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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. IfMemoryServes

    Without saying that the stories didn't even happen....let's review accuracy. From 1611 to now, we know that there is at least ONE huge flaw in the 1611 Bible. (Provided in the article.) Now, imagine the changes that were made from 0-1611. Some of the earliest scriptures that the KJV was made from were still made 800 years after the passing of JC.
    Most of the religious people I know can't even recite what was taught to them in church last weekend accurately, am I supposed to believe 100% in stuff that was handed down for 800+ years by word of mouth?
    This is why I don't follow religion. I choose to believe, and be a good person. Everything beyond that is just good stories on how to be a good person.

    March 28, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  2. KingJamesGhost

    Religion is what keeps the poor from attacking the rich. This is why I spent money creating this work of literature.

    March 28, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  3. Robrob

    "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" – – Wait, you mean there are mistakes in the Bible? Oh, of course they are just transcription errors? How do you know YOUR version isn't erroneous as well?

    March 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  4. Ryan

    ~~~~~~AND ON THE FIRST DAY, MAN CREATED GOD IN HIS IMAGE. AND IT WAS BAD. LIKE, RRREEEEAAAALLLLYYYYY BAD.

    ha. love that.

    Eric G, You rule.

    March 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  5. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    The great debate – SWAGGART vs. DEEDAT

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHuezOrjeHE&w=640&h=360]

    IS BIBLE GOD'S WORD

    March 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  6. Ryan

    To The Truth: You say kill you now so you dont have to deal with us Atheists. Well, hear this: If heavens so much better than Earth, and youre forgiven for sins already, why not kill yourself so you dont have to deal with us "trolls". Im just sayin, cut to the chase and go be with your fairy tails. And do me one more and come back and tell me 'Told Ya So'. I bet my 'soul' you dont. :]

    March 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  7. Tim

    That would make a good fire!

    March 28, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  8. Ryan

    Although science is a fool proof tool to prove fools wrong about religion, we dont even need it. That bible of yours is so full of obvious lies, quagmires, and paradoxes, it disproves itself. "You cant have understanding without faith. You cant have faith without understanding." Pastor used to say those to me all the time. Yeah, cuz hes not loopy. Be humble and you get everything you could ever want and everlasting life. Thats not contradictory at all right? I love you more than you could know yet if you happen to not believe it because ive never proven my existence, ill make sure youre tortured for all of time in a lake of fire and sulfur. Im one god but im three gods. This list goes on and on and on and on. What a hack. Im pulling the BS lever.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  9. Tom Bogedain

    Just read it and apply it to your life and see what God can do.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Fallacy No.1

      You need (insert religion) to be a good person.

      March 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  10. Edward

    May you Christians give thanks to the gay man who had this bible printed...King James was gay. http://rictornorton.co.uk/kingjame.htm

    March 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  11. everteta

    I get tired of everyone who paints Christianity as an absolute evil and Christ as some fantasy. If you don't like religion, please don't participate in the discussion; that a small congregation found an old Bible is not sufficient reason to demean a whole religion, nor to denigrate Christians. Go do something more worthwhile.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Sybaris

      We are doing something worth while. If we can get some of you to start thinking rationally then maybe you'll give up these fanciful notions and quit trying to weave your religious beliefs into the laws that govern this country. You want to create a Christian theocracy, go buy an island and rule yourself.

      March 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Ryan

    science flies people to the moon. religion flies people into buildings. pick a side. why is that otherwise rational people believe in talking snakes and magic men in the sky. i dont believe in god because i dont believe in pikachu or mother goose. the people of the world will never settle their differences unless they stop being so obscenely foolish and start using reason and thinking rationally. sorry, but when you die its gunna be just like before you were born. nothing. so quit being so selfish and scared and start being rational. you dimwits blow my mind. seriously. theres no evidence at all of god. and any so called evidence has been disproved a thousand times over. your parents are either loony or liars. because its a fairytale. your all slaves to your preachers. grow up and stop being mindless sheep. religion seems to be the only thing people think is exempt from reason and common sense. godless america.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • SHep

      Why the name calling? Intelligence does not require insults.

      March 28, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  13. Wait... What?

    Oh, Eric G. Look out side at your car. That took science to make. I drive a car. I'm christian. There's your proof.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @Wait.... What?: Actually, you have not proven that you are a Christian. That variable is not supported by verifiable evidence. You must prove that you are a Christian, not that you can drive a car.

      Maybe I can help you....

      Hypothetically, let's say that verifiable evidence existed that would either prove or disprove your God's existence, and that evidence was sealed in a box. Would you look inside the box to find the truth?

      March 28, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  14. Musichombre

    obviously not the first edition of this book that is older that the contriturton and the magna carta combined.. Say what you will about the bible, people will still be preaching from it long after you and I are dead and burried.

    March 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  15. The Truth

    Of course, ANY article about religion has to bring the Atheist trolls out of the woodwork. If this website is an accurate cross-section of humanity, just kill me now and save me the stress of dealing with the imbeciles.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  16. hilltop

    The Bible. Amazing! Children and scholars stand in awe.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Observer

      Probably for opposite reasons.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  17. razor

    i wonder if king james used this bible to persecute witches?

    March 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • thorrsman

      The infamous line "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was translated in that fashion because King James had an odd paranoia about witches working together with Scotsmen in an attempt to usurp his throne. The original would properly be translated as "poisoner" perhaps, or assassin, though there was a strong suggestion of a user of evil magic (NOT a redundancy) to the original phrase.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  18. Historian

    "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.'"

    Of the phrases mentioned in the quote above, three of the four actually originated in William Tyndale's translations of the New Testament and Pentateuch, a full three quarters of a century prior to the publication of the King James Version. In fact, nearly 90% of the King James New Testament is copied word-for-word from Tyndale. For this gift to the world he was hunted down and executed by the authorities of his time.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • The Truth

      Tyndale was killed by his authorities because his authorities were pretty much the polar opposite of King James.

      March 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  19. Halleluljah

    CHECK THIS OUT. DANIEL 11:40-45. Interesting news. Notice in particular the first half of 40, mentions in the time of the end, also what happens to EGYPT, what to LIBYA? 🙂

    March 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Halleluljah

      The time left for the rule of man is reduced. The ? is who will you support, man's government or God's? Who's government will win your approval? John 14:30, John15:19

      Man has dominated man to his injury Ecclesiastes 8:9

      God's government will rule. Daniel 2:44

      Some of the benefits will include Revelation 21:3,4

      MOCKERS WELCOME..............:)...........Research first

      Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • frontgate

      yeah, halle, like you should reexamine your last line in the reply to yourself.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  20. thurisaz26

    I am just thoroughly impressed by the absolute historical ignorance by most of the posters. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, completed somewhere around 500-300 BCE. The New Testament was written in Greek somewhere around 55-100 CE. The KJV was a TRANSLATION of those texts based on a collection of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin manuscripts which were call the Textus Receptus. We now have even more fragments and codices of the Old and New Testament that allow us to reconstruct a very accurate eclectic text (Like the UBS 4th rev ed. or the N-A 27 for the Greek NT). This has nothing to do with any faith statement. The Bible was not the creation of the Roman authorities to keep the masses in check, they already had Imperial cults for that, for the Bible was already circulating in an early form for over 200 years before Christianity was made legal by Constantine. Any editions made after that can be checked against the earlier manuscript evidence. Also, I saw that some poster even said that the people in charge of creating the Bible were the same people who issued the Crusades. Really? Someone must have really bombed basic history because the crusades where hundreds of years after the canonization of Scripture. Before you post about the fantasies of the Bible, make sure your own facts are actually real.

    March 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Sybaris

      "Before you post about the fantasies of the Bible, make sure your own facts are actually real"

      "Facts" and "Bible" should never be in the same sentence.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • thurisaz26

      Again. I said nothing about the validity of the teachings or the stories in the Bible. I am only saying that the transmissions of the stories are very accurate. I believe that, Christians believe that, and even agnostic Biblical scholars believe that.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • FifthApe

      "Before you post about the fantasies of the Bible, make sure your own facts are actually real."

      The Bible IS fantasy. Read it and you will find this out. The monster that stalks the pages of the OT is just plain evil.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • whoeveryouwantmetobe

      Well, the fact is that the Roman Catholics monopolized Christianity. It wasn't until Martin Luther finished the work of people like John Wycliffe and posted the 95 thesis in 1517 that the protestant reformation occurred. The Catholics during that time period would literally kill people for reading the bible for themselves or in another language other than Latin. Yes while other versions existed . It was largely disapproved of by the Catholic Church and people payed a high price for doing other than what the Catholic Church Said. People like John Wycliffe and Martin Luther believed that everyone should be able to read the bible in their own language so yes that was a large part of it, which I'm sure that these people who stated what they did were getting at. The bible was not commercially available to other languages during this time and that is fact.

      March 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • HI

      the old testament was finished way before 500-300 BCE

      March 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Tim

      SO?

      March 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • SHep

      Fithape. What do you mean by evil? Is their such a thing?

      March 28, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • thurisaz26

      The OT was not completed well before 500 BCE. The Kingdom of Judah was taken into exile by Babylon in 586 BCE, and they did not return to Judah until around 516 BCE. Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, and Malachi are all written either during and after the return from exile.

      March 29, 2011 at 4:37 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.