made to it on a daily basis. According to David Crystal, Biblical expressions are found in all contexts in which language is used, but the most popular domains are politics, economics, football, advertising, and the titles of books, films, pop songs, and works of art.3  So whether we like it or not, the KJV has thoroughly imbued the English language with its pentameters, and the cadences of its sentences. The text of the KJV flows like a river in flood, and is firmly imprinted on the English psyche, so much so that it caused F. W. Faber to write that it was part of the national mind and the anchor of the national seriousness. Without the influence of the KJV, the English language would be bereft of its beauty, its poetic greatness, and, ultimately, its power to communicate the gospel of Christ. May this influence long continue!

Perhaps the last word should be left to Bruce Metzger who states that this version owes its authority and popularity not to royal favour or legal enactments, but – what is far better – to its intrinsic merit and the verdict of English readers in general.4 


  1. I am indebted to Jack Lewis (The English Bible from KJV to NIV) for this heading to my article.
  2. Lewis (In T. R. Henn – The Bible as Literature, pg. 12).
  3. Beget the King James Bible and the English Language, pg. 257/258.
  4. The Bible in Translation, pg. 79.

AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.

There are 29 articles in
ISSUE (2011, Volume 66 Issue 3)

100 year of testimony from, York Street Gospel Hall, Leicester

Bible Bytes - F. B. Meyer

Bits and Bobs - Solar-Powered Hornets

Editorial - Do I seek to please men?

Elders as Shepherds

Facing the Future - Part 2

For to me to live is Christ

The Future of the Church

The Glory of the Lord

God and the Nations

King Jehoshaphat

Laridian Bible Software

The Life and Times of Gideon

The Linguistic Heritage of the King James Bible

The Magnificent

Make me ... a little cake first

The Ministry For Europe Trust

The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant

Personalities in the Pastoral Epistles - Part 5

Philippians: The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel

The Position of Older Believers in the Assembly and our responsibility towards them

Question - Is it wrong for a woman to cut her hair?


The Superiority of Faith

The missing passion

This little church had none

Views from the News

Which church should I join and why?

A Word for Today: Step, Walk (Heb. Hálak)

This article is not part of a series

There are 80 articles by this author

The Order of Melchisedec

The Epistle to Philemon

Paul’s View of the Law

Introducing the Feasts

The Passover

The Feasts of Unleavended Bread and Firstfruits

Feasts of Weeks and Trumpets

Day of Atonement

Feasts of Tabernacles

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

Paul’s view of the Person of Christ

The Letters of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

The Church at Pergamos

The Kingdom of God in the preaching of the Lord Jesus

John Calvin - A man predestined for greatness?

A Word for Today: Word (Gk. Logos)

A Word for Today: Loving Kindness (Heb. Hesed)

A Word for Today: Coming (Gk. Parousia)

A Word for Today: Be Just, Righteous (Heb. Sedek)

A Word for Today: Hope (Gk. Elpis)

A Word for Today: Hear, Obedience (Heb. Shema)

A Word for Today: Price of Release, Ransom (Gk. Lutron)

The Linguistic Heritage of the King James Bible

A Word for Today: Step, Walk (Heb. Hálak)

A Word for Today: Covenant (Gk. Diatheke)

A Word for Today: Firstfruits (Heb. Bikkûr)

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Part 1

A Word for Today: Fellowship (Gk. Koinonia)

Martin Luther - Doctor of Theology - Full Article

MARTIN LUTHER – Doctor of Theology (2)

A Word for Today: Kinsman Redeemer (Heb. Go’el)

A Word for Today: Reconciliation (Gk. Katallage)

A Word for Today: Shield, Protection (Heb. Magen)

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles - Biblical Scholar

A Word for Today: Good (Gk. Kalos)

A Word for Today: Vine, Grapevine (Heb. Gephen)

A Word for Today: Play-acting, Pretence, Hypocrisy (Gk. Hypokrisis)

A Word for Today: Blood, Bloodshed, Bloodguilt, Murder (Heb. Dam)

A Word for Today: Advocate, Pleader, Intercessor (Gk. Para-kletos)

Edward Dennett

A Word for Today: Wisdom, Skill, Aptitude (Heb. Hokmah)

A Word for Today - Katharos

A Word for Today - Torah

A Word for Today - Zoe

Charles Gahan

A Word for Today - S(h)emesh (Sun)

A Word for Today - καινός

A Word for Today - ‘Or

A Word for Today - Grace

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The

A WORD FOR TODAY. ‘Es (Tree, wood)

Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit-The Part 2

A Word for Today - Panim

A Word For Today - Pistis

The Argument for Galatians - Part 1

A Word for Today - Mashah

TheArgument of Galatians

A Word for Today: Missing the mark, Guilt, Sin (Gk. Hamartia)

Word For Today: Melek

Word For Today: Skandalon

Word for Today - Shebet

A Word for Today

The Son of God His Eternality

Word for Today - Yeshu’ah

Word for Today - Agape

Word for Today - ‘Ol (Yoke)

A Word for Today - Kurios

A Word for Today - Graphe

Cover Image

Word for Today - Leb, Lebab

Word for Today - Anastasis

Editorial - ‘Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light’, John 3. 19.

Word for Today - Qorban

Henry Alford, biblical scholar and polymath (1810-1871) 

Word for Today - Telos

Editorial - ‘My brethren, these things ought not so to be’, Jas. 3. 10.

Word for Today - Shebuah

Editorial - ‘A servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’, Jas. 1. 1.

A Word For Today - Time, Season (Gk. Kairos)