Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 23, 1956
NUMBER 41, PAGE 3,5b

A Brief History Of The Bible -- (IV.)

Luther W. Martin, Rolla, Missouri

The Versions And Translations

The translations of the Bible into other languages, before it was first translated into the English, can generally be classified as 'Eastern' and 'Western' versions. In the East, the Bible, or the various books that compose it, was written in the Peshito or simple Syriac language in the 2nd century; the Ethiopic in the 4th or 5th century; the Egyptian, comprising the Coptic, Thebaic and Sahidic, in the 4th century; and into the Georgian language of ancient Iberia or lower Russia in the 6th or 7th century.

In the West, the first mentioned translation was a Latin version about 220 AD., called the Itala. Several different Latin versions were written prior to Jerome's well-known Vulgate which was completed about the end of the 4th century. The Bible as translated into the Gothic during the same century. Cyrill, in the 9th century made a translation for the Slavic peoples. However, for a number of centuries, Jerome's Latin Vulgate was the only Bible known in the Western church. In general, during the Middle Ages, the Greek language fell into disuse as far as any study of theological manuscripts was concerned. It has been stated by historians, that "the number of monks of the Western church who could read a Greek manuscript, must have been comparatively small; and probably there were but a few who would even be able to recognize a manuscript of the New Testament in Greek." As a result, the Latin language supplanted the original language of the Bible, as far as the Roman movement was concerned.

The Invention Of Printing

The first book to be published from the printing press at Mentz, was an edition of the Latin Vulgate, probably between 1450 and 1455 A.D. Some seventy years later, the Pope finally gave his permission to have the New Testament portion of the Compluterisian Polyglot published. This appeared in 1522.

Various translations and editions of the Bible were published in various European languages in the sixteenth century, but since we are primarily interested in the progress of the English versions, we will refrain from listing the others.

The English Versions

In the 8th century a translation of the Book of Psalms was made into the Anglo-Saxon language. In the same century, Bede translated the Gospel of John into the same language.

The very first English translation of the New Testament was made in 1380 A.D., by John Wycliffe. It was translated directly from the Latin Vulgate and contained numerous defects. It should be mentioned at this point, that the modern English Versions, do not follow from Wycliffe's translation. Wycliffe died in the year 1387 A.D. However, 23 years later his books were ordered burned at Oxford. (1410.) In the year 1428 A.D. (41 years after his death), by the order of the Roman Catholic Council of Constance, his remains were dug up and burned, and his ashes were thrown into the River Swift. The book-burning had been ordered by a Roman Catholic archbishop, Subinco of Prague. Some two hundred volumes were destroyed.

Purvey's Edition

In the year 1388 A.D., one of Wycliffe's adherents undertook to revise some of the defects of the Wycliffe translation. This effort was quite successful and soon began to supplant the Wycliffe Version. Consequently, bitter hostility was the result.

Tyndale's Translation

William Tyndale translated the New Testament into the English, taking it directly from its original language of Hebrew and Greek. However, as soon as his translation was circulated in England, the king condemned the copies to be burned. Tyndale's first translation was first published in 1526 A.D. At this time, King Henry VIII was married to a Roman Catholic Queen, Catharine of Aragon, the daughter of King Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarch of Spain: In the year 1533 A.D., Henry divorced Catharine (she had not borne him any male heirs), and married Anne Boleyn within a week. Thus, a year later, in 1534 AD., when Tyndale brought out a revised edition of his translation, a copy was presented to Henry's new Queen. Under her auspices an edition was printed in London and was published in 1536, the year in which she was put to death for adultery and treason. Tyndale had published all of his later editions while exiled from England on the continent of Europe. He died in the year 1536 A.D., in Antwerp. In fact he was burned at the stake on a charge of heresy.

Coverdale's Translation

Miles Coverdale worked some with Tyndale on the continent of Europe and later brought out his own version of the Scriptures. Coverdale never professed to be the scholar that Tyndale was, but he did have the support of the English Government. As a result, Henry VIII made no attempt to suppress its circulation when it appeared in 1535 A.D. In '1537 A.D., two more editions of Coverdale's Bible were published in London.

Matthew's Bible

Also in 1537, one year after the martyrdom of Tyndale, it was decided that a 'composite Bible' be made up, using Tyndale's New Testament and whatever portions he had translated of the Old Testament, and that Coverdale should translate the rest of the Old Testament. This work was compiled and published under the name of a friend, named Matthew, thus avoiding the stigma that the name of either Tyndale or Coverdale might have attached to it. Matthew's Bible was published in 1537, with a dedication to Henry VIII, and Queen Jane. (Jane Seymour, Henry's latest.)

The Great Bible

In 1539, the Great Bible was finally published in England. As better materials and better craftsmen were available in Paris than in London, it was planned to publish the Great Bible in Paris. Accordingly, Francis, King of France granted license for the project. Thomas Cromwell, the English King's vice-gerent arranged for Coverdale to work on a further revision of the Bible. Coverdale noted that events in France were not shaping up very favorably toward its completion. Therefore, Coverdale smuggled the presses, craftsmen, and materials to London, just four days before an order forbidding a continuation of the work, arrived from the Inquisitor-General of France. The Great Bible was placed in every church building in the kingdom at the order of Cromwell, the Vice-gerent to the King. In this way, the Great Bible became the Bible of the English church.

The Bishops' Bible

The growing use of the Genevan Bible in the households of England, pointed up the need for a better Bible for church use. The Genevan Bible was generally superior to the Great Bible which was still the authorized version for use in churches. This need was ultimately met by the publication of the Bishops' Bible in 1568. Archbishop Parker of the Church of England assigned certain portions of the Bible to specific scholars who would revise, compare and correct their assigned parts. He in turn would see to the final compilation and printing. When this Bible was published, it was ordered that every archbishop should have at their residence, a copy as lately printed at London. Thus it became known as the Bishops' Bible. From this time on for several decades, the Bishops Bible was the Bible of the Church, and the Genevan Bible was the household Bible.

The Genevan Bible

In the year 1553 A.D., Mary, the daughter of Catharine of Aragon and Henry VIII, became Queen of England. She had retained the Roman religion of her Catholic mother. As soon as she came into power, all the freedom that had been accorded the circulation of the English Bible was rescinded. As a result, the English scholars were exiled to the continent, and in the year 1557 A.D., published the first English version of the Bible in which the verses were divided. This work was called the Genevan Bible since it was done at Geneva. For some seventy-five years this Bible became the household Bible of the English people. Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, succeeded Mary as Queen in 1558, and Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in 1559, which gave religious freedom once again to England. For almost a half century Elizabeth ruled England. She died in 1603. During this period religious freedom and the circulation of the Bible advanced greatly.

The King James Version King James the First of England had scarcely been in power a year when he first evidenced the desire to see an English Bible 'well-translated.' The King appointed 54 men to revise the English Bible, although only 47 names are in the list of actual scholars. These men were divided into six groups, with six portions of the Bible assigned. They received orders to this effect: (1) That the Bishops' Bible was to be followed, and altered as little as the truth of the original languages would permit. (2) Names were to be retained as commonly used. (3) Old ecclesiastical words were to be kept. (4) The division of chapters was not to be altered unless absolutely necessary. (5) No marginal notes would be allowed, except for the explanation of some Hebrew or Greek word. (6) Marginal references were to be introduced. (7) The chapters were to be first of all translated or amended by every member of the company separately, then they were to meet together and agree which should stand. (8) As each book was finished, it was to be sent to all the rest, for them to consider. If anything were objected to, notice was to be sent to the company, to which the particular portion belonged, with the reasons for the objection. If they could not agree to the alteration proposed, the question was to be finally settled at a meeting, to be held at the close of the work, of the leading members of all the companies. (9) If they came to any passage of special obscurity, letters were to be sent to any learned men in the land requesting their opinion. (10) All the bishops were to address their clergy, directing any who were skilful in the Hebrew and Greek languages to send their observations to the respective companies. (11) These translations were to be used whenever they agreed better with the text than the Bishops' Bible: Tyndale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, the Great Bible, and the Genevan. Thus, from 1604, when James I, had initially started the effort, some seven years were used in bringing to the world, the King James Version of the English Bible, in the year of our Lord, 1611.

We wish to point out, that the Latin Vulgate of the Roman Church was in no way used in arriving at the King James Translation. Even Wycliffe's Translation was not referred to. Consequently, the Papal Church cannot truthfully say that it in any way gave the King James Version to the world, let alone the later modern English Versions.