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When reading the King James Bible, I've noticed that some words are marked with italics. I have yet to discover any pattern, but it seems that all of the marked words are short common English words.

Why is this?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

This is a sign of honesty on the translators' part. The italicized words are interpolations, words that were not in the original documents but were added to the English text. Many of them are there to make things make better grammatical sense in English, but a few of them can actually change the meanings of the passages, so they ought to be examined critically when you run across them.

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See the original KJV 1611 online at:

http://sceti.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=kjbible&PagePosition=77

Click on the radio buttons in the upper right to enlarge the image. Enlarged, you can see the Blackletter type (called Old English today) that all early English Bibles used. The KJV, called the Authorized Version back in 1611, used ROMAN type to distinguish the helping verbs and prepositions which were added to the original Hebrew and Greek texts to make them read better in English. Later printers changed these ROMAN text words to italic type fonts. The italic would be required if the regular text was set in ROMAN type such as the type we are now all used to seeing.

The prologue summarizing each chapter is also in ROMAN type, indicating it too is not part of the original Scripture. The innovation of using ROMAN type to distinguish helping words added to the English translation was the thin pretext by which the Barker family was given an exclusive, new patent to print all Bibles in England.

The other printers howled in protest at Barker getting an exclusive patent to print the Bible in England because they had the right to print Bibles and religious texts under earlier rules. Barker and his financial backers paid 3500 pounds in gold to the Crown for the right to print the Authorized Version.

See "Wide as the Waters" by Benson Bobrick for a great, well-written history of the development of the Bible in English.

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Whenever you deal with translation from one language to another, there are some expressions that just don't make sense in the language into which a text is being translated. For instance, Russian has no articles (a, an, and the). So, if we translated from Russian to English, we have to add articles in to make sentences sound right, even though they aren't in Russian

I am going to store. >> Direct Translation

I am going to the store. >> article added in.

This is essentially what all translators of the Bible have to do. The KJV editions explicitly show where they had to do this with italics, which is certainly nice.

Still, this doesn't show everything that translators have to do, since "ο θεος" (ha theos) is typically how the Greek refers to God. This contains the definite article "the". However, we seldom say "the God", choosing rather to address Him as just "God".

So, the italics are nice in that they show where words have been added to help make the English more like we speak, yet there are places were articles and such have been omitted for the same reason which we can't see.

It's pretty difficult, indeed, to see when a removed word is italicized!

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