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You are in church on Sunday morning, and it's time to say the Lord's Prayer. All goes smoothly through, "Give us this day our daily bread." But what comes next? The congregation hesitates. Should we ask forgiveness for "our debts" or for "our trespasses"? If you have ever been in this situation, you know something of what Protestant church life would be like in a world without the King James Version.

By contrast, we experience all the time what the world with the KJV has become, though we don't always realize it. The impact of the KJV on common English is tremendous, and it works on three levels. Many well-known words and phrases from the KJV still sound "biblical": "Alpha and Omega," "Ancient of Days," "graven image," "not live by bread alone," and "seventy times seven," to name a few.

A second level of vocabulary contains expressions that came into common usage because of the KJV, but whose biblical origin is now obscured: "apple of his eye," "city set on a hill," "a house divided," "propitiation," "the quick and the dead," "reap the whirlwind," "scapegoat," and "two-edged sword."

A third level includes words and phrases that most of us would be surprised to learn were fixed in our language because of the KJV—words as common as adoption, advertise, beautiful, feel, fishermen, glory, horror, housetop, mortgaged, mystery, nurse (as verb), scrape, and suburbs.

Almost all of these words and phrases were used in translations before the KJV. But because they appeared in that version, they were in the English language for keeps.

Hesitating during worship and perusing these vocabulary lists raise an intriguing question: What if there had never been a KJV? Or, consider a scenario that comes closer to reality: What would it have ...

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In the Magazine

May 2011

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