Elizabethan prose literature is particularly noted for the mighty works of translations. The greatest of these translations is, however, the English Bible. This is something more than the mere translation. It is original literature itself, and forms the first of the English classics, and proves to be the unrivaled source of inspiration for the English language as well as literature.
Of course, the translations of the Bible in English are made by different persons at different times, such as Erasmus’s Greek Latin Parallel New Testament, Martin Luther’s German New Testament, William Tyndale’s New Testament. But it is the Authorised Version of the Bible (of 1611) that is specifically referred to here. That Authorised Version came into existence, as an incidental result of the Hampton Court Conference, called by the King James I, to consider the demands of the more aggressive Puritans for a proper English edition of the Bible.
The lack of a uniform or agreed English version of the Bible was a matter of much concern, and, as said already, the King ordered for the making of a new one. A conference was held and subsequently, the work of translation started. It was published in 1611.
The version was called authorised, because the translation had been made under the sanction of the King to make a new version. But it was never formally authorised and the translated work never passed through any sanction or approval of the Royal Court.
As a matter of fact, the version of the Bible has established itself in English literature by its native worth. It is found to have profited much by all the previous controversies regarding the translation. Every word, expression, or phrase, subjected to controversy and dispute, has been properly considered, modified, or even replaced, according to the requirement. In fact, the whole work testifies to both scholarship and diligence, both simplicity and vastness. Though following different previous translations, it is found to be perfect assimilation in theme and technique, and here it seems to achieve a supreme unity in a vast diversity.
The influence of the Authorised Version can hardly be exaggerated. As already noted, this is no mere translation, but a sort of classical literature in English. Its themes are of perpetual concern and interest. God, His creation, man, his disobedience and fall, and the resurrection of man through the great sacrifice of one great Man are all the matters of perpetual faith and idealism for humanity and has remained the great source of the literary inspirations of all subsequent ages.
What is more, the effect of the Authorised Version on the cultivation and development of the English style of writing, particularly the English prose style is immense. Some of the phrases and expressions in the Authorised Version have become part of the common speech of the English nation and scarcely recognised as simply Biblical translations. Some such instances include ‘highways and hedges’, ‘clear as crystal’, ‘still small voice’, ‘hip and thigh’, ‘arose as one man’, ‘lick the dust’, ‘a thorn in the flesh’, ‘broken reed’, ‘root of all evil’, ‘a law unto themselves’, ‘moth and rust’, ‘weighed in the balance and found wanting’, and many more.
The Authorised Version of the Bible is a great achievement of Elizabethan literature. What is more, is that it is not meant for the men of learning and renown only, but remains the great solace for the poor and the unlucky. The work is read, no doubt occasionally, ignorantly, even unwisely, but always reverentially and memorably. It is not too much to agree with a commentator that this has been a University to many a poor Englishman.