News Release

The Influence of the King James Bible

In his Perth visit in February, the Pacific Area President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Tad R. Callister, made special mention of the year 2011 being the 400th anniversary of the creation of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

Elder Callister said the real importance of the King James Bible was that in the year 1611 there was a fundamental battle for religious liberty. "This work, in English, rather than Latin, gave people the opportunity to read in a language in which they were conversant. It helped break down the superstitions of the Dark Ages because men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Huss had spearheaded an unstoppable movement for knowledge on the continent."

"This book changed behaviour and led to a real thirst for a personal relationship with the Saviour, Jesus Christ," he said.

Elder Callister's comments lead us to an evaluation of how the KJV came to be.

William Tyndale (1494-1536), was the captain of an army of reformers who took advantage of Gutenberg's movable-type press for the purpose of publishing the Bible in the common vernacular. His publication ultimately led to King James 1 commissioning a new work, which came to be known as the King James Version of the Bible, early in the 17th century.

A gifted linguist of eight languages Tyndale became attached to the doctrines of the Reformation and made powerful enemies within the then dominant church.

Tyndale was infuriated with one statement thrown at him by a critic that it was "better to be without God's laws than the Pope's." He retorted: "I defy the pope and all his laws. If God spared my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you."

There is a delicious irony in that statement. Some three centuries later a plough boy in up-state New York, Joseph Smith, searched those same scriptures. In doing so he also defied the religious establishment and later founded a church, in 1830, that still uses the KJV today as the preferred choice - as do many Protestant churches.

Joseph Smith, like Tyndale, was controversial, loathed by powerful religious and political establishment figures and died a violent death in a travesty of due process.

True, William Tyndale was a far more learned man than Joseph Smith whose education, at best, was rudimentary. Neither was Tyndale accused of being a kingdom builder, as was the later Church leader but there are nonetheless some interesting similarities between the pair of 'cage-rattlers.'

Tyndale was forced to move from Gloucestershire to London and later to Antwerp just as Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints were rough stones rolling, to coin a phrase, moving from New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and finally to Utah.

If William Tyndale's classic work was controversial, the Book of Mormon was more so. Accepted by the Church as additional scripture the Book of Mormon has never been accepted by other Christians as authentic scripture or translations from an ancient text.

Yet, the legacy of both religious figures is as fighters for religious liberty and what they constructed has flourished.

Tyndale's achievement as promoter-in-chief of the Reformation in England and as a great linguist and translator deserves greater recognition than he has received. The King James Bible endures and the very poetry of the language will ensure that it continues to be used.

Joseph Smith, like Tyndale, also worked in secret on the translation of his Book of Mormon but in his case was able to publish freely. However the impact in the community of the policies of the Church at the time caused Joseph and his successors - Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff - to be presidents-in-hiding, much as Tyndale.

History however has been kinder to both. From pariahs to acceptance is the common denominator of these two men.

In 1536 Tyndale was burnt at the stake as a heretic in Vilvoorde (Belgium) at the instigation of agents of Henry VIII. Three years later that monarch accepted the English Bible!

As for the so-called American heretic: Joseph Smith started a church with just a handful of people that is now is the fourth largest Christian church in the U.S. that has 14 million adherents world-wide and boasts a missionary force of 52,000 young men and women who do two years of service for no pay. Today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is recognised as a conservative body with members who have excellent morals, traditional family values and belief in a doctrine that does not shift with changing cultural mores.

Perhaps that is what Elder Callister meant when he talked about the King James Bible having the capacity to change behaviour!

-John Elsegood, Teacher of History and Politics at Carmel Adventist College, Western Australia


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