The Book That Changed the World outlines the importance of the King James Version (KJV) in American history, the English language, and its influence throughout the English-speaking world. It also gives a summary of its development and ultimate publication. The book is divided into four sections: Origins (two essays: “From Outlawed to Authorized—A Path Soaked in Blood: English Bibles Before the King James Version,” and “Taking ‘Pains in the House of God’: The Origins and Making of the Authorized Version”); Old and New Connections (three essays: “The Enduring Influence of the King James Version,” “ ‘Contraries Meet in One’: Shakespeare, Donne, and the King James Version,” and “ ‘Do You Fancy Picking It Up?’: The King James Bible and Digital Culture”); Church Communities (three essays: “The Role of the King James Version in the African-America Church,” “The King James Version and Seventh-day Adventist Faith: A Historical and Theological Reflection,” and “Ellen G. White and the King James Version”); and Reading, Memorizing, Studying (three essays: “The King James Version as Oral Beauty,” “Eating the Book,” and “This Message Is for You: Getting the Most Out of One’s Personal Bible Study”); with an introduction and brief biographical statements of the writers, editors, and project consultants.
In the introduction, editor Nikolaus Satelmajer lays out the genesis of the project and his lifelong interest in Bible translations, notably German, Croatian, and Serbian. He mentions that the KJV project began in his Sabbath School class by his and others’ presentations on the subject of the KJV on its 400th anniversary.
Two articles illustrating the depth and breadth of the essays in this book are “Taking ‘Pains in the House of God’ ” and “The Enduring Influence of the King James Version.” In the first essay, it was noted that “[t]he AV [Authorized Version] turned out as it did largely because . . . the translators were chosen for their biblical scholarship, rather than ecclesiastical or political opinions; and because they themselves seem to have regarded their work as the culminating effort of a century of Protestant attempts to render the Bible in English” (34, 35). The essay continues by noting that “First, the Bible was foundational to true religion. Second, . . . accuracy was essential in translating it. . . . Third, a translation was . . . also intended to enable ordinary people to read the Bible. . . . [The] translation must be both accurate and readable” (35). It was further pointed out in the essay that there was “a tendency to translate the words to be ‘openly read’—that is, read aloud” (46). The translators also “regularly ‘crave[d] the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer’ ” (44). The essay noted that some of the language used in the translation emphasized the intimate and personal relationship between God and His people, which was without foundation in the Hebrew and Greek text (48).
The essay “The Enduring Influence of the King James Version” cited the KJV’s influence on music, art, religion, democracy, civilization, and the English language. In music, we have Handel’s Messiah, plus famous works of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Purcell, Bach, and many others as well as the hymns composed by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Newton, and a host of others. In social reforms, there are, among many others, William Wilberforce (1759–1833)—abolition of slavery; and in numerous English expressions, such as “the salt of the earth.” It can also be seen that Abraham Lincoln, too, was influenced by his reading of the KJV. Note the KJV language in his statement: “With malice toward none; with charity for all.”
After reading this book, it becomes clear that the KJV has had an enduring influence on English culture in all its aspects as well as on the English language. The book is coherently written and well worth reading from cover to cover.
—Reviewed by Rollin Shoemaker, DMin, STM, a retired pastor living in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.