In 1604, England’s King James I authorized a new translation of the Bible aimed at settling some thorny religious differences in his kingdom—and solidifying his own power.
But in seeking to prove his own supremacy, King James ended up democratizing the Bible instead. Thanks to emerging printing technology, the new translation brought the Bible out of the church’s sole control and directly into the hands of more people than ever before, including the Protestant reformers who settled England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.
Emerging at a high point in the English Renaissance, the King James Bible held its own among some of the most celebrated literary works in the English language (think William Shakespeare). Its majestic cadences would inspire generations of artists, poets, musicians and political leaders, while many of its specific phrases worked their way into the fabric of the language itself.
Even now, more than four centuries after its publication, the King James Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version, or simply the Authorized Version) remains the most famous Bible translation in history—and one of the most printed books ever.