King James Bible Influences English Language Centuries Later

King James Bible Influences English Language Centuries Later

The King James Bible’s affect on the English language is still being felt 400 years after it was first published. No other book has had a greater impact on the way English is spoken and written than the King James Bible. Its phrases have infiltrated the everyday language of English speakers. Most probably don’t even know that they are quoting the Bible.

Some of the phrases from the holy text that are often used today include:

  • “Gave up the ghost” ~ Genesis 35:29
  • “Take root” ~ 2 Kings 19:30
  • “Out of the mouth of babes” ~ Psalms 8:2
  • “A fly in the ointment” ~ Ecclesiastes 10:1
  • “No peace for the wicked” ~ Isaiah 57: 21
  • “Put words in thy mouth” ~ Jeremiah 1:9
  • “Feet of clay” ~ Daniel 2:33
  • “Wheels within wheels” ~ Ezekiel 10:10
  • “Salt of the earth” ~ Matthew 5:13
  • “The blind leading the blind” ~ Matthew 15:13
  • “Turned the world upside down” ~ Acts 17:6
  • “God forbid” ~ Romans 3:4
  • “The powers that be” ~ Romans 13:1
  • “Filthy lucre” ~ 1 Timothy 3:3
  • “Fought the good fight” ~ 2 Timothy 4:7

There are a few good reasons why expressions from the King James Bible would pervade English. Beginning with its publication in 1611, it was once daily reading for millions of people throughout the English speaking world. It was extensively read aloud in churches. Over time, readers and listeners absorbed its language and repeated it in communication and writings. Influential people, particularly in London, amplified the effect for centuries to come.

The King James Bible and the works of famous Londoner William Shakespeare entered the scene at a formative stage of English’s development. The imprints of both are evident on the language. The Bible introduced 257 phrases, while Shakespeare coined about 100. In contrast, Shakespeare invented about 1,000 new words, including “frugal” and “generous,” while the English Bible introduced only 40 or so, like “backsliding” and “battering ram”.

The Authorized King James Version is an English translation by the Church of England. Its creation was conceived by King James I in response to the perceived problems of the earlier translations. Completed in 1611, it was the third such official translation into English.

Phrases with roots in the King James Bible are everywhere. This year marks its 400th year of influencing the English Language. Read more about it here and here.

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Sara Duane-Gladden is as a freelance writer living in the Minneapolis – St. Paul Twin Cities Area of Minnesota. She also writes and maintains the True to Words language blog. Follower her on Twitter at @SaraDuane.

10 Responses to “King James Bible Influences English Language Centuries Later”

  1. Thanks! A big surprise tied into the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Version Bible:

    Two scholars have compiled the first worldwide census of extant copies of the original first printing of the 1611 King James Version (sometimes referred to as the “He” Bible). For decades, authorities from the British Museum, et al., have estimated that “around 50 copies” of that first printing still exist. The real number, however, is quite different!

    For more information, you’re invited to contact Donald L. Brake, Sr., PhD, at dbrake1611@q.com or his associate David Sanford at drsanford@earthlink.net. You’re also invited to visit the http://www.credocommunications.net/kjv website.

  2. Thank you for your comment! And thank you for the information for a potential future Langology post!

  3. Did people actually talk with same manner and style as in the KJV?

  4. From the research I did, it seems the reason why the Bible reads in the way it does is because it was translated word-for-word, without regard to idioms and metaphors. It basically injected a good chunk of Hebrew influence into English that hadn’t been there before. It definitely affected how people talked. It wasn’t the only influence, though.

  5. Just so you know, it’s “effect,” NOT “affect.” It was hard to take you seriously with such a glaring mistake in the very first sentence.

  6. Thanks so much for the constructive comment philcar! I would direct you to this link that explains this usage of the verb “affect” over the noun “effect.” http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/affect-versus-effect.aspx

  7. Thank you so much Ms. Sara for your enlightening remark. If possible i want you to explain in which ways the influences of the bible on english language can be traced, of course the King James’ bible i mean.

  8. Good article. The Bible was the only book available to many people in past centuries due to it’s commonality.

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  10. I live in the Twin Cities area, and I came across your site as I prepared to complete my thesis for M.A. in English with Specialization in Rhetoric. I would preface what follows with the fact I did not always use the KJB. I used to use the New Living Translation, which is not even a translation but rather a paraphrase.

    I am of a portion of believers labeled as KJV Only, a misnomer as I also believe the word of God is represented in Spanish, Italian, French, German and so many other languages. As with English, I believe these languages usually have one translation which meets the standards to be called the word of God. We are labeled as KJV/B Only because we believe the KJB is the inspired word of God perfectly preserved in the English tongue. We believe the translation perfectly represents and communicates what the original languages held, making it unnecessary to know Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic to have the word of God. However, our detractors would paint us as saying only the English Bible is the word of God. Sure, there are some who hold to such a position, but not all of us do.

    If someone does not agree with my position, that is fine; I just want to point out most of us whom hold such a belief and teach it are educated, believing as we do upon the basis of substantive facts and research. My initial doctorate thesis, in Biblical Studies, considered the issues of inspiration and preservation from the understanding of theological, historical, translational, and grammatical and linguistic positions. As I progressed through my studies I came to believe as I do now. As I progressed through my present degree track and approached my master’s thesis I realized I wanted to show why the English of the KJB is superior to the English we now use and speak, and thus is superior in the communication of the original languages.

    Your article is very nice and I agree with it in most aspects. I would point out that my research, now spanning over a decade on this issue, reveals the English of the KJV is not exactly what we would call modern, or early modern English. It falls into a special branch of English distinguished as high church English. It retained some usages which modern and early modern English did not, and introduced some concepts we never used in the common tongue. This is why your research shows the translators retained the Hebraisms and traits of Greek in the work of the KJB. Their concern was to make the English conform to the translation rather than to make the translation conform to English rules.

    Thank you for sharing this article.