History of the English Bible

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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

 Introductory to the History of the English Bible

The battle for vernacular Scripture, the right of a nation to have the sacred writings in its own tongue, was fought and won in England. Ancient VSS, such as the Syriac and the Gothic, was produced to meet obvious requirements of the teacher or the missionary and met with no opposition from any quarter. The same was the case with the efforts of the Anglo-Saxon church to provide portions of Scripture for the use of the people. Even in later times, the Latin church seems to have followed no consistent policy in permitting or forbidding the translation of the Scriptures. In one country the practice was forbidden, in another, it was regarded with forbearance or permitted under authority (Addis and Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, London, 1884, article “Bible”); and so it came about that the different nations of Europe came by the inestimable boon of an open Bible in different ways. Germany, for example, after the attempts of numerous translators who seem to have been quite untrammeled in their work owed, under Providence, to the faith, the intrepidity and the genius of Luther the national version which satisfied it for more than three centuries, and, after a recent and essentially conservative revision, satisfies it still. In England, as related below, things took a different course. In the Reformation period, the struggle turned mainly on the question of the translation of the Bible.

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The Bible in Anglo-Saxon and Norman Times

The clergy and learned men had always of course access to the Scriptures in the Vulgate, a translation of the original Scriptures into Latin completed by Jerome at the very beginning of the 5th century; and from this version–the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.)–practically all further translations were made till the days of Luther. Within a century or little more after the landing of Augustine in England and his settlement at Canterbury (597 AD) Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, produced (670) his metrical version of the Bible, hardly indeed to be reckoned a version of the Scriptures in the ordinary sense, though it paved the way for such. Bede of Jarrow (672-735) translated the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and, according to the beautiful letter of his pupil, Cuthbert, breathed his last on the completion of his translation of the Gospel of John into the language of the people. Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne in the county of Dorset (died 709), translated the Psalter in another translation with which the name of King Alfred is associated; and the other efforts of that ruler to spread the knowledge of the Scriptures among his people are well known. Notice, too, should be taken of the glosses. “The gloss,” says Eadie (English Bible, I, 14, note), “was neither a free nor yet a literal translation, but the interlinear insertion of the vernacular, word against word of the original, so that the order of the former was really irrespective of idiom and usage.” The finest example of these is seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written in Latin about the year 700, and provided with an interlinear translation about 950 by Aldred, the priest. These with a version of a considerable section of the Old Testament by Aelfric, archbishop of Canterbury about the year 990, comprise the main efforts at Bible translation into English before the Norman Conquest. In Anglo-Saxon there is no proof of the existence of any translation of the complete Bible, or even of the complete New Testament. The sectional VSS, moreover, cannot be shown to have had any influence upon succeeding versions. For nearly three centuries after the Conquest the inter-relations of the different sections of the people and the conditions of the language prevented any real literary progress. The period, however, was marked by the appearance of fragmentary translations of Scripture into Norman French. From some Augustinian monastery, too, in the north of the East Midland district of England, about the year 1200, appeared the Ormulum, a curious metrical work of some 20,000 lines, consisting of a paraphrase of the Gospel of the day and an explanatory homily for 32 days of the year. Like the work of Caedmon the monk, it was not exactly Bible translation, but it doubtless prepared the way for such. Three versions of the Psalter, naturally always a favorite portion of Scripture with the translator, are assigned to the first half of Wycliffe’s century. The reformer himself in one of his tracts urges a translation of the Bible to suit the humbler classes of society, on the plea that the upper classes already have their version in French. It was only in the long and splendid reign of Edward III (1327-77), when the two races that had existed in the country since the Conquest were perfectly united, that the predominance of English asserted itself, and the growth of the power and of the mental activity of the people instinctively demanded a new form of expression. The century of Wycliffe, it is to be remembered, was also that of Langland, Gower, and Chaucer.


John Wycliffe

Born in Yorkshire about the year 1320, Wycliffe was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, of which he soon became a Fellow and was for a short time Master, resigning the latter position in the year 1361 on his presentation to a living in Lincolnshire. He died at Lutterworth in Leicestcrshire in 1384. It was during the last quarter of his life that he came forward as a friend of the people and as a prolific writer on their behalf. Notwithstanding the external glory of the reign of Edward III, there was much in the ecclesiastical and social circumstances of the time to justify popular discontent. The Pope derived from England alone a revenue larger than that of any prince in Christendom. The nobles resented the extortion and pretensions of the higher clergy; and, according to Green, “the enthusiasm of the Friars, who in the preceding century had preached in praise of poverty, had utterly died away and left a crowd of impudent mendicants behind it.” The Black Death, “the most terrible plague the world ever witnessed,” fell in the middle of the century and did much further to embitter the already bitter condition of the poor. In France things were no better than in England, and the Turk had settled permanently in Europe. It is not wonderful that Wycliffe began, as is said, his version of the New Testament with the Book of Revelation. With his social teaching the present article is not specially concerned. It probably involved no more than the inculcation of the inherently democratic and leveling doctrines of Christianity, though some of the Lollards, like the Munster peasants in the German Reformation, associated it with dangerous socialistic practice. In any case the application of Christianity to the solution of social problems is not in any age easy to effect in practice. His tracts show (Eadie, I, 59 ff) that it was from what Wycliffe had felt the Bible to be to himself that there sprang his strong desire to make the reading of it possible for his countrymen. To this was due the first English version of the Bible. To this also was likewise due the institution of the order of “poor priests” to spread the knowledge of the Bible as widely as possible throughout the country.


How Far Was the 14th-Century Version Wycliffe’s Work?

There is some uncertainty as to the exact share which Wycliffe had in the production of the 14th century version. The translation of the New Testament was finished about the year 1380 and in 1382 the translation of the entire Bible was completed, the greater part of the Old Testament being the work of Nicholas Hereford, one of the reformer’s most ardent supporters at Oxford. The work was revised on thoroughly sound principles of criticism and interpretation, as these are explained in the prologue to the new edition, by John Purvey, one of Wycliffe’s most intimate friends during the latter part of his life, and finished in 1388. “Other scholars,” says Mr. F. G. Kenyon, of the British Museum, “assisted him in his work, and we have no certain means of knowing how much of the translation was actually done by himself. The New Testament is attributed to him, but we cannot say with certainty that it was entirely his own work” (Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 200, 3rd edition, London, 1898). This entirely corresponds with the position taken up by Forshall and Madden, the editors of the great Oxford edition of Wycliffe’s version issued in 4 large quarto volumes in 1850. That work was undertaken to honor Wycliffe and in some measure to repay England’s indebtedness to the reformer. The editors were men of the first literary rank; they spent 22 years upon this work; and it is recognized as a credit at once to the scholarship and research of Oxford and of England. Its honest and straightforward Introduction answers by anticipation by far the greater part of the criticisms and claims put forth by Dr. Gasquet (Our Old English Bible and Other Essays, London, 1898; 2nd edition, 1908). The claim is made that the work published in Oxford in 1850 is really not Wycliffe’s at all but that of his bitterest opponents, the bishops of the English church who represented the party of Rome. Gasquet’s work on this subject is mainly worthy of notice on account of his meritorious research in other departments of the English Reformation. His arguments and statements are met by Kenyon (op. cit., 204-8). The controversy is further noticed in The Age of Wycliffe, by G. M. Trevelyan (2nd edition, London, 1908), a work which cannot be too highly praised for its deep research, its interesting exposition and its cordial appreciation of the reformer and his works. “Nothing,” says Trevelyan (Appendix, 361), “can be more damning than the licenses to particular people to have English Bibles, for they distinctly show that without such licenses it was thought wrong to have them.” The age of printing, it is to be remembered, was not yet.

The Wycliffe Bible was issued and circulated in copies each of which was written by the hand. About 170 copies of this manuscript Bible are still in existence. They form a striking proof of what England and the world owe to the faith, the courage, and the labor of John Wycliffe and his “poor priests.”

John Hus

One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. The last words of John Hus were that, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) into the church door at Wittenberg. The prophecy of Hus had come true! Martin Luther went on to be the first person to translate and publish the Bible in the commonly-spoken dialect of the German people; a translation more appealing than previous German Biblical translations. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in that same year, 1517, seven people were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for the crime of teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin. Taken from https://www.greatsite.com/.


Johann Gutenberg

Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, and the first book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany. Gutenberg’s Bibles were surprisingly beautiful, as each leaf Gutenberg printed was later colorfully hand-illuminated. Born as “Johann Gensfleisch” (John Gooseflesh), he preferred to be known as “Johann Gutenberg” (John Beautiful Mountain). Ironically, though he had created what many believe to be the most important invention in history, Gutenberg was a victim of unscrupulous business associates who took control of his business and left him in poverty. Nevertheless, the invention of the movable-type printing press meant that Bibles and books could finally be effectively produced in large quantities in a short period of time. This was essential to the success of the Reformation. Taken from https://www.greatsite.com/.

A Gutenberg press replica at the Featherbed Alley Printshop Museum, in Bermuda


Thomas Linacre or Lynaker was an English humanist scholar and physician, after whom Linacre College, Oxford, and Linacre House, a boys’ boarding house at The King’s School, Canterbury, are named. Linacre was more of a scholar than a scientific investigator. He was one of the first Englishmen to study Greek in Italy, and brought back to his native country and his own university the lessons of the “New Learning”. His teachers were some of the greatest scholars of the day. Among his pupils was one—Erasmus—whose name alone would suffice to preserve the memory of his instructor in Greek, and others of note in letters and politics, such as Sir Thomas More, Prince Arthur, and Queen Mary I of England. John Colet, William Grocyn, William Lilye and other eminent scholars were his intimate friends, and he was esteemed by a still wider circle of literary correspondents in all parts of Europe. Linacre’s literary activity was displayed both in pure scholarship and in translation from Greek. In the domain of scholarship he was known by the rudiments of (Latin) grammar (Progymnasmata Grammatices vulgaria), composed in English, a revised version of which was made for the use of the Princess Mary, and afterwards translated into Latin by George Buchanan. He also wrote a work on Latin composition, De emendata structura Latini sermonis (“On the Pure and Correct Structure of Latin Prose”), which was published in London in 1524 and many times reprinted on the continent of Europe.


John Colet

John Colet (January 1467 – 16 September 1519) was an English Catholic priest and educational pioneer. John Colet was an English scholar, Renaissance humanist, theologian, member of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. In addition to his sermons Colet’s works include some scriptural commentary and works entitled Daily Devotions and Monition to a Godly Life. Together with Lilye, Erasmus, and Wolsey, Colet produced materials forming the basis of the authorised Latin Grammar, used for centuries in the English schools. A number of letters from Colet to Erasmus also survive.

Desiderius Erasmus

After the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1455, it would be this Byzantine text that would become the first printed edition by way of Desiderius Erasmus in 1516. Thanks to an advertisement by the publishers, it was referred to as the Textus Receptus or the “Received Text.” Over the next four centuries, many textual scholars attempted to make minor changes to this text based on the development of the science of textual criticism, but to no real effect on its status as the Greek text of the church. Worse still, it would be this inferior text what would lay at the foundation of all English translations until the Revised English Version of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901. It was not until 1881 that two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, replaced the Textus Receptus with their critical text. This critical edition of the Westcott and Hort text is the foundation for most modern translations and all critical editions of the Greek New Testament, UBS5, and the NA28.


Desiderius Erasmus and the Greek Text

I WOULD have these words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irish, but Turks and Saracens too might read them . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveler to beguile with them the dullness of his journey. (Clayton 2006, 230)

Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus penned those words in the early part of the 16th century. Like his English counterpart, William Tyndale, it was his greatest desire that God’s Word be widely translated and that even the plowboy would have access to it.

Much time has passed since the Reformation, and 98 percent of the world we live in today has access to the Bible. There is little wonder that the Bible has become the bestseller of all time. It has influenced people from all walks of life to fight for freedom and truth. This was especially true during the Reformation of Europe throughout the 16th century. These leaders were of great faith, courage, and strength, such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, while others, like Erasmus, were more subtle in the changes that they brought. Thus, it has been said of the Reformation that Martin Luther only opened the door to it after Erasmus picked the lock.

There is not a single historian of the period who would deny that Erasmus was a great scholar. Remarking on his character, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “He had an unequalled talent for form, great journalistic gifts, a surpassing power of expression; for strong and moving discourse, keen irony, and covert sarcasm, he was unsurpassed.” (Vol. 5, p. 514) Consequently, when Erasmus went to see Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, just before Erasmus revealed himself, More was so impressed with his exchange that he shortly said: “You are either Erasmus or the Devil.”

Erasmus’s wit was evidenced in a response that he gave to Frederick, elector of Saxony, who asked him what he thought about Martin Luther. Erasmus retorted, “Luther has committed two blunders; he has ventured to touch the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Vol. 3 – p, 279) However, we must ask what type of influence did the Bible have on Erasmus and, in turn, what did he do to affect its future? First, we will look at the early years of Erasmus’ life.

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Erasmus’ Early Life

He was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1466. He was not a happy boy, living in a home as the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest. He was faced with the double tragedy of his mother’s death at seventeen, and his father shortly thereafter. His guardians ignored his desire to enter the university; instead, they sent him to the Augustinian monastery of Steyn. Erasmus gained a vast knowledge of the Latin language, the classics as well as the Church Fathers. In time, this life was so detestable that he jumped at the opportunity, at the age of twenty-six, to become secretary to the bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, in France. This afforded him his chance to enter university studies in Paris. However, he was a sickly man, suffering from poor health throughout his entire life.

It was in 1499 that Erasmus was invited to visit England. He met Thomas More, John Colet, and other theologians in London, which fortified his resolution to apply himself to Biblical studies. In order to understand the Bible’s message better, he applied himself more fully in his study of Greek, soon being able to teach it to others. It was around this time that Erasmus penned a treatise entitled Handbook of the Christian Soldier, in which he advised the young Christian to study the Bible, saying: “There is nothing that you can believe with greater certitude than what you read in these writings.” (Erasmus and Dolan 1983, 37)

While trying to escape the plague and make a living in an economy that had bottomed worse than our 20th-century Great Depression, Erasmus found himself at Louvain, Belgium, in 1504. It was there that he fell in love with the study of textual criticism while visiting the Praemonstratensian Abbey of Parc near Louvain. Erasmus discovered a manuscript of Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla within the library: Annotations on the New Testament. Thereupon Erasmus commissioned to himself the task of restoring the original text of the Greek New Testament.

Erasmus moved on to Italy and subsequently pushed on to England once again. It is this trip that brought to mind his original meeting with Thomas More, meditating on the origin of More’s name (moros, Greek for “a fool”); he penned a satire which he called “Praise of Folly.” In this work, Erasmus treats the abstract quality “folly” as a person and pictures it as encroaching in all aspects of life, but nowhere is folly more obvious than amid the theologians and clergy. This is his subtle way of exposing the abuses of the clergy. It is these abuses that had brought on the Reformation, which was now festering. “As to the popes,” he wrote, “if they claim to be the successors of the Apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as were practiced by their predecessors.” Instead of doing this, he perceived, they believe that “to teach the people is too laborious; to interpret the scripture is to invade the prerogative of the schoolmen; to pray is too idle.” There is little wonder that it was said of Erasmus that he had “a surpassing power of expression”! (Nichols 2006, Vol. 2, 6)

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The First Greek Text

While teaching Greek at Cambridge University in England, Erasmus continued with his work of revising the Greek New Testament text. One of his friends, Martin Dorpius, attempted to persuade him that the Latin did not need to be corrected from the Greek. Dorpius made the same error in reasoning that the “King James Only” people make, arguing: “For is it likely that the whole Catholic Church would have erred for so many centuries, seeing that she has always used and sanctioned this translation? Is it probable that so many holy fathers, so many consummate scholars would have longed to convey a warning to a friend?”  (Campbell 1949, 71) Thomas More joined Erasmus in replying to these arguments, making the point that what matters is having an accurate text in the original languages.

In Basel, Switzerland, Erasmus was about to be harassed by the printer Johannes Froben. Froben was alerted that Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, Spain, had been putting together a Greek and Latin Testament in 1514. However, he was delaying publication until he had the whole Bible completed. The first printed Greek critical text would have set the standard, with any other being all but ignored. Erasmus published his first edition in 1516, while the Complutensian Polyglot (Greek for “many languages”) was not issued until 1522.

The fact that Erasmus was terribly rushed resulted in a Greek text that contained hundreds of typographical errors alone. Textual scholar Scrivener once stated: ‘[It] is in that respect the most faulty book I know’ (Scrivener 1894, 185). This comment did not even take into consideration the blatant interpolations into the text that were not part of the original. Erasmus was not oblivious to the typographical errors, which were corrected in a good many later editions. This did not include the textual errors. His second edition of 1519 was used by Martin Luther in his German translation and William Tyndale’s English translation. This is exactly what Erasmus wanted, writing the following in that edition’s preface: “I would have these words translated into all languages. . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough.”

Unfortunately, this debased Greek New Testament’s continuous reproduction gave rise to its becoming the standard, called the Textus Receptus (“Received Text”), reigning 400 years before it was dethroned by the critical text of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881. Regardless of its imperfections, the Erasmus critical edition began the all-important work of textual criticism, which has only brought about a better critical text and more accurate Bible translations. 

Erasmus was not only concerned with ascertaining the original words; he was just as concerned with achieving an accurate understanding of those words. In 1519, he penned Principles of True Theology (shortened to The Ratio). Herein he introduces his principles for Bible study, his interpretation rules. Among them is the thought of never taking a quotation out of its context nor out of the line of thought of its author. Erasmus saw the Bible as a whole work by one ultimate author, and as such, it should interpret itself. For a more detail history, see article below.


From Wycliffe to Tyndale

It is a remarkable fact that before the year 1500 most of the countries of Europe had been supplied with a version of the Scriptures printed in the vernacular tongue, while England had nothing but the scattered copies of the Wycliffe manuscript version. Even Caxton, eager as was his search for works to translate and to print, while he supplied priests with service-books, preachers with sermons, and the clerk with the “Golden Legende,” left the Scriptures severely alone. Nor was there a printed English version, even of the New Testament, for close on half a century after Caxton’s death, a circumstance largely due to the energy of the Tudor dictatorship and the severity of the Arundelian Constitutions enacted by Convocation at Oxford in the year 1408:against Wycliffe and his work. These enactments forbade “upon pain of the greater excommunication the unauthorized translation of any text of the Scriptures into English or any other tongue by way of a book, pamphlet, treatise or the reading of such.” Meanwhile, the study of the new learning, including that of the original languages of Scripture, though generally resisted by the clergy, was greatly promoted by the invention of printing.


William Tyndale

Erasmus, perhaps the chief representative name of the new age in the domain of learning, was professor of Greek at Cambridge from 1509 to 1524, and in the 2nd year of his professorship William Tyndale, an Oxford student in the 26th year of his age, migrated to Cambridge to study Greek. Ten years later Tyndale returned to his native county–Gloucestershire–to take up a private tutorship and there formed the determination which became the one fixed aim of his life–to put an English translation, not of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) but of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, into the hands of his countrymen. “If God spared him life,” he said, “ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope did.” Erasmus at Cambridge had uttered a similar aspiration. “He boldly avows his wish for a Bible open and intelligible to all. …. `I long for the day when the husbandman shall sing to himself portions of the Scriptures as he follows the plow, when the weaver shall hum them to the time of his shuttle, when the traveler shall while away with their stories the weariness of his journey’” (Green, History of the English People, 1st edition, 308). In 1522 Tyndale went to London to try to find a patron for his work in Tunstall, bishop of London, who had studied Greek with Latimer at Padua and was one of the most noted humanists of the day. To show himself capable for the work, Tyndale took with him to London a version of a speech of Isocrates. But the Bishop of London’s service was full; and after spending a year with a friendly alderman in London, “at last,” he says in the Preface to his Five Books of Moses, “I understood not only that there was no room in my Lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England.” He left the country and never returned to it. He spent the remaining twelve years of his life in exile and for the most part in great hardship, sustained by steady labor and by the one hope of his life–the giving to his countrymen of a reliable version of the Holy Scriptures in their own tongue. He went first to Hamburg, and there, as it seems, issued in the year 1524 versions of Mt and Mk separately, with marginal notes. Next year he removed to Cologne, and arranged for the printing of the complete New Testament, the translation of which he accomplished alone, from the study of the Greek text of Erasmus in its original and revised editions and by a comparison of these with the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and several European vernacular versions which, as already stated, had anticipated that of England. The story of the interruption by Cochlaeus of the actual work of printing, and of his warning the King and Wolsey of the impending invasion of England by Lutheranism, reads like a romance. His interference resulted in the prohibition by the city authorities of the printing of the work and in the sudden flight of Tyndale and his assistant, Joye, who sailed up the Rhine with the precious sheets already printed of their 3,000 quarto edition to Worms, the city of the famous Diet in which Luther four years before had borne his testimony before the Emperor. The place was now Lutheran, and here the work of printing could be carried out in security and at leisure. To baffle his enemies, as it seems, a small octavo edition was first printed without glosses; then the quarto edition was completed. The “pernicious literature” of both editions, without name of the translator, was shipped to England early in 1526; and by 1530 six editions of the New Testament in English (three surreptitiously) were distributed, numbering, it is computed, 15,000 copies. The unfavorable reception of Tyndale’s work by the King and the church authorities may in some measure be accounted for by the excesses which at the moment were associated with the Reformation in Germany, and by the memories of Lollardism in connection with the work of Wycliffe. So vehement was the opposition at any rate to Tyndale’s work, and so determined the zeal in buying up and burning the book, that of the six editions above mentioned there “remains of the first edition one fragment only; …. of the second one copy, wanting the title-page, and another very imperfect; and of the others, two or three copies which are not however satisfactorily identified” (Westcott, History of the English Bible, 45, London, 1868). Meanwhile, Tyndale took to working on the Old Testament. Much discussion has taken place on the question whether he knew Hebrew (see Eadie, I, 209 ff). Tyndale’s own distinct avowal is that it was from the Hebrew direct that such translation of the Old Testament as he accomplished was made. Very early in 1531 he published separately versions of Gen and Deuteronomy, and in the following year the whole of the Pentateuch in one volume, with a preface and marginal glosses. In 1534 appeared the Book of Jon, with a prologue; and in the same year a new version of the New Testament to counteract one made by Joye from the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) This has been described by Westcott (op. cit., 185) as “altogether Tyndale’s noblest monument,” mainly on account of its short and pregnant glosses. “Bengel himself is not more terse or pointed.” A beautifully illuminated copy of this edition was struck off on vellum and presented to Queen Anne Boleyn; and an edition of his revised New Testament was printed in London–“The first volume of Holy Scripture printed in England”–in 1536, the year of the Queen’s death. Tyndale had for some time lived at Antwerp, enjoying a “considerable yearly exhibition” from the English merchants there; but his enemies in England were numerous, powerful and watchful. In 1534 he was betrayed and arrested; and after an imprisonment of nearly a year and a half at the castle of Vilorde, about 18:miles from Brussels, he was strangled and then burned in 1536, the same year as that of the death of the Queen. The last days of the hero and martyr may have been cheered by the news of the printing of his revised edition of the New Testament in England.


Miles Coverdale

Miles Coverdale, who first gave England a complete and authorized version of the Bible, was a younger contemporary of Tyndale. Tyndale was a year younger than Luther, who was born in 1483, and Coverdale was four years younger than Tyndale. Born in the North Riding of Yorkshire, he found his way to Cambridge at the time when Erasmus was professor of Greek, and appears at an early date–how is not known–to have got into the good graces of Crumwell, the “malleus monachorum,” factotum and secretary to Wolsey, and later on the King’s principal abettor in his efforts to render the Church of England thoroughly national, if not to an equal extent Protestant. Adopting the liberal party in the church, he held Lutheran or evangelical views of religion, east off his monastic habit, and, as Bale says, gave himself up wholly to the preaching of the gospel. He is found in 1527 in intimate connection with More and Crumwell and probably from them he received encouragement to proceed with a translation of the Bible. In 1528 he was blamed before Tunstall, bishop of London, as having caused some to desert the mass, the confessional and the worship of images; and seeking safety, he left England for the Continent. He is said by Foxe to have met Tyndale at Hamburg in 1529, and to have given him some help in the translation of the Pentateuch. An uncertainty hangs over Coverdale’s movements from 1529 to 1535, a period during which much was happening that could not fail to be powerfully changing opinion in England. The result of the Assembly held at Westminster by Warham in May, 1530, and of the Convocation held under his successor, Cranmer, in December, 1534, was that in the latter it was petitioned that “his Majesty would vouchsafe to decree that the sacred Scriptures should be translated into the English tongue by certain honest and learned men, named for that purpose by his Majesty, and should be delivered to the people according to their learning.” Crumwell, meanwhile, who had a shrewd forecast of the trend of affairs, seems to have arranged with Coverdale for the printing of his translation. However this may be, by the year 1534 “he was ready, as he was desired, to set forth” (i.e. to print) his translation; and the work was finished in 1535. And thus, “as the harvest springs from the seed which germinates in darkness, so the entire English Bible, translated no one knows where, presented itself, unheralded and unanticipated, at once to national notice in 1535” (Eadie, I, 266). It is declared on the title-page to be “faithfully and truly translated out of Douche and Latyn into Englishe: MDXXXV.” Coverdale’s own statements about his work leave the impression that he was a conspicuously honest man. Unlike Tyndale who regarded himself as, in a way, a prophet, with his work as a necessity Divinely laid upon him, Coverdale describes that he had no particular desire to undertake the work–and how he wrought, as it were, in the language of these days, under a committee from whom he took his instructions and who “required-him to use the Douche (i.e. the German) and the Latyn.” He claims further to have done the work entirely himself, and he certainly produced a new version of the Old Testament and a revised version of the New Testament. He used, he says, five sundry interpreters of the original languages. These interpreters were, in all probability, the Vulgate, Luther’s version, the Zurich or Swiss-German Bible, the Latin version of Pagninus, and he certainly consulted Tyndale on the Pentateuch and the New Testament. He successfully studied musical effect in his sentences and many of the finest phrases in the King James Version are directly traced to Coverdale. His version of the Psalms is that which is retained and is still in daily use in the ritual of the Church of England. Two new editions of Coverdale’s version were issued in 1537 “with the King’s most gracious license,” and after this the English Bible was allowed to circulate freely. Certain changes in the title page, prefaces, and other details are discussed in the works mentioned at the end of this article.

John Rogers

John Rogers was an English clergyman, Bible translator, and commentator. He guided the development of the Matthew Bible in vernacular English during the reign of Henry VIII and was the first English Protestant martyr under Mary I of England, who was determined to restore Roman Catholicism.

Rogers met William Tyndale, under whose influence he abandoned the Roman Catholic faith, and married Antwerp native Adriana de Weyden (b. 1522, anglicized to Adrana Pratt in 1552) in 1537. After Tyndale’s death, Rogers pushed on with his predecessor’s English version of the Old Testament, which he used as far as 2 Chronicles, employing Myles Coverdale’s translation (1535) for the remainder and for the Apocrypha. Although it is claimed that Rogers was the first person to ever print a complete English Bible that was translated directly from the original Greek and Hebrew, there was also a reliance upon a Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible by Sebastian Münster and published in 1534/5.

Tyndale’s New Testament had been published in 1526. The complete Bible was put out under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew in 1537; it was printed in Paris and Antwerp by Adriana’s uncle, Sir Jacobus van Meteren. Richard Grafton published the sheets and got leave to sell the edition (1500 copies) in England. At the insistence of Archbishop Cranmer, the “King’s most gracious license” was granted to this translation. Previously in the same year, the 1537 reprint of the Myles Coverdale’s translation had been granted such a license.

The pseudonym “Matthew” is associated with Rogers, but it seems more probable that Matthew stands for Tyndale’s own name, which, back then, was dangerous to employ in England. Rogers had at least some involvement with the translation, although he most likely used large parts of the Tyndale and the Coverdale versions. Some historians declare Rogers “produced” the Matthew Bible. One source states that he “assembled” the Bible. Other sources suggest that his share in that work was probably confined to translating the prayer of Manasses (inserted here for the first time in a printed English Bible), the general task of editing the materials at his disposal and preparing the marginal notes collected from various sources. These are often cited as the first original English language commentary on the Bible. Rogers also contributed the Song of Manasses in the Apocrypha, which he found in a French Bible printed in 1535. His work was largely used by those who prepared the Great Bible (1539–40), and this eventually led to the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and the King James Version.

Rogers matriculated at the University of Wittenberg on 25 November 1540, where he remained for three years, becoming a close friend of Philipp Melanchthon and other leading figures of the early Protestant Reformation. On leaving Wittenberg he spent four and a half years as a superintendent of a Lutheran church in Meldorf, Dithmarschen, near the mouth of the River Elbe in the north of Germany.

Rogers returned to England in 1548, where he published a translation of Philipp Melanchthon’s Considerations of the Augsburg Interim.

In 1550 he was presented to the crown livings of St Margaret Moses and St Sepulchre in London, and in 1551 was made a prebendary of St. Paul’s, where the dean and chapter soon appointed him divinity lecturer. He courageously denounced the greed shown by certain courtiers with reference to the property of the suppressed monasteries and defended himself before the privy council. He also declined to wear the prescribed vestments, donning instead a simple round cap. On the accession of Mary he preached at Paul’s Cross commending the “true doctrine taught in King Edward’s days,” and warning his hearers against “pestilent Popery, idolatry and superstition.” Defamatory pamphlets littered the streets exhorting Protestants to take up arms against Mary Tudor. ‘Nobles and gentlemen favouring the word of God’ were asked to overthrow the ‘detestable papists’, especially ‘the great devil’, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. A number of leading Protestant figures, including John Rogers, were arrested and leading reformist bishops such as John Hooper and Hugh Latimer were imprisoned weeks later. Thomas Cranmer was sent to the Tower for his role in Lady Jane’s attempted coup.

Rogers was also against radical Protestants. After Joan of Kent was imprisoned in 1548 and convicted in April 1549, John Foxe, one of the few Protestants opposed to burnings, approached Rogers to intervene to save Joan, but he refused with the comment that burning was “sufficiently mild” for a crime as grave as heresy.

Imprisonment and Martyrdom

On 16 August 1553, he was summoned before the council and bidden to keep within his own house. His emoluments were taken away and his prebend was filled in October. In January 1554, Bonner, the new Bishop of London, sent him to Newgate Prison, where he lay with John Hooper, Laurence Saunders, John Bradford, and others for a year. Their petitions, whether for less rigorous treatment or for opportunity of stating their case, were disregarded. In December 1554, Parliament re-enacted the penal statutes against Lollards, and on 22 January 1555, two days after they took effect, Rogers (with ten other people) came before the council at Gardiner’s house in Southwark, and defended himself in the examination that took place. On 28 and 29 January he came before the commission appointed by Cardinal Pole and was sentenced to death by Gardiner for heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the real presence in the sacrament. He awaited and met death cheerfully, though he was even denied a meeting with his wife. Shortly before the execution, Rogers was offered a pardon if he were to recant but refused. He was burned at the stake on 4 February 1555 at Smithfield. Bishop Thomas Cranmer who had encouraged the Matthew Bible, was executed in 1556 also by Queen Mary I of England.

Antoine de Noailles, the French ambassador, said in a letter that Rogers’ death confirmed the alliance between the Pope and England. He also spoke of the support given to Rogers by the greatest part of the people: “even his children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding.”

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Matthew’s Bible

Convocation meanwhile was not satisfied with Coverdale’s translation, and Coverdale himself in his honest modesty had expressed the hope that an improved translation should follow his own. Accordingly in 1537–probably at the suggestion of, and with some support from, Crumwell and certainly to his satisfaction–a large folio Bible appeared, as edited and dedicated to the King, by Thomas Matthew. This name has, since the days of Foxe, been held to be a pseudonym for John Rogers, the protomartyr of the Marian persecution, a Cambridge graduate who had for some years lived in intimacy with Tyndale at Antwerp, and who became the possessor of his manuscript at his death. Besides the New Testament, Tyndale, as above mentioned, had published translations of the Pentateuch, the Book of Jonah, and portions of the Apocrypha, and had left a manuscript version of Joshua to 2 Chronicles. Rogers, apparently taking all he could find of the work of Tyndale, supplemented this by the work of Coverdale and issued the composite volume with the title, “The Bible, which is all the Holy Scriptures, in which are contayned the Olde and Newe Testaments, truely and purely translated into English by Thomas Matthew. Esaye I, Hearken to, ye heavens, and thou earth, geave eare: for the Lord speaketh. MDXXXVII.” After the banning and burning of Tyndale’s New Testament on its arrival in England 11 years before, it is not easy to account for the royal sanction with which the translation appeared. It was probably granted to the united efforts of Cranmer and Crumwell, aided perhaps by the King’s desire to show action independent of the church. The royal sanction, it will be noted, was given in the same year in which it was given to Coverdale’s second edition. That version became the basis of our present Bible. It was on Matthew’s version that for 75 years thereafter all other versions were based.

Richard Taverner

Matthew’s first edition of 1,500 copies was soon exhausted, and a new edition was issued with some revision by Richard Taverner, a cultivated young layman and lawyer who had in his early years been selected by Wolsey for his college at Oxford. He was imprisoned in its cellar for reading Tyndale’s New Testament; but he was soon released for his singular musical accomplishments. He was an excellent Grecian, of good literary taste and of personal dignity. For the Old Testament curiously enough he made, good Grecian as he was, no use of the Septuagint; but throughout aimed successfully at idiomatic expression, as also at compression and vividness. Some of his changes are kept in the King James Version, such as “parables” for “similitudes” and in Mt 24:12, “The love of the many shall wax cold,” and others. He also does greater justice to the Greek article. His dedication to the king is manly and dignified and compares most favorably with the dedications of other translators, including that of the King James Version. The book appeared in two editions, folio and quarto, in 1539, and in the same year two editions, folio and quarto, of the New Testament. The Bible and the New Testament were each reprinted once, and his Old Testament was adopted in a Bible of 1551. But with these exceptions, Taverner’s version was practically outside of influence on later translations.

The Great Bible (Cranmer’s Bible)

The next Bible to appear was named from its size. Its pages are fully 15 inches long and over 9 inches broad. It was meant to be in a way a state edition and is known as the Great Bible. As sufficiently good type, paper and other requisites could not be found in England, it was resolved that it should be printed in Paris. Coverdale and Grafton, the printer, went to Paris to superintend the printing; but the French church authorities interfered and the presses, types and workmen had to be transferred to London where the work was finished. It was the outcome of the Protestant zeal of Crumwell who wished to improve upon the merely composite volume of Tyndale and Coverdale. Its origin is not very accurately known, and authorities such as Hume, Burnet and Froude have ventured upon statements regarding it, for which there is really no proof (Eadie, I, 356 ff). The duty of editor or reviser was by Crumwell assigned to Coverdale who, as a pliant man and really interested in the improvement of the English version, was quite willing to undertake a work that might supersede his own. The rapidity with which the work was executed and the proofs of the minute care devoted to it by Coverdale may appear remarkable to those who are acquainted with the deliberate and leisurely methods of the large committee that produced the King James Version in the reign of King James or the Revised Version (British and American) in the reign of Queen Victoria. Of course, Coverdale had been over all the work before and knew the points at which improvements were to be applied; and a zealous and expert individual can accomplish more than a committee. Luther translated the New Testament and, after revising his work with Melanchthon, had it printed and published in less than a year. The printing of the Great Bible began in May, 1538, and was completed in April, 1539, a handsome folio, printed in black letter, with the title, “The Byble in Englyshe, that is to say, the contents of all the holy scripture, bothe of the olde and newe testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by the dylygent studye of dyverse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tongues. Prynted by Rychard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum. 1539.” The elaborate notes for which asterisks and various other marks are provided were never supplied; but the actual translation shows devoted attention to the work and much fine appreciation of the original languages and of English. In the New Testament the version derived assistance from the Latin version of Erasmus, and in the Old Testament from Munster and Pagninus. Variations in the text could of course be got from the Complutensian Polyglot. The Great Bible shows considerable improvement upon Tyndale in the New Testament, and upon Coverdale in the Old Testament. “So careful,” says Eadie (I, 370), “had been Coverdale’s revision and so little attachment had he to his own previous version, that in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah the Bible of 1539 differs in nearly forty places from his version of 1535.” The clergy of course had no love for Crumwell and still less for his work, though to avert clerical prejudices, Coverdale had made concessions in his translation. The work was cordially welcomed by the people, and a copy was ordered to be printed for every parish church, the cost to be paid half by the parson and half by the parishioners. A further revision of this version was carried out by Coverdale for a second edition which appeared in April, 1540, and is known as Cranmer’s Bible, mainly from the judicious and earnest preface which the archbishop wrote for it. “It exhibits a text formed on the same principles as that of 1539, but after a fuller and more thorough revision” (Westcott, 254). Two other editions followed in the same year and three more in the year following (1541).

Reaction, 1541-57

After the publication of the Great Bible (1539-41) no further advance took place for many years. The later years of Henry VIII indeed were marked by serious reaction. In 1542 Convocation with the royal consent made an attempt, fortunately thwarted by Cranmer, to Latinize the English version and to make it in reality what the Romish version of Rheims subsequently became. In the following year Parliament, which then practically meant the King and two or three members of the Privy Council, restricted the use of the English Bible to certain social classes that excluded nine-tenths of the population; and three years later it prohibited the use of everything but the Great Bible. It was probably at this time that there took place the great destruction of all previous work on the English Bible which has rendered examples of that work so scarce. Even Tunstall and Heath were anxious to escape from their responsibility in lending their names to the Great Bible. In the midst of this reaction Henry VIII died, January 28, 1547.

Edward VI

No new work marked the reign of Edward VI, but great activity prevailed in the printing of previous versions Thirty-five New Testaments and thirteen Bibles were published during his reign of six years and a half; and injunctions were issued urging every person to read “the very lively Word of God” and for a copy of the Great Bible with the English paraphrase of Erasmus to be set up in every church. By royal order a New Testament was to be sold for 22nd, a sum representing as many shillings of present value.


Less repressive work regarding the translation and diffusion of Scripture than might have been expected occurred in the reign of Mary, though in other directions the reaction was severe enough. According to Lord Burghley, during the three years and nine months of Mary’s reign, the number of 400 persons perished–men, women, maidens and children–by imprisonment, torment, famine and fire. Among the martyrs were Cranmer and Rogers; Coverdale escaped martyrdom only by exile and the powerful intervention of the king of Denmark. The copies of the Bibles in the churches were of course burned; and–though individual translations were not specified–proclamations were issued against certain books and authors. Still the books were not, as formerly, bought up and confiscated; and so the activity of Edward’s reign in the production of Bibles left copies widely distributed throughout the country at the close of Mary’s reign. At this time a New Testament was printed at Geneva which had great influence upon future versions of the Bible.

John Knox

John Knox was a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the country’s Reformation. He was the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. One of the Knox scholars at the University of Edinburgh talks about how Knox was introduced to the great Hebraist Anthony Gilby in Geneva. Gilby and Knox became close friends as they were exiled together during the reign of Bloody Mary. While Knox was in Geneva with Gilby, he learned Hebrew. And it was probably there in Geneva that he picked up this Bible, and when he got back to Scotland he signed and dated it. Knox studied this book because it is the Word of God in its original language. This was what Knox was about: knowing and preaching the Word of God. And this was what Knox wanted to restore to the life of the church. We don’t know what happened to the rest of John Knox’s books. Many of them were lost. We can hope that this will be the first of many such serendipitous discoveries of Knox’s books and that we will be seeing more articles from more Scottish libraries on Knox’s books. – Smithsonian church History.

The Geneva Bible (the “Breeches Bible”)

This New Testament was issued in 1557 and was most probably the work of West Whittingham, an English exile who had married Calvin’s sister. It was translated from the Greek and compared carefully with other versions It had also a marginal commentary which was more complete than anything similar that had yet appeared in England; and it was the first translation that was printed in roman letter and in which chapters were divided into verses. Calvin wrote for it an introductory epistle, and it had also an address by the reviser himself. A few months after its publication the more serious task of the revision of the whole Bible was begun and continued for the space of two years and more, the translators working at it “day and night.” Who the translators were is not said; but Whittingham, probably with Gilby and Sampson, stayed at Geneva for a year and a half after Elizabeth came to the throne, and saw the work through. It was finished in 1560, and in a dignified preface was dedicated to Elizabeth. The cost was met by members of the Congregation at Geneva, among whom was John Bodley, father of the founder of the great library at Oxford. Its handy form–a modest quarto–along with its vigorously expressed commentary, made it popular even with people who objected to its source and the occasional Calvinistic tinge of its doctrines. It became and remained the popular edition for nearly three- quarters of a century. The causes of its popularity are explained in Westcott, 125 f. Bodley had received the patent for its publication; and upon his asking for an extension of the patent for twelve years, the request was generously granted by Archbishop Parker and Grindly, bishop of London, though the Bishops’ Bible was already begun.

The “Breeches Bible.”

The Geneva version is often called the “Breeches Bible” from its translation of Ge 3:7: “They sewed figleaves together, and made themselves breeches.” This translation, however, is not peculiar to the Genevan version. It is the translation of perizomata in both the Wycliffe VSS; it is also found in Caxton’s version of the “Golden Legende.”

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

The Bishops’ Bible

Queen Elizabeth, the beginning of whose reign was beset with great difficulties, restored the arrangements of Edward VI. A copy of the Great Bible was required to be provided in every church, and every encouragement was given to the reading of the Scriptures. The defects of the Great Bible were admitted and were the not unnatural result of the haste with which–notwithstanding its two revisions–it had been produced. These became more apparent when set beside the Geneva version, which, however, the archbishop and clergy could hardly be expected to receive with enthusiasm, as they had had nothing to do with its origin and had no control over its renderings and marginal notes. Archbishop Parker, moreover, who had an inclination to Biblical studies, had at the same time a passion for uniformity; and probably to this combination of circumstances may be traced the origin of the Bishops’ Bible. Parker superintended the work, which was begun in 1563-64; he was aided by eight bishops–from whom the version received its name–and other scholars. It appeared in a magnificent volume in 1568, without a word of flattery, but with a preface in which the revisers express a lofty consciousness of the importance of their work. It was published in 1568: cum privilegio regiae Majestatis. A revised and in many places corrected edition was issued in 1572, and another in 1575, the year of the archbishop’s death. The general aim of the version is a quaint literality, but along with this is found the use of not a few explanatory words and phrases not found in the original text. More exact notice also than in previous versions is taken of the use of the Greek article and of the particles and conjunctions. It bears marks, however, of the hand of the individual translators by whom the work was done; and of the want of the revision of each translator’s work by the rest, and of some general revision of the whole. The Genevan version was the work of collegiate labor, to which much of its superiority is due. Though Parker did not object to the circulation of the Genevan version, Convocation after his death made some unsuccessful attempts to popularize the Bishops’ Bible; but the Genevan translation was not easily thrust aside. “It grew,” says Eadie (II, 35), “to be in greater demand than the Bishops’ or Cranmer’s. Ninety editions of it were published in the reign of Elizabeth, as against forty of all the other versions Of Bibles, as distinct from New Testaments, there were twenty-five editions of Cranmer’s and the Bishops’, but sixty of the Genevan.”

Rheims and Douai Version

The production of an official version of the sacred Scriptures for English Roman Catholics was probably due more to rivalry with the Reformers than to any great zeal of the authorities of the Roman church for the spread of vernacular Scripture; though, according to the Arundelian Constitution above mentioned, it was only to the printing and reading of unauthorized translations that objection was then taken by the Roman authorities. But if there was to be a special version for Catholics, it was clearly reasonable that the work should be done by Catholics and accompanied by Catholic explanations. This was undertaken by some English Catholic scholars who, on the success of the Reformation in England, had left the country and settled at Douai in the Northeast of France, with a short transference of their seminary to Rheims. The version was probably produced under the influence of (Cardinal) Allen and an Oxford scholar, Gregory Martin. It was made from the Vulgate, the Bible of Jerome and Augustine, and not, like the Protestant VSS, from the Hebrew and Greek originals. The New Testament was issued from Rheims in 1582 and the Old Testament from Douai in 1609. The main objection to the version is the too close adherence of the translators to the words of the original and the too great Latinizing of the English, so that their translation “needs,” as Fuller said, “to be translated.” Still they have a few words which along with a few Latinisms were adopted by the translators of the King James Version, such as “upbraideth not,” “bridleth his tongue,” at his own charges, and others; and they have the special merit of preserving uniformity of rendering. The translation met with no great success and the circulation was not large.

The Authorized Version (King James Version)

The King James Version owed its origin to a chance remark regarding mistranslations in the existing versions made at the Hampton Court Conference, a meeting of bishops and Puritan clergy held (1604) in the interest of religious toleration before James was actually crowned. The meeting was ineffectual in all points raised by the Puritans, but it led to the production of the English Bible. Dr. Reynolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, probably with some reference to the rivalry between the Bishops’ Bible and the Genevan version, remarked on the imperfections of the current Bibles. The remark was not very enthusiastically received except by the King, who caught eagerly at the suggestion of a fresh version, “professing that he could never yet see a Bible well translated in English,” and blaming specially the Genevan version, probably on account of the pointed character of its marginal notes. Probably with the aid of the universities, the King without delay nominated the revisers to the number of fifty-four from among the best Hebrew and Greek scholars of the day. Only 47 actually took part in the work which, however–officially at least–they were in no hurry to begin; for, although named in 1604 and with all the preliminaries arranged before the end of that year, they did not begin their work till 1607. Their remuneration was to be by church preferment, for which the archbishop was to take measures. The immediate expenses, the King suggested, should be supplied by the bishops and chapters who, however, did not respond. “King James’ version never cost King James a farthing,” says Eadie (II, 153 f), who here gives some interesting information on this aspect of the revision. They wrought in six companies of which two met respectively in Westminster, Cambridge and Oxford. Elaborate rules, given in full in most histories of the Bible, were laid down for the revisers’ guidance, the King being particularly insistent upon Rule 9, which provided for the revision of the work of each Company by the rest. When any Company had finished the revision of a book, it was to be sent to all the rest for their criticism and suggestions, ultimate differences of opinion to be settled at a general meeting of each Company. Learned men outside the board of revisers were to be invited to give their opinions in cases of special difficulty.

The Apocrypha

One of the Cambridge Companies was specially appointed to revise the Apocrypha, in which considerable license was taken, as the seven members composing the Company had probably no very firm belief in the inspiration of its books. The marginal notes, too, are freer in character than those of the Old Testament. By the early translators, Tyndale and Coverdale, the Apocrypha was simply accepted as part of the heritage of the church; it had a place likewise in the Great Bible, the Bishops’ Bible and most even of the Gentvan copies. But by the middle of the 17th century opinion even in the Church of England had changed regarding it, and it was about this time that Bibles began to be printed having the canonical books only. The Apocrypha is now hardly at all printed otherwise than separately (note also should be taken of the treatment of the Apocrypha in the Revised Version (British and American), as stated below).

Impressed with the importance of their task, the revisers worked strenuously at it for two years; and nine months more were devoted to revision by a special committee consisting of two members from each center, and in 1611 the result of the work appeared. It is not wonderful that the work was described by a contemporary entitled to give a judgment on it (Selden, Table Talk) as “the best translation in the world”–a verdict that later opinion has abundantly ratified. It was the copestone of a work on which 90 years of solid labor had by different hands been expended, and it was done by half a hundred of the foremost scholars of the day who knew Hebrew and Greek, and who also knew English For three centuries it has grown in popular esteem, and it is justly regarded as one of the best possessions and one of the most unifying influences of the widely scattered English-speaking race.

On the title page as issued in 1611, the version is described as “newly translated out of the original tongues” and as “appointed to be read in churches,” two statements not easy to reconcile with the actual facts. The first rule for the revisers’ guidance provided that the work was to consist in a revision of the Bishops’ Bible: it was not said that it was to be a new translation. There is, further, no sanction of the version by King, Parliament, Convocation or Privy Council. Like Jerome’s version twelve centuries before, it was left to find acceptance as best it might by its own intrinsic merit.

Further Revisions

Already in the days of the Commonwealth proposals were made for a new version; but though several meetings were held of a committee appointed by Parliament for the purpose in 1657, nothing came of the movement (Lewis, History of Translations, 354). For nearly half a century the chief rival of the King James Version was the Geneva Bible which was in wide private use. Formal revision was not undertaken again till the reign of Queen Victoria. But between 1611 and the date of the recent revision not a few small alterations had been silently introduced into the King James Version, as was indeed only to be expected if the changes in the orthography of the language were to be correctly represented on the printed page. Advancing literary criticism, too, and minute linguistic study showed that since the days of the revisers many words had changed their meaning, and that verbal inaccuracies and a few less venial errors could be proved in the revisers’ work. But what probably weighed most with scholars in inducing them to enter upon a new version was the extraordinary increase that since the last revision had taken place in our knowledge of the Hebrew text and more especially of the Greek text of Scripture. Important manuscripts had been brought to light of which the 17th-century revisers knew nothing, and scholars had with minute care examined and compared all the early copies of the Scripture studies which, without altering the main import of the gospel story, were shown to have considerable importance on the actual words’ and sometimes on the meaning of the text. After much discussion of the subject in special volumes and in the leading magazines and reviews of Britain and America, there was a general agreement among scholars that a fresh version was advisable.

English Revised Version

The history of the English revision is given at length in the preface to the English Revised Version of the New Testament. It originated with the Convocation of Canterbury of the Church of England in the year 1870 when a committee of 16 members was appointed with power to add to its numbers. By this committee invitations to join it was issued to the outstanding Hebrew and Greek scholars of the country, irrespective of religious denomination, and eventually, two Companies were formed, one for the Old Testament and one for the New Testament, consisting each of 27 members, in which all the churches of the country were represented, the Roman Catholics alone excepted, and Dr. Newman had been invited to join the New Testament committee. The churches of America were also invited to cooperate, and this they did by forming two Companies corresponding to the British with due provision for the mutual comparison of results and suggestions. Where the suggestions from America were not accepted by the British revisers, they were recorded in an appendix to the published volume. The names of the revisers and the rules and principles laid down for the procedure of both Companies will be found in Eadie (II, 481 ff). The New Testament was published in May 1881; the work occupied the Company for about 40 days in each year for 10 years. The Old Testament revision occupied the Company for 792 days in a period of 14 years. The entire Bible was published in May 1885. It did not include the Apocrypha, a revision of which was issued separately in 1895.

American Revised Version (American Standard Version) 1901

The American Standard Version (ASV) is rooted in the work that was done with the Revised Version (RV) (a late 19th-century British revision of the King James Version of 1611). In 1870, an invitation was extended to American religious leaders for scholars to work on the RV project. A year later, Protestant theologian Philip Schaff chose 30 scholars representing the denominations of Baptist, Congregationalist, Dutch Reformed, Friends, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Protestant Episcopal, and Unitarian. These scholars began work in 1872.

The RV New Testament was released In 1881; the Old Testament was published in 1885. The ASV was published in 1901 by Thomas Nelson & Sons. In 1928, the International Council of Religious Education (the body that later merged with the Federal Council of Churches to form the National Council of Churches) acquired the copyright from Nelson and renewed it the following year.

The divine name of the Almighty (the Tetragrammaton) is consistently rendered Jehovah in the ASV Old Testament, rather than LORD as it appears in the King James Bible.

The ASV has been the basis of five revisions. They were the Revised Standard Version, 1971, the Amplified Bible, 1965, the New American Standard Bible, 1995, and the Recovery Version, 1999. A fifth revision, known as the World English Bible, was published in 2000 and was placed in the public domain. The ASV was also the basis for Kenneth N. Taylor’s Bible paraphrase, The Living Bible, 1971. The ASV is also the basis for the 2021 Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

This was undertaken, not by Convocation, but by the University Presses, a special Company being formed for the purpose from the Old Testament and New Testament Companies.

The Revised Version (British and American) has been before the English-speaking world for a quarter of a century, and it can hardly be said with safety that it has as yet made any progress in displacing the King James Version in public esteem. Of course, as much could be said for the King James Version in its day. It was very slow in gaining acceptance with the people: and yet unreasoning affection for its very words and phraseology is now one of the main obstacles to the acceptance of an admittedly more scientifically based original text and a more correct and not displeasing rendering of the same. A large number of the changes are certainly not such as appeal strongly to popular sympathy. “The Greek text of the New Testament of 1881 has been estimated to differ from that of 1611 in no less than 5,788: readings, of which about a quarter are held notably to modify the subject-matter; though even of these only a small proportion can be considered as of first-rate importance” (Kenyon, 239). On the other hand, Hebrew, and especially the cognate Semitic languages, are now a great deal better known than before 1611, and considerable improvement is noticeable in the bringing out of the meaning in the poetical and prophetical books. The Revised Version (British and American) contains the best results of the scholarship of the Victorian age and cannot fail to be regarded as of the greatest utility to the reader and student of the King James Version. In the religious life the mind is essentially conservative, and nothing but time will show whether the undoubted merits of the Revised Version (British and American) are such as to outweigh the claims of sentiment and affection with which the King James Version is held.


Revised Standard Version (RSV)

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV) is an authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611.

The King James Version has with good reason been termed “the noblest monument of English prose.” Its revisers in 1881 expressed admiration for “its simplicity, its dignity, its power, its happy turns of expression … the music of it cadences, and the felicities of its rhythm.” It entered, as no other book has, into the making of the personal character and the public institutions of the English-speaking peoples.

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, was published on September 30, 1952, and has met with wide acceptance.

The Revised Standard Version Bible seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the years. It is intended for use in public and private worship, not merely for reading and instruction. We have resisted the temptation to use phrases that are merely current usage and have sought to put the message of the Bible in simple, enduring words that are worthy to stand in the great Tyndale-King James tradition. We are glad to say, with the King James translators: “Truly (good Christian Reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one … but to make a good one better.”


New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV) was published in 1989 and has received the widest acclaim and broadest support from academics and church leaders of any modern English translation.

 It is the only Bible translation that is as widely ecumenical:

  • The ecumenical NRSV Bible Translation Committee consists of thirty men and women who are among the top scholars in America today. They come from Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. The committee also includes a Jewish scholar.
  • The RSV was the only major translation in English that included both the standard Protestant canon and the books that are traditionally used by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians (the so-called “Apocryphal” or “Deuterocanonical” books). Standing in this tradition, the NRSV is available in three ecumenical formats: a standard edition with or without the Apocrypha, a Roman Catholic Edition, which has the so-called “Apocryphal” or “Deuterocanonical” books in the Roman Catholic canonical order, and The Common Bible, which includes all books that belong to the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox canons.
  • The NRSV stands out among the many translations available today as the Bible translation that is the most widely “authorized” by the churches. It received the endorsement of thirty-three Protestant churches. It received the imprimatur of the American and Canadian Conferences of Catholic bishops. And it received the blessing of a leader of the Greek Orthodox Church.

They claim that the NRSV is truly a Bible for all Christians!

Rooted in the past, but right for today, the NRSV continues the tradition of William Tyndale, the King James Version, the American Standard Version, and the Revised Standard Version. Equally important, it sets a new standard for the 21st Century.

 The NRSV stands out among the many translations because it is “as literal as possible” in adhering to the ancient texts and only “as free as necessary” to make the meaning clear in graceful, understandable English. It draws on newly available sources that increase our understanding of many previously obscure biblical passages. These sources include new-found manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, other texts, inscriptions, and archaeological finds from the ancient Near East, and new understandings of Greek and Hebrew grammar.

The NRSV differs from the RSV in four primary ways:

  • updating the language of the RSV, by replacing archaic forms of speech addressed to God (Thee, Thou, wast, dost, etc.), and by replacing words whose meaning has changed significantly since the RSV translation (for example, Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 11.25 that he was “stoned” once)
  • making the translation more accurate,
  • helping it to be more easily understood, especially when it is read out loud, and
  • making it clear where the original texts intend to include all humans, male and female, and where they intend to refer only to the male or female gender.

New International Version (NIV)

 The New International Version (NIV) is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.

The initial vision for the project was provided by a single individual – an engineer working with General Electric in Seattle by the name of Howard Long. Long was a lifelong devotee of the King James Version, but when he shared it with his friends he was distressed to find that it just didn’t connect. Long saw the need for a translation that captured the truths he loved in the language that his contemporaries spoke.

For 10 years, Long and a growing group of like-minded supporters drove this idea. The passion of one man became the passion of a church, and ultimately the passion of a whole group of denominations. And finally, in 1965, after several years of preparatory study, a trans-denominational and international group of scholars met in Palos Heights, Illinois, and agreed to begin work on the project – determining to not simply adapt an existing English version of the Bible but to start from scratch with the best available manuscripts in the original languages. Their conclusion was endorsed by a large number of church leaders who met in Chicago in 1966.

A self-governing body of fifteen biblical scholars, the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) was formed and charged with responsibility for the version, and in 1968 the New York Bible Society (which subsequently became the International Bible Society and then Biblica) generously undertook the financial sponsorship of the project. The translation of each book was assigned to translation teams, each made up of two lead translators, two translation consultants, and a stylistic consultant where necessary. The initial translations produced by these teams were carefully scrutinized and revised by intermediate editorial committees of five biblical scholars to check them against the source texts and assess them for comprehensibility. Each edited text was then submitted to a general committee of eight to twelve members before being distributed to selected outside critics and to all members of the CBT in preparation for a final review. Samples of the translation were tested for clarity and ease of reading with pastors, students, scholars, and lay people across the full breadth of the intended audience. Perhaps no other translation has undergone a more thorough process of review and revision. From the very start, the NIV sought to bring modern Bible readers as close as possible to the experience of the very first Bible readers: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. With this clarity of focus, however, came the realization that the work of translating the NIV would never be truly complete. As new discoveries were made about the biblical world and its languages, and as the norms of English usage developed and changed over time, the NIV would also need to change to hold true to its original vision.

And so in the original NIV charter, provision was made not just to issue periodic updates to the text but also to create a mechanism for constant monitoring of changes in biblical scholarship and English usage. The CBT was charged to meet every year to review, maintain, and strengthen the NIV’s ability to accurately and faithfully render God’s unchanging Word in modern English.

The 2011 update to the NIV is the latest fruit of this process. By working with input from pastors and Bible scholars, by grappling with the latest discoveries about biblical languages and the biblical world, and by using cutting-edge research on English usage, the Committee on Bible Translation has updated the text to ensure that the New International Version of the Bible remains faithful to Howard Long’s original inspiration.


English Standard Version (ESV)

The English Standard Version (ESV) stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The fountainhead of that stream was William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526; marking its course were the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV). In that stream, faithfulness to the text and vigorous pursuit of accuracy were combined with simplicity, beauty, and dignity of expression. Our goal has been to carry forward this legacy for a new century.

To this end each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text. The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. Archaic language has been brought to current usage and significant corrections have been made in the translation of key texts. But throughout, our goal has been to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world and have defined the life and doctrine of the church over the last four centuries.

The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. It seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

New American Standard Bible (NASB1995)

While preserving the literal accuracy of the 1901 ASV, the NASB has sought to render grammar and terminology in contemporary English. Special attention has been given to the rendering of verb tenses to give the English reader a rendering as close as possible to the sense of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. In 1995, the text of the NASB was updated for greater understanding and smoother reading. 

The New American Standard Bible Update – 1995

Easier to read:

  • Passages with Old English “thee’s” and “thou’s” etc. have been updated to modern English.
  • Words and Phrases that could be misunderstood due to changes in their meaning during the past 20 years have been updated to current English.
  • Verses with difficult word order or vocabulary have been retranslated into smoother English.
  • Sentences beginning with “And” have often been retranslated for better English, in recognition of differences in style between the ancient languages and modern English. The original Greek and Hebrew did not have punctuation as is found in English, and in many cases modern English punctuation serves as a substitute for “And” in the original. In some other cases, “and” is translated by a different word such as “then” or “but” as called for by the context, when the word in the original language allows such translation.

More accurate than ever:

  • Recent research on the oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament has been reviewed, and some passages have been updated for even greater fidelity to the original manuscripts.
  • Parallel passages have been compared and reviewed.
  • Verbs that have a wide range of meaning have been retranslated in some passages to better account for their use in the context.

And still the NASB:

  • The NASB update is not a change-for-the-sake-of-change translation. The original NASB stands the test of time, and change has been kept to a minimum in recognition of the standard that has been set by the New American Standard Bible.
  • The NASB update continues the NASB’s tradition of literal translation of the original Greek and Hebrew without compromise. Changes in the text have been kept within the strict parameters set forth by the Lockman Foundation’s Fourfold Aim.
  • The translators and consultants who have contributed to the NASB update are conservative Bible scholars who have doctorates in Biblical languages, theology, or other advanced degrees. They represent a variety of denominational backgrounds.

Continuing a tradition:
The original NASB has earned the reputation of being the most accurate English Bible translation. The NASB update carries on the NASB tradition of being a true Bible translation, revealing what the original manuscripts actually say–not merely what the translator believes they mean.

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

The Christian Standard Bible aims to draw readers into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. By translating Scripture into the clearest possible modern English, the CSB allows readers to experience God’s Word at its fullest.

Developed by 100 scholars from 17 denominations, the Christian Standard Bible faithfully and accurately captures the Bible’s original meaning without compromising readability.

The CSB was created using Optimal Equivalence, a translation philosophy that balances linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English. In the many places throughout Scripture where a word-for-word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. When a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, a more dynamic translation is used. This process assures that both the words and thoughts contained in the original text are conveyed as accurately as possible for today’s readers.

The CSB provides a highly accurate text for sermon preparation and serious study, translated from the biblical languages by scholars who love God’s Word. Yet it doesn’t compromise readability and clarity for those who may be less familiar with the traditional (and sometimes difficult) vocabulary retained in some translations. Research shows the CSB is both highly literal to the original languages and highly readable, achieving an optimal balance of the two.

Pastors and laypeople can read and share the Christian Standard Bible with confidence, knowing truth of God’s Word will be communicated effectively.


The NASB does not attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB adheres to the principles of a formal equivalence translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, striving for the most readable word-for-word translation that is both accurate and clear. This method more closely follows the word and sentence patterns of the biblical authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts.

After completion in 1971, the NASB was updated in 1977, 1995, and most recently in 2020. This brand new update of the widely respected NASB 1995 builds upon its strengths by further improving accuracy, modernizing language, and improving readability. The NASB 2020 is an important update because it utilizes advances in biblical scholarship over the past 25 years and it incorporates changes necessary to keep pace with the ever-evolving English language. This refreshed text is designed to speak accurately and clearly to current and future generations.

The long-established translation standard for the NASB remains the same as it always has been, that is to accurately translate the inspired Word of God from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts into modern English that is clearly understandable today.

The NASB 2020 is a Bible that is accessible to all readers and is presented in a way that clearly and accurately communicates the content, so it is understood in the same way it would have been to the original audience. Most importantly, the NASB 2020 provides a literal translation of the Bible that clearly communicates God’s message to the modern English reader so that everyone can continue to grow in their knowledge and love of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Updated American Standard Version (UASV)


Our primary purpose is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place.—Truth Matters!


Our primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator.—Translating Truth!


The Updated American Standard Version will be one of the most faithful and accurate translations to date by Christian Publishing House. It will remain faithful to the original and what the authors penned. We will not go beyond the translator’s responsibility into the field of the interpreter.

Removing the Outdated

  • Passages with the Old English “thee’s” and “thou’s” etc. have been replaced with modern English.
  • Many words and phrases that were extremely ambiguous or easily misunderstood since the 1901 ASV have been updated according to the best lexicons.
  • Verses with difficult word order or vocabulary have been translated into correct English grammar and syntax, for easier reading. However, if the word order of the original conveyed meaning, it was kept.

More Accurate

  • The last 110+ years have seen the discovering of far more manuscripts, especially the papyri, with many manuscripts dating within 100 years of the originals.
  • While making more accurate translation choices, we have stayed true to the literal translation philosophy of the ASV, while other literal translations abandon the philosophy far too often.
  • The translator seeks to render the Scriptures accurately, without losing what the Bible author penned by changing what the author wrote, by distorting or embellishing through imposing what the translator believes the author meant into the original text.
  • Accuracy in Bible translation is being faithful to what the original author wrote (the words that he used), as opposed to going beyond into the meaning, trying to determine what the author meant by his words. The latter is the reader’s job.
  • The translator uses the most reliable, accurate critical texts (e.g., WH, NA, UBS, BHS, as well as the original language texts, versions, and other sources that will help him to determine the original reading.

Why the Need for Updated Translations?

  • New manuscript discoveries
  • Changes in the language
  • A better understanding of the original languages
  • Improved insight into Bible translation



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