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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. amanuel

    iim thankful to God that im atheist

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • thorrsman

      droll

      March 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • john

      dude. Ive read that saying like 5 million times every time something about religion is posted. Its older than this king james bible. please pick something new.. please.. members only jacket

      March 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • verily

      If interested, you should look at Matthew, chapter 24. Then take a peek at the world around us. Jesus said those words (from Matthew 24) approx 2000 years ago; Amazing, as it's impossible for anyone but God to know what is going to happen.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • andrew

      HEY!!!!
      SHOW SOME RESPECT!!!!
      This bible was around when Christianity was the leading oppresive force in humanity, they were still burning people at the stake at the time of this revision's print!!! Not like the half a ss lazy Christians nowadays that just persecute and obstruct the development of society at their own convenience.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • amanuel

      LMAO

      March 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • john

      hey andrew.. you and Jesus have something in common. he hated religion too! cool!!

      March 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  2. Big~Smelly~Tuna

    So does this mean that jesus is from 1611 not zero?

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  3. Chris Henry

    It is so amazing that no one on this whole comments list seems to know the difference between what the New Testament says (Jesus) and HOW HUMANS act and do. If people did as Jesus said to do, the world would be "heaven on earth". Jesus came to fulfill the law of the Old Testament, which was that sacrifice, atonement must be made for sin to pay for it. He took all of our sins and was the living sacrifice, and He told us our only debt is to love one another. He never condemned or punished anyone, or hurt anyone in any way, never advocated or did violence. There is one time where he drove merchants out of the temple but he did not hurt them or put them in jail or cut their heads off or beat them or stone them.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  4. What?

    WE'RE TURNING INTO A MUSLIM COUNTRY ANYHOW. BURN IT.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  5. johnobx

    I'd be curious to see what was scribbled in the margins. "Walter Raleigh was here." Heh.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  6. Pumbaa

    "God sent his only Son, Jesus, to earth to die for the sins of ALL mankind. Jesus as both man and God forms the foundations of the religion.. not that you go to hell if you don't believe." by Carolyn

    Jesus failed in his mission if he did not save all of mankind. I believe Jesus saved all of mankind and that you do not even have to believe in him for you are saved – period. If you believe this then you don't have to pay money to keep God in cash, go to an organized Church, or even pray. You don't have to give any human ruler the respect that should only go to the Eternal.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Chris Henry

      Wrong PUmbaa – Jesus said "pay Cesar what is Cesar's" when asked if people should pay the tax collector.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • eric calderone

      Pumbaa, Jesus through his sacrifice, gives all people the opportunity to be saved. One has to avail oneself of that opportunity, by doing all one can to be obedient to his teachings, and through one's actions with regard to one's neighbors. No one is saved in the final sense until Jesus judges one's entire life record, and pronounces one saved.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  7. seeker

    hey, Dr. Gene Scott will buy this bible....he is buying more bibles to prove to god that he knows and loves him.. oh cancel that order. HE'S DEAD....

    March 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Pam

    Why is Christianity different than 'all the other gods, religions?'

    Because Jesus Christ exclusively invites *all* people to be apart of *him* and to be loved regardless of what they have done. No other 'deity' has ever said such a thing. Christ came to the people who, during that time, were not even allowed to give offerings to 'god' in the temple: they were poor and considered worthless~ it was a time of a classist society. When people hijack Christianity to bring around their own aims and material gains, they make it very difficult for the rest of us that follow the original lessons of "Love thy neighbor as thy self.' And before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, please consider what Christians do *every, single, day* to help others: "Mobile Meals," A.A. (yes, started in Christian church!) the hundreds of thousands of missionaries around the world who, each day, work to house and feed the poor. The millions, each day, who pray for peace and healing for all. In my own church, I see how several times during the month, groups of fellow Christians, armed with a list of local homes in disrepair, go at no cost to fix a front porch, or gutters, or save a poor widow from having her house condemned. Do non-Christians do this regularly? I don't know~ I hope so~ but I *do* know that millions of people are fed and housed by those of us, each day, who follow the word and example of Christ. We have a personal, tangible, relationship with him that one cannot imagine if one does not have that relationship: peace and lightness of heart that is consistant. Lasting, daily, joy. And when tough times come, it is but a wonderful opportunity to glorify Him for all his blessings and we are immediately comforted and strengthened. Whether you believe or not, I hope you can acknowledge how very marvelous it is.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • uos_spo6

      The true test of an individuals merit comes from an assessment of their behaviors if they were never informed of your god's so called "existence". So I mean, if they are living being good people, and just don't know who Jesus is or about the Bible. . then whats the problem? Why bother giving them a book that is a tool to differentiate and judge others by?

      Missionaries did bring disease everywhere they went, cuz you know, the local peoples weren't naturally ingrained with reistsances to them. . . either that or maybe the missionary brought god's punishment with him un to the unbelievers, so they all converted?

      Funny how that works. If religion is your reason for being good, I feel sorry for you. You don't even measure up to your own god's standards as much as I do then, which is kind of messed up given the fact that if god exists as described in all the religious texts I've ever seen, then I don't like him and think much better can be done. I've known mere mortal human beings with more understanding, compassion, unbias, fairness and honesty in their ways than god's own supposed magical book attributes to himself.

      Get alife. Be a good person and die with a smile. That's all there is to it, you're wasting your time with the rest and making yourself look like a complete fool.

      Next time you want to read some good stories with morals to them pick up Grims Fairy Tales collection. Don't worry, there's no threat of damnation in them.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  9. warbuck

    whatever, now burn it.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • John

      Hitler!

      March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  10. Nathan

    I like they he mentions "two" errors, as if there aren't thousands of others.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  11. Jay

    I call bull sh!t. Prove it. Scientifically date the paper.
    ...oh wait, the church doesn't do anything like that.. you know.. like support their statements with facts or evidence.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • MichaelR

      And you read the article because....

      March 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      The CHURCH did not date it. A professional identified it. Now, kindly sign up for a remedial reading class.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. Awesome

    Awesome! Let's thumb it quickly

    March 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  13. John

    Who cares......Jesus is not the first to be crucified or the first and only so call god to be birth by a virgin woman.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  14. CJ

    Those of you who are claiming that the Bible was written by man and not inspired by God, have you even researched into that or are you simply relying on what people have told you?

    There are countless stories of people (archeologists, intellectuals, etc) going out to prove the Bible wrong and they end up finding support instead.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • JJ

      @CJ, not true... Genenis has been disproved entirely. So, where is your proof that experts have actually sided with what the bible says?

      March 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Show me a dragon or unicorn. So much for it all being true and literal.
      Show me a giant, they weren't giants. Ask a Jew to translate WHO fought David.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "Genenis has been disproved entirely"

      Actually that is not a correct statment. It would be more accurate to say that different theories have been presented that give alternative views on the formation of the universe that coincide with the standards of modern scientific reasoning.

      Basically put, Gensis isn't disproven no more than you could disprove anything in the distant past. You migth doubt it and come up with ideas that work better for you, but to say it's fully disproven. Not without a time machine.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Lycidas, you don't know what you're talking about.

      Your feelings of "God's presence" are not proof of your god's existence. Emotions are not proof of anything but that you feel emotions. Love is not proof of anything but that you feel it. It does nothing to prove where it came from.
      Science can do that already, but there is no indication of any outside "god-like" influence on any of your wonderful feelings.

      But go ahead and whine about it if you like. It's a free country.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "It does nothing to prove where it came from."

      Thank you child for admitting they came from somewhere other than the self.

      Curious, what do you tell that girl that is foolish enough to say she loves you? To you shove it back into her face? Bet you don't.

      March 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  15. I AM

    so, the first printing had an error in it....so is it god's fault or mans? or the printers? if there there is one error...could there be more? many more? how can we beleive so blindly? how did they know it was jesus and not judas as god stated that entered the garden? who overrode gods word to correct this? ....people better wake up and think for themselves...and not because some man in a frock tells u to. love and light.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Not merely mistakes, but purposeful mistranslations. This is where that line "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" comes from, mistranslating the earlier text to cater to King James odd paranoia about witches and Scotsmen conspiring to usurp his throne.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Look, get over it. It's the first mass produced book, geared toward the public, rather than nobles. That, in and of itself makes it historic, whether or not you personally approve of the content.
      It's 400 years old. Again, something noteworthy.
      That it would have been recalled today, yes, it would. But, it shows the novelty of such a concept back then, mass printing for the populace AND mass printing such a large book, at that time being highly unusual.
      In short, history is cool!

      March 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  16. some body

    I try not to get involved in such dub and retarded talk. Here goes though. You can throw it away and even burn it but you still will not stop the true meaning of the word of God. because of it people have the right to to think for them self's and to choose to or not to serve God. You know we will allow about any type of believe in this country from atheism to Buddhism. We all have that right. With that being said you serve your god's and we will serve our God. We will see who is the happiest in the after life. Thanks And God Bless !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • bam

      too bad what you spew isnt true, people are oppressed because of their gods and are slaughtered because of their gods.
      That is the history of mankind.... don't try and say that is directed towards 1 religion aka christianity since that is the #1 killer of mankind, all religions have killed and still do.
      Go spew this down south near an abortion clinic and let us know how that goes, or where an islamic center is about to be built. blatant hate from the peace of luv religion will greet u.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Bam-"since that is the #1 killer of mankind,"

      Prove it Bam. Bet you can't.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  17. Steve

    Hey Jcork- no one can be 100% sure of anything. It's the reality of the human condition. Good luck.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  18. Crucie Fiction

    Americans should be celebrating Thomas Paine's book, "Age Of Reason", rather than that worthless book of horrors, bigotry and divisiveness. Paine is THE reason there is a United States of America, while Jesus is nothing more than a mythical amalgamation of earlier man-gods from man's ignorant Bronze Age period and before.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @Crucie Fiction
      Why is it that when Atheists blather their ignorant and insulting bigotry, they seem to be unaware that they are being insulting? Or ignorant?

      March 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • writ

      Yeah, that book is certainly "a book of horrors, bigotry and divisiveness." How can God and Jesus be SOO MEANN?!!

      March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • MichaelR

      Guess your opinion is the one that matters. To you anyway.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • eric calderone

      Crucie Fiction, That there was a man in the first century, who preached in the region of Galilee, is hardly a myth. And, what Jesus taught, hardly is in opposition to "reason."

      March 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • bam

      why is it that it is 2011 and religious nutcases cant accept they are nutcases.
      mankind is not as ignorant as it was 2000 years ago yet still acts like it is.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • John

      Another hitler who wants to burn books.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      We'll consider that one when Payne is 400 years old. THIS book just so happens to be 400 years old and was the first mass produced text for the populace, rather than only for nobles.
      It's called a historic treasure. Rather than denigrating history, learn it. It prevents you from repeating the errors of the past.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Romny

      I don't think so Crucie Fiction. There is much evidence to suspect that such a man DID in fact exist. Not proven beyond a doubt but by referencing various written works by many of his "disciples" and others (monks etc) over 600 years AD who all had the exact same story though threatened with death etc it seems HE did live. They also by cross reference other pertinent information of the time. Its actually extremely interesting!! He was special but all the mystification that goes along with his existence has not been adequately explained yet.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Where are the words Jesus himself wrote? NOWHERE.
      Why? Was he stupid and illiterate? Because I would expect anyone intelligent to do intelligent things, like making sure his words were written down when he said them or wrote them himself.
      That he did not appear to do so invites ridicule and scorn. What son of a god would be so stupid and / or illiterate?
      And there are no accounts from direct witnesses.
      Anything written that long after he died is seriously unreliable, so you believers are going to have to do better than that.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  19. Joe

    I am sorry allow me to correct myself you can't to Liberals OR Religion nuts.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  20. Marlou Ordelt

    How could that be? They didnt have typeset back in the 1600's.......It was written on Papyrus.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • troi

      Printing press started in the 1500s on England.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Adam

      Look up Gutenberg –1400s....

      March 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • John

      1440, based on existing screw presses

      March 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Jules

      Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450's, and the first book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      They usually used hemp paper back then. You know, cannabis? Marijuana? They used it for the best rope in the world, too.
      Hemp is better than using trees, but you can't fight the big corporations. They've got it all banned to line their pockets.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:00 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.