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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. mastershake0

    religion is so cute. I really hope you sheep wake up and smell the roses before you hand over all of your lifes savings to the church. Hmm...paying to receieve God's blessing....sounds like pay for play to me. I havent given God a single penny, other than thanking him in my mind for all that I have and I havent had a bad day in 26 years and counting.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Chris

      If you haven't had a bad day, that means you haven't had trials. Trials are the only way one learns. You must be stupid. Start going to church unbeliever.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • John Do

      You contradicted yourself. Very funny.

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

      How?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Tommas

      "you must be stupid. start going to church". where does jesus ever say to go to church?? stupid is as stupid does...... you make up a requirement for a made up religion hahahahahahahaha

      March 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Chris

      I never said Jesus said go to church. Learn how to read.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  2. LP2011

    All these post really make me sad. You say religion causes all this hate? Look at all the negative and hurtful comments from the non-believers. Open up your heart and mind to Jesus, something you are so closed minded against, and I bet you will be surprised.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • ScottK

      You say to "Open up your heart and mind to Jesus" but that requires being exclusionary and at least accepting if not praying for those of faiths not inline with yours to burn for eternity in agony.

      No Thanks,
      Cheers!

      March 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  3. Stephanie

    Seriously, if you're not a Christian and someone who would be interested in this article..then why read it? All of you athiest/non believers are always commenting negatively on articles about God and other religious articles. There will come a day when EVERY KNEE WILL BOW AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT HE IS LORD!! We all have a right to believe what we choose to believe in..but why all the hateful comments towards God and christians?!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  4. MM

    Do you know why the sun comes up in the morning? Because that book says, "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day". That book controls this world.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  5. beliver

    GOD said most men would reject his word,only those who BELIVE
    would be saved many are CALLED FEW ARE CHOSEN!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  6. Greg

    The fact that the ORIGINAL King James Bible has a typo is proof that the book is fallible. The extremists that are hating in the name of their God should take note. These folks hate because they are afraid and not because their God ordains hatred.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Josea

    Study the Bible and you will find out it is the greatest book ever!

    March 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  8. Vladimpeler

    I love globalization,make it so easy to interact with cave man from the middle east.i was under the the impression this topic was about an historic find. I love America because it's DEMOCRACY,a word not well know on the cave yet,we have freedom of speech where anyone can voice their opnion,no matter how ignorant it sounds,no worries even though i desagree with the agression and the childish comments of some here,rest assure noone will stone you to death,burn your picture,or decapitate you. This is America,the main goal is tolerance and respect,we are civilized here. Welcome to America,now try to adapt to this new world,try to learn some tolerance,you are not on the cave anymore

    March 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  9. Spyder

    Way to much circle logic going on here. You can't use the bible to prove god is real. Thats like using Lord of the Rings to prove elves are real.

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

      There is a point, even in scientific circles, where faith has to stand alone. A person can believe in something even though they lack either the experience or the knowledge to know why something happens. For example, we see the sun "set" in the evening and "rise" in the morning. If you tell me that you "know" that the Earth rotates, you can't tell me that you've actually witnessed the Earth rotating in space or can explain the scientific proof that it does. Someone along the line you have to have faith in what you were taught by others. We have made many advances in Science and Health solely on a leap of faith.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Sammy

    I am not afraid to say I would die defending what this 'book' says ...historically and spiritually

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

      You would die for a couple hundred year old translated book made of hemp.?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  11. Lisa

    Praise you, Lord. Cause wether it is for good or bad, your name is on everyones mouth.

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

    Does anyone know where the "Museum of the Book" in London actually is? It doesn't appear to have a web presence of any sort...

    March 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  13. Richard Cranium

    to busy molesting little boys to pay attention?

    March 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  14. ThereisnoGod

    @Matt says to me:
    @ "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"

    This clearly shows your lack of intelligence and thus does not surprise me you believe in fairy tales.
    Your statement assumes that it is known with 100% certainty that I am in a forest. How would that be known? There must be a way to determine that I am there. Did I scream? Do I emit radiation? etc..
    I mean we can't see a magnetic field yet we know is there...why? Because it can be measured. We can't see gravity but we can feel it.

    Tell me then how is it known that God really is there? Or if there that it really is a God?

    March 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Mark Michigan

      cogito ergo sum

      March 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  15. Scarydarkforeigner

    Christianity teaches supreme selfishness- that you should be good- so you get to go to heaven and get candy and stuff. The main religion of the West is just like the west- selfish- brutish- primitive- with an inherent hatred for community, family, and charity.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • ThereisnoGod

      while I don't believe in religion I will say this...Religion has given people enough guilt and fear that whenever there are people in need they do help. Nobody helps more than Americans when it comes to charity and natural disaster relief. Period. It is a proven fact. Your comment lacks truth and show you are hateful towards the West even when the truth hits you square in the face.

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

      Fame, fortune, and a book and movie deal await you if you can reference even the tiniest place in Scripture that mentions heaven as the reward for goodness, and candy once you get there. Get serious.

      No, God's Word says that we are saved by grace and not of works (EPH 2:8-9) and that none are good ROM 3: 10-12). So no matter how good you think you are, salvation is simply not based on that. It's all about Christ's death on the cross AND your acceptance of it for forgiveness. Better think about this today: Jesus will settle all accounts very soon. Are you ready to face Him?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Scarydarkforeigner

      I"ve seen your Jesus salvation – written on the side of an American tank- manned by nihiistic indecent amoral monsters- like most Americans are.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  16. Jason

    "ThereisnoGod", please read Genesis 3:6-7 and there you'll find the reason for "famine, death and sickness."

    March 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • ThereisnoGod

      You can't use a work of fiction to prove something real.
      In that case I can use the movie Stargate to prove to you that there is no God.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  17. bettejodux

    The bible represent the Bronze Age beliefs of men at the birth of writing. Our species has become even more violent in relation of strengths of faith written in the Scripture. Faith relys on hope and ignorance. Only education and critical thinking can allow us the means to correct our mistakes. "Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man." "if though trusteth in the book called Scriptures, thou trusteth in the rotten staff of fables and falsehood." Thomas Paine. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," was introduced by King James, the English King. who rewrote the book. Think of the thousands of innocent lives lost because of this dreadful biblical phrase. Come visit me at http://bettejo.wordpress.com/ Peace and love Bettejo

    March 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  18. Paul

    I have an original Princess Diana Version of the Bible at my house

    March 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  19. jimmynog

    The most important book ever printed in English thus far is The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin.

    March 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Cedar Tree

      Telling people that religion is a crutch, is a crutch for the weak-minded

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

      yeah, because those are flying off the shelves right?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Jim

      Hahaha, that's hilarious. You're most definitely wrong, but you made me laugh!

      March 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  20. Matt

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

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

      The bible states clearly only a fool says there is no GOD....Looks like that pertains to you

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

      his clearly shows your lack of intelligence and thus does not surprise me you believe in fairy tales.
      Your statement assumes that it is known with 100% certainty that I am in a forest. How would that be known? There must be a way to determine that I am there. Did I scream? Do I emit radiation? etc..
      I mean we can't see a magnetic field yet we know is there...why? Because it can be measured. We can't see gravity but we can feel it.

      Tell me then how is it known that God really is there? Or if there that it really is a God?

      March 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • brown michelle

      The bible says only a fool says there is no God, fool!!!

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

      Or that fact that since you cant see, god does exist school of belief does not support your argument. Let the man believe in something he thinks, and you on yours.. BTW.. I"m no atheist, I believe in god completely, but who am I to sell god's greatness to other.

      March 28, 2011 at 5:33 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.