|The Text &
A Study in the Preservation
of the Bible
The History of
Translation of the Bible
"And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech" (Genesis 11:1).
From the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day till the universal flood of Noah's day,
there was but one language spoken by all men upon the face of the earth. In fact, it was
not until the building of the tower of Babel that men were divided into the various languages
(or at least base languages) of the world (Genesis 11:1-9). From this point forward,
however, for people of one tongue to understand people of another tongue it was
necessary to have a translation, or the putting of the words of one language into the words
of another language.
THE NEED FOR A TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE
The Bible was not originally written in the English language, or any one of the literally
thousands of dialects and languages written and spoken in the world today. Three dif
ferent languages were originally used to write the holy scriptures: Hebrew, Aramaic and
Greek. And, none of these three were exactly parallel with the modern languages by these
names. Living languages change in composure, style and meaning. For an example, take
the English word "gay." When Roy Rogers starred in the movie, "The Gay Ranchero," gay
meant something quite different than it does in our present society. Thus, when we speak
of most of the Old Testament being written in Hebrew, we are speaking of the ancient
Hebrew of Moses and the prophets. And, when we speak of portions of Ezra and Daniel as
being written in Aramaic, we refer to the Aramaic of their day. Similarly, when we speak
of the Greek of the New Testament, we are not speaking of classical Greek or modern
Greek, but New Testament Greek.
Realizing that the Bible was written in what are considered today "dead languages," it is
necessary to translate the words of the Bible into a living language so more than a few
educated in ancient languages can read or even hear the word of God. The original
languages would have no meaning to the vast majority of people in the world today.
Jesus, before his ascension into the heavens, gave the great commission unto his disciples:
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15; see also
Matthew 28:19,20 and Acts 1:8).
The disciples waited in Jersualem, as Jesus had commanded them, for the power to be
witnesses. This power was given to them by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-41).
The power included verbal, plenary inspiration — word-for-word, every word God-
breathed (11 Timothy 3:16,17). The power, as it first manifested itself, included the placing
of "the wonderful works of God" in the native tongues of those present — the power to
speak in tongues (different languages). This is unquestionably divine sanction for the
placing of the word of God in the languages of the people. Since tongues have ceased, it is
now necessary to translate by natural learning the oracles of God (I Corinthians 13:8-13).
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe
that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). "So
then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). "How
then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in
him of whom they have not heard?" (Romans 10:14). Without the word of God in the
language of the people, how will they be able to please God and be saved? How can the
great commission be carried out to teach and preach to all men, if it is not in a language
they can understand? The oracles of God must be translated.
For what we know of God, Christ and the redemption of our souls, we are indebted to a
translation of the word of God. Without a translation of the Bible into the English language,
very few of us would have any idea who God is, who we are, and what God would have
us to do. Without an English translation, we would have no hope of salvation: for we
would be ignorant of those "words whereby ye might be saved."
Thank God for the translation of his words into not only our language, but into literally
hundreds of languages that men might know of his saving grace.
THE FIRST TRANSLATION
The first translation of the scripture into another language (that we know of) was the
translation of the Old Testament into Greek which was known to have been circulated in
the days of Ptolemy Philadelphos (285-246 B.C.). According to tradition approximately
seventy (70) scholars translated the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament into Greek
in Alexandria to help the Jews there who had forgotten the Hebrew language. This
translation was known as the Septuagint, or LXX, as a result of the number of translators.
It is this translation which Jesus and the inspired evangelists and writers quoted from often.
EARLY (ANCIENT) TRANSLATIONS
After the composition of the New Testament, many translations sprung up. Because of the
universal nature of the gospel, translations of the New Testament were far more frequent
and numerous than those of the Old Testament. The first translation was the Syriac
Peshitta in about 125 a.d. [although some sources date it as late as the 5th century]. Other
Syriac translations (or at least manuscripts of the translation) date 'from the second to the
seventh century. There are a great number of Latin translations in addition to Jerome's
Vulgate of the 4th century. The Vercellensis, Bobiensis and Speculum (or PS-Augustine) all
date possibly from the 4th century. It is also a misconception that the Latin translations
represent the Catholic text, for many of those who rejected Roman Catholicism and the
Vulgate used Latin translations. We have copies of Coptic or Egyptian translations from the
3rd to the 6th centuries. Gothic, a Germanic dialect, has a 4th century translation by
Ulfilas. An Armenian translation dates from before 439, being translated by Mesiop and
Catholicus Shahak (Isaac the Great). Somewhere between the 4th and 7th century an
Ethiopic version was translated. The Georgian version, from Caucasian Georgia between
the Black and Caspian Seas, dates from the 4th century. A Nubian version dates from the
6th century. Other ancient translations include the Arabic, the Persian, Old High German,
Old Church Slavonic and the Provencal or Old French.
Bible translation is almost as old as the New Testament, being begun only a few years
following the time of its completion, and possibly even within the lifetime of the apostle
The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis upon faith in the Bible as opposed to
Catholic tradition, brought a renewed emphasis upon Bible translation so the Bible could be
in the hands of the common man. Translations in Celtic, Dutch, French, German,
Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Scandanavian, Russian, Slovian, Bohemian, Sorbic, Polish
and Spanish were produced. Of all these translations, undoubtedly the German translation
of Martin Luther is the most famous. The New Testament was published in 1522 and the
entire Bible in 1534. Each of these translations helped to place the word of God in the
hands of the people in their own language.
THE ENGLISH BIBLE
The English language itself can be divided into three periods: Old English, Middle English,
and Modern English. The roots of English date back to 449 a.d. when Vortigern, a British
ruler invited the Jutes to come to Britain to aid in the fight against the wild northern Picts,
and the Saxons and the Angles (from which we get England and English) came along. The
language which they developed "was a form of Low German, allied to Dutch." Old English,
then, had little to no resemblance to our modern day English.
Middle English is closer to our modern day tongue, though those works from 1000-1500
a.d. (such as Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales) would be difficult to impossible
for the modern reader to understand without a translation.
Modern English finds its beginning in the 16th century, at the time of Shakespeare. Certain
changes have taken place in the English language during this time, but works from the 16th
century are generally intelligible to the modern reader.
"Christianity," as the world knows it, did not reach the British isles to effect the sentiments
of its people until around the year 597 a.d. The Britains, the Angles and the Saxons were an
idolatrous people. Thus, during the period of Old English, there was little done to translate
the Bible into the native tongue of the Anglo-Saxons. There are Biblical allusions in poetry
from around 700 a.d., and translations of parts of the Old and New Testaments in the 8th
and 9th centuries (of which Bede's translation of The Gospel of John, 735 a.d. is the most
notable); but, there do not seem to be any attempts to translate either the entire Bible or the
New Testament into Old English.
THE WYCL1F BIBLE
It was not until the days of John Wyclif that there was really a concerted effort to translate
the Bible into the language of the people of Britain. Wyclif stated, "The Scriptures are the
property of the people, and one which no one should be allowed to wrest from them." A
scholar from Oxford, he is called "the morning star of the Reformation" because of his
attacks upon the abuses of Roman Catholicism. His reliance upon the scriptures in his
arguments against Catholicism lead him to spur the translation of the Bible into the lan
guage of the common man, which was published between 1380 and 1384. John Purvey,
Wyclif's secretary published a revision about 1395. The Wyclif Bible was a translation of
the Latin Vulgate. It was the Bible of the English people for approximately 150 years. John
Wyclif died in 1384, after suffering much from the Catholic Church. In 1415, the Council
of Constance condemned him of 267 "errors," ordered his Bible to be burned, and Wyclif's
bones to be dug up. In 1428, his bones were dug up, burned and the ashes were thrown
into the River Swift.
THE TYNDALE BIBLE
William Tyndale produced the first printed New Testament in the English language.
Tyndale studied at Oxford and Cambridge. His studies lead him to a determination to
translate the scriptures so that if God would spare his life, he would cause a plow boy to
know more of the scripture than some of the religious leaders of England. However, he
soon realized "that there was no room in my lord of londons palace to translate the New
Testament" and "that there was no place to do it in all England." Tyndale thus traveled to
Germany, where in the company of Luther he translated the New Testament. The work
was finally published in Worms after difficulties in 1525 a.d. A revised edition was
published from Antwerp (a city free from the control of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor)
in November, 1534. Opposition by the Catholics was so strong to Tyndale's work, that on
May 21, 1535 he was illegally taken and imprisoned near Brussels. On October 6, 1536, he
died a martyr's death with these last words: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake.
The importance of Tyndale's translation was from its influence upon succeeding
translations. "With all the tinkering to which the New Testament has been subject,
Tyndale's version is still the basis in phrasing, rendering, vocabulary, rhythm, and often in
music as well. Nine-tenths of the Authorized New Testament is still Tyndale, and the best
is still his" (J. Isaacs). This translation was based upon the Hebrew and Greek.
THE COVERDALE BIBLE
Myles Coverdale produced the first printed complete Bible in the English language.
Although Coverdale seems to have met with Tyndale in Germany in 1529, Tyndale knew
nothing of the legal translation of the entire Bible into English a year before his death, as is
evident from his prayer that it would happen in his last breath. Thus, the year 1535 was a
milestone in the history of the English Bible.
Matthew's Bible is the next significant translation of the Bible to be published in English.
John Rogers was responsible for its publication, although the name which appears upon the
translation is "Thomas Matthews." Rogers was a disciple of Tyndale, and used a
pseudonym to escape the punishment of association with him. John Rogers was burned at
the stake by the Catholic Queen Mary around 1555. His Bible was published in 1537 a.d.
THE GREAT BIBLE
The first authorized version of the Bible in English was authorized by King Henry VIII. The
earlier Bibles were disliked by many because of the marginal notes. Cromwell arranged the
publication, and Myles Coverdale prepared the translation. It was basically Matthew's Bible,
the translation of Tyndale, revised in comparison with original language texts and a new
Latin translation of the Old Testament. It was to be printed in France, but the Inquisition
ordered all the work destroyed. A haberdasher (hat merchant) bought the sheets to pack
his hats in, and Coverdale managed to escape with some sheets, and from these two
sources the work was taken to England to be printed in 1539. It is called the Great Bible
because of its large size. It was ordered by the King to be set up in every parish.
THE GENEVA BIBLE
Geneva, Switzerland was the home of such influential religious thinkers as John Calvin,
Theodore Beza and John Knox. It is also the sight of the translation which held the heart of
the English people until the acceptance of the King James Version. William Whittingham, a
brother-in-law of Calvin, and successor of John Knox at the English Church in Geneva,
published a New Testament in 1557. The Old Testament was completed in 1560. Because
of the persecution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in England, the scholars of England made
Geneva their Mecca. Thus, an English version came to be published in Switzerland. The
Geneva Bible is also called the "Breeches Bible" since it uses "breeches" in place of
"aprons," as does the KJV, in Genesis 3:7.
Of great importance in the Geneva Bible are its improvements over former translations. For
the first time, the verse arrangement of Robert Estienne (Stephanus) was used. Italics were
used to indicate words in the translation that were not in the original languages.
THE BISHOPS' BIBLE
Although the Geneva Bible had become the Bible of the people, the Great Bible was still the
Bible of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, thus put
into motion plans to publish a Bible translated and edited by bishops and scholars who
would become bishops. It came from the press in 1568. By order of the Convocation of
1571 it was required of every bishop and archbishop to have a copy in his house, and
every cathedral was ordered to have a copy, and each church was influenced to have one.
The Bishops' Bible, then, although never "authorized by Queen Elizabeth I, became in
essense, the second Authorized Version. Its translation became the basis for the King
THE RHEIMS-DOUAI BIBLE
In 1578 William Allen, a Catholic scholar, wrote the professor of Canon Law at Douai a
letter in which he described a need for a translation in the English language to combat the
current Protestant versions which were being used effectively to destroy the Catholic faith.
Gregory Martin, a distinquished scholar of the English College, was commissioned to
translate the Latin Vulgate. His translation was checked by William Allen and Richard
Bristow, the moderator of the English College. Bristow also wrote the notes for the New
Testament, while Thomas Worthington wrote the notes for the Old Testament. The New
Testament was published in 1582. The Old Testament, which was translated first, was not
published until 1609-10.
The modern "Douai" Bible is based upon the revision of Richard Challoner, and is
significantly different from the original Douai.
THE KING JAMES VERSION
When James I came to the throne in England in 1603, the Great Bible and the Bishops' Bible
were the Bibles used in the churches of England, while the Geneva Bible was being used by
the people. John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, suggested to the
king that a new translation be made that would gain the approval of both the people and the
Church. Thus, James I declared that the "best learned from both universities," engage in
translation "after them to be reviewed by the bishops, and the chief learned from the
Church; for them to be presented to the Privy Council; and, lastly, to be ratified by his
Royal Authority, and so the whole church to be bound unto it, and none other." Thus,
although 54 men were appointed to the task on June 30, 1604; only 47 completed the work.
Specific rules of translation were given to the work: it was to be a revision of the Bishops'
Bible of 1602; proper names were to be kept in the most common form; ecclesiastical
words were to be retained; notes were to be used only to explain the original languages and
scriptural references; words not found in the original were to be noted in a differing type;
the chapter and verse distinctions were not to be changed; and, summaries were to
supplied for each chapter.
The work of translation took approximately seven years to complete. The translators were
divided into six companies (two each from Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster). Each
was, given a section to translate, which upon completion were sent to the other companies
for review and revision. The review and revision work was to be finally decided in a
general meeting. In addition to the translators, James 1 asked the bishops "to inform
themselves of all such learned men within their dioceses as, having special skill in the
Hebrew and Greek languages, have taken pains in the private study of the Scriptures for
the clearing of any obscurities either in the Hebrew or the Greek, or touching any
difficulties or mistakings in the former English translations." These were to be added to the
general meeting. After four years, the work of translation was completed. Another two
years, nine months were spent by the six translators who composed the Final Committee in
their work of review and revision. Another nine months was spent in preparing the Bible
for the printer.
The translation, although based in a revision of the Bishops' Bible, also made use of the
Geneva Bible and the Rheims New Testament. It consulted other translations in French,
Italian and Spanish. Also consulted were: manuscripts of the original languages, the Latin
Old Testament of Arias Montanus (based on the Hebrew), and Beza's Latin version. The
translators and revisers were familiar with the known manuscripts in the original languages.
The publication of the King James Translation came forth in 1611. There were two
editions, "the Great He Bible" and "the Great She Bible" (the name based upon the
translation of Ruth 3:15). The translation was never officially "authorized" though known to
many as the Authorized Version. It underwent minor revision in 1629, 1638, 1762 and
1769. From 1644 on, the King James Version has been the most popular English
translation. Thus, for over 375 years the King James Version has been the premiere Bible
of the English speaking world.
The King James Version has been called "the greatest book in the English language." "Its
simple majestic Anglo-Saxon tongue, its clear sparkling style, its directness and force of
utterance, have made it the model in language, style, and dignity of some of the choicest
writers of the last two centuries, and its reverential and spiritual tone and attitude have
made it the idol of the Christian church and endeared it to the hearts of millions of men and
THE REVISED VERSION
The Revised Version is not to be confused with the Revised Standard Version; they are two
completely different versions. The Revised Version is the outgrowth of call for revision of
the King James Version in the mid-19th century. This call for revision was based upon the
change in the English language in 250 years, and what was perceived as better language
scholarship, and what was perceived as better texts upon which to base translation. The
translators (twenty-seven for the Old Testament, and twenty-six for the New Testament)
met on June 22, 1870. C.J. Ellicott was the chairman. Men such as B.F. Westcott, F.J.A.
Hort, Dean Alford, J.B. Lightfoot and R.C. Trench were a part of that original meeting.
The rules of translation were: as few changes as possible were to be made in the text;
differences from the King James Version were to be noted in the margins; change was only
to be made upon "decidedly prepondering evidence;" changes were to be made only upon a
two-thirds vote of the Committee.
The New Testament took eleven years (407 days of meeting for the Committee). The Old
Testament took fifteen years (792 days of meeting for the Committee). Beginning in 1872,
American Committees (fifteen translators for the New Testament and sixteen translators
for the Old Testament) helped in the program. The New Testament was published May 17,
1881 (and was published in full in the Chicago Tribune on May 22). The Old Testament, in
an entire Bible, was published May 19, 1885.
THE AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION
There were disagreements between the Americans and the English who participated in the
translation of the Revised Version. The Americans, however, agreed not to publish their
different version for fourteen years. However, the American Committee maintained its
existence, and published the American Standard Edition of the Revised Version in 1901,
under the copyright of Thomas Nelson and Sons, who transferred the copyright in 1929 to
the International Council of Religious Education. Scholars such as J.H. Thayer, Philip
Schaff, Charles Hodge and C.M. Mead were a part of this American Committee.
The American Standard Version utilized strict principles of translation. Because of this,
many hailed it as the most mechanically accurate translation ever to appear. However, its
mechanical accuracy also left it with a choppy English composition. The American
Standard Version has maintained some popularity in America, though now there is only a
couple of publishers continuing to publish the version.
THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION
In 1937 the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. voted to produce a
version that would "embody the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of
the Scriptures, and express this meaning in English diction which is designed for use in
public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King
James Version a supreme place in English literature." Thirty-two scholars and an Advisory
Board of fifty representatives of co-operating denominations were assembled to do the
work. The New Testament was published in 1946 and the entire Bible in 1951.
Having obtained the copyright to the American Standard Version, the National Council saw
a need for revision of the ASV. This was based upon what they saw as the inadequate texts
upon which the KJV. ERV and ASV were based. New discoveries needed to be taken more
into consideration in their view. Also, the Council believed that advances in Biblical
languages studies would allow for a more accurate translation. The Council felt the most
compelling reason was the archaic English of the KJV, ERV, and" ASV. They saw a need
for a translation into more modern English.
The notes and translations of the RSV began a rapid-succession of major translations s'ich
as had been seen in the English language since the introduction of Tyndale's translation.
THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE
In England, beginning in 1947, C.H. Dodd was appointed general director of "a new
translation of the Bible." This was not to be a revision of earlier translations or versions, but
an entirely new translation based directly upon the original documents. This was not to be
necessarily a word-for-word translation, but a freer translation into the modern idiom. The
New Testament was published in March 14, 1961. It sold 4,000,000 copies in the first
twelve months. The entire Bible, including Apocrypha, was published March 16, 1970.
TODAY'S ENGLISH VERSION
In 1966 the American Bible Society published the Today's English Version. "The basic text
was translated by Robert G. Bratchner, a Translations Consultant of the American Bible
Society." "As a distinctly new translation, it does not conform to traditional vocabulary or
style, but seeks to express the meaning of the Greek text in words and forms accepted as
standard by people everywhere who employ English as a means of communication"
(Preface to Today's English Version). This translation received wide circulation under
various titles, the most popular of which was Good News for Modern Man. It also proved
to be a very controversial translation,
THE LIVING BIBLE
In 1967 Tyndale House published the Living New Testament. It is the work of Kenneth N.
Taylor. "The Living New Testament is a paraphrase rather than a translation. A paraphrase
does not attempt to translate word by word, but rather, thought by thought. A good
paraphrase is a careful restatement of the Biblical author's thoughts (examples of
paraphrasing may be found in the Bible itself, where New Testament writers rephrase a
quotation from the Old Testament). In this sense, a paraphrase can often communicate
more vividly than a good translation, since it provides in contemporary conversational style,
the gist of what the author would have said if he had spoken to us today" (Publisher's
Preface in The Layman's Parallel New Testament). This paraphrase became very popular in
the United States, yet it also became very controversial due to its principle of "translation."
THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE
The l.ockman Foundation (a corporation not for profit) produced the New American
Standard Bible in 1963. "The Fourfold Aim of the Lockman Foundation" were: "1. These
publications shall be true to the orginal Hebrew and Greek. 2. They shall be grammatically
correct. 3. They shall be understandable to the masses. 4. They shall give the Lord Jesus
Christ His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him; no work will ever be
personalized." "The producers of this translation were imbued with the conviction that
interest in the American Standard Version 1901 should be renewed and increased." Thus,
the principles of translation were those used for the ASV. "An editorial board composed of
linquists, Greek and Hebrew scholars and pastors undertook the responsibilities of
translation" (Preface to the NASB). The major plus of the NASB was its careful translation
of the Greek tenses in the New Testament.
THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
In 1973 the New York Bible Society International brought forth the New Testament of the
New International Version. The NIV resulted from the consensus of a group of men who
met in Chicago in 1965 for a new translation of the Bible. The New York International Bible
Society undertook its sponsorship in 1967. The Committee on Bible Translation was com
posed of fifteen men, "for the most part ... biblical specialists from universities, colleges
and theological seminaries." It was an international committee consisting of individuals
from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand. The individuals also came
"from various denominations, including Baptists, Brethren, Church of Christ, Episcopal,
Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches." Each
book was assigned to a team of scholars who submitted their work to an Intermediate
Editorial Committee, who then submitted their work to a General Editorial Committee,
who then submitted their work to the Committee on Bible Translation. The Committee on
Bible Translation submitted their work for review to a number of literary consultants for
suggestions in style. The textual basis of the translation was "an eclectic one," utilizing no
standard textual reference.
THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION
In 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc. published The Holy Bible, New King James Version. The
New Testament was published in 1979. "In harmony with the purpose of the King James
scholars, the translators and editors of the present work have not pursued a goal of
innovation. They have perceived the Holy Bible, New King James Version, as a
continuation of the labors of the earlier translators, thus unlocking for today's readers the
spiritual treasures found especially in the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures." The
NKJV sought a literal translation "except where the idiom of the original language
occasionally cannot be translated directly into our tongue." The NKJV New Testament was
based upon the Received Text, Majority Text or Alexandrian Text, "thus perpetuating the
tradition begun by William Tyndale in 1525 and continued by the 1611 translators in
rendering the Authorized Version" (Preface). Thus, the New King James Version became
the most conservative of the modern translations of the Bible.
MYRIADS OF OTHERS
In our brief treatment of the history of translations, we have, omitted references to myriads
of other translations of the Bible both in English and other languages, concentrating upon
those which we though were the most influential to the lives of those now in the U.S.
Although it may have been proper to refer to other Catholic translations and the transla
tions of the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society (better known as "Jehovah's Witnesses"),
it was felt that the limitation of space precluded their inclusion in this review.
In order for the reader to get some idea as to the multiplicity of translations which have
invaded the scene in addition to those which have been referred to, it would take an
additional five pages just to list the English translations which have been published since
1900, in addition to those already mentioned. A list of these translations may be compiled
from the following sources: So Many Versions?, by Sakae Kubo & Walter Specht;
Zondervan 1975; The English Bible in America: A Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and
the New Testament Published in America, 1777-1957, Margaret T. Hills editor; The
American Bible Society and the New York Public Library, 1961; and, Historical Catalogue
of Printed Editions of the English Bible, 1525-1961, by A.S. Herbert; The American Bible