In the United States, the King James Version of the Bible elicits mixed emotions from Christians, all the way from extreme loyalty to distaste. But in British cathedrals like Holy Trinity, it has special meaning Americans might not fully grasp.
Four hundred years ago, it was the Gospel that brought to the British people in their heart language widely for the first time.
"It was devised to be read by churches in both England and Scotland," said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. "It is one of the first things made by the whole island to be used by the whole island."
And the whole island -- churches, organizations, even the BBC -- is celebrating the 400th anniversary with a yearlong slate of events.
"Undoubtedly the Authorised Version has had a huge impact on the life of the nation, shaping our culture and even the language itself," Jenkins said. "But even more importantly, this celebration gives the churches a great opportunity to convey the living Word of God afresh to a nation where there is now so much ignorance of Scripture."
And, he said, it gives his church the chance to focus on the looming need worldwide -- the "islands" that, 400 years after the KJV, still need the Bible in their own languages.
The need is about 340 million people speaking 2,078 languages, to be exact. These hundreds of millions of people don't even have Bible translation programs started in their languages, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators.
That's why Andrew Lancaster*, who has a degree in Bible translation and is headed to serve overseas, has a passion to see the need met.
"Why is it that there are now hundreds of English translations of the Bible, yet more than 2,000 languages of the world do not even have one word of it? English versions are produced left and right while thousands are dying without having ever had access to the Word of God," Lancaster said.
Something needs to be done about this injustice, he said.
"If the efforts spent toward new English versions were redirected to translating Scripture into languages that have nothing, imagine what could be accomplished," Lancaster said. "There are people who would pay a month's wages, sell all they have or go to any number of extreme measures to experience the luxury of owning even one Bible in their language."
Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, said the task of translation is urgent.
"We are committed to providing access to the Good News of the Gospel for all peoples as rapidly as we can," Creson said. "We feel an urgency to make Scripture available sooner rather than later, so that millions will not pass into eternity without ever knowing God. Bible translation is a means for God's Word to transform lives, and unlike ever before, it is possible that in this generation people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be reached in their own language."
The biggest need lies in Sub-Saharan Africa, Papua New Guinea and Asia, according to Wycliffe.
"Learn about the needs of this world," Lancaster said. "Learn about the people groups without the Word of God."
Four hundred years ago, the King James Version translators saw the British people's need and met it. Why? The translators wrote to the reader that "translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light, that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel."
So many more are waiting for illumination, Lancaster said. "Pray for those without Bibles and for those involved with getting Bibles to them. Give your life in some capacity to seeing this work accomplished."
*Name has been changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in London.
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