“What would you say if someone decided Shakespeare’s plays, Charles Dickens’s novels, or the music of Beethoven could be rewritten and improved?. . . Writing in the journal The Alternative, Richard Hanser, author of The Law and the Prophets and Jesus: What Manner of Man is This? has called attention to something that is more than a little mind boggling. It is my understanding that the Bible (both the Old and the New Testaments) has been the best-selling book in the entire history of printing.
Now another attempt has been made to improve it. I say another because there have been several fairly recent efforts to ‘make the Bible more readable and understandable’. But as Mr. Hanser so eloquently says ‘For more than three and a half centuries, its language and its images have penetrated more deeply into the general culture of the English-speaking world, and been more deeply treasured, than anything ever put on paper.’ He then quotes the irreverent H. L. Mencken, who spoke of it as purely a literary work and said it was, ‘probably the most beautiful piece of writing in any language’.
They were, of course, speaking of the Authorized Version, the one that came into being when the England of King James was scoured for translators and scholars. It was a time when the English language had reached its peak of richness and beauty.
Now we are to have The Good News Bible which will be in ‘the natural English of everyday adult conversation’. I’m sure the scholars and clergymen supervised by the American Bible Society were sincerely imbued with the thought that they were taking religion to the people with their Good News Bible, but I can’t help feeling we should instead be taking the people to religion and lifting them with the beauty of language that has outlived the centuries.”
(Radio address aired on September 6, 1977)