A Study of the King James Version of the Bible HTML version
THE KING JAMES VERSION AS ENGLISH LITERATURE
LET it be plainly said at the very first that when we speak of the literary phases of
the Bible we are not discussing the book in its historic meaning. It was never
meant as literature in our usual sense of the word. Nothing could have been
further from the thought of the men who wrote it, whoever they were and
whenever they wrote, than that they were making a world literature. They had the
characteristics of men who do make great literature-- they had clear vision and a
great passion for truth; they loved their fellows mightily, and they were far more
concerned to be understood than to speak. These are traits that go to make great
writers. But it was never in their minds that they were making a world literature.
The Bible is a book of religious significance from first to last. If it utterly broke
down by the tests of literature, it might be as great a book as it needs to be. It is a
subordinate fact that by the tests of literature it proves also to be great. Prof.
Gardiner, of Harvard, whose book called The Bible as English Literature makes
other such works almost unnecessary, frankly bases his judgment on the result
of critical study of the Bible, but he serves fair warning that he takes inspiration
for granted, and thinks it "obvious that no literary criticism of the Bible could hope
for success which was not reverent in tone. A critic who should approach it
superciliously or arrogantly would miss all that has given the Book its power as
literature and its lasting and universal appeal." Farther over in his book he
goes on to say that when we search for the causes of the feelings which made
the marvelous style of the Bible a necessity, explanation can make but a short
step, for "we are in a realm where the only ultimate explanation is the fact of
inspiration; and that is only another way of saying that we are in the presence of
forces above and beyond our present human understanding."
 Preface, p. vii.
 Page 124.
However, we may fairly make distinction between the Bible as an original work
and the Bible as a work of English literature. For the Bible as an original work is
not so much a book as a series of books, the work of many men working
separately over a period of at least fifteen hundred years, and these men
unconscious for the most part of any purpose of agreement. This series of books
is made one book in the original by the unity of its general purpose and the
agreement of its parts. The Bible in English is, however, not a series of books,
but properly one book, the work of six small groups of men working in conscious
unity through a short period of years. And while there is variation in style, while
there are inequalities in result, yet it stands as a single piece of English literature.
It has a literary style of its own, even though it feels powerfully the Hebrew