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. Spock

    The bible's just a book, like "Cat in the Hat". Although Dr Seuss is a more reliable source for rules to live by...

    March 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Dreamer

      Says the recipient of a garden-variety public education.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • bob


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

      You're an idiot.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • James

      you're an idiot

      March 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • digitaltim

      Love the Dr. Seuss references!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • JBHedgehog

      Although this is most likely true, it's still a very cool historical artifact.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Paul

      We're supposed to believe someone with the user name of "Spock"? LOL! I'll take the experts who know the value of the KJV, thank you.

      No other book ever printed, or ever to be printed, will have the impact the King James Bible has had on human history, and that impact has undoubtedly been for GOOD. Skeptics of that claim don't know history. They rail out of pure emotion, not reason, logic or historical fact.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Jimmy Johnson

      If the ass speaks of course it will listen to direction of Dr Seuss. The Bible can lead the fool out of foolishness and into wisdom. The Bible will direct those wise enough to enough to listen and respect the advice given into everlasting life.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Dr. McCoy

      More S.C.A.T. (Spirtually Crippled Atheist Troll) nonsense from a member of the flock of angry new-atheist sheep who can't think for themselves– so they have Dawkins and Hitchens do it for them. A perfect example of how willfully ignorant these bigots can be. They can't even get themselves to concede the literary fact that the KJV is a English language masterpiece without rival in terms of cultural influence and impact. It's not something up for debate. The KJV will live on well after these revisionist dung trolls and their leaders return to the foul muck their maggot larvae emerged from.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Jeanine

      Dr. McCoy – I'm not hearing any Christian love here. Why so angry and bitter? Why are you so thin-skinned?
      You lump everyone in a group and say we all follow Dawkins and Hitchens. They aren't here, we are. We don't need them to lead us anywhere because we have functional brains that allow us to come to our own conclusions.

      When you can't argue your way out of a paper bag, I guess it must be frustrating. Tough tltties. Try growing some hair.

      March 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Jeani- "we have functional brains that allow us to come to our own conclusions."

      Plz don't lie to them. You are a sheep who didn't come up with any scientific theories of your own in any measure. Someone told you something and you felt it was true, You took your wittle mind and tried to comprehend what someone else said and made it your own. Your conclusions are no better than anyone else's.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Greek

      "You took your wittle mind and tried to comprehend what someone else said and made it your own. Your conclusions are no better than anyone else's." And you don't? Your so full of yourself and you keep copying and pasting the same posts in different places. That fits the definition of a hypocrite.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Greek- Actually I don't but thanks for playing. In fact, if you had noticed, the message you are commenting on is quite original. Now I will admit I copy/pasted a bit today to some ppl that seem to only understand from copy/paste.

      I don't know why ppl who aren't Christian or religious are so bent out of shape when ppl treat them the same way that they treat others. My gosh do you all have such thin skin? Or are you just not used to being talked to as you should be?

      March 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Lily

      "I don't know why ppl who aren't Christian or religious are so bent out of shape when ppl treat them the same way that they treat others. My gosh do you all have such thin skin? Or are you just not used to being talked to as you should be?"

      That's right treat your neighbor how you want to be treated. If people are being jerks just be a jerk right back! That is such a great way to live in society.

      March 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Lily- a cnn thread is hardly society

      March 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  2. Matt

    @ "heashon2000" That is because the "species" did not follow thru and obey what the Master Designer told them to do. So what we see 6,000 years of "species" rule. The "species" die, and get sick because the original pair didn't obey the Laws of the Master Designer. But do not worry, soon the Master Designer will remove and reverse all wrongs made by the "species". When will this take place? soon after the U N turns against religion

    March 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  3. believer

    hello there "FormerChristian" well now, I am NOT religious either and btw I absolutely am a Christian

    March 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  4. GeeGee

    Who knows That the Bible really didn't say Judas went into the garden... who knows that's not a mistake....

    March 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Tex

      Because Greek manuscripts from long before 1611 exist.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  5. houstongal


    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by
    other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people
    evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical
    claim that we were created from dirt.

    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah,
    but you don`t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered
    all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic
    groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods
    sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit
    impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back
    to life and then ascended into the sky.

    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically
    established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing
    dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that
    Earth is a few generations old.

    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those
    who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity
    in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant"
    and "loving."

    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to
    convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues"
    may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers.
    You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the
    remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the
    Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Jeff


      March 28, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • thorrsman

      What Atheists KNOW about Christianity and what they UNDERSTAND about Christianity are two very different things.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Texas Gal

      Here's the deal: We will all die. If we Christians are right, then we spend eternity in paradise. (See Jesus' words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43). If we're wrong, we turn into dry bones and dust with everyone else. Hmm. I think I'll stick with Jesus on this one!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Where did life come from?

      Dr. George Whitesides (Organic Chemist, Harvard University, highest Hirsch-index rating of any living chemist): How? I have no idea. Based on all the chemistry I know it seems astonishingly improbable

      Dr. Chrisopher Mckay (Astrophysicist, NASA): The origin of life remains a scientific mystery…we do not know how life originated on earth

      Dr. Werner Arber (Molecular Biologist, Nobel Prize-Medicine, 1978): Although a biologist, I must confess that I do not know how life came about…How such already quite complex structures may have come together remains a mystery to me.

      Dr. Harold P. Klein (1921-2001), Astrobiologist, NASA): The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened.

      Dr. Christian DeDuve (Cytologist, Biochemist, Nobel Prize-Medicine, 1974): How this momentous event happened is still highly conjectural, though no longer purely speculative. (If this statement by Dr. DeDuve is unclear, the following might be helpful: Wordnet Online Dictionary: Conjecture: (A) Noun – a hypothesis that has been formed by speculating…usually with little hard evidence. (Synonym – speculation) (B) Verb-to believe on uncertain or tentative grounds (synonym – speculate)

      Professor Richard Dawkins (Biologist): (A) Nobody knows how it happened (Climbing Mt. Improbable). (B) “I told you I don’t know…nor does anyone else” (From the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed).

      But if the atheists on here know something more than the above, maybe they would like to pipe in.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Minos

      More S.C.A.T. (Spiritually Crippled Atheist Troll) spewing forth from the arrogant, angry, and misinformed new-atheist crowd. Your top ten list is aimed directly at a caricature of Christians and doesn't address the majority of main stream Christians and Catholics in the world. You attack an imagined new-atheist version of Christianity and expose yourself as a profoundly clueless and mean spririted fool in the process. At least make a feeble attempt to understand your "enemy" so that you engage in a meaningful debate and avoid coming across as uneducated punk ignoramous.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Spike


      I know where you got your post from Lycidas

      Nice work on using google, but it doesn't mean you understood what you posted. LOL!

      March 29, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Lycidas

      Actaully Spike, I got it from Aish. I would congrdulate you on your skills but you obviously don't have any. Btw, does your contempt cancel out what I posted?

      March 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  6. 21k

    the brothers grimm, or hans xtian anderson's fairy tales are much more entertaining.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  7. jubilee shine

    i'll give you 30 pieces of silver for it.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  8. jim

    So let me get this straight. A bible that has been sitting on a table in full view for longer than anyone can remember, with a sign stating it was made in the year 1611 and clearly looks it, and they just noticed this book that's been sitting there with that sign and said, "wow, look at this old bible?" I guess the dear Lord skipped the observation and common sense marbles when he made them folks in that little town.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Awaken1942

      Non of the men who where fortunate to be able to be used as God's secretary have ever claimed that the words they wrote were their own. 2 Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is inspired of God.". 2 Peter 1:21 " men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit".

      March 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Faleela

    I bet you that is one boring read lol 🙂

    March 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  10. SCDAD

    I have an original copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Better written than the bible, more etertaining, and hasn't caused the murder of millions of people.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • 2true

      Yet. We will see the outcome of H.P. In eternity..

      March 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  11. Rick

    So what, today I drank some water that's been in existence since the beginning of time

    March 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  12. Ficheye

    This bible is printed on hemp paper. Not parchment. Not paper made from conifer trees or anything like that. It is printed on paper made from marijuana plants.

    As far as the 'belief' question, most people just join the church their parents go to. They spend no time looking into the worlds religions and deciding what 'faith' to belong to. Religion is there to protect us from the vastness of space. We cannot grasp it or understand it in any way, so we anthropomorphize it, making it the domain of some big hairy white dude. The only thing that we should fear is ourselves.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Minos

      How about the countless people who drift away from Church of the their "fathers", explore many world religions and New Age material, $ex, drugs, and rock n roll, materialism, consumerism.... find them all wanting and end up coming back full circle to a deeper and more profound appreciation of their original tradition? That doesn't fit your broad generalizations but it's very common nevertheless. Also, your caricuture of God as a "hairy man" is not only vulgar, but completely ignorant and misinformed. Typical of folks who look down their noses at believers while having zero theological understanding (I'm talking grade school level here, not even approaching Augustine, St. Thomas, Tillich et al) of what they feel compelled to attack. At least break open a main stream church "catechism" so you don't fight figments of your imagination and made up new-atheist reductionist nonsense. Educate yourself so you can be an informed enemy of God instead of a foolish piece of S.C.A.T..

      March 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  13. Juan

    Very good, No body put the hand for long time on this holy book, because was care well,
    Some old Bible was sold on e-bay for more than US$ 57,000.00 Dls., So this Bible cost could be more that

    March 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  14. Matt

    how much is it worth?

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


      March 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. albert

    Here is a question for all that think they know the Bible, why is the name Jehovah used in this early Bible (in place of Lord, etc)? It's interesting because Jesus' model prayer taught us to pray "hollowed be thy name" or make my name known. It wasn't till later that people took Gods name out of the Bible. So ask your preachers and priests why this was done.

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

      I always wondered that myself but wasn't going to say anything since religion is not my thing. But yes, the older versions of the King James used Gods name Jehovia, and the newer ones replaced it with Lord.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Javier

      Probably to make the reading easier for the layman. The version I use, (Spanish Reina Valera) has undergone changes through 5 major revisions but they have kept Jehova's name untouched. I can tell you that the New testament does not use it because the Jewish had discontinued its use by then and they were refering to God as Adonai or (The Lord) instead of Jehova.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm |


    March 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Jesus

      I'd give up $1.98.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  17. bd

    Holy waters, BatBoy. A greasy virgin appeared in my grilled cheese sandwich. Book it, Danno!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  18. Joe citizen abroad

    Nice literary and historical find. Kind of makes you wonder how many other "printing errors" ...or even transcribing errors... there have been through the centuries.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Average Joe

      I am sure there are no other errors...well mostly sure...

      March 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Minos

      You bring up an interesting point. Suffice it to say, that if you speak two languages well, you're familiar with the common experience of one language having a word that doesn't lend itself well to translation to another language (without a qualifying sentence or two to add context and color). Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, translated to Latin, and then much later to English (KJV). Even with painstaking translation efforts, there are some Hebrew and Greek words that don't have an exact word for word English match. This is the case with a 1 to 1 language translation, so you can imagine the effect of 1 to 3 or 4. For example, the Hebrew words for even the most basic biblical expressions (sin, faith, virgin, etc.) have just enough of a difference in meaning (vs. English) to warrant deeper reflection. It's not a stretch to assume that some of the words Jesus spoke in Aramaic were "lost in translation" through the years. Not enough to render the English translation moot by any stretch, but enough to warrant pause, reflection, and humility as we try to fully understand the meaning and nuance of what Jesus taught and spoke 2000 years ago. There's many layers and each is rich in insight and worth the effort to explore.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  19. believer

    Attn: HeavenSent

    "...thalt shalt love thy neighbor as thyself..."

    March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Jesus

      ...but not too much (re the adultery thing)

      March 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  20. John L.

    So, for the obvious question, what it it worth?

    March 28, 2011 at 5:44 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.