The history of the English Bible starts in Briton
the "mother" of the English language. This story might
best be explained within the context of the periods of the development
of the English language itself.
OLD AND MIDDLE ENGLISH ( 500-1100 AD )
During this time period a number of portions of scripture
were translated into the English language based on the Latin manuscripts
available. These translation were partial in nature but were an
important first step in the birth of the English Bible. During this
period of time nobody managed to translate a complete copy of the
Bible into the native tongue. The Venerable Bede (674-735) considered
by some to be one of the greatest scholars of Europe and the greatest
in England was probably one of the best known people to contribute
something of significance to these early English scriptures with
his translation of the gospel of John.
MIDDLE AND EARLY MODERN ENGLISH (1100 - 1600 AD)
1. John Wycliffe (1320 - 1384) Credit for the first
complete English Bible goes to John Wycliffe sometimes known as
the morning star of the reformation. This man wanting to see the
scriptures available to all men in their native tongue labored to
that end until his death. Wycliffe, an Oxford scholar and teacher
until relieved of his post, found himself at odds with the religious
establishment of his day which had become corrupted in many ways.
His translation was made from the Latin Vulgate and was completed
after his death by his associate Nicholos of Hereford.
2. William Tyndale (1492 - 1536) Known as the Father
of the English Bible William Tyndale appeared at an opportune time
in history as the Renaissance brought with it a new interest in
the classics and the study of the Greek language. While the church
opposed the translation of the Bible into English Tyndale set himself,
no matter the cost, to accomplish this task.. His desire however
was to provide a Bible based on the original languages rather than
the Latin translations in circulation. He managed to complete the
entire New Testament and part of the Old Testament with a revision.
He was finally kidnapped and burned at the stake for his efforts.
He was the first to produce a translation of the New Testament from
Greek to English and also the first to have the New Testament printed
3. Miles Coverdale (1488 - 1569) This man who was
assistant and proof reader for William Tyndale has the distinction
of being credited with producing the first complete English Bible
to be printed. His translation also can be noted for the fact that
it was the first allowed to be circulated by the official church.
A number of other English translations emerged in this time period
many of which were interrelated in some way and all of which set
the stage for the most important English Bible of modern times,
the King James version.
4. The Rheims - Douai Translation ( 1582 ) The emergence
of the many English Protestant translations led to the production
of a Catholic English Version. The New testament was completed at
the English college of Rheims in 1582. Sometime later at the college
of Douai the Old Testament was completed. Hence the first authorized
English version of the Catholic Bible was complete being named the
Rheims-Douai Bible. This translation however was not based on the
original languages of Hebrew and Greek but on the Latin translation
still popular with the Catholic Church.
MODERN ENGLISH ( 1600 - PRESENT )
1. The King James Bible (1611) With a number of English
translation now in circulation a decision was made by King James
I in 1604 to make an "Authorized Version" to be used for
both public and private use that would be acceptable to all concerned
parties. About forty eight choice Hebrew and Greek scholars were
chosen and divided to work independently at Westminster, Oxford
and Cambridge. Finally in 1611 the King James Version was complete
and destined to become the most influential English translation
of modern times.
2. The English Revised Version (1885) By the mid 1800's
the English language was developing such that the vocabulary and
style of the King James was becoming more archaic. Furthermore as
more recent scholarship brought new manuscript evidence to light
there was a need to revise the King James Version. In 1870 a decision
was made to make the revision. This was primarily a revision made
for the English continent having some input from American scholars.
In May of 1885 the work was complete resulting in the English Revised
3. The American Standard Version (1901) The same American
scholars who collaborated with the English in the English Revised
Version continued to meet and fourteen years later in 1901 produced
the American Standard Version. This version was almost identical
to it's English counterpart but was refined to be more suitable
to the characteristics of the English spoken in America.
4. The Revised Standard Version (1952) In 1929 discussions
began regarding another revision of the American Standard Version.
Scholars felt there was still more work to be done to make the modern
English translation an accurate but readable text for the American
people. Many new Greek manuscripts had been found which were shedding
new light on the text of the New Testament. Finally on September
30th 1952 the work was complete.
A number of other modern translation have also been
made in the English language. It is outside the scope and purpose
of this web site to go further in discussing them. One important
point should be noted. All the English translation since the King
James translation of 1611 have one important thing in common: they
all have had benefit of Greek manuscripts which were not available
to the translators of the King James version. Furthermore, the more
recent translations of the English Bible have been able to utilize
the knowledge gained from the science of modern textual criticism
based on many more new Greek manuscripts and the discovery of the
dead sea scrolls.
Care also should be taken to understand the difference
between a translation and a paraphrase. A number of paraphrases
of the Bible, such as the "Living Bible", have emerged
in recent years. These Bibles are not literal translations but paraphrases
which, based upon the interpretation of the editor's, take liberty
in adding words and phrases in order to better communicate the meaning
of the text as they have interpreted it.