English Bible Translation History


Romans 3:1-2 and II Timothy 3:16 tells us how we got the Holy Scriptures.  Romans 3  1. “What therefore the advantage of-the Jew or what the profit of-the circumcision? 2. Much according-to every manner. For first on-the-one-hand because they-were-trusted with the oracles (writings) of-the God.  II Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is God-breathed and profitable towards teaching, toward reproof, toward correction, toward discipline the discipline in justice”.  The Holy Scripture is given in three languages: the Old Testament in Hebrew, a small amount of Aromatic, and the New Testament in Greek.  The alphabets of the Hebrew and Aromatic are very close in appearance.

 

The Bible has come to us through more than 40 writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a period of 1600 years and archaeologist have never found one piece of evidence to contradict Scripture, simply an amazing fact!

 

The printing press was invented around 1450 AD; therefore, all copies of the Bible before that time were hand written.  A very small percent of the population before 1450 AD had a copy or even access to a copy of the Bible.

 

When the Jews were making their hand copies they would count every “yod” which is a small letter in the Hebrew text that appears 66,420 times in the Old Testament.  If the number of yod’s were not correct they would discard that copy and start again.  Extreme caution was taken to insure accuracy.  Unfortunately, the same caution was not taken with the Greek text.  Even so there are very few major errors in the New Testament.  Most are minor spelling differences.  Some so call scholars have made a major issue of these errors but when the different texts are compared, the large number of errors are simply not there as claimed.  It is very easy for you to compare for yourself.  Whenever people make this claim, ask them to show you the errors.  They are usually are repeating what they have heard and not what they have learned for themselves.

 

The Hebrew language dates back to at least the time of Abraham, since in Genesis 14:13 he is referred to as “the Hebrew”.  It was probably the language of the world population up to the tower of Babel.

 

The Greek language according to the Encyclopedia Britannica dates back to about 900 BC and Greece ruled the total-inhabited-earth from approximately 336 BC to 63 BC.  Greek continued to be the common language even among the Jews.  Six translators from each of the twelve tribes of Israel were sent to Alexandria by Eleazar, the chief priest of Jerusalem, at the request of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC), a patron of literature.   They translated the Old Testament into Greek, called the Septuagint.

 

The Latin language was developed by the Romans about 600 BC.  During the rule of the Roman Empire the languages were Greek and Latin.  The alphabet of the Greek and Latin languages are very similar in appearance.

 

It is not necessary at this time to dwell on the Old Testament Hebrew since the Dead Sea Scholl’s have verified the accuracy of the known texts that are available.  One must realize that Hebrew is a very difficult language and will not be understood totally in my opinion until the Messiah returns and restores our understanding of Hebrew.

 

The three oldest Greek manuscripts known today are as follows: 1. The Alexandrian which belongs to the Church of England and is kept in the British Museum.  2. The Vatican which is in the Vatican Library in Rome.  3. The Sinaitic which is the treasure of the Greek Church at St. Petersburg.  These manuscripts date back to between 300 and 450 AD.  The Vatican manuscript is not available to the public for examination or study.

 

The first major translation from the original Hebrew and Greek to Latin was made by Eusebius Hieronymus better known to us as Saint Jerome. He lived in Bethlehem and was considered to be one of the great scholars and holiest men of his day.  The request for this translation was made by St. Damasus I who was the Pope of the Catholic Church from 366 – 384 AD.  The New Testament was completed in 385 AD and the Old Testament shortly thereafter.  This translation is known as the Latin Vulgate.

 

An interesting note about Pope Damasus I from a book sanctioned by the Catholic Church entitled ‘The Popes’ by Michael Walsh is that he hired an army of thugs that stormed the basilica in October 366 A. D. where the antipope Ursinus was located and 150 were killed.   The book ‘The Popes’ states, “So Damasus destroyed his enemies by using violence in an age of violence”.  This history can be found on pages 42-45 in ‘The Popes’  It is certainly worth reading.

 

Most people that have studied the Catholic Church believe it officially began when Constantine held the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and adopted Christianity as well as Paganism as state religions.  He had learned that man has always used some form of religion to control the masses.

 

Also during this time Emperor Theodosius of Rome declared Christianity the state religion (Feb. 27, 380 AD).  This was probably one of the biggest disasters in Church history since all pagans were required to join the Church under orders of Emperor Theodosius whether they wanted to or not.  They brought all their pagan practices with them.

 

For the next one thousand years there were no significant complete translations of the Scriptures made, only portions.  The Catholic Church dominated the total-inhabited-earth during this period of time.  In fact at the Council of Trent in 1545 the Church decided “Why should it yield to Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, which have been for all these hundreds of years in the hands of Jewish unbelievers and Greek schismatics?”  They decreed in council that the old Vulgate should be regarded as the standard text, in other words the inspired text.

 

The next major translation was by John Wycliffe (1330 – 1384 AD) The Wycliffe Bible was only a translation of a translation.  It was based on the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome.  Wycliffe was not capable of working in the original Greek and Hebrew even if he had access to them; in fact, there was probably not a man in England at the time capable of doing so.  Wycliffe’s translation was made for the plain people.  He stated, “The Sacred Scriptures are the property of the people, and one which no one should be allowed to wrest from them . . . Christ and His apostles converted the world by making known the Scriptures to men in a form familiar to them . . . and I pray with all my heart that through doing the things contained in this book we may all together come to the everlasting life.”

 

The Catholic Church did not receive Wycliffe’s translation very well at the time.  A bill was brought before Parliament to forbid the circulation of the Scriptures in English.

The rulers of the Catholic Church were determined to prevent the circulation to his translation.  After Wycliffe’s death, Archbishop Arundel complained to the Pope of “that pestilent wretch, John Wycliffe, the son of the old Serpent the forerunner of Antichrist, who had completed his iniquity by inventing a new translation of the Scriptures”.  Readers that were caught with copies to Wycliffe’s Bible were burned with the copies around their necks, husbands were made to witness against their wives, children forced to light the death-fires of their parents, and possessors of the banned Bible were hunted down as if they were wild beasts. 

 

In May 1378 the Catholic Church assembled for the trial of John Wycliffe, the parish Priest of Lutterworth.  The power of his enemies had grown rapidly, even the King of England.  Twice already the arraignment of Wycliffe had been strangely interrupted when on this third occasion an earthquake hit the City of London.  So determined were they to proceed that Archbishop Courtenay stated, “No! We will not give up the trial.  This earthquake but portends the purging of the kingdom; for as there are in the bowels of the earth noxious vapors which only by a violent earthquake can be purged away, so are there evils brought by such men upon this land which only by a very earthquake can ever be removed.  Let the trial go forward!”

 

After three days of deliberation Wycliffe’s teachings were condemned and he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and the Church of England.  On the last Sunday of 1384, his little flock at Lutterworth was kneeling in hushed reverence before the altar, John Wycliffe had a stroke.  He died on the last day of the year.

 

Forty years afterwards, by a decree of the Council of Constance, John Wycliffe’s bones were dug up and burned, and the ashes flung into the little river Swift, which “ runneth hard by his church at Lutterworth”.

 

Remember, there were still no printing presses.  It took Wycliffe’s copyist 10 months to complete one copy.  Even so, after 600 years there are still some one hundred and seventy copies remaining.  John Wycliffe made a difference in his time.

 

In November 1454 came the invention of movable type in printing.  In May 1454 came the fall of Constantinople, and crowds of Greek scholars were driven for refuge to Western Europe, teaching the language of the rediscovered classics, the language in which the New Testament was written.  ‘The Renaissance’ had come, the revival of learning in Europe. 

 

And with it came the revival of the study of Greek and Hebrew.  The first Greek grammar was published in 1476 and the first Hebrew grammar in 1503.  Then came Erasmus, a great Greek scholar, a friend of Sir Thomas More, and he began the study of the best old manuscripts he could find and so gave the world in 1516 his famous Greek New Testament.  His manuscripts were not very ancient or valuable; consequently, his New Testament was not perfect but it was the beginning.

 

There is one major difference between the Latin and Greek languages that should be understood, the article ‘the’.  There is not an article ‘the’ in the Latin language.  A. T. Robertson in his 1934 book published by Broadman Press entitled “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research”, makes a tremendous comment.  He states, “A Greek Contribution.  The development of the Greek article is one of the most interesting things in human speech.  Among the Indo-Germanic languages it is ‘a new Greek departure’.  It is not found in Sanskrit nor in Latin.”  He further states, “The article is associated with a gesture and aids in pointing out like an index finger.  It is a pointer.  Whenever the Greek article occurs, the object is certainly definite.  When it is not used, the object may or may not be. The article is never meaningless in Greek.”

 

The article ‘the’ appears over 17,000 times in the Greek text. The next most used word in the New Testament is ‘and’ and is used over 9,000 times.  Most English translations have less than one half the articles ‘the’ and in many cases it is used and should not have been.  The reason the article ‘the’ is left out is the fact that a large number of the early English translations relied heavily on the Latin Vulgate, which again does not have an article ‘the’.

 

First the Printing Press; next the revival of Greek learning; then Erasmus’ Greek New Testament; and now at this critical period came forth the man who was to use these new powers to make the first English translation of the New Testament from the Greek.  William Tyndale was born in 1483.  He studied at Cambridge with Erasmus about the time of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament.  It seems this was an inspiration to Tyndale.  In a conversation with an opponent the following comments were made:  “We had better,” said his opponent, “be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale stated, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare me I will one day make the boy that drives the plough in England to know more of Scripture than the Pope does.” 

 

Tyndale knew that without the sanction of the Church of England no publisher would dare to print his translation that he had already started.  He asked Cuthbert Tonstal, Bishop of London, for permission to carry on his work in his household under his lordship’s patronage but the Bishop said his house was full.

 

It was a troubled time in the Church of England as well as during the reign of Henry VIII (King of England 1509 – 1547) who was supposed to be a Christian.  Martin Luther had just nailed his thesis to the church door and burned the Papal bull.  Luther was excommunicated on April 17, 1521.   In 1524, Tyndale decides to leave his native land, never to see it again.  He went to Hamburg, in poverty and distress, and under constant danger he worked at his translation so diligently that the following year he was in Cologne with the pages of his New Testament.  Word of this English edition of the New Testament reached the Bishops of England and Tyndale escaped with his unfinished copies to Worms where the printing was complete.  A German scholar and friend of Tyndale’s writes in his diary that Tyndale could speak seven languages – Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, French – as his native tongue (German is taken for granted).

 

Why were so many so called Christians opposed to individuals like Wycliffe and Tyndale?  A very good explanation is found in J. Paterson Smyth’s book “How we Got Our Bible” copyright 1899.  “You need to realize that the Church was the sacred thing, the Devine Society founded by her Lord, coming down through all the ages, one body, the center of unity, the dispenser of the Holy Sacraments, the teacher of the people in their holy faith.  The Church with all her faults was still the central fact and any disturbing of her foundations would be fatal to religion.”  People like Sir Thomas More wanted translations but felt they had to be made by Catholic-minded men (loyal Churchmen).  Some things never change.

 

Sir Thomas More called Tyndale, “a beast, as one of the hell-hounds that the devil hath in his kennel, discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his brutish beastly mouth, a deceiver, a hypocrite, puffed up with the poison of pride, malice and envy.”  Yet the best that More could summon against Tyndale, when all is boiled down, is that he translated the Greek word for ‘elder’ as ‘elder’ (not priest) and the Greek word for ‘repentance’ as ‘repentance’ (not ‘do penance’), the Greek word for ‘congregation’ as ‘congregation’ (not church), ‘charity’ became ‘love’, ‘confess’ became acknowledge.  Even Erasmus, More’s friend, translated the Greek ekklesia as congregation, not ‘church’.

 

 We also now know that agapoa should be translated charity and philio as love.  We know this from actual Greek writings. In a statement by Antonius over the body of Caesar he said  “You loved (philio) him as a father and you cherished (agapoa) him as a benefactor.”  This confirms how the Greeks and Romans used philio and agapoa.  

 

Tyndale continued to update his translation as he learned more about the Greek language until the final edition of 1534 as we have it today.

 

In 1535, an English clergyman, Henry Phillips, betrayed him to the Antwerp authorities and had him kidnapped.  He was imprisoned at Vilvorde, near Brussels, Germany for sixteen months.  A letter from him, in Latin, has survived:

 

I suffer greatly from cold in the head, and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh, which is much increased in this cell . . . My overcoat is worn out; my shirts are

also worn out . . . And I ask to have a lamp in the evening: it is indeed wearisome

sitting alone in the dark.  But most of all I beg and beseech you clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may pass the time in the study.

 

Even Thomas Cromwell, the most powerful man next to King Henry VIII, moved to get him released: but Philips in Belgium, acting for the papal authorities, blocked the moves.  On the morning of October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was taken to the place of execution, tied to the stake, strangled and burned.  His last words were, “Lord open the King of England’s eyes.”

 

In 1535, we have the translation of Myles Coverdale who became the Bishop of Exeter.  His Bible makes no pretence to be an original translation; it is “translated out of Douche and Latin into English, with the help of five translators,” and evidently one is Tyndale who he follows very closely in the New Testament.  But ekklesia is now church.

 

In 1537, came “Matthews’ Bible” which was really prepared by John Rodgers. It was simply a translation taken from Tyndale except the last half of the Old Testament, which was taken from Coverdale.  Tyndale had not finished the Old Testament.  Rodgers did not put his name in the translation because of his close occasion to Tyndale.  John Rodgers was martyred during the reign of Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, who ruled from 1553 – 1558.

 

Archbishop Cranmer and some of the chief advisers to Henry VIII were determined to have a translation that would be really worthy of its position as a National Bible.  Myles Coverdale was selected to take charge of the work. He along with the Kings printer went to Paris so that “the book might be brought out in the best possible style”.  Henry had broken away from the Catholic Church by this time (he wanted to divorce his wife).  All the Bibles were seized by the “Lieutenant Criminall” but Coverdale managed to carry the printing press, the type, and the printers themselves back to England to finish the work in April 1539.  It became known as the Great Bible, but was little more than a combination of the Mathews’ and Coverdale Bibles.  Ekklesia is still church.

 

After Queen Mary took the throne in 1553, because of her close ties to the Catholic Church, most of the Bible scholars left England and moved to Geneva.  It was here that they translated the Geneva Bible which became famous as the “Breeches Bible” because of its translation of Genesis 3:7 where Adam and Eve “ sewed fig-tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches”.  It was first printed in 1560 and this was the first time the chapters were divided into verses and they omitted the Apocrypha.  It had marginal notes for better understanding of obscure passages, cross-references, concordances, maps, and picture illustrations.  It was of lower price as well as smaller and easier to carry than the Great Bible.  It became the most popular Bible that had ever appeared in England until that time.

 

In mid 1560, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, called together about a dozen bishops, scholars and dignitaries to revise King Henry VIII’s “Great Bible”.  Published in 1568, it was more lavish and expensive – even bigger than the Great Bible.  It was printed as a lectern Bible with few marginal notes, definitely intended for the private reader.  It became known as the Bishops’ Bible and was definitely translated in the direction by clergy that still believed that the true Bible was the Latin version.  It was not popular.

 

As a result of the popularity of the Geneva or Breeches Bible, in January, 1604, a conference of bishops and clergy was held in the drawing rooms of Hampton Court Palace, under the presidency of King James himself. He publicly denounced the Geneva Bible and told the translators, “that no notes should be added, having found in those which were annexed to the Geneva translation some notes very partial, untrue, seditious, and savoring too much of dangerous and traitorous conceits”.  One passage that really disturbed King James was in the first chapter of Exodus, which describes the conduct of the Hebrew midwives, who “did not as the king of Egypt commanded, but saved the men-children alive”.  Since King James was supposed to be divine, he declared, “It is false, to disobey a king is not lawful; such traitorous conceits should not go forth among the people.”  The translators were instructed to use the Bishops’ Bible as a basis for their revision.  This is the most Latinate of all the translations, which explains the poor translation of the article ‘the’ since the Latin does not have an article ‘the’.  The King James version was the first to translate pascha (Passover) as Easter in Acts 12:4.  Near the end of the Preface ‘The Translators To The Reader’, the translators state that they chose to translate thought for thought instead of word for word.  The only problem with this is that the Lord said, “ My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).  This translation was complete in 1611 but was never authorized: it had no royal seal upon it at all.  Being called an “Authorised” version did not start until the 1760s.

 

One of the great Hebrew scholars of the day, Broughton, wrote to King James that he “would rather be torn asunder by wild horses than allow such a version to be imposed on the Church”.

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Between 1611 and 1880, there were about 70 translations, but mostly these were re-translations of translations and none appear to be much different from the King James.

 

On February 10, 1870, Bishop Wilberforce rose in the Upper House of the Southern Convocation to propose, “That a committee of both Houses be appointed, with power to confer with any committee that may be appointed by the Convocation of the Northern Province, to report on the desirableness of a revision of the Authorized Version of the New Testament, whether by marginal notes or otherwise, in all those passages where plain and clear error. Whether in the Greek text adopted by the translators, or in the translations made from the same, shall on due investigation be found to exist.”

 

In June 1870, the translators assembled in the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abby in London, England to begin their work.  There were English scholars such as Alford, Stanley, Lightfoot, Westcott, Hort, to name a few.  Their stated purpose of the Convocation was “to introduce as few alterations as possible in the text of the Authorized Version”.

 

The book “ How We Got Our Bible” 1899, sums up the goal of the revisers.  “A scrupulous attention to the force of the Greek article, the different tenses of verbs, and the delicate shades of meaning in particles and prepositions, will account for many of the minor changes, which, though they may seem at first sight trifling and unnecessary, will often be found to affect seriously the meaning of a passage.  The revises also claim to have avoided the practice, adopted in the Authorized Version, of translating for the sake of euphony the same Greek word by different English words.”  The word euphony means, “the acoustic effect produced by words so formed and combined as to please the ear”.  Sounds like II Timothy 4:3 – itching ears.

 

There was also an American committee that reviewed the revision.  A major change; the Lords’ name was put back into the scriptures – Jehovah.  When the Greek word Kurios appears without the article ‘the’ it should be translated Jehovah.  With the article it is translated ‘the Lord’. This translation is without question the best translation up until that time.    The American version is known as the 1901 American Standard.

 

A clerk at Waldenbooks told me recently they have over 5,000 listings under Bibles.  There are close to 100 different English translations.  If you believe the Hebrew and Greek are divinely inspired, I wonder which one of these English translations is correct?

 

 Most language translators will tell you that before you make a translation from one language to another language you need a dictionary.  In the case of Greek to English, you will know with a dictionary what English word or combination of words to use for each Greek word.  Is it important to consistently translate each Greek word the same way each time it appears?  Revelations 22:18,91 tells us not to ‘add to’ or ‘take away’ from the scriptures.  That is plain enough for me, the scriptures should be translated as consistently and accurately as possible.

 

None of the translations that I researched could I find any indication that a dictionary was used to assure each Greek word was consistently translated to the same English word with the possible exception of William Tyndale.  We know that when he was imprisoned at Vilvorde, near Brussels, he requested his Hebrew dictionary but no mention of a Greek dictionary.

 

My first exposure to a consistently translated New Testament was in November, 1984.  Mr. Ralph H. Mount of Morriston, Florida translated it.  For twenty years before this time Mr. Mount had been preparing Bible study courses which were basically word studies.  He understood the problem that had existed with the English translations.

 

He completed a Greek-English Dictionary in September, 1980 and an English-Greek Dictionary, in October, 1980.  In 1985, the translation of A Consistent New Testament was completed in hand printed letters.  A printed ‘study text’ was made available in November of 1987.  In 1990 a new printing was made with the King James Version alongside of A Consistent New Testament. 

 

What does a consistent translation really mean?  Let us look at how the Greek word logos (lo¢gos) which should be translated  word’ in English, has been translated.  In John 1:14, “The word (lo¢gos) was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”  The King James translators translated the word logos (lo¢gos) as follows: account (8x), cause (1x), communication (3x), doctrine (1x), fame (1x),intent (1x), matter (4x), mouth (1x), preaching (1x), question (1x), reason (2x), rumour (1x), saying (50x), tidings (1x), treatise (1x), utterance (4x), word (208x),Word (7x), work (2x).  Why all these different English words for one Greek word?

 

There are literally thousands of other examples of inconsistent translating and you should consult a Young’s Concordance for proof of this.

 

As you probably know it is very hard to find a Young’s Concordance in the bookstores,  but the Strong’s Concordance is available at almost all bookstores.  The Young’s Concordance was copyright in 1890 and the Strong’s Concordance was copyright in1892.  In my opinion, it only took Zeus or Satan two years to corrupt an excellent work done by Dr. Young.

 

How important is it to study the Lord’s word?  Ralph Mount told me one time that if you had someone that you really cared about wrote you a 1000 page letter, would you read it?  What if it was in Greek and you could not read Greek?  You would not only get it translated but you would make sure it was done properly so you would get the true meaning of what the individual was saying to you.  So if your salvation is important, it is going to take a little effort on your part to learn the truth.

 

Ask yourself a question, “Does what I know about scripture come from what I have been told by others or from what I have learned from studying for myself.”

 

 

References

 

1. J. Paterson Smyth 1899,1912,How We Got Our Bible: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

 

2. Peter Levi 1974, The English Bible 1534 To 1859. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

 

Phil Nordan 

303 Bay Street

Monroe, NC 28112

704/283-4208