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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. Jesus

    hay guiz!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      WASSUUP!

      March 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  2. Captain_Colossal

    DAMN YO THAT IS AN OLD BOOK . I'd like to compare it to a modern day king james bible and see how many alterations the church has made to fit their needs

    March 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  3. Paulette Ellis

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word Was God. 1 John 1:1. We do not have to prove God to the non-believers, He proves Himself. if they continue in disbelief, so be it. Thank you "James" for your comment.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Argle Bargle

    They should just keep it in a case for display. If they let people use it, there's gonna be chocolate fingerprints all over it.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  5. willy

    What if the bible turns out to be true? Stretch your imagination.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  6. cary lacayo

    Even with your reckless, senseless and meaningless comments God still loves you no matter what comes out of your mouth or in these comments...Tough talk for people that are so sure they have all the answers...Again, it's by God's grace that we are even alive right now...

    March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  7. beelzebubba

    My cult believes in the holy trinity: shal-allah(sha-la-la), tral-allah and fal-allah. The cosmic irony worth noting: this King Jimmie version was written for the Anglican/Epicopal church. The Epicopal church now uses more accurate translations. Southern baptists, who often publicly ridicule the Episcopal church, proclaim that this inaccurate book is gods directly inspired word. Apparently the Episcopal church back then knew the word of god, but that chaged after the baptists borrowed it. Apparently god doesn't expect dogmatic zealots who don't allow questioning authority to think things through.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  8. Boiler

    Put that sucker on eBay!!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Hathaway

    What is it with all of the religious crap polluting CNN's front page on a daily basis now?! How is this their top story? We don't have time to waste shoving garbage like this in people's faces; especially when they come here expecting THE NEWS! Christians (and Muslims/Muslim promoters) need to keep their religion to themselves in order for the divisiveness and bigotry to end, not broadcast them in front of the entire nation so they can feel "right" and remind everyone else that they think we are all godless infidels. I am agnostic, many would label me atheist; however, I am not out to convert anyone and I rarely talk about my religious beliefs, so why am I forced to stomach it from seemingly EVERYONE else on a regular basis? >.<

    March 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  10. Joe G

    Very nice find; it is amazing that something written so long ago is coming true word for word. Watch for all the islamic countries along with Russia to jump on little ol Israel and get their asses handed to them because "The Man" is on their side.

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

      Amen, may the Lord bring many unto the His truth for the sake of love/His Glory. God bless.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Edis

      If by "man" you are referring to the U.S. then you are right, because without the U.S. "lil ol Israel" would not be there right now.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  11. warex1234

    HUH? 400 years old? Really? How about 2,200 years un-edited, now that would be a find!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  12. ben

    oh good! yet ANOTHER article on CNN about religion! Can't you losers let these mythological tall-tales die already???

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

      wow, you went to the religion section and you're surprised to find an article about religion? Are you really that stupid? You make the fantasy believers look smart. Please refrain from posting any more, you're hurting the atheist argument for having common sense.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Sharon

      Um Spork it's on the front page of cnn's website. You wouldn't know it's part of the religion section till you click on the link. Who's the moron now.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • john

      hey Ben. if you hated football, and one day saw a father and son playing in the yard, would you run over and scream "football is for fools!".. i hope you get my point

      March 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Tommas

      John, guess your right we should treat all religious people like children...

      March 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • john

      tommas, if you did you would find a great deal of growth in your life.. In fact, start treating EVERYONE around you like they have a lesson for you and you will become wiser than you could imagine. Being hateful, sarcastic, closed minded stunts your growth. Especially if you think this life is all you have. Or you could just keep being like everyone else. bored and boring

      March 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  13. Edgar Friendly

    Just as fake as any other Bible.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  14. verily

    Bravo, CNN, for including something that is a great story for the Christian community, thank you! I notice the comments here though, are as usual, from alot of the "unbelieving" left, heh. There are no contradictions in the Bible, except for those that are in peoples heads, lol. If you want to know the truth, go to the source – God Himself. Yeah, I realize that sounds absurd, but He promises He will answer if you seek Him with all your heart and soul. Overall, its between you and Him. CNN, thanks again!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  15. Mac

    What a lovely story, especially the part about them trying to raise money for a special case to keep it in. In the US, the head of the church's development group would have taken it, arranged a private sale, and kept a percentage as a dealer's or finder's fee..

    March 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  16. Jerry

    All the more reason to burn the useless thing. All it does is divide people, cause wars and promote violence and hatred.

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

      ..so does burning religious artifacts.. geez, let me out of here

      March 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  17. monica

    "based on at least two earlier translations, so its creators were editors as much as originators of these phrases" AND it has at least one error. Hmmmmm, doesn't sound very Holy to me, sounds like they're acknowledging that it's just made up by humans. And of course it is!! Proof is in how nobody can agree on what it says or what it means. I would think an omnipotent God could make a book that would need no translation or editing. And by the way he would make it grow from a tree just so we were clear it was not from man.

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

      "sounds like" you don't know how to read Monica.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • john

      God dint make the bible.. Even the most religious of all could tell you that. oops, your ignorance is showing.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  18. willy

    Trolls love this site.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  19. brett

    Whether you believe the words printed in it or not, it is important to recognize the impact of the Bible on the modern world. It drove the creation of the printing press, which allowed the widespread dissemination of knowledge and education in a way that was never before possible. The existence of the Bible (and the Torah and the Koran) has pushed millions around the world to learn to read – opening themselves to ideas and knowledge that would have otherwise been inaccessible to them.

    Of course, millions have needlessly died for the words in those books as well (Crusades, Terrorist, Religious fanatics of all sorts). And that is part of the history as well.

    For better or worse, this bible is an important part of our history.

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

      Well said Brett. Regardless if you believe or not, it's important to understand the impact it has had on the world.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  20. Dmoney

    whats your fav Bible story?
    Adam and Eve and a talking snake
    Johan living in a whale
    Moses parting the Red sea
    Angels coming to earth and having relations with earth women and having them give birth to giants
    the life and times of Jesus
    Noah building an ark and having 2 of every animal come aboard

    sounds like a bad James Cameron movie

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

      mines the one about this infinitesimal planet where the inhabitants sat on the edge of the universe and claimed ownership. They cried about not being to play in the street because they had no knowledge of cars. But they were kings. That's my favorite 'story'

      March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • verily

      Mine is when the Lord Jesus Christ returns and every knee shall bow.... and He kicks Satan out of the world as we know it; no more tears, no more pain, the old order of things passed away. OH and of course John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, whoever shall belive in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:34 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.