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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. Kindle Faith Books

    Nice! Thanks for posting this.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  2. just a thought

    To be sure, I haven't read even half the coments on this blog. But, a great deal of the 'coments are just crital remarks and arguments which serve no purpose and gain nothing.This article was suppoe to be about a discovered artifact, nothing else, I can't understand why so many people use it as a platform to defend their beliefs and/or ridicule others just to cause arguments–that is total stupity and ignorance

    June 24, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  3. Monika

    When we become bored God kills us. We must never get bored. So what have we been doing for 1800 years. We create, destroy and kill our own lol. Now aren't we smart.

    April 30, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  4. Monika

    Lol. God is a placeholder for those who have the need to control and those who need to be controlled. They all live in a box as much as scientists who still live in Einsteins box. We have people who by passed them all and reshaped the world. Like it or not but they will lead us into the future and we got no choice about it. The future looks bright for those who will adapt and relearn. Whatever it is we call God is not bound by anything much less any writing on the wall or in stone. Take it for what its worth it. Humanity is moving forward and is not waiting on any one.

    April 30, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  5. Doughboy

    Thanks!!

    April 6, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  6. Doughboy

    Mark 14,13
    "and ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

    My King James Version is only 111 years old.

    April 6, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  7. Rick

    The Dunham Bible Museum on the campus of Houston Baptist University hosted the first American celebration of the King James 1611 Bible and has several celebratory event planned to highlight this significant body of work during 2011. An original 1611 KJV is housed in the museum along with approximately 5,000 manuscripts and Bibles dating from the 3rd century. The museum is open 10-4 Monday-Saturday and admission is free.

    April 4, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  8. Bill Pitcaithley

    nope said:

    "If God prevents you from doing evil, then you have no free will. Animals do neither evil, nor good. They are what they are. God has given us the gift of free will, but at a cost...."

    I have just been reading Martin Luther's views on freewill – 'Born Slaves' – more than interesting.

    April 3, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  9. kamya john

    if this is a real true original scriptures its just amazing how God can protect his word in order to reach his chosen ones
    visit us on http://www.communityworshipministriesnetwork.blogspot.com

    April 2, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  10. J Buck

    Folks – being civil costs you nothing.

    April 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  11. James

    So then, republicanism. Good or bad?

    April 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  12. MOG

    Whatever we all say and do, we must not forget that life as we know it will end, for everyone. And after that another life begins, whether we believe it or not. The challenge is where will you be hereafter? I know you are likely to say 'it depends on what one beleives'. But there is One who is the Door, His name is Jesus, please go to Him, He will receive you, no matter where you are in life. Please pray and ask God to speak to you, you will hear Him, there will be no doubt who is speaking to you, and when you hear His voice all your doubts will leave. May God show you mercy and compassion, Amen!

    April 1, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  13. NuWinePress.com

    Should Christian Gays Celebrate the 400th Birthday of the King James Bible? http://bit.ly/kj400

    March 31, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Christian

      Christian Gays????? hmmmmmm I don't believe the two can actually be placed together. To me, my own personal opinion, it sounds more like an oxymoron. How can one be gay, constantly in sin according to God's law and still be an active Christian.
      No Christian is perfect by any means. We all fall short. However, a Christian is one who repents of their sins, repent meaning turning away from their sin, asking for forgiveness and trying ones BEST to live as good as possible, in this world

      April 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Tracy

      Duh....being gay is not a sin!

      April 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Jackie Wu

      @Christians The bible only condemns gay acts, not gays themselves, And Christian gays hide it so yea. There you have it.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  14. stan scott

    notice the chain attached to the bible. I thought only the catholics chained their Bibles.

    March 31, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Deborah

      I am Catholic and I have never seen a chain on any Bible in any church I have been a member of. Possibly an outdated practice?

      April 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  15. David Sanford

    Thanks! For more news about the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Version Bible, be sure to visit the new http://www.credocommunications.net/kjv website. As was done for the Gutenberg Bible, a leather-bound leaf book is being issued.

    A big surprise: The leaf book’s authors have compiled the first worldwide census of extant copies of the original first printing of the 1611 King James Version (sometimes referred to as the "He" Bible). For decades, authorities from the British Museum, et al., have estimated that “around 50 copies” of that first printing still exist. The real number, however, is quite different.

    For more information, you're invited to contact Donald L. Brake, Sr., PhD, at dbrake1611@q.com or David Sanford at drsanford@earthlink.net

    March 31, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  16. Fritz

    http://dogdays-phoenix.blogspot.com/

    Here is Jesus' facebook page

    March 30, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  17. Mike

    Many, many ignorant comments from people who've never read this book despite its availability world wide. This book shows humanity God's creation,holiness, virtues, righteousness, love, sacrifice, and judgment...through this book we see and know God. We learn about human relationships and the struggles that people have endured since time began and their relationship to God. This book is the foundation of justice and freedom in our world. Through this book we see God's plan, prophecy, and promise of eternal life or eternal damnation in hell. Through this book we learn of the supernatural world, what is now also called the "paranormal" universe, and the world to come. Praise God for his faithfulness to us.

    March 30, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  18. Really

    Interesting. Might I add that talking over someone reading the Bible is in poor taste?? Also, lose the soul patch Greene. It looks silly.

    March 30, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  19. Angus

    Oh I'll come clean,
    the James thing is really the story of two Hores an Auntie and a Mother of the man called King James. The Auntie hored quietly for her country and always with no residue, as a result was and still is reviered to this day, Elizabeth I. The Mother on the other hand hored for her bed with residue, King James, but of questionable Farthership! Auntie Imprisoned Mother at first as an embarrassment then 20 years later cut her head off.
    So King James VI of Scotland firstly, later James I of Great Britain with the Union of the Crowns 1606.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  20. Angus

    A very interesting article, but alas i get confused, is this written by King James I or King James VI, i can never tell, you see the First was a full bore Catholic and the Sixth was an abused child Proetstant, and then there is another James some old Inshore Fisherman. Yes Sir quite confusing.

    March 30, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • John not The Baptist

      I enjoy antiquity...old books in particular. I think this book is important since it "jump started" hundreds of more recent translations. As for "accuracy"...since this KJV comes 1500 years after prior bible copies, with potential "twists" in translated meanings each time a scribe rewrote another copy....hmmmm? And newer supposedly "improved" versions...ridiculous. Accuracy aside, I believe all versions are meaningful for their content, regardless of translation conflicts or inaccuracies of newer publications. But don't come knocking on my door claiming the book in your hand is "THE" accurate bible.

      March 30, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Calum

      The King James Bible was authorised by James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland. Perhaps this is where the confusion arises?

      April 1, 2011 at 2:51 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.