Atheist Christopher Hitchens admits admiration for 'timeless' King James Bible

Hitchens is the second atheist, after Richard Dawkins, to laud the KJV in honour of the 400th anniversary of the translation.

The prominent atheist recognised and expressed appreciation for its contribution to English literature.

"Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something 'timeless' in the Tyndale/King James synthesis," said Hitchens in his commentary featured in Vanity Fair.

"For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivalled only by Shakespeare in this respect.

"It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening."

Hitchens is a staunch atheist who often debates Christians on the existence of God. He made the argument that "religion poisons everything" in his book, God Is Not Great, and has repeatedly stated that he would not convert, even on his deathbed - Hitchens is currently battling stage 4 esophageal cancer.

Still, he relented when it came to honouring the King James Bible, which was first published in 1611.

He went further in criticising other translations of the Bible and ongoing attempts to update it.

Offering one comparison, Hitchens cited a passage in the New Testament book of Philippians, which he read at his father's funeral:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (King James Version)

The same passage in the Contemporary English Version states: "Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.”

Hitchens called the contemporary version "pancake-flat" and more suited for "a basement meeting of AA".

"[T]hese words could not hope to penetrate the torpid, resistant fog in the mind of a 16-year-old boy, as their original had done for me," he said in his commentary.

He also rejected the gender neutral language of substituting "brethren" with "my friends", calling it a "slightly ingratiating obeisance".

"[T]to suggest that Saint Paul, of all people, was gender-neutral is to re-write the history as well as to rinse out the prose," Hitchens noted.

Debate over the use of gender neutral language was revived among Christians with the recent debut of the updated New International Version. The first update to the popular NIV in 25 years, the updated version, released last month, includes gender-unspecific singulars and plurals such as "that person" and "they" in place of masculine singulars like "him" or "he".

Amid numerous Bible translations and customised Scriptures, Hitchens lamented the gradual eclipse of the King James Bible.

"A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it 'relevant' is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare," he wrote. "'Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,' says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter?"

In the end, Hitchens' note of praise for the King James Bible was brief and ended with his unwavering belief that "religion is man-made, with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts".