WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Whether or not you use the King James translation of the Bible for your devotional reading, preaching or comparative study, there is no denying the impact that early English translation Bible has had in the Christian universe for four centuries.
Wake Forest University School of Divinity observed the 400th anniversary of the ubiquitous, poetic, still best-selling Bible translation in several ways in October, including hosting a rare exhibition of ancient King James Bibles and a psalm sing featuring the school’s own choir combined with those of six area churches on Oct. 30.
The “God’s Sacred Word Among Us” exhibit of ancient Bibles is open on campus in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library Rare Books Collection through January 2012.
The exhibit includes Bibles dating to 1546 and features a 1611 first edition folio King James Bible, some of the first Bibles printed in North America, and examples of artistic and technological innovation inspired by the Bible’s publication and representative of milestones in book design.
“The King James Bible was first published in 1611 and remains one of the most influential books in the English speaking world,” said Gail R. O’Day, dean of the School of Divinity. “It has shaped Christian piety and practice for centuries, yet its influence also extends beyond the religious sphere. Hundreds of English idioms, more than any other single source including Shakespeare, were popularized in the King James Bible and are still used today. ‘Feet of clay’ and ‘reap the whirlwind’ are two examples.”
For the first time ever choirs and organists from several Winston-Salem congregations – First Baptist Church, Augsburg Lutheran Church, Centenary United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church joined the divinity school’s choirs to combine voices in a celebration of psalms.
Some of the musical arrangements were written by Michael Morgan, organist at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Ga., whose own rare Bibles collection and lectures drew rave reviews from local clergy and patrons. Morgan’s collection, valued at well over a million dollars, included Bible translations that preceded the King James and his lectures revealed some of the politically-motivated margin notes inserted as nods to particular patrons.
Norman Jameson ([email protected]) is assistant dean for development at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is a former contributing writer for the Religious Herald.