THE AUTHORIZED VERSION OF THE HOLY BIBLE AS A FORMULARY
By V. Francis Knight
The current Authorized Version of the Holy Bible (AV) is the English translation of the Christian Scriptures first published in 1611 during the reign of King James I of England, and appointed to be read publically in the Church. Though it has been revised a number of times (the most radical changes being made in 1881-1894), it is the 1769 revision of the Church of England divine Dr. Benjamin Blayney which serves as the basis for modern printings, including those produced under Royal License by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This version is commonly known in America today as "The King James Bible" or "The King James Version" (KJV).
The Authorized Version may be the most popular and widely read version of the Holy Bible in any language, but it has a special significance to Anglicans: it is our version of the Bible. That is, like the other formularies of the Church of England, it stands as a witness of our Church to the orthodox Christian faith we maintain.
The Authorized Version declares to us and the world two very important things. It tells us what our Church professes to constitute the Holy Bible; that is, the books of the Old Testament and New Testament in "the original tongues" (see its preface). The Authorized Version also provides within its pages a version of that Holy Bible translated into our own tongue, and in so doing it gives us a testimony to the Church's received understanding of those books.
It can hardly be imagined that any church has done more than the Anglican Church to promote the end that Christian men and women learn the sacred tongues of Hebrew and Greek, and read the Holy Scriptures for themselves. Yet, it has never taught that they do so in isolation from the wisdom of those saints of the Church who have gone before.
There are those who give various reasons as to why the Authorized Version is the best translation, or how it is from the best texts; but it can hardly be imagined that the work of even the best English divines of the 17th century could supplant the value and authority of the very words of the Prophets and Apostles themselves. It is not perfection, or suitability as a substitute for the original texts, which gives the Authorized Version value (as it is wholly lacking in both these regards); but rather it is something altogether different.
The Authorized Version gives to us something else which is precious: it gives to us the voice of the Church of all ages as expressed in our own English language. When we read in Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," it is not the best text which lies before us, nor the most advanced opinions in the field of Biblical linguistics, but rather the age-old teaching of our Church; that is, our Christian tradition.
In so much as the Authorized Version represents tradition and not the Holy Scriptures themselves, it is surely subject to correction by them, as is all the tradition of the Church which has at various times and places fallen into great corruption and distortion. This being the case, it is surely beneficial for English-speaking Christians to utilize the great number of recent efforts to render the Biblical text into a better English; yet at the same time there can hardly be any benefit to leaving off use of what preceded them all.
Whether we read the Holy Scriptures alone, by ourselves under a tree, or we consult the best scholars available every time we open our Bible, it is still comforting to know that we have the option of simply picking up a copy of the Authorized Version and reading the Bible along with the Anglican Church which has come before us, and in which we as individuals stand as little more than some of its recent members.
We Anglicans are people of the Book, and the Authorized Version stands to the world as a visible symbol of our blessed heritage. This historic English Bible is a special gift from God which ought to be valued and esteemed along with the other great treasures which God graciously poured upon our people during the reformation of our Church in the 16th and 17th centuries. When we seek to be taught by the Church, the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible should not be our last stop in that effort, but rather our starting point.