"To modern readers, the English of the King James Version sounds archaic, much as Shakespeare does. But there would have been an archaism for readers even in 1611 because the King James Bible draws heavily from a version of William Tyndale’s New Testament published in 1534 and from translations by Miles Coverdale also published in the 1530s.
Tyndale’s aspiration was to make his New Testament accessible to “the boy that driveth the plough.” Though readers often talk about the majesty of the King James Bible, what has made it live is in fact the simplicity of its language.
Scholars have often debated just how much the King James Bible has influenced the English language. They count the number of idioms — “the powers that be,” for instance — that entered the language from the Bible. They look at how often it’s cited in the Oxford English Dictionary.
T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis deplored the idea of considering the secular literary or linguistic influence of the King James Bible. Eliot said it had such a profound effect because it was “the Word of God.” Lewis went further. He argued that the King James Bible had little influence on the rhythms of English and that many of the Bible’s characteristic rhythms were simply “unavoidable in the English language.”
But Lewis missed the point. The King James Bible has had an enormous impact on English for the very reason that it captures and preserves — and communicates down through the centuries — the unavoidable rhythms of good English. Its words are almost never Latinate, and its rhythms are never hampered by the literalism that afflicts other translations.It would have been so easy to get that wrong, to let scholarship overwhelm common sense, to let theology engulf plainness. We owe an enormous debt to William Tyndale’s imaginary plowboy."
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