The Bible commissioned by King James was translated into English in 1611, more than 400 years ago.
One of the first steps taken by King James on his accession to the English throne in 1603 was to set in process a new translation of the Bible. At the time a number of translations existed that had been influenced by church dogma or were not readily accessible to the general public. In 1604 the task started with forty seven academic and church experts working in small teams with each team reviewing the others' work.
By 1611 the result was a translation that has been acknowledged over the centuries as one of very high accuracy and clarity. It was a live document and minor changes have been made in the light of new knowledge including a Cambridge revision by Thomas Paris in 1769 and an Oxford revised edition by Benjamin Blayney in 1769.
The KJV as it is commonly known may seem to have been produced in a simple, logical, and unremarkable way. However there were two important historical factors that played a role. One was the establishment of the printing press in the mid-1400's and its effect on reproduction cost but also its effect on standardising the English language by making texts widely available. The second factor was a challenge to the church domination of bible translations which were seen by reformists as intended to exclude access to the text by lay members of the congregations.
Latin was the written language of choice in the major churches. Their opposition to any change was substantial and in some cases brutal. William Tyndale published his English language New Testament in 1526 and this together with forthright statement on church doctrines cost him his life in 1536. However his work on both the Old and New Testaments lived on as an important foundation of the KJV being based on Hebrew and Greek original texts rather than the Latin translation of AD 405. Tyndale was a gifted linguist fluent in eight languages and his skill with the English language has left us with many of the phrases we use so readily such as "salt of the earth". There are at least seventy five commonly used sayings that originate in the Bible.
Apart from the significance to Christians the KJV is recognised as a work of outstanding literature, being published just twelve years before Shakespeare printed his first folio of plays. It contains great oratory passages and commonly uses single and two syllable words which gives the text great strength. This is partly due to the timing in the evolution of English with the printing press bringing a common language for the first time and also the foundation of often poetic structure of the original Hebrew.
The publication of the KJV was not the end of the story. The reformist Pilgrim Fathers took an English Bible with them when establishing a colony in America in 1620. This together with British trade and the discovery of Australia and New Zealand took the Bible across the world. With this grew the need to translate the Bible into other languages and an American Indian version was commenced in 1632 by John Eliot and completed thirty two years later. This might be the first of a long history of evangelical translation that continues today with more than 2,000 partial translations existing and 1,300 new translations currently in process. The most commonly used English versions now use modern English however the KJV is still preferred by many.
The Bible is distributed in vast numbers with Bible societies distributing some 600 million annually. The Gideons whose Bibles are seen in hotel rooms worldwide distribute 56 million complete or partial editions every year. With what appears to be an ever increasing publication rate it is hard to estimate the number printed over a period however one attempt at a figure is 5 billion copies since 1815.
In Mark chapter 16 we read Jesus's instruction "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature". This must be close to being achieved.