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March 28th, 2011
03:16 PM ET

Tiny church finds original King James Bible

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Hilmarton, England (CNN) - A little English village church has just made a remarkable discovery.

The ornate old Bible that had been sitting in plain view on a table near the last row of pews for longer than anyone could remember is an original King James Bible - one of perhaps 200 surviving 400-year-old original editions of arguably the most important book ever printed in English.

In fact, the Bible at St. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, England, was sitting right under a hand-lettered sign saying it was an original.

The sign said it had been found in "the parish chest" in 1857, that the cover had been added, and that it was the second of the two impressions published in 1611 - the year of first publication.

But no one knew whether to believe it, parish council member Geoff Procter said. As the anniversary of publication in 1611 approached, they decided it was worth investigating.

"We had no way of knowing whether it really was a 1611 Bible so we had to get it verified somehow," he said.

He and two other church members took it to a specialist, the Rev. David Smith at the Museum of the Book in London.

Smith knew immediately what he was looking at, Procter said.

"We put it on his table and he opened it and immediately he said, 'Yes, this is a 1611 Bible,'" Procter remembered.

Geoff Procter of St. Laurence Church in Hilmarton, England, reads from the church’s King James Bible.

Smith identified it thanks to a printing error - a place in the Gospel of Matthew that should say Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane and spoke to his disciples instead says that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, entered the garden.

That the St. Laurence Bible had that error, but not another one in the Book of Ruth, enabled Smith to pinpoint exactly when the book had been printed, Procter explained.

"We realized that this is quite an important find," he said, and last month the church quietly announced the discovery in the diocese newsletter.

They hesitated before going public, Procter said.

"It was one of those discoveries that we wondered if we should tell everybody or tell nobody," he said. "And we thought that as it was the 400th anniversary, we should talk about it."

St. Laurence Church is far from the only one talking about the King James Bible this year - the Globe Theatre in London is planning a reading of the whole thing in the days before Easter, and a literary festival has already done one. Cambridge University has an exhibition, and the King James Bible Trust lists dozens of special events planned this year to mark the anniversary.

The reason is simple, said Moira Goff of the British Library.

The King James Bible is "so embedded in us that we can't overstate the significance of it," she said.

It's the source of dozens of phrases and concepts that have become part of the English language - "an eye for an eye," "born again," "eat, drink and be merry," "God forbid."

The church recently discovered that its old Bible was a rare 400-year-old original King James Bible.

Experts point out that the King James is based on at least two earlier major English translations, so its creators were editors as much as originators of these phrases, but it is the King James Bible that the great English writers knew, Goff said.

"It's passed entirely into the English language, into the thinking of English speakers around the world," she said.

Its influence has been greater than that of Shakespeare, she argued.

"I think it's permeated the language in ways that we can't count as we can count Shakespeare, influencing people's religious thinking, influencing people's social thinking in a way that Shakespeare probably does now - but that's a more recent development," she said.

"It's the Bible that was read to people in church every week," she explained. "The great literary figures from the early 17th century onwards, this was their daily reading. It passed into their works," she said, citing John Milton and John Bunyan among others.

But the King James Bible shouldn't be reduced to merely its influence on writers, she said.

"I think we have to be very careful in looking at the Bible only as a work of literature. It is also Holy Scripture and I think that makes it a different sort of book than the great works of literature," she said. "It will be read by people who will possibly never read Shakespeare or Milton."

The St. Laurence discovery is very unusual, she said. Perhaps 200 copies of the 1611 printings of King James Bibles are known to exist, she estimated. No one knows how many were printed, she added, but she guessed that the number was probably around 1,000.

Most of the surviving copies are in institutions, such as major libraries at universities, colleges and cathedrals in the United Kingdom and United States, she said.

"Some of them may be in private collections," she added, saying there is no way to know how many such copies there might be.

The sign hanging above the Bible, announcing its origins.

The St. Laurence discovery is technically a fragment, not a Bible, since it is missing a few pages (including most of the first pages of Genesis, up to chapter 4, verse 17) and has been trimmed at the top to fit the wooden cover added in Victorian times.

But it fits a pattern, she said. As King James Bibles got old and needed to be replaced, many were tucked away as church treasures, as seems to have happened with the St. Laurence Bible.

The people of St. Laurence Church are now trying to raise money to build a special case so they can keep their Bible in use and on regular display.

That would make the church more or less unique so far as Goff knows, although she speculated that there just might be a few village churches still using their 400-year-old Bibles.

"It's possible there are one or two churches that have gone on doing it and they just haven't thought to say," she said.

"People are now beginning to realize the value of this particular edition. This is the 400th anniversary and there is a lot more emphasis on it," she said.

"They value it. They want to keep it and they want to use it."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Bible • Books • Christianity • Easter • Houses of worship • United Kingdom

soundoff (1,211 Responses)
  1. Non-Believer

    The bible is nothing more than a novel written by humans. And to top it off, some of the chapters are missing. 16 I think. (not sure of the exact #) Anyone can write a book of morals/values and tell everyone thats how we should live. And people have. Not believing it for a minute. If you think theres some good/bad power in the sky, boy youll believe in anything. Ocean front property anyone?

    March 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • deter

      Written by humans inspired by God. And yes, a few numbers are missing, but that has to do with the swap between languages

      March 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Jesus

      Just think...when this 1611 print was made, the folks had no indoor plumbing, were executing people by beheading, knew nothing of "democracy", to say nothing of their ability to develop an engine (of any kind). Just take the mentality in the middle east today and extrapolate it back 2,000 years!! That's why my Bible serves as a doorstop in my home.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • IceT

      Morals are a human thing, they are not a religious invention. Morals are as fluid as society & evolve constantly to meet the needs of an ever evolving society.

      Also, leaving some books out of the Bible was a human choice not based on language...if it were the true word of God how could you choose to leave ANYTHING out?!

      March 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Richard L. Kent, Esq.

      crash> cash

      March 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Javier

      Non-believer, your opinion comes from the fact that you have already discovered and rationalized all of the unexplained marvels in the universe, right?

      You find a clock in the middle of the woods and then explain that all the metals were unearthed and worn out to get the precise dimensions and the right assemblyin order to make it work instead of acknowledging the work of the clock master that designed it? The human been is thousands of times more complex than a simple watch. Why do you deny the existence of his Creator? A simple and humble I do not know works better than trying to be an educated moron.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Maggie

      The Bible took nearly 1600 years to write from the Beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. There are things in the Old Testament that predicted what would be coming and those things did indeed happen hundreds of years later in some instances. If this were written within one person's lifetime, then your argument would be worth investigating. However given the length of time it took for the Bible to be completed, I doubt it is just one long story of coincedences. A story-teller is just that, they make up things as they go along...there is no way one story teller could predict how his story will end 1600 years from now and have all the chapters be consistant and for that matter assure that all of the chapters included given that the story would be passed along and shared in places hundreds of miles apart even with modern age technology...a technology that was not available during the time the Bible was written. It sounds like you have given this some thought but perhaps you can consider what I am saying as well. You are also saying all of the Scholars that have studied the Bible for all these years are wrong....how can all of these scholors come up with basically the same thing and be wrong...I believe it is because they have taken the time to research...they are not idiots.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  2. Burbank

    Considering what a damp climate England is it's truly remarkable that this book survived in such good condition.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Not that hard to believe

      March 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  3. jmsdh

    My only interest in this story is about the book. Two hundred copies surviving for 400 years out of an original print run of 1000 would be a phenomenal success rate. It doesn't sound plausible.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @jmsdh
      One might be tempted to call it "miraculous".

      March 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  4. Tim

    I just read a story last week about how flawed the Bible is because of the translations are incorrect.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  5. John

    There's a new religious book out, I wrote it. God came and told me to do so just like how god told all them dead men to write the bible(s), kuran, etc...etc....

    March 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Jarrod

      For lies to work well – they cannot be able to be checked or verified by others. No one but Mohammed saw his vision. No one but Paul saw his vision. I will saw though that 6,000,000 Jews stood at Sinai and heard God speak to them. It's hard to keep a lie like that going without 6,000,000 people all changing the story.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  6. ScrnName

    What happened to my comment? There was nothing more inflammatory in it than most others...
    I love the irony of the Biblical experts having to use known, glaring translation errors to authenticate one of the oldest examples of what is supposedly the infallible "Word of God." Anybody who attempts to follow it literally will fail by default! Never mind how bad it is to base your life on rules & stories set out by greedy, murderous kings and church officials. "WWJD?" = "Not listen to anything said by the men who published the Bible!" It is a nice historical find for this church, but it is only that – a part of history.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. bill

    Also known as "The Hypocrites Handbook."

    March 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Jarrod

      You gotta have standards to be a hypocrite Your Honor.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  8. bojangles

    Atheism= ignorance. Regardless of what religion or god you follow, it is ignorant to not accept that there is some God out there. Even science is beginning to realize that there is something at work beyond our comprehension. Even if you beleive in the Big Bang it still does not explain where the particles and energy come from that caused the Big Bang to happen. Science teaches us that something can't come from nothing but then teaches that everything was created by on giant explosion. Well then tell me where everything came from that caused the Big Bang to happen. Where did all that energy derive from that caused such a massive event? It couldn't have just popped up out of no where because science tells us that is impossible... It is ignorant to discount that there is at least something out there beyond our realm of understanding.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ed Bermeo

      ready... ill ask your kind of question? where did god come from .. doesn't that mean someone had to create him.......

      "Where did all that energy derive from that caused such a massive event?" -have you ever read any science book? or heard of an atomic bomb..or hear of nuclear fission or fusion.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • bojangles

      I'm just making the point that atheists criticize Christians for beleiving in a "mythical being" when the the creation of our own universe as science describes it is just as "unbeleivable". There are things out there beyond our understanding and for Atheists to criticize christians for beleiving in God when most beleive that everything was started by one massive explosion that came from nothing and created everything is very hypocritical.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • JohnS

      Good points. In his first edition (1988?) of A Brief History of Time, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking argues that not only was the origin of the universe an act of divine creation, but that it occurred specifically for mankind, along with the creation of the concept of Time (which he mathematically proves did not exist prior to the 'Big Bang'). Not sure why he tones down his views in subsequent (2nd & 3rd) editions.
      More recently, Francis Collins, MD (recent head of the Human Genome Project) and a world-renowned scientist presents his argument for the existence of God in his 2010? book, The Language of God (along with his own life's journey from agnostic to aetheist to believer).

      March 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  9. Dan

    Historically, this is a great find. It would be nice to think the church would take any financial gain from this discovery and give it back to the poor but christianity doesn't do that anymore.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Did they ever? Charity comes at a price – here have some Jesus.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  10. deter

    Whenever there is a religious article here, people complain and say why they don't believe its true. Before posting a stupid comment on a religion, look it up and try to figure out what we believe about it.

    Yes, there are radicals in all religions, But also you must remember that atheists can be radical for their own beliefs. Please respect us for what we believe and stop ranting about it. You are being very hypocritical.

    Feel free to copy and paste what is above if someone acts like this again in a different article.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  11. frankie2tone

    @James
    Amen, amen brother! God said he would preserve his word and there it is! It is proof until the next line of excuses come forth. 

    In addition, I want to add that the Bible is a closed book. Jesus holds the key and he is the one to deliver His Holy Spirit unto us. Until we humans magnify the depth of our sins and seek redemption by faith in Jesus Christ alone, the Bible will not make sense even to the most affluent minded who attempt to read from cover to cover. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus also said that apart from him, we can do nothing worthy of the kingdom of God. Besides, who can digest a lifetime of food in one day or even a year. Reading the Word of God is not a race.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Jews received forgiveness from God long before the Christian cult following of Jesus started. Jesus actually serves to separate God from man and caused billions of racial and religious dividing lines throughout history. 6,000,00 Jews stood at Sinai and witnessed the voice of God and are living testaments. How many people 1) viewed Jesus in any godly form other than a man and 2) witnessed what Paul/Saul saw in a vision? Miracles don't count for anything because what the High Priest did and observed in the Holy of Holies would pale to anything Jesus supposedly did.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • K Smith

      Well said... Good word and Amen!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • K Smith

      I was referring to frankie not the blind and deaf.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Bill

    Oh give thanks under the almighty God, he showed me what I had. He said:
    "Stand firm and keep the faith, oh your reward shall be great."

    March 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  13. well

    for anyone who is CERTAIN god answers your prayers, why don't you send me all your money and pray that you get it back?
    then the onus is on YOU to prove it, not for me to believe you.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Uh, most people understand that the usual answer to their prayers is "NO!"

      March 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Jarrod

      @thorrsman you base this on what education and experience?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @Jarrod
      Over the decades, I have observed that few people believe that their God–whichever God that is–simply GIVES them what they pray for. "All things come to those who wait...so long as those who wait work like hell while they wait".

      Prayer is fine for focusing the mind on what you want so you can WORK for it. And THAT is how the Gods answer prayers...sometimes.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Krystal

      @well

      Just because I am a christian doesn't mean that I lack common sense. Don't think you will be getting any of my money. Actually, it isn't up to me to prove anything to you. God doesn't need me to prove His existence, He just requires me to share His love and message of forgiveness with others. God always answers my prayers. However, He answers them in His own time and based on what He feels is best for me because He sees all things where I have flawed human vision. Actually, I find it very liberating that I am not in control and that My heavenly Father cares for me.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  14. dontfearTHEWORD

    1But understand this, that(A) in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2For people will be(B) lovers of self,(C) lovers of money,(D) proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3(E) heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal,(F) not loving good, 4treacherous, reckless,(G) swollen with conceit,(H) lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–2 Timothy 3
    For Christians, the WORD of God is what sustains our faith...not the brick and mortar or deeds of the people who are called (good or bad) to HIS service. Religion, created by humans is prone to human failure. The WORD of God never returns void and speaks to an unhardened heart beyond what the words written down in the books and translated over and over again can do. I challenge all of the "haters" on here to consider whether or not there is something larger than yourself and what that something might be. Why is it here? What does it want? Now, if you have children or can just relate consider the role of parent. You in effect create or by design acquire a life that is yours to guide. As a parent, do you not want the love and affection of your children? Do you not hurt when they scorn you? I pray that those on here, full of hate and doubt will just quiet their minds and listen to their hearts; and also consider (in terms of the there is no God because we have violence, death, etc)–Can you always stop your children from doing things counter to what you want them to do? Do you not still love them? Evolution did not teach us this people; the love of an ALL MIGHTY FATHER, burned into our very creation taught us this. Dropping coins in a jar, or lighting incense, or sitting in your room~getting high and considering philosophy and being a good person just doesnt cut it. You can never be good enough for God. That is why he sent his most precious possession, his only son, to die for you...the ultimate sacrifice and guess what, its free!. We have free will and choice, God does not take that away...but he promises us eternity if we just believe.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Jarrod

      The whole passage talks about human history. EVERY generation has predicated the Apocalypse. What are you trying to prove here? The most evil people actually lived in the past. Most of them were followers of Christianity and Islam.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • PastorDoWrong

      Ok I will tell you the truth im a pastor here in Atlanta my goal is to brain wash you so you can give me all your damn money. I got kids in college, I like nice cars and I need a few houses. If that's not WINNING then I don't know what is...

      March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Faith in Indiana

      Well said!

      March 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Mark9988

      Amen

      March 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Krystal

      @don'tfearTHEWORD,

      Very well put! Hope someone will take note and consider your words.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  15. toxictown

    It's the infallable word of the Lord – there are no typos.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Yep, written by some infoulable men who we can't cross examine

      March 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  16. allen

    I wonder if it`s worth as much as some of those old comic books you hear about.The content is about the same but it lacks the cartoons so I`m guessing no.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  17. GREGORIO

    wow..

    March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Jesus

    Forgive them LORD, for they know not where they poo

    March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • I Am That I Am

      Jesus, have you been hitting the altar wine again?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  19. reverance

    Very cool to have such and old book. A book that was well taken care of and loved. It's also great to be able to see the changes in our interpretations of events/language over time. Someone tell the priest not to put his fingers on the pages please.. lo the wrath of skin oils upon parchment LOL. I'm Happy they found such a wonderful artifact to cherish.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Matt

    @ "ThereisnoGod" you may be able to find God by looking at all the wonderful way things have been created, there is order, design and beauty in all things, just to give you an example. Certainly, it took a Master Designer to create such things. Would you not agree?

    March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • houstongal

      You mean like earthquakes and tsunamis, infants with cancer.......

      March 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @houstongal
      You mistake the Gods for "Santa Claus".

      Which of Them ever promised continual happiness and joy in THIS life?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Wow, I bet you convinced him

      March 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • heashon2000

      No, I would not. It's not a matter of some omnipotent being carefully taking considerations for everything to laid out perfectly for humans rather the living things adapting to their surroundings. Remember, 98% of the species that lived on this Earth, are GONE. If there was a MASTER DESIGN, the species wouldn't have gone away.

      Also, I think that in all this "order, design, and beauty" there would be children dying of cancer and other chronic illnesses. Doesn't sound so perfect now, does it.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Jarrod

      @houstongal looking at a few negative things in life and focusing on them makes for a sad existence.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • I Am That I Am

      Like torrential rains and the resulting mudslides that kill thousands every year? That's called gravity and erosion.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • houstongal

      I dare you "religious" folk to watch "Religulous" by Bill Maher. You might learn something.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Jcork

      Dude, Matt, watch The History Channel's The Universe series and you will learn more about the creation of this world than you could ever dream of in a church.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • houstongal

      If your "Jesus" came back, would you find him at the Vatican or in the slums?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • albert

      To make comments that you do, makes it obvious that you do not understand the Bible or God. Long story short, God created man with free will. Man made a mess of things. Man brought all suffering upon himself. God sent his Son to die for our sins. A paradise earth awaits those who have true faith in God. We are not robots or puppets. Again, we have free will and created this mess ourselves.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Denman

      No master designer needed. It's all quite beautifully and elegantly explained in science. For example in John Gribbin's books about how supernovas have seeded the universe with carbon and amino acids which life is based on. Or how quantum physics works. People want to invoke some master designer just because they're too lazy to learn the math, I guess.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • radam82

      Just because something has a designer does not mean it's YOUR designer.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @houstongal
      Learn something? Like the fact that Maher is the source for most of the mean-spirited diatribes from Atheists?

      Nah, we already knew that few Atheists think for themselves and need to copy and paste the words of others.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Jeanine

      thorrsman – Not me. I have never read any book of Darwin, Dawkins, HItchens, etc.
      I come by my conclusions independently, something no Christian can do, I think.
      But you like lying, eh? God will forgive you, right? And in the meantime it's okay to lie about non-believers?
      Disgusting.

      March 28, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Magic

      Matt,
      "...there is order, design and beauty in all things, just to give you an example. Certainly, it took a Master Designer to create such things."

      Would you like a list of all the things that go wrong?

      What works, works, and what doesn't work doesn't stay around.

      If Earth or our solar system was a bit different, so would we be... perhaps even better, with stronger bodies, bigger brains, fewer diseases... a better planet, with no earthquakes, volcanoes and erratic weather. No, this purported "Designer" is not so hot.

      March 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "I come by my conclusions independently,"

      More lies from Jeani. So you are saying that you had no outside sources? That you came up with your conclusions in an intellectual vacuum? That is impossible.

      What your statement does say is that you are not even well versed in the subject matter of what you believe is true.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.