The Transmission of the Bible to English
500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make Up The 39 Books
of the Old Testament.
200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint
Greek Manuscripts which contain The 39 Old
Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.
1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make Up The
27 Books of the New Testament.
390 AD: Jerome's
Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain 80 Books (39 Old
Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).
500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.
600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed
995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New
1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of
Complete Bible in English (80 Books). Wycliffe had no access to Greek or Hebrew
manuscripts and was thus totally reliant on the fourth century Latin translation of St.
1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books
May Now be mass-produced
Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg's Bible in
1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.
1522 AD: Martin
Luther's German New Testament.
1526 AD: William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament to be Printed in
the English Language. (Worms edition)
1530 AD: Tyndale's translation of the Pentateuch (the first
five books of the Old
Testament is Printed.
1531 AD: Tyndale's translation of the Book of Jonah is Printed.
1534 AD: Tyndale's revised New Testament is Printed.
1535 AD: Myles Coverdale's
Bible; The First Complete Bible to be printed in the
English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).
1537 AD: Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible to be Printed in English. Done
by John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers
1539 AD: The "Great Bible" Printed; The First English Language Bible to be
Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).
1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to Add
Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).
1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a
Revision (80 Books).
1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheimes New Testament (of
Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80
1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with 80 Books. The Apocrypha was
Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving
1782 AD: Robert Aitken's Bible; The First English Language Bible (a King James
Version without Apocrypha) to be Printed in America.
1791 AD: Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas Respectively Produce the
First Family Bible
and First Illustrated Bible Printed in America. Both were King James Versions.
1808 AD: Jane Aitken's Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be Printed
by a Woman.
Noah Webster's Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster
Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.
1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison showing the
Greek and 6 Famous English
Translations in Parallel Columns.
1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible printed in America.
A King James Version.
1885 AD: The "Revised Version" Bible; The First Major English Revision
of the King
1901 AD: The "American Standard Version"; The First Major American Revision of the
King James Bible.
1971 AD: The "New American Standard Bible" (NASB) is Published as a "Modern
Accurate Word for Word English Translation" of the Bible.
1973 AD: The "New International Version" (NIV) is Published as a "Modern and
Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation" of the Bible.
The "New King James Version" (NKJV) is Published as a "Modern English
Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James."
Early English translations
Since the clergy and the upper classes were trained in Latin
and much of the
rest of the population was illiterate, there was for many years little need for
translations of the Bible into English. With written material available only in
manuscript, even those able to read Latin had little access to the
The lay population received instruction from the clergy and through the images
presented in stone and glass on the great cathedrals.
A few translations were made of portions of the Bible; these included short
glosses to Latin
texts and longer, sometimes poetic version of whole books.
Some of these were apparently created for the use of monks and nuns; there is
little indication they were available to the lay population. As manuscripts, their
circulation, even among
clergy, was limited.
The rise of Protestantism, with its greater emphasis on individual access to
God, led, perhaps inevitably, to attempts to create an English Bible. If each
individual was equally able to interpret God's law without mediation
church, than each individual should have access to the word of God as recorded
in the Bible. Sometime between 1380 and 1384 friends and colleagues of John
Wycliffe (1330-1384) produced a very literal English translation of the Latin
Vulgate which was circulated in manuscript copies.
This translation preserved Latin constructions and word order even when they
conflicted with English usage. A revised version, circulated after Wycliffe's
death and probably created by Wycliffe's
secretary, John Purvey, used English
idiom and syntax. While there was nothing heretical about either translation,
accompanying introductions and notes suggested the theological bias of the
translators, which the Catholic hierarchy associated
with the Lollards, a sect of
reformers associated with John Wycliffe. Both Purvey and Nicholas of
Hereford, a contributor to the early version, were imprisoned for their activities
and some of their associates were executed. Despite this condemnation,
manuscripts of the translation, minus the incriminating notes, remained in many
Catholic homes, even after a synod of clergy at Oxford in 1408 forbade anyone
to translate, even to read, a vernacular version of the Bible without the approval
of a diocesan bishop or a provincial council.
Early Printed Bibles
The advent of printing had a far-reaching effect on the creation of an English
Bible. The first dated printed book was a Latin Psalter (1454), and the first
was the Gutenberg Bible (1456). A complete Hebrew Bible was
printed by 1488. A Greek New Testament was printed in 1514 but not published
until later, making Eramus's 1516 edition the first published New Testament in
Greek. These and other printings
made it possible for translators to work from
the original languages rather than from the Latin Vulgate translation on which
other English versions had been based. Erasmus's edition was the basis for
Luther's German New Testament, printed in
1522, and the first English New
Testament, translated by William Tyndale and first printed in 1525.
Tyndale was born in 1494 or 1495 and educated at Oxford and Cambridge. As a
tutor, he translated an early work by
Erasmus and came to the attention of
county ecclesiastical authorities who charged him with heresy, a charge that
was not sustained. Tyndale became convinced that much of the confusion
concerning various matters then under debate was the general
ignorance of the
Bible, even among the clergy, and determined to make a vernacular English
translation from the original Greek. He could not do so legally in England,
however, without church approval. In the summer of 1523, he sought
for the endeavor from the Bishop of London but did not receive it.
Eventually, he decided to go abroad to work on his translation.
Printing of Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, based on Erasmus's
Greek edition, was completed by the
end of February, 1526. Tyndale revised his
New testament in 1534 and 1535; the 1534 version became the definitive one.
By 1530, Tyndale had published his translation of the first five books of the Old
Testament; a year later he published an
edition of Jonah. He also completed a
translation of the Old Testament books from Joshua to Second Chronicles
although it was not published until it was incorporated into "Matthew's Bible,"
in 1537. Many of Tyndale's readings found their way
into the Authorized
Version of 1611 (eventually known as the King James Version).
Tyndale's Old Testament translation was the first to be rendered directly from
the Hebrew rather than from the Latin Vulgate. While most educated men of the
period read some Greek and Latin, few knew Hebrew, and Tyndale spent many
years studying the language before making his translation. The Tyndale Old
Testament, is idiomatic and surprisingly fresh. In Genesis 3, for example, the
to Eve's protests with "Tush, ye shall not die." Elsewhere we read
that Joseph was a "lucky fellow" and that pharaoh's "jolly captains" drown in
the red sea. Not only was this an English Old Testament, the volume was small
enough to fit in a
pocket; anyone could carry and read these books on their
own, without the mediation of the clergy.
A Complete English Bible
By the time of Tyndale's death, a version of the complete Bible, in English and
drawing largely on Tyndale's work,
was being circulated. This Bible was the
work of Miles Coverdale, an Augustinian friar who left his order under the
influence of the Reformation movement and sought safety on the continent.
There, he worked as Tyndale's assistant and proof reader
before returning to
England in 1535. For much of the rest of his life, he alternated between periods
of English residence and exile, escaping death under Mary Tudor only because
of the intervention of the King of Denmark, but finally settling
permanently in 1559.
Coverdale's Bible was printed in 1535 and imported into England, a dedication
to the Henry VIII being added to the imported copies. Henry had earlier
directed Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, to produce
an English Bible.
When Coverdale's Bible appeared, the clergy reviewed it for heresy and,
finding none, recommended it to Henry, who approved its circulation. Unlike
Tyndale, Coverdale was unable to work from the original Hebrew and Greek.
Instead he created his version by consulting German and Latin translations. He
clearly also consulted Tyndale's translations: his Old Testament relies on
Tyndale's work for those books
Tyndale had published before his imprisonment and his
New Testament is
essentially Tyndale's with some revision based on other tests. Coverdale never
identified himself with Lutheranism to the extent Tyndale did; because of this
his work met with greater acceptance, even among a court that, while
Catholic, was strongly anti-Lutheran. Its acceptance was due at least in part to
the patronage of Anne Boleyn.
Soon after Coverdale's Bible was printed, a version known as "Matthew's
Bible" appeared. Again owing a great debt to
Tyndaleand probably edited by
his assistant John Rogers using the pseudonym Thomas Matthew, this 1537
edition was licensed by the king.
A 1537 edition of Coverdale's Bible, printed in England (the first complete
Bible to be printed there)
also received the king's license. The Great Bible of
1539, claimed to be the product of the efforts of diverse scholars, is essentially
Coverdale's revision of Matthew's Bible (which was principally a revision of
Tyndale's work). The Great Bible
became the official Bible of the Church of
England and in 1543, Parliament banned Tyndale's translation. Ironically, this
act also forbade any unlicensed person to read the Bible or explain it to others
publicly and for the lower classes to
read it privately. In 1546, Henry explicitly
banned both Tyndale's and Coverdale's versions, despite the fact that the Great
Bible combined the work of both men.
Controversies concerning Biblical translation continued through the reigns of
Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I. After the conservative reaction at the
end of Henry's reign, the Reformation movement flourished under Edward,
only to be suppressed again under Mary Tudor. Some closely associated with
the work of Biblical
translation, including John Rogers and Thomas Cranmer,
were executed; others, including Coverdale, fled the continent. The Great Bible,
however, remained the official English Bible during these years, but when
Elizabeth I ordered that each parish
church should have a copy of the Bible in
English a new version was available. First printed in 1560, the Geneva Bible,
produced by a group of English exiles in Geneva and strongly influenced by
John Calvin, quickly became the most widely used
The Geneva Bible was again a revision of the Great Bible and thus highly
dependent on Tyndale's work. For the first time, however, those books of the
Old Testament that Tyndale had not translated were revised with attention to
Hebrew originals. The Geneva Bible contained extensive notes, many of them
strongly Calvinist in content. In reaction to this Calvinist bias, a group of
English bishops, under the direction of Matthew Parker, revised once again the
Bible, producing a version, published in 1568, that eliminated any
offensive notes, but it never gained widespread popularity.
The Authorized Version of 1611
After James I became king in 1603, a conference of churchmen recommended
a new translation of the Bible be created, without any marginal notes, for
use in the services of the Church of England. James, who particularly disliked
the Geneva Bible, welcomed the proposal and supervised the organization of
Six panels of forty-seven men, including most of the leading
Biblical scholars of the time, divided the work of the initial translation. The
resulting draft was then submitted to a smaller group, including representatives
from each panel, for
review; the resulting text was printed in 1611. The
translators agreed upon rules that may have been drawn up by James himself:
the Bishop's Bible was to serve as the basis for the new version; the most
commonly used version of proper names
was to be used; the old version of
disputed words was to be used ("church" instead of "congregation"); marginal
notes would be used only to explain Greek or Hebrew words or to point to
parallel passages; existing chapter and verse division would
be kept but new
headings would be created for the chapters. Although commonly called the
Authorized Version, it was never officially authorized by either church or state.
James's active participation in its creation, however, did much to recommend
and this version, popularly known in the United States as the King James
version, became the most widely used Protestant English Bible.
The Douai Bible
The development of an English Bible was not entirely a Protestant undertaking.
At the same time that English exiles in cities such as Antwerp and Geneva
worked on a Protestant Bible, another group of exiles in northern France
worked on a Catholic Bible. The English College at Douai was founded in 1568
by William Allen,
moved to Rheims in 1578 and back to Douai five years later.
During the time it was located in Rheims one of its professors, Gregory Martin,
produced a Bible in English, translated from the Latin Vulgate. The New
Testament was published in Rheims
in 1582 and the Old Testament in Douai in
1609-10. Together these books form the Douai Bible, the principal English
Catholic Bible until the creation of the Jerusalem Bible in the mid-twentieth
The Bible in English: A brief history
by Kathleen Campbell