Updated: Feb 15
The 16th and 17th centuries saw much flux in the development of English. Prior to the 16th century educated people rarely wrote anything in English. Latin was the language of science. French was the language of diplomacy and was essential to be considered an educated person. From the time of the Norman invasion until the 15th century French had been the language of England's legal system. As England shook off its reliance on foreign tongues in its legal and educational system it badly needed to reconcile the many dialects from the several parts of England and to develop a grammar and orthography (system of spelling, punctuation and capitalization).
Clarence Larkin made this insightful statement over 100 years ago when speaking of the word of God in his book Dispensational Truth. "While the Bible is a revelation from God, it is not written in a superhuman or celestial language. If it were we could not understand it. Its supernatural origin however is seen in the fact that it can be translated into any language and not lose its virility or spiritual life giving power, and when translated into any language it fixes that language in its purest form." What we see in the language of the King James Bible is the English language in its purest form.
I think that Larkin summed it up well when he said that a translation does not lose its virility or spiritual life giving power. That of course flies in the face of what just about every bible college teaches. Today's clergy loves the sense that the little bits of the original languages that they know elevates their bible knowledge above their congregation's knowledge. A saved born again man who thinks that way is salt that has lost its saltness. A lost man (and the ministry is filled with such men even in fundamental Baptist circles) who thinks that way is just another tool of hell keeping his people at arm's length from God.
When I say that the King James Bible is the word of God; I mean that if I were to have the ability to think and speak perfectly in the original languages of the bible, and if I were to possess the exact manuscripts as they were written by the authors of those same manuscripts, that I would have absolutely no advantage over a person reading a King James Bible.
For the King James Bible to be that vehicle for the understanding of God's revelation to man a couple of things were needed. A system of printing and distribution would have to be developed that could get the word of God into every man's hand and to do so accurately. That in itself was a painful process. The technology of printing that we rely on today and which sits at the finger tips of even a toddler who can operate a computer, was to take many years to bring to fruition.
Secondly, an orthography had to be developed that could consistently convey the words of the King James Bible in the most readable way. It is the orthography of the English language that undertook such change between 1611 and the mid 1700s that the King James Bible became in danger of becoming unreadable. No change has ever been needed to its vocabulary, but how it has been punctuated and how its words were spelled were in sore need for an upgrade by the middle of the 18th century. In upcoming posts we will look at that process.