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This article is taken from PN Review 13, Volume 6 Number 5, May - June 1980.

Common Consent Basil Mitchell

THE Authorised Version is, by common consent, among the greatest literary achievements in the English language, if not the greatest. It has, without question, been the most influential, for it has been known wherever the language is spoken and by all sorts and conditions of men. For many it has been the only book they know. It would be hard to think of a greater, or more disastrous, cultural break than would be involved in its demise.

I should like to think that the literary merit of the Authorised Version in comparison with modern translations will not be contested, but in case it is, let me give some examples drawn from passages in familiar use at Christmas. Here, for instance, are the opening verses of the Gospel for Christmas Day in the New English Bible:

When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was.

and in the Authorised Version:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The one contains the jingle 'What God was, the Word was', which is almost unreadable and which no ordinary English speaker would think of uttering. The other is simple, direct and memorable.

Later in the same chapter the Authorised Version moves in a mounting crescendo which even an unpractised reader must find himself carried along by:


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