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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. Longgone

    Beyond its significance to believers one of the truly remarkable things is it is still available and readable after 400 years. When contrasted to our digital media, which has a lifespan measured in years, it says a lot about the value of the printed word. There are computer programs written just 30 years ago that are "extinct", meaning no one has the equipment or the expertise to translate them any longer.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  2. legit

    I LOVE the Word of God and Jesus! God is love.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  3. FredSimms

    Why do atheists try to prove their superiority by bad-mouthing and belittling people? That's all I every see in the message boards. You aren't making a very good case for the whole morals without religion notion.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Josh A

    Yawn, show me an original manuscript of Lord of the Rings instead.

    They're both fantasy, at least LotR is interesting.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  5. bob

    I would do one of two things with this if I found it.
    1) – Put it on eBay
    If I didnt get the money I would want for it
    2) – Use the paper inside as rolling papers and I would roll fattys like Jesus did.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Oxymoron

    "There is no such thing as an all knowing and seeing God..."

    March 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  7. Bensky

    Now there's a book that has changed many times over the years. It is soooo out of date.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  8. JRM09

    I respect all those that have so chosen to not believe in some sort of God or power more important than themselves and I respect them by not posting uneducated, rhetorical, or otherwise harmful remarks about their choices. I wish the same could be said for all. No matter what a person's belief might be, the fact is that this is an important part of this world's history and should be treated as such. I am sure it is worth thousands in dollars, but may be priceless to those who do want to believe all that this book represents.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  9. LouAZ

    Duh, is this book going to be on E-bay ?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  10. GLO-BE

    PLEASE BECOME INFORMED RE YOUR COMMUNITY & WORLD AFFAIRS, AND DETERMINE WHICH GROUPS ARE THE DOER'S & GIVERS? MONEY TALKS-IT DOES NOT TAKE A ROCKET SCIENTIST TO REALIZE THAT RELIGIOUS GROUPS ARE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE RESPONSIVE TO COMMUNITY & TRAGEDY THAN ANY OTHER "GROUPS". AND WHY CAN'T SCIENCE TELL US YET HOW THE UNIVERSE WAS CREATED 15 BILLION YEARS AGO? WHAT WAS IT THAT TRIGGERED IT'S CREATION?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  11. Krystal

    @Jarrod,

    Paul was actually Saul at the time of his conversion and was a very corrupt and vile religious leader in that day. You see, religion without a heart change is baseless and usually doesnt lead to anything good. On that we can agree. You may not believe that it was Jesus who changed Paul but something did. How does one go from being a persecutor and murderer of Christians to the greatest christian missionary the world has ever known without something powerful working in their life?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  12. Reality

    From the topic: "arguably the most important book ever printed in English". .......................................

    Give us a break!!!

    Said book is full of lies, myths and embellishments passed off as truths but then again it was the time for such things supersti-tious and magical!!!

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

      On the topic about where life came 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).

      March 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Jeanine

      Peewee, I see you are running out of arguments again. All you can do is piddle on the floor with your lies and misdirection.

      Will you ever be able to face your god when you can't even face a simple problem? You are a humongous coward.

      March 29, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Lycidas

      Wow Jeani, angry much?

      I have faced off against your pitiful little arguments, which are few actually since all you do mainly is cry fro proof that will never convince you, and found them wanting.

      “Atheists don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. They are simply without a belief in God. Therefore the burden of proof for God is on the Theist, not the Atheist.”

      This is a technicality that Atheists use to try to put the burden on the other side. They claim that since “A-theism” means “without a belief in God”, they are not claiming anything and therefore do not have to prove anything. Thus, they claim, the burden of proof is on the Theist, who claims that God exists.

      However, this makes little difference either way because their core philosophy toward God is still the same. Deep down, they believe that there is no God, and they know it. The reason why they emphasize this is to try to put themselves in an unattackable position. It’s a semantic ploy. To try to be consistent with it, they will say “There is no evidence for God” rather than “God doesn't exist”, but sometimes they slip up.

      They can’t really prove that God doesn’t exist because you can’t prove a negative. Regardless, the Atheist obviously believes deep down that there isn't a God or deity anyway, which is prevalent in their attempts to debunk and refute every single argument for the existence of God. Therefore this trivial debate about the implications of the word “Atheism” seems pointless in substance.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Greek

      Nice google work but do you actually know anything, probably not.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I don't expect you to know this Greek, but the person I was referencing to has a tendancy of copy/pasting. But I doubt you knew that since you are a sheep and never questioned what they put up.

      March 29, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  13. bob

    I would do one of two things with this/
    1) – Put it on eBay
    and if it doesnt sell for what I want
    2) – I would use the paper inside to roll joints like Jesus use to do.

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

      Just talked to Jesus, He approves of this.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  14. Re Tard

    religion sucks

    March 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  15. ye ayea

    Its just another translation that was laying around. Give me the original bible....ooops yall lost that one.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  16. Cavan

    I would so own one of these

    March 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  17. Re Tard

    i like turtles

    March 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  18. Mark, Phoenix

    Does it still work?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Believer

      Only if you read it and live by it 🙂

      March 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  19. Lon

    So, why was thin given prime time status again?

    March 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  20. GeeGee

    Who's to say it was an "error" with the garden??

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

      We know it's an error because the KJV is a translation. No other version of the Bible made this error... and since it was written 1600 years after Jesus, it's impossible that the authors/translators of the KJV could have first hand knowledge or sources which were correct where all other sources were incorrect.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:11 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.