How Did We Get our Bible in English?

There is no book that has had a greater impact on humanity than the Bible. It has become the most copied, printed, published, and translated book of any book that has ever existed. In fact, the entire Bible has been translated into more than 600 languages, with the New Testament alone having been translated into more than 1500 languages! There are also translations of smaller portions of the Bible, which results in a sum of more than 3,000 languages having at least part of the Scriptures available to them. Translation is necessary because it was originally written in Greek and Hebrew. So, what about our English Bible? Did you know there’s been about 450 English translations made? How didwe get all the various English versions we have today? Let’s answer those question with a brief look at history.

John Wycliffe (1320-1384), is credited for the first complete Bible translated into the English language. It is beautifully hand-writtenand translated from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Wycliffe’s version was eventually outlawed and 44 years after his death, pope Martin V was so infuriated, he ordered Wycliffe’s body to be exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered!

After the invention of the printing press in 1440, William Tyndale (1494-1536), produced the first Bible printedin English. He was an Oxford scholar (fluent in 8 languages!) and a major leader of the Reformation.Since it was illegal for the common people to possess Bibles, they were smuggled into England in bales of cotton and sacks of flour. Tyndale was later branded a heretic and was caught. He was chained to a stake with a rope placed around his neck. His last words were, “Lord, open the the King of England’s eyes!” He was then strangled and burned. Three years after his death, King Henry VIII commissioned a new, authorized English translation. It became known as the Great Bible (1539).

Another period of persecution soon followed, so many Christian reformers fled to Geneva where a new Bible was produced. This became known as the Geneva Bible (1560). It is the Bible that William Shakespeare quoted and the one the Pilgrims brought with them to America.

Of course, the most widely known English translation is the King James Version (1611), or KJV. It was produced by 47 scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, Westminster, with various protestant backgrounds. They used many ancient Greek manuscripts and other Bible versions like Tyndale’s translation, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible. It became the most widely used Bible in English and remains the oldest version still in use.

Beginning in the late 1600’s and up to modern times, many additional ancient, biblical manuscripts have been discovered. These discoveries prompted a desire to update and replace the KJV. Publishers wanted to produce a Bible that would be commonly used among everyone in a more updated vernacular that included the latest discoveries. A long succession of different English translations have since followed.

The first “American” English Bible produced was theAmerican Standard Version (1901). As popular as it became, it still never eclipsed the KJV. Some of the more popular versions are: New American Standard Bible (1971); the New International Version (1978); the New King James Version (1982); and, most recently, the English Standard Version (2001). This is just a quick summary of how we came to have all the many versions that exist today. There is a whole lot more to the story and it’s one worth looking into!

God has always intended that His Word be understood in every language. This is evidenced by the miracle of speaking in tongues (foreign languages) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:7-11). We no longer have miraculous gifts available to us like the first century Christians did. But, God still desires that all of man understand His word equally as well. I am so very thankful there have been those individuals who have carried on the daunting task of translating the Bible for all the masses. – TS