| There is no
better English written this side of Shakespeare than that in the King
James Translation. - Charlton Heston
The 'Englishing'of The
Bible has a long and fascinating history involving both religious and
governmental politics. The term 'Englishing' was coined in the latter
half of 16th century when so many different English versions of The
Bible were appearing in the British Isles culminating in the authorised
version of scripture better known as the King James Version of 1611.
A very great obstacle to
an early English translation of the Bible was the mixing and blending of
languages on the Isles of Britain. Christianity entered Britain sometime
in the latter half of the second century. However, it did not take root
until three or four centuries later. Ireland became the rich, fertile
ground for the growth and expression of the Christian Church. Its
progress there was so steady that by the sixth century, Christianity had
spread into Scotland and Northern England. During this period, few could
read or write. It was the intense preaching of the Gospel by the
educated monks and their students that brought about the extension of
Christianity throughout Britain.
At that particular point
of time, Latin was the language of the church's worship. Its version of
the scriptures was also in Latin ? the Old Latin MSS. (Old Latin was a
translation from the Septuagint Greek Scriptures of the Old Testament
and not from Hebrew). The New Testament was based on various Greek
Jerome (342 ? 420) was
commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 AD to revise the Old Latin Version
of the Gospels. He used a Greek MS as the basis of his revision but did
not complete the rest of the New Testament. Jerome's version, known as
the Vulgate, was widely used in the rest and this version replaced the
Old Latin MSS. As, the Vulgate superceded the Old Latin Version, the
latter lost its authority in the Church.
In the middle of the 7th
century, the earliest beginning of an English Bible (if one could call
it such) made its appearance. Bede (673-735 AD), the great Anglo-Saxon
Biblical Scholar and 'Father of English History', was the first known
individual to render certain Biblical subjects into the Anglo-Saxon
tongue beginning with the Creation Story.
Aldhelm, Abbot of
Malmesbury and the first Bishop of Sherborne, became the first known
translator of the Psalms into Anglo-Saxon English. Richard Rolle of
Hampole (1300-1349 AD) translated the Psalms into Middle English.
His contemporary William
of Shoreham also translated several Psalms into Anglo-Saxon English. The
translations of Richard Rolle and William initiated a strong craving
throughout Great Britain for more translations of the Bible.
The movement for
translation received a setback in 1199 when Pope Innocent III declared
the following: 'The secret mysteries of the faith ought not to be
explained to all men in all places, since they cannot be everywhere
understood by men'.
Thus the Roman Catholic
Church was keen on ensuring that vernacular translations of the Bible
were forbidden. But despite these declarations of Papal Powers, the
progress of English translations of the Bible could not be stopped.
Common people in England were filled with a desire to drink of the
fountains of spiritual knowledge that had been hidden from them by those
in authority in the Roman Catholic Church.
John Wycliffe, scholar and
lecturer at Oxford, translated the Bible from Latin into English in
1382. His translation was stilted and mechanical. The language of his
work, a Midland dialect, did not represent the central strand of
development in English. Wycliffe's version needed revision and it was
undertaken not long after his death in 1384. Archbishop Arundel wrote to
the Pope in Rome in 1412: 'John Wycliffe that wretched and pestilent
fellow of damnable memory, the very herald and child of anti-Christ, who
crowned his wickedness by translating the scriptures into his mother
tongue'. This clearly shows that the Pope in Rome was against the growth
of the enlightenment even in the field of Christian religion.
(1494-1536) was bundled out of England by the Church for his attempts to
translate the Bible into English. He crossed over to the continent and
became another great translator of the Bible into English. He was a
Greek scholar and had access to the Greek text of Erasmus and other
Biblical writings which John Wycliffe did not possess. William Tyndale
was martyred by the Church even before he completed the translation of
the Old Testament.
(1488-1568), a friend of Tyndale, translated the Bible into English
making use of Tyndale's work and some Latin versions. Then came the
complete version of the Bible in English by Thomas Mathew in 1539, known
as THE GREAT BIBLE. Thomas Mathew was pseudonym for John Rogers
(1500-1555). He was the first British Protestant Martyr under Mary Queen
During the rule of Mary
Queen of Scots, many Protestant Scholars took refuge in Geneva. Thus, in
1560, the Geneva Bible came into existence. It is interesting to note
that the Geneva Bible was the English translation which the Puritans
took with them to America. The notes and annotations of the Geneva Bible
were strongly Protestant and leaned heavily towards Calvinism (John
(1564-1616) quoted the Geneva Bible in his works. It was after
meditation on the Geneva Translation that John Bunyan wrote his famous Pilgrims'
King James I of England
ordered in 1603 that a 'New Revision' be made of the Bishop's Bible then
in vogue in England. This work was immediately begun by 47 scholars
under the authorisation of King James I. In 1611 the new version was
The King James Version (KJV)
is an English translation of the Holy Bible which was commissioned for
the benefit of the Church of England at the behest of King James I of
England. First published in 1611, it has had a profound impact not only
on most English translations that have followed it, but also on English
literature as a whole.
The works of famous
authors such as John Bunyan, John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden,
and William Wordsworth are replete with inspiration apparently derived
from the King James Version. Great men in literature and history were
influenced by the style of the Authorised Version of the Bible of 1611.
The English prose style and writings of Edward Gibbon, Macauley, John
Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, R W Emerson, Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, William
Ewart Gladstone, Lord Curzon, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi were
all influenced by this edition of the Bible.
King James I's
dissatisfaction with the Geneva Bible's puritanism led to the creation
of the King James Bible.
Though often referred to
as the Authorised Version (AV) or the Authorised Standard Version (ASV),
it was never officially sanctioned by the English monarchy or the
clerical hierarchy of the Church of England. It is no longer in
copyright in most parts of the world but is under perpetual Crown
copyright in the United Kingdom. The King James Version, despite its
age, is largely comprehensible to the average reader today. It is
considered to be an instrumental founding block of early modern English,
and remains one of the most widely-read literary works of all time.
King James Authorized
Version of the Bible (1611) has dominated the field of English life and
literature for nearly 400 years. What is the secret source of its power
and influence? This can be answered in the following words of Cooke, a
'Among the qualifications
of a good translator, the first, undoubtedly, is that he shall be
penetrated by a sense of the surpassing value of his original and a
corresponding sense of the importance of his task. This will preserve
him from flippancy and meanness, by imbuing him with earnestness and
humility. It will make him ready to follow wherever he is led by the
text, and will prevent him from preening himself upon prettiness of
phrase, or any fancies of his own.
Such a translator will
strive with all his might after fidelity to word and sense, and after
the utmost clearness and simplicity of rendering, avoiding, on the one
hand, the trivial, and on the other, the ornate or pompous. He will
conform to the genius of his own tongue while endeavouring to transfer
to it the treasures of another; and, besides possessing naturally, he
will cultivate, in every proper way, a high sensitiveness to that music
of the phrase, which, in the case of the Bible, is but another name for
the music of the heart'.