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17 November 2011

Celebrating the Bible at Westminster Abbey

Celebrating the Bible at Westminster Abbey

Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, patron of The Kings James Bible Trust, were among those who gathered at the Abbey at noon on 16 November for a Service of Celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

Summing up the reason for the service, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster and Trustee of the King James Bible Society said: "We celebrate the impact of the work on our understanding of the great story the Bible tells of God's persistent and generous love for His creation and for His people. We acknowledge with gratitude the work's lasting influence on our national language and culture."

The King James Bible was the work of 54 scholars who were commissioned by King James I to produce a Bible that would forge unity between Scotland and England. Since its first reading - in Westminster Abbey - in 1611 this translation has had global significance. Its translators coined phrases that we still use today, such as 'signs of the times', 'a law unto themselves', 'from strength to strength' and 'the writing on the wall'.

The service included elements from the various initiatives that have taken place in this special anniversary year. Among them 'The Crossing', a response to Exodus, was dramatically performed. This is part of an epic collaboration, Sixty-Six Books, which brought together 66 internationally renowned writers to give their response to each book of the Bible. The opening hymn's words were written especially for the occasion, while a winning composition from the Trust's Composition Awards from earlier in the year was performed - 'Out of the South Cometh the Whirlwind' by Zachary Wadsworth.

A procession of original copies of the King James Bible was taken to the altar, as was a bound copy of Genesis from The People's Bible. This, the first ever digital handwritten Bible, has been created around the country in the last five months by thousands of people, including the Prince of Wales who wrote the first two verses.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams looked at 'What is a good translation?' in his address, indicating that the scholars who worked on the King James Bible made clear in its preface that they never intended it to be an ideal and final translation. He said it gives its readers the "invitation to read again and to probe and reflect with the text" - that the work for the reader begins once they start grappling with the meaning of the text. He talked of the clumsiness of the language reflecting when the original writers, such as Moses and Paul, first sought to put into words "something of the joyful mystery of the vision they had captured from above". He said the 1611 translators made "no attempt to smooth over the stumbling of the original" and that is as it should be. They provide us with a sense of the "sheer density and almost unbearable weight of God's love".

Various people led prayers of thanksgiving including Elaine Duncan, chief executive of the Scottish Bible Society, who prayed: "Let us praise God for the grace to continue to fashion our lives according to His will and for the opportunities we are given each day to love and serve Him in the light of Holy Scripture and in the name of Christ, His living Word."

Photos courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.