It has been called a theologically pure and literary masterpiece for the English-speaking world, the King James Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.
Four independent Baptist pastors from three area churches in Berks, Chester and Lancaster counties have joined forces to celebrate its significance and importance on both doctrinaire and literary grounds.
"My personal conviction in what our church stands for is the belief that the King James Bible is the perfect word of God," said the Rev. Robert L. Russell, 36, pastor of the historic Bible Baptist Church, Exeter Township, founded by 19th-century American evangelist D.L. Moody.
Before Moody took it over, the church, also known as the Baumstown Union Sunday School, had in its congregation the boy Daniel Boone, who grew up to be the widely heralded American frontiersman.
"We only use the King James Bible (often called the Authorized Version)," said Russell, whose church draws 50 to 80 worshippers weekly. "D.L. Moody used only the Authorized Version and we continue to stand on the same conviction."
Russell and three other Baptist ministers - the Rev. Don Hagen, 65, of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, New Holland, Lancaster County; the Rev. Walter E. Shuler, 65, of Gateway Baptist Church, Honey Brook, Chester County; and Shuler's son, the Rev. Jeffrey Shuler, 43 - recently met in Russell's church to talk of upcoming events to spotlight the King James Bible.
"The King James Bible for Protestants was the standard Bible until about the mid 1900s," Hagen said, noting that now there are roughly 300 Bible versions published, many of them opting for simplified language as well as modifying or deleting certain sections from the King James Bible.
"God is not an author of confusion," the elder Shuler said in defending the purity of the King James.
"Faith comes by hearing the word of God," added Russell, "If you don't have the word of God, you can have no faith and it becomes impossible to please God,"
Russell said that the King James Bible derives from what is known as the textus receptus (received texts) in Greek and Hebrew translations that date back to original writings of prophets and apostles upon hearing the word of God.
Its preparation was authorized by England's King James I (1603-1625) and translated by about 50 scholars.
Today's wide variety of revised Bibles, which the independent Baptists view as perversions of the original King James Bible, stem from what they view as corrupted writings in Alexandrian, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus texts as well as mystical gnostic writings that date from 300 A.D. to 500 A.D., hundreds of years after Christ, according to Russell.
"We believe we are saved by the word of God, and so the language has meaning and power for us," Hagen said. "You really shouldn't be adding or taking away from the Bible (as doctrine) because it is a foundation text."
Historically, the authorized King James Bible, which was believed to have preserved God's words in the English-speaking Protestant world, was available for the literate to read without a priest intermediary.
While the Baptists primarily stress the importance of the King James Bible for doctrinal reasons, they also recognize its power in the secular world as "magnificent," "a literary masterpiece," words used to describe it by the likes of the playwright George Bernard Shaw and World War II English Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The antiquity of its words, its poetry, idioms and expressions enhance the majesty and power of the book, according to the pastors.
"You should not change Shakespeare to make it easier, so the same is true with the beauty that exists in the King James Bible," Hagen said.
So imbedded and interwoven in Western culture is the biblical language of King James that common expressions such as "the handwriting on the wall," "a fly in the ointment, "the powers that be" or "the salt of the earth" may not even be recognized by some as coming from the King James Bible.
The religious defenders of the Authorized Version believe profitable publishing concerns and pressures of political correctness have all worked to undermine the holy book over the years, a book that Hagen described as "changing lives while influencing the history of our own great country."