The King James Bible and the Book Of Common Prayer (May 2013)

The speaker at the May meeting of the Ashbourne Heritage Society was Charles Wimbush and his subject was The King James Bible and the Book Of Common Prayer.  Charles started his talk by assuring us there would be no power-point presentation and his only visual aids were a copy of the King James Bible and one of the Book of Common Prayer.  These were no ordinary copies. The bible dated from 1615 and the prayer book was from the 18th Century.

His talk was to be about words – the language of these two books. We speak as do because of an accumulation of many things such as education, good or bad, the Oxford English Dictionary and yes, The King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

We may not realise how many expressions in common usage come from these two books. The latest form of language is, of course, tweeting and texting – a long way from the language in the two books under review.  However, language must grow and Mr Wimbush explained how the Oxford English Dictionary admits a certain number of new words each year (though some are also removed).  Two of the 2012 words were bling and dogsbody.

In some established works good words and phrases ‘go missing.’ Even hymnals are edited for political correctness or ‘simplification.’

The book of Common Prayer was commissioned by King Edward VI and by Act of Parliamment was the only authorised liturgy to be used in the Church of England.  The act was repealed by Queen Mary I (a catholic) and re-instated by Queen Elizabeth I.  It was first published in 1549 and written in a style to provide ‘plain common language.’  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was its first editor and he wrote many of the collects and prayers. It was revised and reissued in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II and remained virtually unchanged until the 20th Century. The published price in 1662 was 2s 2d (approximately 11p).

The authorised version of The King James Bible was published in 1611 and is a model of the English Language. It contains no new words, unlike Shakespeare who introduced 2,000 new words to our language. However it does contain expressions that we use every day, probably without realising where they are from.  To quote a few: “Peace in our time” from the service of Morning Prayer and used, unfortunately in 1938 by Neville Chamberlain on his return from Munich. “At death’s door,” Psalm 107; “in the twinkling of an eye” is from 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.

There are several modern interpretations of the Bible but all are found wanting when measured again the language of the King James version.

Mr Wimbush quoted many well-known personalities who have found inspiration in these two books. These are just a few: writer Stephen O’Brien, poet Andrew Motion, author and television presenter Jeremy Paxman and, unsurprisingly, Rowam Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is a final thought: every ship and boat has a King James Bible in its inventory.

This talk was not what was expected. It was not a history of these two books, but about the language used and its influence through to the present day.   Mr Wimbush’s obvious enjoyment in the language was plain to see and hear. Not only a defender of the faith, but also of its language.