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400 Years on: Can Controversial Bible Update Capture the Magic of the King James Bible?

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2011 marks the 400th year anniversary of the publication of the first official English translation of the Bible. Known as the King James Bible, it has been described by many religious scholars and clergymen as a "national epic", and despite the popularity of a certain quidditch-playing wizard, it is still the most widely read book ever.

City Preacher Roland Parsons believes that this bible "still moulds the lives of more people on this planet than any ideology has ever done", and continues to act as a moral compass, despite being four centuries old.

Yet, the King James Bible owes much of its success to translator William Tyndale, who was martyred in 1536 for his work on translating the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into English.

Tyndale's work was remarkable. 54 translators were employed to work on the King James Bible for over a year. In the end, unable to make many improvements, they based 83% of their translation on the illegal Tyndale version.

"Let there be light"

Tyndale passionately believed that the "word of God" should be translated into English, consistently stating that he wanted to put God into the hands of everyday people. After moving to London in 1523, Tyndale began to attract unwanted attention from the Roman Catholic Church for his radical views.

This meant that in 1524, Tyndale was forced to flee to Germany to continue translating his Bible in greater safety.

The Roman Catholic Church feared Tyndale's work, and did everything to ensure that an English translation would never surface. But Tyndale was the first man to take full advantage of the printing press, which allowed for a widespread publication, and an underground distribution of the translated scripture.

Struggles against the authorities were continuous. Tyndale's were the first Bibles to be produced in a small leather bound form, so as to be easy to carry around, concealed. When Cardinal Wolsey intercepted the first consignment of Tyndale's Bibles arriving from France, he paid off the boat's captain and burned the books publicly. Unknown to Wolsey, the captain was a friend of Tyndale's. He took the money the Cardinal had paid him, and gave it to Tyndale who used it to print twice as many Bibles, and then successfully smuggle them into Britain.

Consequently, Tyndale was branded a heretic, and went into hiding for 10 years. He was eventually arrested in Antwerp in 1534, and executed in 1536. Within four years Henry VIII split from Rome, created the Church of England, and adopted Tyndale's Bible.

Tyndale's work was seminal to the production and dissemination of the King James Bible, and many of the phrases that he coined are still widely used today. Most of us are familiar with several of
Tyndale's iconic sayings, which include "Let there be light", "The salt of the Earth", and "Seek and you shall find".

"Ask and it shall be given you"

Although there have been several English versions of the Bible since Tyndale's original work, I am sure that none are more controversial than the recent Common English Bible.

Striving to be "relevant, readable, and reliable", the Common English Bible hopes to aid understanding by providing a simplified version of the word of God. However, many have taken a disliking to the latest incarnation of the Bible.

One scathing attack comes from Pastor Larry Brannon, who argues that the Common English Bible is "an attack of Satan on the word of God". Similarly, T.C. Robinson believes that certain terms are "sacred", and cannot be replaced by the less powerful alternatives. In the most contentious case, the phrase "Son of Man" has been translated into the rather unmoving "Human One".

Many biblical analysts are concerned that the latest translation has also diluted the correct meaning of the original Scripture. For instance, it is not "an evil and adulterous generation" that asks for a sign, but an "Evil and faithless generation" in the Common English Bible.

However, there have been a few favourable reviews of the Common English Bible. Christian Book Review, for example, dismisses the concerns of Brannon and Robinson by claiming that the latest version of the Scripture "captures the life and spirit of the Written Word", with each verse "coming alive at the right time".

But such praise is currently quite scarce on the Internet, and with so much early criticism for the Common English Bible, it is difficult to imagine that it will ever achieve recognition near the same scale as the King James Bible... or even Harry Potter.