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Royalty, Scripture and the King James Bible Lineage

June 22, 2011 - When The Royal Wedding between Prince William and the former Catherine Middleton was celebrated on April 29 at Westminster Abbey in London, the bride’s brother James Middleton read scripture from Romans 12:1-2, 9-18 using the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the same translation used in The Saint John’s Bible. Like many aspects of the world-famous ceremony, there is the assumption that this well-read reading in its modern translation will be included more often in wedding ceremonies and liturgies in the future.

Using the NRSV’s modern, gender-inclusive translation in the marriage service’s only reading instead of the more traditional King James Bible (KJB) translation caused debate about scripture used "for the times." However, the pedigree is unmistakable and the original translation from 1611 is being heralded and universally celebrated by the church, the country and the world 400 years later. Indeed, the service did include the more traditional-language version in song, prayer and the presence of clergy and venerated the KJB on such a momentous occasion during its 400th anniversary year.

And like the lineage celebrated at The Royal Wedding, the lineage between the King James Bible and its lineal descendant — the New Revised Standard Version — is being recognized and honored by The Saint John’s Bible Committee on Illumination and Text (CIT) in this important anniversary year. Fr. Michael Patella, OSB, chair of the CIT and professor of theology at Saint John’s, is participating in the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) events celebrating the KJB’s 400th anniversary. In addition to presenting at the society’s annual meeting in November 2011, Fr. Michael will participate in the society’s international meeting at King’s College in London in July. He is part of a focus group, “Bible and Visual Culture,” and will present “The King’sDynasty.” His paper explores how and why the KJB determined which biblical passages would receive special treatment at the hands of the calligrapher of The SaintJohn’s Bible, Donald Jackson.

For the paper abstract’s, Fr. Michael wrote: "The King James Bible continues to have a cultural impact on the English speaking world, particularly through those subsequent English versions of the Bible that are descendant translations of the KJB. As a monument to the English language and faith, the KJB has had three revisions over the past four centuries, but none of these editions has been as sweeping as the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV. Fully aware of the NRSV’s royal lineage, the Committee on Illumination and Text for The Saint John’s Bible selected this English translation for its artistic undertaking, and found itself inspired in part by the tradition of the KJB from which it descended.”

In an interview with Fr. Michael, he said many of the passages chosen for illumination by the CIT were selected because they became so well-known as a result of the King James Bible. “We (the CIT) had a lot of free associations. One of the reasons we are familiar with these passages is because of the King James Bible,” he said. "The Christmas story for example. Its eloquence is a result of the King James Bible. That Bible has perpetuated a literary dynasty within our culture that has lasted for 400 years. It’s had an impact on The Saint John’s Bible, because these verses are so well-known. The passages are important not only theologically, but also culturally; they have found a place of honor in the English-speaking world.”

Donald Jackson, SJB artistic director, will also present ”An Illuminated Manuscript: The Saint John’s Bible" at the society’s international meeting at King’s College in London in celebration of the King James Bible. Now that The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition is part of universities’ and colleges’ special collections across the country, a few of these institutions are joining in celebrating the KJB’s anniversary and its lineage by including both bibles in exhibitions and programs. To learn more, visit www.saintjohnsbible/heritage and click on “Follow the Journey."