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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. ranger

    Well, given that the world's had wars, famine, earthquakes,economic woes, etc. in the past I wouldn't say
    that these times mean anything more than wars, famine, earthquakes, economic woes, etc. in the present. But, I guess we
    can use anything to our own advantage. End times? Fine . Good time to take out a nice juicy loan. I mean, come on,
    lets just all party. No membership required.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  2. lolooijoi

    I heard it's LeBron's

    March 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  3. Religious sects

    The sign stated it was an authentic original so either....
    A – People just believed it was authentic on someone else's word -or-
    B – People questioned whether it was authentic but left it there for over 100yrs anyway
    Kind of an ironic metaphor for religion.

    *But it is good that someone decided to stop believing or ignoring blindly & had it authenticated for history's sake.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  4. Awaken1942

    (Luke 21:10-11) 10 Then he went on to say to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  5. jda379

    Original copies of fiction are still fictional.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Frank Mondana

    It is only a work of literature. The "newest" part of it tells stores from 1500 years earlier. Lots of time for embellishment and translation errors.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  7. airwx

    Ice T..my comment was directed at Atheists because I wanted their prospective. I can quote you every Christian version and at least 300 other religious versions of creation; that is why I chose to engage the Atheists in the discussion. No desire to provoke anything more than thought, Look at the conclusion you reached...that I was attempting to prove someone wrong. That is the very reason I tried to diect the discu-ssion away from blame and into a dialogue.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • IceT

      @airwx ... It expands into time. I believe that outside of the physical universe (the portions without matter) time is infinite & given infinite time you have infinite space (assuming space/time as a combined unit). Time cannot be measured because there is no matter to warp space/time, therefore time does not start nor end & therefore space is infinite in every direction including infinite time. I could write a book explaining but that's the condensed version.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  8. pockets

    The most important book ever printed in English. "Excuse me?" I don't think sooooo. Its important to those who believe in fables and the 'supernatural'. To others its a book of fiction, the 'magic book', for lack of a better world. Nonsense to most. Once day the book will be in the "fiction" section of every bookstore on the planet.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Taylor

      It is the most influential book in history. Billions follow it, and for two thousand years the book and its teachings have shaped Europe, The Americas, and parts of the middle east. Sometimes with blood, sometimes with love. As far as the English goes, it was the first book printed on a press, and it was the first great translation undertaking for our language (nothing really compares honestly), giving the KJV enormous historical value. To say that it is full of fables and fairy tales is beside the point.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  9. Artemus

    I love it and so happy that they found it , and I believe it. Amen

    March 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  10. Awaken1942

    (Revelation 11:17-18) . . .. 18 But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time for the dead to be judged, and to give [their] reward to your slaves the prophets and to the holy ones and to those fearing your name, the small and the great, and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”

    March 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  11. Richard Allen

    and on the 5th day, god created bacon.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  12. Awaken1942

    (2 Timothy 3:1-5) 3 But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. . .

    March 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • realist

      keep your fairytale BS to yourself please. You don't see agnostics bothering anyone.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  13. Awaken1942

    Clearly, the Bible cannot be judged according to the words and actions of those who simply quote it or claim to live by it. An open-minded person may therefore want to discover for himself what the Bible is all about and why it is such a remarkable book.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  14. Your full of It

    It's amazing any time a story on CNN is related to anything with Christianity all the haters come out of their hiding places and start their barrage of insults towards Christians. The very thing that many of you say you hate about Christians you are guilty of as well so quit being the hypocrites and go whine about something else. I read one post that claims Christianity caused more deaths than any thing else in the history of man. Hmmm...did Christianity cause the American Civil War? No, did it cause WW1? No, did it cause WWII? No, did it cause the Korean war? No, did it cause the Viet Nam war? No. I could go on and on but you haters out there are more closed minded than the people you claim are closed minded. I feel sorry for you people, your full of hate, one day whether you like it or not you WILL have to have a talk with God and it may not go as well as you might think...

    March 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Susan

      AMEN!!!!!!!

      March 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Jeanine

      Show us this god of yours or admit you really don't know what you're talking about.

      March 29, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Lycidas

      "Show us this god of yours or admit you really don't know what you're talking about."

      How about option C, you admit that no evidence could ever change your mind on whether God exists.

      March 29, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Tat-2

    While we are on the subject, look at how many Gospels there were and how many actually made it into religious society...It is because the ruling people wanted their subjects to only hear what they wanted...

    And if the researcher noted the misprint in this bible why couldn't there be other misprints as well.. Also who is to say it is a misprint..Maybe it is correct.....

    March 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • realist

      "arguably the most important book ever printed in English"

      Arguable..yes.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  16. Codex

    Wait, they had sign above it stating that it was a 1611 original and are now freaking out because it REALLY IS a 1611 original. I dont get it. Maybe Im slow haha.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Your full of It

      Yes, you are slow. They said they saw the sign but weren't sure if it was correct.....

      March 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  17. Zeta Reticulan

    Do you humans still wonder why we (Aliens) don't contact you anymore?! Once religion started to take hold we took off & have only observed since.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • realist

      serpo.org
      educate yourselves

      March 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  18. Common Sense

    Arrogant AARON...who are you to say that if people dont choke on your beliefs they have nothing to live for? I have news for you, everything that is going on in this world. are.natural disasters..HELLO...we live on a PLANET! IT HAPPENS..NATURALLY! no big cheese in the sky waving a wand...grow up!

    March 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  19. 0n borrowed time

    4all uk he laffing rite now
    up n heaven hmm like i wasnt made b4 this world existed. Rite their with JESUS. WOE IS ME. JESUS IS LIFE. I AM DEATH. GUILTY OF ALL SIN. HIS FOOTSTOOL IF U WUD.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  20. Just saying ....

    The fact that this book is being ballyhooed by that little church because they just "found" or "discovered" it -- you know, the one that's had a sign over it for years denoting that it was ancient --– just proves how worthess it is. It's been sitting there for hundreds of years apparently but none of the parishioners took enough time to even read the sign much less the book. Not even the minister - or the one before him - or the one before him - or the (well you get the point) had no idea what they had there! Shows how much they read it. But now they want to worship it -- A BOOK! I thought worshipping false idols was one of the reasons the Brit head honcho James had the bible rewritten in the first place - in protest over Rome worshipping false idols and now they want to worship a book.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Nik

      So they never read this old version of the Bible and you thinks this means they don't have other copies? What a ridiculous conclusion to draw. And who said they were worshipping it? Did you even READ the article? They're not worshipping it. It's a treasure because there are only around 200 original KJVs in existence. You are such a...LEGALIST. Get off your soapbox and go read Galatians.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:12 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.