Updated: Feb 15
We can now say with some certainty due to Joey Faust's excellent book The Word: God Will Keep It, that the English speaking public regarded the King James Bible as the Bible. Had you lived in the late 1600s, the 1700s or at any time prior to the 1880s if you heard the word "bible" you would have naturally thought that the speaker was referring to the King James Bible. It had become part of their cultural psyche. If you were someone who believed the bible then you were someone who believed the King James Bible. The modern nuance of believing in the bible in general but distrusting certain passages or translations of passages was almost unknown.
Advances in printing technology, the modernization of the orthography (spelling, punctuation and capitalization) and a readable font had both made the bible more readable but also the bible was now more affordable. Historians have not commented much on the size of bibles in regards to the bible's popularity but the mass introduction of smaller easier to carry bibles must have had a very positive impact on the bible reading public.
The public had long since stopped speaking with inflected pronouns (thee, thy, ye). The meter and tenor of King James speech was associated with sacredness. Most literate people had cut their teeth on a King James Bible and its speech was second nature to them. England and much of America had accomplished what hitherto fore only the Jewish people had accomplished. They approached near universal literacy.
As the bible became embedded in English speaking culture the general populace began to notice slight textual variations in printings by various publishers. To a populace that considered the English Bible that they held in their hands to be the word of God itself, slight variations were consternating at the least to some, and alarming to many others. The most notable of these was a man by the name of Thomas Curtis who in 1833 wrote a tract called The Existing Monopoly, an Inadequate Protection, of the Authorized Version of Scripture.
Curtis corresponded with the both Oxford and Cambridge making inquiry as to the text they used. At one point he wanted to know if Cambridge was using Blayney or Parris's text and was assured by Cambridge that they used Parris's. This is amusing because they were wrong. In 1769 and for the next decade both Cambridge and Oxford used divergent texts. Eventually Cambridge under the leadership of John Archdeacon, Cambridge bibles began to slowly incorporate Blayney's excellent editing improvements. Each subsequent bible added more and more of Blayney's work until they were indistinguishable.
As we will see, Cambridge's ignorance to the text they used in the early 1800s was to be the rule among printers not an exception. Printers to this day have no idea where their texts came from. I recently had a major printer of bibles in the United States send me a picture of a 1638 Barker Bible thinking that he had a 1638 Cambridge Bible. He was using it to make editorial decisions. Instead of using the best bible published between 1611 and 1762, he was using one of the worst edited bibles from a family who generated scandal from their sloppiness.
We will see that the general ignorance of printers as to the source of their text is still a vexation and bane. The Cambridge staff of 1929 was to make an ignorant gaff that has led to wholesale pollution of bible texts in this century. In my next post I will address the beginning of the end of the King James Bible's dominance in English speaking culture. The Scrivener Paragraph Bible of 1783 was a forerunner to the Revised Version of 1888 but we will leave that until the next post.