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Pause for Thought on 'The Authorised Version of the Bible'

Tuesday 5th July 2011

The Archbishop reflects on the translations of the Bible and 'God's love affair with humanity' on BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Programme with Chris Evans. His Pause for Thought follows...

This year we’re celebrating the four hundredth Anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible. Back in 1604 there were already three English translations in use: One authorized by the Bishops to be used in all churches, then the popular Geneva Bible, known as the ‘Breeches Bible’ because it spoke about Adam and Eve making themselves breeches when they realised they were naked, and a third  - mainly used by English-speaking Roman Catholics.

So what did a new translation have to offer?  The king at the time, James 1 wanted something which the whole country could use, and so fifty plus experts and advisers were called together to come up with a new single version. They reviewed the three translations, compared them with the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and achieved a new translation which miraculously allowed for the sensitivities of different Church traditions.

But their greatest achievement was to render the Bible into simple English – easy to read aloud, and with memorable expressions, like “A thorn in the flesh”, “The root of the matter”, “How are the mighty fallen”.

However, this Authorised Version of the Bible wasn’t an immediate success. As ever, people preferred what they were used to; also unforgiveable misprints led to it being referred to as the ‘Wicked Bible’. For example, the omission of the word ‘not’ from the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and God’s ‘greatness’ misprinted as God’s ‘great asse”.

But eventually its intrinsic merits made it popular. And, four hundred years on, we now see it as a high watermark of English literary achievement.

Fifty plus translators, but one voice is heard. God and his love-affair with humanity. Oh yes! The new translation had a faltering and unpopular beginning. But in the end it’s the glory of God and the unique worth of everyone, plainly set out in Holy Scripture in our own language, which have the last word.


To hear the Archbishop's Pause for Thought and his chat to Chris Evans about his recovery from a successful operation to remove his appendix at St Thomas' Hospital , click the download link on the right hand side of this page.


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