The King James BibleNo complete translation of the Bible was made into English until the late fourteenth century, when John Wycliffe, a theologian and church reformer who was condemned as a heretic, oversaw a translation. Other "unauthorised" translations appeared in the early sixteenth century, including versions by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale. Finally, in 1539, the "Great Bible" appeared, under the auspices of the reigning monarch, Henry VIII. This was the first English Bible with official endorsement.
In 1604, James I convened a conference at Hampton Court at which plans were laid for a new version of the Bible by a group of translators. Some fifty or so theologians and scholars began work in various centres of learning (Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster), making extensive use of previous translations, especially the Tyndale and Wycliffe. The work was issued in 1611 as the "Authorised Version" and has fixed itself so firmly in the imagination of the English speaking world that no other translation seems able to challenge it.
The King James Bible has been called "the noblest monument of English prose", and deserves the epithet because of the sheer brilliance of its language. Its extensive use of concrete terms and images, its straightforward phrases and sentences, its balance and parallelism in many passages - all make for a dignified simplicity eminently compatible with religious feeling and ritual. Indeed, the language of the King James Bible has so profoundly affected succeeding generations of writers and has so thoroughly stamped itself in the minds of ordinary people that today it forms a basic part of our everyday speech.
Contributed by Gifford, Katya
28 March 2002