What Is The King James Bible Language? (Revealed)


The Holy Bible has been a vital aspect of Christian life for two millennia, and as such it has been translated into nearly every language imaginable. There are even differing Bible versions within the same language. As it is one the most popular Bible choices, many might wonder: what is the King James Bible language?

Early Modern English is the language found in the King James Bible. Written at the time of a sudden shift from Middle English, with the work of William Tyndale and other scholars, the King James Bible was written in an earlier version of the English spoken today.

What is Early Modern English, and what does that mean for the King James Bible? Who even translated the King James Bible? Some believe that the King James Bible is the original Bible, is that true? Is the King James Bible the most accurate? All of these questions and more I answer down below!

Is The King James Bible In Early Modern English?

For two millennia the Bible, or at least many of its ‘books’ in scroll form, has been at the forefront of the world’s greatest civilizations. Some later versions of it, however, have had more or less popularity. The King James version was one of the earliest English translations of the entire biblical text.

Due to this it was extremely popular for the last four hundred years since its creation.

Many might wonder what English looked like back then, or rather sounded like. What kind of English is featured in the King James Bible? Is it the Beginnings of Early Modern English?

The English found in the King James Bible translation is Early Modern English. At the time it was written, the English language as a whole had just undergone significant change from Middle English to Early Modern English. This allows for those of us today to read King James and understand it.

If King James’s English would be considered Early Modern English, then would the likes of Shakespeare use it? What IS Early Modern English exactly, and how does this relate to the King James translation?

Is Early Modern English Different Than What We Speak Today?

First off, what is Early Modern English?

It is essentially the beginnings of what we speak today, the grammatical and phonetical trends then (around the 1500s) helped shape English today.

Naturally there are some noticeable differences, mostly regarding vocabulary and cultural sayings. English is a language built up of idioms and cultural phrases, thus some have succumb to disuse.

The same goes for vocabulary, with some having fallen out of use or been replaced. English’s vocabulary is vast, and has many foreign words that have been integrated in. From the perspective of vocabulary, English changes nearly daily.

Overall, we can read the King James Bible, and understand what it is saying

What About Shakespeare?

The particular Early Modern English found in King James is oftentimes known as Elizabethan English. This merely refers to the time period, after the Elizabeth the first reign specifically.

It also has to do with the “British” nature found within King James and other works at the time. Soon after English began to diverge in the Americas and elsewhere leaving Elizabethan English with a striking British characteristic.

Not only works like the King James Bible are considered Elizabethan, but others like Shakespeare would be thought of as such.

Although the works are inherently different, the language found in King James Bible and Shakespeare’s plays are one in the same.

Why Isn’t King James In Old Or Middle English?

If King James uses Early Modern English, where does that leave Old or Middle English? Why wasn’t it written in Old or Middle English?

To understand how Old, Middle, and Early Modern English compare, we need to understand the timeline of the English language.

  • Old English, from 400s A.D. to 1066 A.D.
  • Middle English, from 1066 A.D. to 1400s A.D.
  • Modern English, from 1400s A.D. to our current time

Old English and Middle English are essentially unintelligible to us today. We can understand Early Modern English because it is just an earlier form of what we now speak.

The time of when the King James Bible was translated, and even Shakespeare, saw the significant shift from Middle English to an early form of modern English. That’s why even four hundred years later we can understand what the King James Bible is saying.

If you’re interested in other subjects relating to language learning, then read some of my other articles.

Who Translated The King James Bible?

We now have a better Idea of the kind of English used in the King James Bible, and how it isn’t so different from what we speak today. Yet, how was the Bible translated into English in the first place? Who even translated the King James Bible?

The man who did the most in translating the King James Bible is William Tyndale, whose work was predominately used after his execution to make the King James translation. With his work and at the behest of King James I, committees were formed to undergo making the translation.

William Tyndale was the man who did the most in translating the King James Bible, without ever directly working on it. Nearly all early English translations used William Tyndale’s work, with the King James version thought to have used almost 90% of his work word for word.

The astonishing numbers calculated in a study published in the journal Reformation, are that after his execution, the state supported committees translating the Bible into English in England used 84% of the New Testament and 76% of the Old Testament word for word, directly from Tyndale’s work.

The Great Bible, the work of Tyndale before he died, was used by King Henry VIII as the first authorized Anglican Bible. Later the King James Bible used most of this English translation work, with some small “editing”, and became hugely popular with protestants across the board.

William Tyndale

As is discussed in this article, William Tyndale was instrumental in the King James Bible and it’s contemporaries. The King James Bible translators leaned heavily on what Tyndale did, thus he could be considered its chief author.

A staunch protestant, and even stauncher follower of Martin Luther, William Tyndale considered it a religious duty to translate the Bible into English.

However, at the time the Church of England didn’t share his views and executed William Tyndale. This was done on charge of heresy, saying it was heresy for ever attempting to translate the Bible into English.

Interestingly, the Church of England had no qualms with using all of William Tyndale’s work for King Henry VIII’s Great Bible, and King James I’s the King James Bible. These two Bible translations are almost completely done with William Tyndale’s work.

Is The King James Bible The Most Accurate?

If it is largely done with William Tyndale’s work, and most Early translations using the same source, is King James accurate? Or, is it even the most accurate?

The King James Bible is not the most accurate Bible translation. Regardless of whether interpretive errors were made, the King James translation shows significant basis by excluding seven Old testament texts from the canon. These seven books were always considered canonical in the sacred list.

All Bibles before this had these seven books, including the Greek Septuagint (285-246 BC), Latin Vulgate (382 AD) etc., We’ll get into the first Bibles more later. The seven removed books were:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Baruch
  • Sirach
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • Wisdom

Putting aside if certain verses were translated correctly into Middle English, though there are certainly legitimate debates to be had, removing seven whole books from the Bible is clearly showing the translators of the King James Bible to have a clear bias.

The Bible as the majority of Christians know it today is the Bible used by the Catholic Church. This edition includes the the proto-canonical books that Tyndale and others following Martin Luthor’s example excluded. With the most Christians in a single organized group, Catholics make up 1.4 billion of the 2.6 billion Christians in the world.

As a comparison, all 39,000 versions of Protestant denominations taken together come to roughly 900 million.

Is The King James Bible The Most Popular English Translation?

Is the King James version the most popular English translation today?

Most reports and studies suggest that the King James Bible is the most popular in America. This is due in large part of to a significant amount of protestants in the US.

However, King James’s Bible translation popularity has waned throughout the years, due to the increasing number of other English translations. There is even a New King James, featuring more modern “lingo”, and many have moved towards adopting that as their favorite.

Another thing to note, is that the King James Bible has never been favored by Catholics, because of it being protestant in origin. The largest group of Christians are Catholics, who will more than likely not use the King James translation.

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Is The King James The Original Bible?

Many might wonder if the King James is the original Bible due to its popularity, and the fact that it was written in Early Modern English. This also begs the question: is the original Bible in English? Is King James the original Bible?

The King James is not the original Bible, but instead one of the first English translations of it. As a whole, the work is based largely upon the work of William Tyndale. All of the books in the Bible were written in ancient Hebrew and Greek, but the first full Bible was in Latin, not English.

This might be a shock for some, but the first complete Old and New Testament Bible was in Latin and certainly wasn’t in English. What was the original Bible then, and why isn’t it in English?

What Is The Original Bible, And Why Is It Not In English?

Though an uncommon view, some do think that King James was the original Bible. If that isn’t the case however, what is the original Bible then?

The first complete Bible was the Latin Vulgate, translated by St Jerome in (382 AD). It became the official Bible of the Catholic Church due to the popularity of the Latin language. St Jerome translated it in the 4th century after Pope Damasus I decided on the definitive canonical list.

This means that the first Bible was instituted by the Catholic Church, more than a thousand years before the protestant revolution, or reformation depending on who you ask. It wasn’t until this protestant split from the Catholic church that Bibles like the King James Version were instituted.

Interesting Fact: In the 7th century, the Venerable Bead, a Catholic monk and historian translated the Gospel of John into a precursor to Early Modern English. It is unintelligible to us today, but English and its precursors were used in Bible translations for centuries before.

What Is The Bible?

In Latin, Bible means library, and that is exactly what it is. The Bible is a collection of works, all of which are written by many different authors.

The Catholic Church was the one who decided upon the definitive list of books in the Bible. No list by any earlier scholars, theologians, or Church bishops agreed on the exact list of canonical books until Pope Damasus in the early 5th century decided on the table of contents.

All of the books found in the Old Testament of the Bible are mainly written in Hebrew, and sometimes in Greek. Most all of the original books of the New Testament were written in koine Greek (Though some scholars believe the book of Matthew could have been originally penned in Hebrew.)

The original Bible was then translated into Latin, but why?

Why Is The Original Full Bible Not In English?

At the time, in the 4th century, Latin was the predominant language spoken in the Roman Empire. Whereas, a predecessor to modern English was isolated and had no influence over most of the world.

Despite some protestant claims to the contrary, the Catholic Church didn’t write their Bible in Latin to exclude, but rather to include the masses. They chose this language because it was the most influential at the time, due to the Roman Empire, and therefore spoken by the most people.

Though English today has certainly taken the place of Latin, at the time of the early Catholic Church writing the first Bible, Latin was the “lingua franca”.

Is The King James Bible The Original English Translation?

If it is not the original Bible, then is King James the original English translation?

The King James Bible is not the original English translation, it’s predecessor the Great Bible of King Henry VIII would be closer to that. William Tyndale’s work, where nearly all Early Modern English translations were based on, came more than fifty years prior to King James.

There are a crazy amount of Bible translations, especially in our Modern era, with some being more or less dependable. King James has certainly been one of the most popular choices for centuries, particularly for almost all protestants. This doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of others though.

Catholics tended to have avoided the translation, and still do, because of the questionable additions and retractions (namely the seven missing books) found within the translation.

One Catholic equivalent and a “competitor” if you will, would be the Douay-Rheims translation; it came out around the same time in the early 1600s. Others are used all the time by Catholics and protestants.

This goes to show the King James Bible isn’t the original English Translation, nor is it the only popular one.

How Did The King James Bible Affect The English Language?

Due to it being one of the first English translations, and having been one of the most popular picks for centuries, some might wonder: how did the King James Bible affect the English language?

The King James Bible affected English like other products of it’s time, by furthering the growth of it. Particularly by helping to distance Middle English away from what we now consider to be Modern English. Sayings from King James, and the Bible itself, have been widely used for centuries.

Like the work of Shakespeare and others during that time, the King James Bible contributed to the growth of the vocabulary and culture of English.

The Final Talking Point On The King James Bible Language…

Early Modern English is what the King James Bible was written in, essentially a “younger” form of what we think of as Modern English. The King James Bible has actually contributed into how English is today, by being written right after the shift from Middle English relatively speaking.

The King James Bible has been popular with protestant for centuries, and has contributed to how English is today.

If you are looking for more information regarding language learning, then check out some of my other articles.

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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