Celebrate KJV 400: Can you tell Bard from Bible?

Journalists have been covering the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible for months—and there’s a lot more to come throughout the year. One of the first writers to celebrate the anniversary was veteran religion newswriter Bill Tammeus, who pointed out the importance of the KJV was in making the Bible “available to many people whose contact with scripture generally was limited to a few verses read in church each Sunday.”

Bill also pointed out two major cautionary notes about the venerable KJV: This certainly wasn’t the “first English translation” of the Bible. In fact, this “authorized” Bible was a direct rebuff of other translation efforts floating around Europe at the time. And, second, as Bill puts it: “The KJV, whatever its many virtues, does not now represent the best available translation.”

Nevertheless, the KJV was an enormous milestone in shaping the English language—including lots of evocative lines that, to this day, millions of men and women call upon to talk about their spiritual lives. As Stan Malless and Jeff McQuain point out so well in their wonderful little book, Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in English Translations of the Bible, the KJV forever changed the way we talk about ourselves and our world.

However, there was another “enormous milestone” in “English language” in that same era! We’re referring to the plays and poetry penned by the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. We inherited so many great lines from this era that we sometimes mix up the origins of our most powerful phrases, don’t we? TODAY, in kicking off an entire week of surprising stories about the 400th anniversary of the KJV, we invite you to test your memory with …

Quiz: The Bard or the Bible?
Who Came Up with the Famous Phrase?

Below, you’ll find 10 words or phrases. Half of them were introduced into the English language through the creativity of early Bible translators. The other half are from the Bard—and, to keep things within a manageable scale, we’ll limit the Shakespearean phrases to a single play: Hamlet. Your quest is to identify which 5 are from the Bible—and which 5 are from the text of Hamlet.

Try to answer all 10—then, scroll further in today’s story and you’ll find the answers. So, please don’t read too far ahead today, if you don’t want to spoil the fun!


    1.) Apple of his eye.

    2.) Blind lead the blind.

    3.) City set on a hill.

    4.) Pluck out the heart.

    5.) Confess yourself to heaven.

    6.) Eat, drink and be merry.

    7.) Get thee behind me, Satan.

    8.) Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

    9.) Passing through nature to eternity.

    10.) The rest is silence.


1.) Bible. It’s first usage was in Deuteronomy 32:10: He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.

2.) Bible. From Matthew 15:14: Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

3.) Bible. Matthew again was the birthplace of the phrase, slightly revised over time, that’s now common political coin. In 5:14: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

4.) Shakespeare verbally sent us down this horrific path, perhaps softened by those who, later, preferred only to pluck the heartstrings.

5.) It’s a timeless religious idea, but the phrase was from Shakespeare—not early Bibles.

6.) Bible. Yes, this one surely sounds Shakespearean—he reveled in this stuff—but it’s from Luke 12:19: And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

7.) Bible. Matthew once more! This time 16:23: But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. (If you guessed it was Shakespeare, you may have been thinking of his line, “Get thee to a nunnery!”)

8.) You might want to reach for Benjamin Franklin as an answer for No. 8—but he’s not an option here! There are countless “wisdom” passages in the Bible—but this one also arose from Shakespeare’s pen.

9.) And so we are, often inspired by Shakespeare’s reflections. The phrase came from his pen.

10.) Thus ends our quiz! The 4-word sentence is truly biblical in its poetic theme—but it was also from the pen of the Bard.

How’d you do?
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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