CH 6 influence of King James Bible on English.

(Short History of the English Language)

The Good Samaritan

By Richard K. Munro

The King James Bible was published in 1611 and is the most influential English book of all time.  We all know many words that are ultimately Hebrew words such as amen, behemoth (monster),cherub (angel), hallelujah, jubilee, rabbi, Sabbath, seraph (angel), shekel (money), Satan[1]   Many Hebrew or Yiddish words have entered via American English: such as nosh (to snack), meshughe  (crazy), mavin (expert), shiksa (non-Jewish girl), chutzpah (nerve, audacity)[2],goy (gentile person; non-Jew) goyim (plural), nudnik (pest; idiot); schmooze (gossip) and mensch[3] (a real man of honor, a decent, responsible person).   The Bible has often given us many metaphors and allusions such as “David and Goliath”, “ The Good Samaritan”, The Prodigal Son”, “A City on a Hill,” “a Flaming sword”, “Sodom and Gomorrah”, “Love thy Neighbor”, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to list a few. .   Lincoln, FDR, Churchill and Kennedy often quoted the Bible.  Matthew Arnold read the Bible, not as a Christian but as literature and poetry. Churchill himself said, “English literature is a glorious inheritance in the English language and in its great writers are great riches and treasures, of which of course the Bible and Shakespeare stand alone on the highest platform.”[4]In May 1908 Churchill said in Scotland of the broad­ness and diver­sity of the British Commonwealth:

Cologne Cathe­dral took 600 years to build. Gen­er­a­tions of archi­tects and builders lived and died while the work was in progress….So let it be with the British Com­mon­wealth. Let us build wisely, let us build surely, let us build faith­fully, let us build, not for the moment but for future years, seek­ing to estab­lish here below what we hope to find above—a house of many man­sions, where there shall be room for all.[5]

Of course this is from John, Chap­ter 14, “ Let not your heart be trou­bled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many man­sions…”  Later during the darkest days of WWII, Churchill found use of these fine words again, this time to assure via radio to Europeans crushed beneath the wheel of Nazi tyranny that their day of deliverance and liberation would come:

The day will come when the joy­bells will ring again through­out Europe, and when vic­to­ri­ous nations, mas­ters not only of their foes, but of them­selves, will plan and build in jus­tice, in tra­di­tion, and in free­dom, a house of many man­sions where there will be room for all[6]

Biblical poetry uses vivid images, similes, metaphors, and other rhetorical devices to communicate thoughts and feelings.  The Psalms in particular have been called “the pastoral heart of England”.[7]   For centuries they were among the best known poems in the English-speaking world and of course throughout the West in Latin and in other vernacular tongues.    Repetition and parallelism are literary devices used very effectively in the psalms.  In synonymous parallelism there is a repetition of the same idea with different words: “Hear my crying O God: Give ear unto my prayer.”   In antithetical parallelism there is contrast:  “A merry heart doth good like medicine: But a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

Here are some other famous examples:

Simile (the simplest of all the figures of speech in which there is a comparison to two different things that resemble each other in some way using like or as.  The poem says I have self-control like a young child carried by its mother and that I am content and safe in your love like that child.

           Example 1: Psalm 131

131 Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.  {SIMILE}

Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.[8]

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another without the use of a word of comparison as in “like” or “as.”   Psalm 23 is filled with rich figurative language. Here the poet says God is “a shepherd” who protects his flock of sheep.   God is not literally a “shepherd” but is compared to a shepherd because of his patience, his care, his love, his constancy, his protection.

  Example2 : Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {METAPHOR}

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Hyperbole  This is the use of exaggeration to stress a point.  No matter how great the storm ships do not literally get blown up into heaven and sailors may be taxed to the point of exhaustion but their “souls do not actually melt” though this is a metaphor for their sweat, tears and supreme effort.  Note also the very memorable language (often quoted): “down to the sea in ships…” and “at their wit’s end.”

 Example 3: Psalm  107


23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.  {HYPERBOLE}

27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.


Rhetorical question: A question to which no answer is expected but is used for rhetorical effect.

 Example 4: Psalm 106

Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can shew forth all his praise?  {RHETORICAL QUESTION}

Antithesis: a figure of speech in which sharply contrasting ideas are juxtaposed in a balanced or parallel phrase or grammatical structure.  The warlike youth (the “young lions” will not find glory but want and hunger; the righteous God-fearing person will not want for the good things in life.

 Example 5 :Psalm 34

10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.    { ANTITHESIS}

        Life is a mystery as a medieval copyist wrote “omnia exeunt in mysterium[9] (all things vanish into mystery. Man proposes but God disposes; no one can predict the right season for anything.  No man is master of the line of his life. It is beyond human knowledge to know.  We can control some things but there is always chance, evil and death; our bodies are fragile, mortal vessels.    Note the use of repetition: “A time to…”  A distinctive feature of the Bible is the prodigious extent to which what is called parallelism prevails in it, that is a literary device by which similar or contrasting ideas are expressed by various forms of antithesis. 

 Example 6  Ecclesiastes 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; { Contrast/antithesis}

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

            The author in Ecclesiastes 3 sees the intractability of injustice in the world.The heart knows that history is not meaningless, but is frustrated in its efforts to discern the pattern of events.   We are all mortal, like the animals of the field, nonetheless the distinction between the good men and evil men is not obliterated by death but in the end everyone will come before the “Great Judge” for final judgment.  Being a man may have its advantages over being an animal and being wise may have its advantages over being foolish yet like many streams flowing out to a great ocean death is a great equalizer. It is a certain fate awaiting all living beings be they good or evil.   Yet even with death we should not lose hope. The physical body will return to dust but the immortal soul shall be joined with God. The following reading, Ecclesiastes 3, was dear to President John F. Kennedy and it was read at his funeral along with excerpts from his speeches as well as his complete inaugural address.  Mrs. Kennedy, who was very composed during most of the state funeral, visibly wept in the church upon hearing it and the music that followed.[10]There is no question that President Kennedy’s murder shocked the American people and the world. It seemed to come “out of season” as it was just days before his son’s third birthday, just days before Thanksgiving and only five weeks before Christmas.  Death came like a thief in the night reminding us all that “sergeant death is strict in his arrest.”[11] 
File:Stamp US 1964 5c Kennedy.jpg

[1] Satan is Hebrew, Demon is Greek and Devil is Latin.  Lucifer is Latin.

[2]  Some one once said the definition of chutzpah is when a boy who murdered both his parents asked the judge for mercy on the ground that he was an orphan!

[3] What the Scots would call a :”leal n’ true mon” and the Spanish un hombre de bien un hombre de honor

[4] James C. Humes The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill p 33. Mr. Dooley of course disagreed he said, in Finley Peter Dunne’s Irish dialect “They’re on’y three books in th’ wurruld worth readin’ –Shakespeare, th’ Bible, an Mike Ahearns histhry iv Chicago.  I have Shakespeare on thrust, Father Kelley r-reads th’ Bible f’r me, an’ I didn’t buy Mike Ahearn’s histhry because I seen more thin he cud put into it. Mr. Dooley in Peace and War, p 66


[6] Broad­cast, Lon­don, 20 Jan­u­ary 1940. Blood Sweat and Tears, 254.

[7] Paul  Johnson, The Quest for God, 1996 p 190.


[9] Gilbert Highet, Man’s Unconquerable Mind (1954) p.35

[10] Shortly afterwards Mrs. Kennedy requested an eternal flame for her husband’s grave.  She drew inspiration from the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris which she had visited with President Kennedy in 1961. [10] In addition, the flame itself is an indirect allusion to Camelot; the fourth book of the Once and Future King by T. H. White is called The Candle in the Wind.   The book was the basis of the popular 1960 Broadway musical Camelot which they had seen together in happier times and whose cast recording they often played during quiet evenings together.

[11] Shakespeare, Hamlet  Act V scene ii. Kennedy was buried two weeks from the day he last had visited Arlington on Veteran’s Day November 11, 1963.