The enduring power of a glorious translation

Date Published: Saturday, 14 February 2009

From Times Online, February 14, 2009,By his Maiesties speciall commandement

There will be hosannas and great rejoicing for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible

Michael Binyon

For almost 400 years its words have rung out across pulpits the length and breadth of the country. Its phrases have been on the lips of millions, its cadences the music of English literature. Few translations have been as felicitous, few books as influential.

The Authorised Version of the Bible, known also in America as the King James Version, is arguably one of the greatest works ever published in this country. And a committee has just been set up to ensure that its quatercentenary in 2011 is celebrated with rejoicing, gusto and a host of national commemorations.

Few know who most of the translators were, apart from Bishop Lancelot Andrews, the convener of the group and general editor. In 1604 the newly crowned King assembled a group of scholars at Hampton Court to discuss the controversies that had arisen, especially among the Puritan faction of the Church of England, over earlier translations of the Bible. They decided that a completely new translation was needed, and the King authorised the 47 scholars, all members of the Church, to begin work.

Learned in Greek and Hebrew, steeped in the rhythms of the language of Shakespeare (still then writing plays), they took seven years to complete all the books of the Old Testament (from the Masoretic Hebrew), the New Testament (from Greek) and the Apocrypha (from Greek and, in part, from Latin).

The Bible was intended to replace the Bishops' Bible as the official version for readings in the Church of England. The King's Printer was authorised to issue copies, and it swiftly became the standard lectern Bible in parish use. It was authorised by Act of Parliament and by the first half of the 18th century was the sole version in current use in Protestant churches, supplanting the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English-speaking scholars.

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