The King James Version Vs. Shakespeare

The influence of the King James Bible is greater than that of of Shakespeare, and it is the reason why the King James Bible is easier to read among members of today’s audiences. It is responsible for many of today’s idioms and phrases, and has had a huge audience since its publishing in 1611. The popularity of the King James Bible has caused its language to become familiar to us because it has influenced the English language itself.

The language of the King James Version (or KJV) is extremely eloquent, and has come down to us through the ages, more so even than Shakespeare. According to David Crystal, the King James Version is responsible for around 257 common idioms used in the English language. This number is double that of Shakespeare. In the modern world people do quote or reference the works of Shakespeare, but these people tend to have studied it to a certain degree. However, idioms from the King James version abound in common everyday language. Phrases such as “a broken heart” (Ps. 34:18), “a two edged sword” (Prov. 5:4), “go the extra mile” (Matt. 5:41), “see eye to eye” (Isai. 52:8), and many more are well-known to almost all English-speakers. One has a greater probability of encountering a King James phrase in everyday life than encountering a phrase from Shakespeare. This is all not to say that Shakespeare has not had a great influence on the English language. Shakespeare has had an absolutely tremendous influence, but the influence of the King James Bible has been greater.

The eloquence of the King James Version has been lost on other more recent publications, such as the English Standard Version of 2001, but the KJV still is more recognizable. In the King James, the extremely well-known verse, Matthew 7:6, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.“, is reworded in the English Standard Version as follows: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Which version seems more familiar? “cast ye your pearls before swine”, or “throw your pearls before pigs”? This is but one of the many examples of the eloquence of the King James Bible which has been lost in later versions. However, the eloquence of the KJV has lasted beyond the modern versions in the simple facet that “pearls before swine” is more recognizable than “pearls before pigs”.

The King James version has had a greater audience than the works of Shakespeare. While Shakespeare has been watched and read by many people for pleasure and for academic study in the English-speaking world, the King James version was read to nearly every single citizen who went to church. Shakespeare was a form of entertainment, while the King James Bible was a necessity. Up until recently, the King James Version was the most widely used Bible in protestant churches. The extensive exposure to this version by the general public has lead to the familiarity that we have with its language.

The reason it is easier to understand the language of the King James Bible over the language of Shakespeare is simply the fact that the King James Bible has had more overall influence. It has given around 257 idioms to the English language, whereas Shakespeare has given roughly half that number. The King James was widely read across protestant circles over the world among common people, while Shakespeare was read for entertainment and study among, at least these days, by the intellectual elite. The King James Version has enjoyed enormous popularity over the centuries, but as its influence wanes in the future, so will the quality of the English language.


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