A Committee’s Sublime Creation?

wordsThis is a blog about words, the English language. I may at times, such as here, annoy or offend, this is not my purpose and I apologize if I do so.

All my childhood I dipped in and out of the bible. Attending a Church of England primary school and then a Roman Catholic secondary school, throwing in Sunday school as well, it was a given that I was going to end up knowing huge quantities of those books. Back then the version most commonly used in the Church of England was the King James version. The Douay in the Roman Catholic school. I found the slightly archaic language of the King James with its rhythms and cadences exhilarating, exciting and beautiful. If I didn’t understand, and of course such old English can be difficult at times

a) there was always someone who could further translate and elucidate and
b) the sound of the words could envelop and stir the senses as can music . Knowledge is not always necessary.

I am not sure why people like to produce versions of plain English bible why the richness and beauty and sheer grandeur is considered so bad, as a child I didn’t understand it all but over time I did. Language is after all one of the glories of humanity. Anyway I am in no position to judge because of a whole childhood of religion and years of traveling to other cultures and nations I have ended up with no religion at all. I also have not read all the other newer versions. It is, I believe, a question of personal taste.

I do still think the King James Bible is one of the ‘great classics’ of the English language

King James was the ‘authorised bible’ it was written in the 1600s, not by any one individual but by ‘committee!’ who would have thought a committee could create something so sublime:) under James 1 instruction; with the requirement to ‘to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principall good one’

The’ good one’ was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568(1602 edition), and the many included, other earlier versions such as Tyndale’s 1530, Wycliffe’s 1388, the Geneva 1560 and the Douay-Rheims 1582-1609, there were many others. The bible after centuries of being a closed book known only to Latin speakers had been translated into the common tongue many times over the centuries before. So not all the language originated from that team of worthy men. Working on the principle if it was good keep it, tweak if it needed, create when all else failed they pulled together a wonderful celebration of words. Words which inspired poets, politicians, singers, authors, ad men and newspaper magnets as well bringing the ‘Word’ to ordinary people who found them equally inspiring.

Our language now is richly seamed with expressions from this bible, even those who like me have no faith and those who worship in another faith system. Many do not even know they quote from the Bible, or play around with the words in adverts and headlines that originate from the book.

Many make extravagant claims for the authorised version, I am not keen on extravagance! However I do agree The King James Bible has influenced our language a great deal. Not the nuts and bolts such as grammar and spelling but in the idiomatic sense, in the concepts a phrase can conjure up. When written works,songs, adverts and headlines can be titled by expressions or words from a book written 400 years ago then I think it is fairly safe a statement to make.

Up here in cyberspace I have come across those with an everyday knowledge of the bible – not necessarily my King James version and those who have a disconnect between the expressions they use and the origins of those expressions. It is a shame in a way but also a sign that the words and expressions have as with so much of our language grown their own wings and flown.

I want to pull up a few of the most common words and expressions over the next few weeks, with their original and their modern versions and uses. It’s just an excuse for me to re-visit a book I enjoy so much:) To try maybe to explain in modern style usage why their appeal has lasted so long.


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