The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

II. The “Authorised Version” and its Influence

§ 8. Coverdale’s Version

Before we pass from Tindale to the Authorised Version, three other translations must be mentioned. Coverdale’s nature may be indicated by the fact that it is he who introduced into the language the expressions “loving kindness” and “tender mercy.” Tindale’s nature was masculine, Coverdale’s of a more feminine cast. His translations, of which the Prayer Book version of the Psalter is the most generally known—possess a more flexible and musical rhythm than Tindale’s. Tindale wrote (Luke ii, 12): “And take this for a sign; ye shall find the child swaddled, and laid in a manger. “When this has passed under Coverdale’s revising hand, it stands: “And take this for a sign; ye shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.” Westcott has truly said of Coverdale that he

  • allowed himself considerable freedom in dealing with the shape of the original sentences.… There is in every part an endeavour to transfuse the spirit as well as the letter into the English rendering.
  • A peculiarity of the Genevan version is that it attains a special accuracy. One example will suffice. Tindale translates Luke xi, 17: “One house shall fall upon another.” The Genevan Bible has: “A house divided against itself, falleth.”

    The Rheims and Douay versions inclined to Latinise, whereas earlier versions had sought to employ simpler words, generally of native origin. Thus, Tindale had written (Rom. x, 10): “To knowledge [i.e. acknowledge] with the mouth maketh a man safe.” The Rheims version has: “With the mouth confession is made to salvation”; the second Wyclifite version had rendered the same Latin by: “By mouth knowledging is made to health.” The translators of the Authorised Version endeavoured, out of the English renderings with which they were acquainted, compared with the originals and the principal versions into other tongues, ancient and modern, to frame one which should surpass them all, by appropriating the chief excellences of each—so far, at least, as these excellences could be harmonised with one another. In so far as it did thus reconcile pre-existing differences, it became a powerful agent in establishing unity throughout the English nation, for, to borrow the words of Gardiner: “In its production all sectarian influences were banished, and all hostilities were mute.” Whereas previously, one Bible had been read in church, and another at home, now, all parties and classes turned with one accord to the new version, and adopted it as their very own. It thus became bound up with the life of the nation. Since it stilled all controversy over the best rendering, it gradually came to be accepted as so far absolute that, in the minds of myriads, there was no distinction between this version and the original texts, and they may almost be said to have believed in the literal inspiration of the very words which composed it.