This post originally appeared on austenauthors.net sometime in 2011, but I thought it was worth another look.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is not the only book having a big anniversary this year. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible beats Austen out by 200 years. This translation of the Bible sponsored by the Church of England was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611 in response to problems with earlier translations as detected by the Puritans, a cranky lot who found fault with everything. The translation was undertaken by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. The New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin.
Now for the interesting part. The Authorized Version’s acceptance by the general public did not happen overnight. Biblical scholar, Hugh Broughton, the most highly regarded English Hebraist of his time (but who had been excluded from the panel of translators because of his uncongenial temperament), chimed in with his opinion of the completed work: “I would rather be torn in pieces by wild horses than that this abominable translation should ever be foisted upon the English people.” Fortunately, for him, no one could find any wild horses.
A primary concern of the translators was to produce a Bible that would be appropriate, dignified and resonant in public reading. Hence, in a period of rapid linguistic change, they avoided contemporary idioms, tending instead towards forms that were already slightly archaic, like “thee and thou,” “verily” and “it came to pass.” The translators also tended to enliven their text with stylistic variation, finding multiple English words or verbal forms in places where the original language employed repetition. In other words, they used a thesaurus.
There are so many phrases that we use in everyday language that come from this translation. Here are a few of them from Matthew:
Man shall not live by bread alone. (4:4)
The salt of the earth (5:13)
The light of the world (5:14)
Turn the other cheek. (5:39)
O ye of little faith (6:30)
Seek and ye shall find. (7:7)
Every kingdom divided against itself shall not stand. (12:25)
The blind lead the blind. (15:14)
The signs of the times (16:3)
Take up the cross. (16:24)
Suffer little children (19:14)
The last shall be first, and the first last. (20:16)
Out of the mouth of babes (21:16)
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (26:41)
As a Catholic, I did not grow up with the Protestant King James’ Version of the Bible, but I know a stylistic masterpiece when I read it. British Theologian, F. W. Haber, said it best: [The King James Version of the Bible] lives on the ear, like music that can never be forgotten, like the sound of church bells, which the convert hardly knows how he can forego. Scholars may argue about the accuracy of the translation of the King James's Version, but it would be hard to find a more beautiful one. Happy Anniversary!
Compiled from on-line sources including Wikipedia as well as The History of the English Language by Professor Seth Lerer, The Teaching Company.