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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. Steve-O

    ...and on the back cover is printed: "made in Thailand"!!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  2. Thinquer

    I love this old Bible! If you have an old KJ look up Exodus 3:15. It has been altered on most modern translations, but the original KJ and New World hold true to this meaningful text. (a discussion between Moses and God). Make sure you are sitting down when you read it...

    March 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  3. Capnron

    It's OBAMA's Fault!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  4. 666 talker

    Wow!!! It meant nothing 400 yrs ago, and means nothing now!!!!

    March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  5. ThereisnoGod

    @CW
    You say: " I can't convince you that God exist's....just like you can't prove."....

    You have it all twisted. You mean to say: "I can't prove to you that God exists...just like you can't convince me that he doesn't."

    The burden of proof is on You believers.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  6. Matt

    @ "ThereisnoGod" If you were in a forest and no one could see you, would you still exist? By using your own reasoning, the answer would be "No"

    March 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • joseph

      i have to disagree with you on that one man there is a god you dont beleve me just try giving to churches in waking up in thanking god for the day i guarante you will see results i tell you man aint nothing like it be encourage my brother in christ

      March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  7. verily

    Jesus said this about 2000 years ago. Because of iniquity(sin), the love of many will grow cold. And the Gospel will be preached to all nations, then the end will come. Sound familiar? Look at Matthew 24 – the whole chapter and see how chillingly familiar it is in relation to current events and the state of mankind today.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • fofo

      is that you Glenn?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Boatnmaniac

      Same story and worldview as some people in Christianity have been saying for nearly 2000 years..."The end is coming! The end is coming!" Nothing's really changed in all these centuries. In fact, I can't count the number of groups who have made this proclamation and been flat wrong about it....just in my lifetime alone. 2000 years from now there will still be groups proclaiming "The end is coming! The end is coming!" Glad I won't be around to hear about it anymore.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Magic

      verily,

      Actually, Matthew makes Jesus sound like some hack preacher on a soap box in the park.

      How about that 'before this generation passes away' promise?

      How about those stars falling from the sky?

      How about that reference to Noah's flood that never happened?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  8. Bill

    Joe, you are wrong. Without religion why not take want you want from others. I doesnt matter if you are only going in to the ground.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Pumbaa

      Have you not heard of the jail house or the State prison. Break the law and you will eventually end up behind stone walls.
      That is reason enough not to rob people, sell crack, murder, so forth.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Tommas

      Its been proven that we have evolved morals without religion.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  9. Neo Amish

    Wow! What an awesome find. Something that will be treasured by that church and its members. Good for them.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  10. David

    I wonder what it is worth. I doubt they would sell it, but I wonder what it might bring at auction.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  11. Cubist Tut

    Religion is like a Supermarket.

    Picture yourself in a vast supermarket that is fully stocked. Yet instead of selling food, this supermarket sells religions. The departments are all the same but have taken on symbolic meaning. For example, the meat department sells Judaism, representing the animal sacrifice needed for blood atonement. The cereal aisle is where Hinduism is found since cereal boxes often feature characters. “A different God in each Box! Collect all 330,000,000!” In the baking goods aisle Islam is for sale since all the other foods started with this stuff but became corrupted when it was baked. New Age religion is found in the candy section since the power behind both is in how appealing they are. Dead religions, beliefs no one holds anymore like Greek Mythology, Molech worship, and golden calves, are found in the frozen food section. Christianity, with all its scenes in gardens and Agricultural parables, is in the produce department. Mind sciences are available in the magazine aisle. There is a person sitting in an empty shopping cart pushing himself around the store – a Buddhist, of course. There is another person who can’t find anything in the store at all – an atheist. Some shoppers are strictly vegetarian, some eat only meat, but all the diets are of equal value. They all basically do the same thing – feed you. In charge of the checkout counter is death itself. After your selection is made, you pay with your life. Whether there is anything outside the exit door and what happens there is the big question. – Doug Powell

    March 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • mastershake0

      Wow thats a great analogy. I am gonna use that.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  12. Ageee

    Bible = stinking nonsensical filth

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

      I think you are confused and talking about yo momma.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  13. Joe

    Religion is a plague on humanity. Religion brings us hatred and war. Religion is for people who care only for themselves, and never think about how they are harming others by giving money to these crooks.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I have to disagree with you on your statement. Most religions promote friendship and even civic responsiblity from those of power to those that have very little power. You shouldn't let the actions of a few ppl make you prejudice against the majority.

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

      listen joe all i know is there is a real god in heaven that loves us his name is jesus christ son if nazzereth in you need to realize hes god alone he want to bless you man im not lieng i no what happend in my life trust me try him in youll never be the same

      March 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  14. mb2010a

    The Bible, Including the KJ version, is only a very small edited sampling of the original group of books. In the 1400's, Pope Gregory and the other heads of Christianity, threw out over 500 books they deemed inconsequential and rewrote what was left. What we read today, including this new "find", are edited vastly from the original texts. Google the "missing books of the Bible"...

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

      Not only that...scholars now know that much of the bible is a jumbled retelling (often word for word) of Akkadian, Sumerian/Babylonian, and Egyptian anthropomorphic astronomy records that predate Christianity by thousands of years.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  15. Joe

    So this book has been doing harm to humanity for 400 years? Religion is such a joke. I cant believe there are some sheep out there who still buy into this crap.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  16. abdirahman

    Western powers must stop their hypocracy, because when Israel killed 1,500 poor innocent people in Gaza why they don't say anything to Israel, but when ever they see or get any excuses in the Islamic World they interfar......but we Muslims know and see what you doing....and the History will readjust itself again......

    March 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Lycidas

      1,500??? That's a lie right off the bat. Innocent? How can they be innocent when the terrorists are shooting missles right next to their homes?

      How about you tell Hamas to act like men and attack Israel AWAY from residential areas and quit hiding under the ladie's skirts.

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

      Please stick to the subject matter of this blog. Your post belongs somewhere else.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  17. AGeek

    "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."

    ..but hey, yeah. They *originated the phrases* .. remember that, next time one of you thumpers would like to cite it.

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

    No book should be ever burned. This old book would be a great collectors item. I would love to have it in my collection.

    None the less..... its a book of myths written by humans who knew nothing of the world they lived in.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I am guessing you are basing your statement on the fact you never read much beyond Genesis.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  19. ScrnName

    I love the irony of the Biblical experts using glaring known errors in translation to identify one of the earliest and most widely distributed English examples of the supposedly infallible "Word of God." Any people who try to take it all literally are destined to fail by default (but would never admit their mistake)! Never mind the initial idiocy of trying to live by rules set down by a bunch of murderous, greedy, power-hungry kings and church officials! "WWJD" = "not listen to the people who wrote the Bible!" Live your life by what you know to be right – not by what a 600yr-old book incorrectly says about things that may or may not have happened 2000 yrs ago.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • DAISHI

      This is silly. "Know to be right". That can mean anything to anyone. If you're going to divorce yourself an exterior moral source at least have the brass to go the full route and say there's no such thing as right and wrong.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Pilfer

      Rejecting an imaginary being in the heavens as a moral compass does not rationally lead to the conclusion that there is no right and wrong.

      This is precisely why religious people fail because they are inherently irrational and they use a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) as their basis for moral decisions.

      Apealing to an faith based and assumed to be infallibible "external moral source" is irrational and dangerous precisiely because there can be no determination of relative truth or compromise in a conflict between two faith based beliefs. Strength of conviction is not only a poor measure of truth but it leads to violence and war in the name of the "truth'.

      The world, entire world, would be far better off if people rejected the "infallible word of God" as a compass to moral truth and instead used open minded logic and reason to better understand each other and compromise.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Pilfer

      Of course you won't listen to what I am telling you because you faith prohibits even the idea of ignoring you perception of the words or YOUR God. It is non-negotiable for you.

      So now, as a soldier I am stuck fighting wars, what is essentially the Holy wars of Americans like you and elected officials like you.

      I know the nation's reason for getting into these wars are not religious but I can tell you for certain religious ignorance and prejudiced was a factor for getting into them, and it is a HUGE factor on the ground. Religious fanatics ON BOTH SIDES insurgents and soldiers/commanders are fighting a holy war.

      I am absolutely disgusted with it.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Jeffision

    God is a fairy tale. Religiosity and spirituality are a common psychosis. Religion is a multi-billion dollar business that creates and promotes this psychosis for profit and power. The Bible is religion's propaganda. Heaven and Hell are the carrot and stick of religion's business strategy. Visualize a post religious era.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • supremeamerican

      Isaac Newton disagrees with you.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Joe

      Without religion there wouldnt be hatred and intolerance. We would have far less wars, and people would actually care about each other rather than thinking only about themselves, as christianity teaches.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • willy

      What’s wrong with fairy tales? What’s wrong with helpful psychosis? What’s wrong with business, profit and power? What’s wrong with propaganda? What’s wrong with having a carrot and a stick? How do you know these things are bad? What makes you think these things are evil. If there is no God then there is no evil. There is no wrong. Everything is subjective. In my view there is a God. That is my subjection of the facts.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • fofo

      I'm not sure which is worse, religious leaders or the politicians.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • markishere

      Please do the world a favor and jump off a bridge head first.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Mike

      Easy there God is watching and he reads your email but he can find you without one.
      Sorry I wasn't there at the time of Christ to give you an accurate accounting of what really happened but what ever went down was BIG real BIG. Billions and billions have been found by God over the past couple of thousand years and I'm one of them !
      It's called love, try it, love some one with all your heart then you'll understand if not God will find you.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Tommas

      Mike, do you even know why so many people are christians? Lets just say it has more to do with Rome ruling all the western world and child indoctrination, then people actually "finding jesus".

      March 28, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Matthew

      Let me see if I can visualize a post-religious era...how about the former Soviet Union? The elimination of religion does not save us from the human condition. Rather salvation resides in first recognizing we are incapable of living righteously. By what measure you may ask? Considering your position as an atheist, let us consider, "love thy neighbor" as the standard. No one in their right mind can claim that they show an equivalent measure of patience and grace to their fellow man as they do for themselves; alas not even church goers. Second, upon recognizing this deficiency of character, one must acknowledge the existence of a God that is solely qualified to judge the human heart. Third, receiving with grateful humility the Savior who was sent to us by the Father to pay for our crimes and transgressions – this is Christ the Lord.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • supremeamerican

      Joe. If you said that to Joseph Stalin or Chairman Mao, they would imprison you, possibly execute you. They tried to get rid of religion, and they ended up killing more people than Hitler. Try an education Joe. It can help.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Douglas E Brafford

      I love my daughter Logan and my grandson Beau

      March 28, 2011 at 9:47 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.