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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. Peace Community

    I would like kindly to present to you all, That the Error found in that Bible above mentioned is the truth that Muslims Believe in that judas was crucified instead of Jesus , what if that printing error is the HIDDED TRUTH,Stated above :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.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  2. toronto fan

    I always find it amusing that Christians conveniently forget that Jesus was jewish, and that good portions of the NT were in fact written by jews. Amazing.

    March 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  3. toronto fan

    I always find it amusing that Christians et al forget that Jesus was jewish and that good portions of the NT was written by Jews also. Amazing!!

    March 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I've always loved the Jewish connection. 🙂

      March 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  4. toronto fan

    I always find it amusing that Christians completely forget that Jesus was jewish and the OT (and good portions of the NT) were all written by Jews.

    March 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  5. toronto fan

    I always find it amusing that Christians and Christianity take credit for something written by Jews.

    March 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  6. nowpepe nwanjesus

    JESUS IS GOD AND THE ONLY WAY...AMEN;THE WORD OF GOD IS SETTLED ALREADY IN HEAVEN EVEN BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD,OUR OPINIONS CAN NEVER CHANGE HIS WORD OR THE STANDARD OF GOD, HIS WORD STANDS FOR SURE;ITS UNBREAKABLE, IT CAN NEVER FAIL...wow hahahahahahaha, HIS WORDS ARE SHARP, EVEN SHARPER THAN ANY TWO EDGED SWORD, GODS WORD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE...HIS WORD BREAKS ASUNDER,YOU CAN NEVER STAND AGAINST HIS WORD,YOU WILL BE BROKEN INTO PIECES...LET EVERY MAN BE LIAR BUT GOD REMAINETH TRUE...AMEN...THE BIBLE IS GODS SOLID WORD...AMEN !

    March 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Repeating it endlessly does not make it true...

      God is as real as Santa Claus.

      March 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Spencer

      I think they are screaming because I posted this earlier. Only Mithra was before Christ.

      RESEMBLANCES BETWEEN MITHRAISM AND CHRISTIANITY
      1. Both Mithras and Christ were portrayed as young and bea-rdless; both sometimes appeared in the shepherd's role, and both saved mankind by performing sacrifical deeds.
      2. Both Mithras and Christ had virgin births in the sense that they were conceived without any s-e-xual union between man and woman. Christ's father was said to be God, while Mithras was said to have had no father or mother, having emerged as an adult from a large rock.
      3. Both Mithraism and Christianity celebrated the birth of their god on the winter solstice, the 25th of December according to the Julian calendar. Both featured the sharing of presents, the use of Christmas trees with candles, and nativity scenes that included shepherds attracted by a sacred light. The special importance of this solstice ceremony to Mithraists would be indicated by the name Mithras, which derived from Meitras, which in Greek numerology refers to the number 365, the last day of the solar year at the winter solstice.
      4. Both the Old Testament and Mithraic legend told of the first human couple having been created. Mithra supposedly kept a watchful eye over their descendents until Ahriman caused a draught that caused such thirst that they begged Mithra for water.
      5. Both told of a major flood, in the case of Mithra through his having shot an arrow into a stone cliff to quench mankind's thirst. Unfortunately, the entire world's population was drowned in a flood produced by the water spout that gushed from the hole his arrow produced. One man alone (a Noah figure borrowed from the earlier Sumerian myth of Atrahasis) was warned in time and could therefore save himself and his cattle in an ark.
      6. Both Mithraism and Christianity emphasized mankind's redemption resulting from a sacrificial death followed by the god's ascent to heaven. In the case of Christ, it was the god himself (or his son) who was sacrificed; in the case of Mithra, it was a sacred steer that Mithra sacrificed.
      7. Both featured resurrection through sacrifice. Mithraism more obviously drew upon spring equinox fertility myths by depicting Mithra's sacrificial bull with a tail that consisted of sheaves of wheat that were supposedly scattered throughout the world once it was slaughtered. Also, the bull's blood formed the milky way, allowing human souls both to be born and to return to the heavens after death.
      8. Both told of a Last Supper linked with the blood sacrifice whose symbolic recreation by eating bread and wine provided salvation for all worshippers. After Mithra killed the bull depicted in Mithraic art, he feasted upon it with the Sun God and other companions before ascending to the heavens in the sun god's chariot. The sequence was slightly different in the New Testament: Christ's Last Supper necessarily preceded his crucifixion rather than following it, after which he ascended to heaven.
      9. Both emphasized purification through baptism, Mithraists by washing themselves in the blood of sacrificial oxen. While dying oxen bled to death on lattice floors built over their heads, initiates both drank and washed themselves with the blood that dripped on them.
      10. Both featured secret temples located underground. For Christians it was a temporary expedient to avoid persecution, but for Mithraists it became a permanent insti-tution, each small chapel, called a Mithraeum, having seated no more than fifty worshippers and having been constructed to point from east to west. Rounded ceilings were painted blue and imbedded with gemstones. There were no windows except for a few chapels in which tiny holes in the ceiling that had been bored to let in the light of certain stars at particular times of the year.
      11. Both held Sunday to be sacred.
      12. Both encouraged asceticism. Mithraists were expected to resist sensuality and to abstain from eating certain foods.
      13. Both emphasized charity. Mithra was identified as the god of help who protected his worshippers, whatever their tribulations in life.
      14. Last and probably least, both emphasized a rock, Mithra having been born from one and the Vatican having been built on one.

      March 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Don't forget about Attis...

      March 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Again, coincidence does not equal connection on this.

      March 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Awww...

      Poor little Lycidas is speechless....

      March 29, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Awww- Did I miss something? I did comment did I not?

      March 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Caracoles

    New or old is the same crap. There's nothing relevant about the discovery of a book that has poisoned so many lives, cultures and societies.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  8. Rob

    If you don't know, there is allot of Archaeology that supports many of the stories in the Bible. Of course Archaeologists are minimalist, which means they don't use the Bible for historical research. Maximalists use the Bible for reference. Usually when a discovery is made, and seems completely obvious to almost everyone, minimalist will say it is debatable. When the Bible says King Solomon fortified three cities, and all three cities of the remains of fortified city gates, that are exactly the same. It’s debatable. The current Bible is the churches tradition that is true. There are books that were excluded and some that no longer exist. However, the reading the Bible in its current form helps develop a communication with God. Weather it was written by fire, a guided hand, or Godly inspiration, the Bible still works in that capacity. Weather you translate the texts from Hebrew or Greek or just read what has already been translated.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Rob

      Most Archaeologists are minimalist

      March 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  9. NL

    The Bible is the product of Church tradition. For you evangelicals out there that may be a hard pill to swallow. They already had an image of Jesus in mind before they selected which books were to become the official Christian scriptures. They picked four gospels, for example, out of over 50 that were in circulation.

    That's like some group three hundred years from now taking any figure we have today, Bush, Obama, doesn't matter, and compiling the official library on this person based on the accepted view at that time. They would accept only books that matched that accepted view and reject others. Rejected texts would likely stop being printed at the very least. Now, would you call that being historically accurate?

    March 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  10. open eyes

    I heard him mention that (Jesus) says- That's kinda funny because
    1). The letter J was not in Hebrew language "never was-Never will be"
    2). The letter J just came about roughly 150 years ago
    3). And finally-IF IT WERE ONE OF the original 1611 KJV bibles, Jesus would be nowhere in that bible.
    Because of 1 and 2 Research people
    Truth will set you FREE!
    Open eyes

    March 29, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Lycidas

      So you are saying that King James did not exist either in the King James bible? Check your own math and think about it.

      The truth will set you free too.

      March 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • nowpepe nwanjesus

      Heyyy Open eyes...ok no problems about that, maybe we should say its not J but y huh?...Ok, but that Name JESUS is so powerful that the devil is so afraid to mention it,hahahahahaha, You see, every knee must bow at the mentioning of that wonderful name of JESUS whether by choice or by force,,, when you call the NAME of "JESUS" there is CONFUSION in the Kingdom of darkness,,,you wonna try? Then when you are in a tight and dangerous situation,,,JUST CALL THAT NAME, you will se Amazine things begin to take place...bless you my dear !!!

      March 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  11. Mad Pastor

    My thoughts here: http://www.madpastor.com

    March 29, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  12. Ren

    And on the eighth day God sayeth: "I bet some idiot is going to turn all of this into a cult!"

    March 29, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Caracoles

      Cute!!

      March 29, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  13. Tallulah13

    I don't believe this is the word of god, but I do think it't a wonderful piece of history and an amazing find.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • nowpepe nwanjesus

      Heyyy Tallulah13, What do you mean then???....The Bible is sure the Word of God...There is no book like it, all other books are so fake anyways....bless you my dear.

      March 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  14. Ccsci

    Bow down to the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

    March 29, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Lycidas

      Why?

      March 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. PhaiRo

    The internet is dominated by ignorant atheists...but mostly atheist wannabes. No point for discussion here.

    March 29, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • brandy

      how do you distinguish an atheist from a wannabe atheist?

      March 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Tom

      Yes... that is very interesting. I want to know if i'm just a wannabe or a true Atheist. Plz help.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Ezra

      You mean just like ignorant religious people that don't even know that their religion is nothing more than a edited version of Egyptian mythology?

      March 30, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Lycidas

      You got to love it when atheists impress themselves with the knowledge that certain prayer styles in the Bible didn't come out of a vacuum.

      March 30, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  16. Mr. Kailash Agnhotri

    Let all be glad and merry for this great find of the greatest treasure thereof for none is so wise as God to give us HIs word by the precious word of His treasure and to make us think or else no realm would make sense of God if realms were unsensibly given. Whether Judas walked in that instance as shown or the name above all names, it is clear we got to do some right to walk with God as well. Infallible and inerrant. It even qualifies others to the post, Revelation 21:7 except only Christ deserves the best. Thank you.

    March 29, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Preethi

      you are right

      March 29, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • nowpepe nwanjesus

      Heyyyy Mr Kailash Agnhotri...Bless you bro...YOU ARE RIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  17. Andy

    "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"

    If that doesn't make you a skeptic about an infallable bible you are indeed a fool

    March 29, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • Teddy

      Good to point that out.

      March 29, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Adam

      Andy, I'd encourage you to read "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel and decide for yourself on the Bible's infallability. Please do not base your thoughts upon merely an excerpt from this article. There is a great range of compelling evidence out there. Search it out for yourself, and then you can make a decision once and for all. Blessings to you, Friend.

      March 29, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • NL

      Adam-
      Lee Strobel is no scholar and what he offers as 'evidence' is really only compelling to anyone who wants to believe in the first place. I remember the part where Metzger admits that the early church picked what books became canon based on their already accepted views of Jesus, but didn't think that that could have influenced the bible's historical accuracy.

      Strobel himself then says that the criteria for determining what was canonical were "loaded from the outset, like dice that are weighted so they yield the result that was desired all along." Equally valid texts that told a different story were left out and declared heretical. Basically, that means that the church had an idea of who Jesus was and put those works into the Bible instead of letting the available works form the image of who Jesus was. Historical accuracy was not what the Church had in mind when they put the Bible together then. The Bible then is a reflection of Church tradition.

      March 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  18. Gary

    A wonderful work of fiction!

    March 29, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Thomas

      Fiction, huh? Truth hurts doesn't it, "Gary."

      March 29, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Teddy

      @ thomas Truth has no flaws so to identify truth by a flaw seems illogical

      March 29, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Augustine

      You can prove this, of course.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  19. SHep

    There are a lot of angry people here. It's almost as if some are guided more by feelings than by empirical evidence. Logic can be expressed without name-calling and put downs. How do you expect to have honest persuasive dialog by hurling insults. Bad form.....

    March 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  20. Methusalem2000

    Do you want to really live? ​​​​​​Would you love to live a long, happy life?
    ​​​​​​​Then make sure you don’t speak evil words ​​​​​​or use deceptive speech! Turn away from evil and do what is right! ​​​​​​Strive for peace and promote it! (Ps 34: 12 14​​)

    It behooves the sons of God to be peacemakers, gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, faithfully linked to one another in the bonds of unanimity.

    March 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Observer

      Both sides need to practice the principle behind the Golden Rule even though it didn't originate in the Bible. Many atheists need to demonstrate their "superior" intelligence by showing respect for others they consider less intelligent and many Christians need to remember the Golden Rule when they are busy trying to deny equal rights to others like gays, atheists, and agnostics.

      March 28, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Observer, the Golden Rule is mostly quotes from Jesus. Therefore, Christians already know them without having to disguise His teachings.

      Amen..

      March 28, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Observer

      @HeavenSent,
      The principle of the Golden Rule existed long before Jesus' times. It can be traced back to ancient China, Greece, and Egypt.

      Too few Christians remember than when condemning gays, etc.

      March 28, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • nowpepe nwanjesus

      Thanks alot for this wonderful sermon...i love it, you touched my heart...And i want to say, yes ,i want to live like a tender child of the most high God....Halleluyah, bless you...thank you JESUS !!!!!

      March 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • nowpepe nwanjesus

      Heyyy Observer...am sorry to disappoint you that gays, lesbians , athiest and all others that dont do the will of God should please repent and do the right thing ...ok?

      March 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Diputs

      @Observer

      I wholeheartedly agree. There is way too much anger and ego on both sides of the debate. People just need to realize that there is a difference of opinion and let it go. Christianity isn't (or shouldn't be) about hatred and intolerance, but a lot of Christians are acting hateful and intolerant. And if an atheist doesn't share their faith, they should turn the other cheek, and allow them their own opinion. Likewise Atheists should be content to let them worship their faith without resorting to immature jokes and accusations.

      Everyone should follow the Golden Rule and treat everyone as they would like themselves to be treated. Christians would be following their faith, and Athiests would be content in their knowledge that it doesn't stem from Christianity, so everyone should be happy.

      March 30, 2011 at 2:22 am |
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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.