Using Translations
 Lecture Notes for Topics 1.2 - 1.2.3
Religion 311
Last revised: 9/08/03
Contained below is a manuscript summarizing the class lecture(s) covering the above specified range of topics from the List of Topics for the appropriate course(s) indicated above: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314. For updated information about the class, see the appropriate class bulletin board: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314. Quite often hyperlinks (underlined) to sources of information etc. will be inserted in the text of the lecture. Test questions for all quizzes and exams will be derived in their entirety or in part from these lectures; see Exams in the appropriate course syllabus for details: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314. To display the Greek text contained in this page download and install the free BSTGreek True Type fonts from Bible Study Tools.
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Translation Theory 
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Using Translations 
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1.2 Using Translations

        In attempting to exegete a scripture passage, of course the ideal is to begin with an analysis of the original language text, either the Hebrew for the Old Testament or the Greek for the New Testament. Once this has been completed -- or if no skills with the biblical languages are present -- the next step for the Bible interpreter is to glean insights from a comparison of different translations of the scripture text under consideration. More about how to set this up for the most effective results under topic 1.2.3.
        Some background is important in order to understand how to make effective use of translations for study. First, we will survey the history of the English Bible. To be sure, other modern languages have similar histories and can be studied with great profit, but since our native language is American English this will be our focus here. A second important background understanding is to learn something about how professional Bible translation is done. A survey of both the history of Bible translation and contemporary translation theory and methodology will be set forth.
        With this background we can now begin developing interpretative skills with the use of Bible translations. A specific procedure will be set forth along with suggestions on how to draw interpretative insights from the procedure.

1.2.1 History of the English Bible
        The history of Bible translation into the English language divides itself naturally into two basic periods: (1) the Pre-Textual Criticism (up to late 1800s) and (2) the Textual Criticism (late 1800s to present) eras. With the discovery of growing numbers of ancient manuscripts of the Christian Bible through the biblical archaeology movement beginning in the middle 1800s, a need for an updated Greek text of the New Testament became increasingly evident. The result was the development of the science of critical analysis -- now called Text Criticism -- of these massive numbers of manuscripts with the objective of determining "the most likely original wording of the sacred text." Couple this with the Modern Missionary Movement that began flourishing at about the same time and the need for the Bible to be translated into a wide array of vernacular languages where missionaries were active exploded. The result was the emergence of a growing number of Bible Societies in the Western world that sponsored translation projects both for English and many, many other languages. Thus the 1800s represent a huge water shed turning point in the history of the English Bible. Our discussion will focus on these two eras.

Varying Perspectives:
"Bible," in []

        "John Wyclif was one of the first to project the publication and distribution of the Bible in the vernacular among the English people, and two translations go by his name. In the 15th cent. the Lollards did much to extend the use of the Wyclifite translation. The next name in the history of the English Bible is that of William Tyndale , whose translation was not from the Latin Vulgate, like Wyclif's, but from the Hebrew and Greek. Its quality is attested by its use as a basis of the Authorized Version. Tyndale's New Testament (1525-26) was the first English translation to be printed. Contemporary with Tyndale was Miles Coverdale . The second version of Coverdale and the translation of Thomas Matthew closely followed Tyndale. In 1539 the English crown issued its first official version, in the name of Henry VIII. This, the Great Bible, was done principally by Coverdale. The Geneva Bible, or Breeches Bible, was a revision of the Great Bible, financed and annotated by the Calvinists of Geneva. The Bishops' Bible (1568) was a recasting of Tyndale.
        "The greatest of all English translations was the Authorized Version (AV), or King James Version (KJV), of 1611, made by a committee of churchmen led by Lancelot Andrewes and composed of many of the finest scholars in England. The beautiful English of this version has had great influence and is generally ranked in English literature with the work of Shakespeare. The phraseology of much of it is that of Tyndale. The Douay, or Rheims-Douay, Version was published by Roman Catholic scholars at Reims (New Testament, 1582) and Douai, France (Old Testament, 1610); it was extensively revised by Richard Challoner . In the 19th cent. the project of revising the Authorized Version from the original tongues was undertaken by the Church of England with the cooperation of nonconformist churches. The results of this revision were the English Revised Version and the American Revised Version (pub. 1880-90).
        "Many scholars, either cooperatively or independently, have translated the Bible into English. In other literatures, also, the translation of the Bible has had a formative effect on the literary language, notably in the case of Martin Luther's German translation. Occasionally translation of the Bible has been the first or the only notable work in a language, e.g., the translation by Ulfilas into Gothic.
        "In the 20th cent., American biblical scholars combined to produce the Revised Standard Version (RSV), published in 1952 and immediately adopted by many churches. A completely new translation, the work of a joint committee of representatives of all Protestant denominations in Great Britain, aided by Roman Catholic consultants, was begun in 1946. The New Testament was first published in 1961, and the entire Bible, called The New English Bible, appeared in 1970. New Roman Catholic translations were also undertaken, the Westminster Version in England, and a complete revision of the Rheims-Douay edition sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in the United States. The latter, after undergoing several major revisions and retranslations, was finally published as the New American Bible (1970). In addition, an English translation of the French Catholic Bible de Jerusalem (1961) appeared as the Jerusalem Bible (1966). A revision of the RSV was published in 1989 as the New Revised Standard Version."

The History of the English Bible online []
        A very helpful summation overview of the English Bible. Especially useful is the Time Line at the bottom of the page.

The first hand-written English language manuscripts of the Bible were produced in 1380's AD by Oxford theologian John Wycliff (Wycliffe). Curiously, he was also the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses. Wycliff spent many of his years arguing against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. Though he died a nonviolent death, the Pope was so infuriated by his teachings that 44 years after Wycliff had died, he ordered the bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in the river!

Gutenburg invented the printing press in the 1450's, and the first book to ever be printed was the Bible. It  was, however, in Latin rather than English. With the onset of the Reformation in the early 1500's, the first printings of the Bible in the English language were produced...illegally and at great personal risk of those involved.

William Tyndale was the Captain of the Army of reformers, and was their spiritual leader. He worked most of his translating years alone, but had help from time to time as God discerned he needed it. Indirectly, he had the help of Erasmus in the publication of his Greek/Latin New Testament printed in 1516. Erasmus and the great printer, scholar, and reformer John Froben published the first non-Latin Vulgate text of the Bible in a millennium. Latin was the language for centuries of scholarship and it was understood by virtually every European who could read or write. Erasmus' Latin was not the Vulgate translation of Jerome, but his own fresh rendering of the Greek New Testament text that he had collated from six or seven partial New Testament manuscripts into a complete Greek New Testament.

The Latin that Erasmus translated from the Greek revealed enormous corruptions in the Vulgate's integrity amongst the rank and file scholars, many of whom were already convinced that the established church was doomed by virtue of its evil hierarchy. Pope Leo X's declaration that "the fable of Christ was very profitable to him" infuriated the people of God.

With Erasmus' work in 1516, the die was cast. Martin Luther declared his intolerance  with the Roman Church's corruption on Halloween in 1517, by nailing 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Door. Luther, who would be exiled in the months following the Diet of Worms Council in 1521 that was designed to martyr him, would translate the New Testament into German from Erasmus' Greek/Latin New Testament and publish it in September of 1522. Simultaneously, William Tyndale would become burdened to translate that same Erasmus text into English. It could not, however, be done in England.

Tyndale showed up on Luther's doorstep in 1525, and by year's end had translated the New Testament into English. Tyndale was fluent in eight languages and is considered by many to be the primary architect of today's English language. Already hunted because of the rumor spread abroad that such a project was underway, inquisitors and bounty hunters were on Tyndale's trail to abort the effort. God foiled their plans, and in 1525/6 Tyndale printed the first English New Testament. They were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, but copies trickled through and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII. The more the King and Bishop resisted its distribution, the more fascinated the public at large became. The church declared it contained thousands of errors as they torched hundreds of New Testaments confiscated by the clergy, while in fact, they burned them because they could find no errors at all. One risked death by burning if caught in mere possession of Tyndale's forbidden books.

Having God's Word available to the public in the language of the common man, English, would have meant disaster to the church. No longer would they control access to the scriptures. If people were able to read the Bible in their own tongue, the church's income and power would crumble. They could not possibly continue to get away with selling indulgences (the  forgiveness of sins) or selling the release of loved ones from a church-manufactured "Purgatory". People would begin to challenge the church's authority if the church were exposed as frauds and thieves. The contradictions between what God's Word said, and what the priests taught, would open the public's eyes and the truth would set them free from the grip of fear that the institutional church held. Salvation through faith, not works or donations, would be understood. The need for priests would vanish through the priesthood of all believers. The veneration of church-cannonized Saints and Mary would be called into question. The availability of the scriptures in English was the biggest threat imaginable to the wicked church. Neither side would give up without a fight.

The Tyndale New Testament was the first ever printed in the English language. Its first printing occurred in 1525/6, but only one complete copy of the first printing exists. Any Edition printed before 1570 is very rare and valuable, particularly pre-1540 editions and fragments. Tyndale's flight was an inspiration to freedom-loving Englishmen who drew courage from the 11 years  that he was hunted. Books and Bibles flowed into England in bales of cotton and sacks of flour. In the end, Tyndale was caught: betrayed by an Englishman that he had befriended. Tyndale was incarcerated for 500 days before he was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the eyes of the King of England".

Myles Coverdale and John Rogers were loyal disciples the last six years of Tyndale's life, and they carried the project forward and even accelerated it. Coverdale finished translating the Old Testament, and in 1535 he printed the first complete Bible in the English language, making use of Luther's German text and the Latin as sources. Thus, the first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.

John Rogers went on to print the second complete English Bible in 1537. He printed it under the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew", as a considerable part of this Bible was the translation of Tyndale, whose writings had been condemned by the English authorities. It is a composite made up of Tyndale's Pentateuch and New Testament (1534-1535 edition) and Coverdale's Bible and a small amount of Roger's own translation of the text. It remains known most commonly as the Matthews Bible.

In 1539, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hired Myles Coverdale at the bequest of King Henry VIII to publish the "Great Bible". It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, as it was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English. It would seem that William Tyndale's last wish had been granted...just three years after his martyrdom. Cranmer's Bible, published by Coverdale,  was known as the Great Bible due to its great size: a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions of this version were printed between April of 1539 and December of 1541.

The ebb and flow of freedom continued through the 1540's...and into the 1550's. The reign of Queen Mary (a.k.a. "Bloody Mary") was the next obstacle to the printing of the Bible in English. She was possessed in her quest to return England to the Roman Church. In 1555, John Rogers ("Thomas Matthew") and Thomas Cranmer were both burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn reformers at the stake by the hundreds for the "crime" of being a Protestant. This era was known as the Marian Exile, and the refugees fled from England with little hope of ever seeing their home or friends again.

In the 1550's, the Church at Geneva, Switzerland, was very sympathetic to the reformer refugees and was one of only a few safe havens for a desperate people. Many of them met in Geneva, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe (publisher of the famous Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which is to this day the only exhaustive reference work on the persecution and martyrdom of Early Christians and Protestants from the first century up to the mid-16th century), as well as Thomas Sampson and William Whittingham. There, with the protection of John Calvin and John Knox, the Church of Geneva determined to produce a Bible that would educate their families while they continued in exile.

The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. It became known as the Geneva Bible. Due to a passage in Genesis desribing the clothing that God fashioned for Adam and Eve upon expulsion from the Garden of Eden as "Breeches" (an antiquated form of "Britches"), some people referred to the Geneva Bible as the Breeches Bible.

The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages  would be easier. Every chapter was also accompanied by extensive marginal notes and references so thorough and complete  that the Geneva Bible is also considered the first English "Study Bible". William Shakespeare quotes thousands of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale's original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611! The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims.

With the end of Queen Mary's bloody rein, the reformers could safely return to England. The Aglican Church, under Queen Elizabeth I, reluctantly tolerated the printing and distribution of Geneva version Bibles in England. The marginal notes, which  were vehemently against the institutional Church of the day, did not rest well with the rulers of the day, however. Another version, one with a less inflammatory tone was desired. In 1568, the Bishop's Bible was introduced. Despite 19 editions being  printed between 1568 and 1606, the version never gained much of a foothold of popularity among the people. The Geneva may have simply been too much to compete with.

By the 1580's, the Roman Catholic Church saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the will of God: that His Holy Word be available in the English language. In 1582, the Church of Rome surrendered their fight for "Latin only" and decided that if the Bible was to be available in English, they would at least have an official Roman Catholic English translation. And so, using the Latin Vulgate as a source text, they went on to publish an English Bible with all the distortions and corruptions that Erasmus had revealed and warned of 75 years earlier. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims ( or Rhemes) New Testament. The Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Doway (also spelled Douay and Douai). The combined product is commonly referred to as the "Doway/Rheims" Version.

In 1589, Dr. Fulke of Cambridge published the "Fulke's Refutation", in which he printed in parallel columns the Bishops Version along side the Rheims Version, attempting to show the error and distortion of the Roman Church's corrupt compromise of an English version of the Bible.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. The Protestant clergy approached the new King in 1604 and announced their desire for a new translation to replace the Bishop's Bible first printed in 1568. They knew that the Geneva Version had won the hearts of the people because of its excellent scholarship, accuracy, and exhaustive commentary. However, they did not want the controversial marginal notes (proclaiming the Pope an Anti-Christ,etc.). Essentially, the leaders of the church desired a Bible for the people, with scriptural references only for word clarification when multiple meanings were possible.

This "translation to end all translations" (for a while at least) was the result of the combined effort of about fifty scholars. They took into consideration: The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament. The great revision of the Bishop's Bible had begun. From 1605 to 1606 the scholars engaged in private research. From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled. In 1610 the work went to press, and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inch tall) pulpit folios known as "The King James Bible" came off the printing press.

A typographical error in Ruth 3:15 rendered the pronoun "He" instead of the correct "She" in that verse. This caused some of the 1611 First Editions to be known by collectors as "He" Bibles, and others as "She" Bibles.

It took many years for it to overtake the Geneva Bible in popularity with the people, but eventually the King James Version became the Bible of the English people. It became the most printed book in the history of the world. In fact, for around 250 years...until the appearance of the Revised Version of 1881...the King James Version reigned without a rival.

Although the first Bible printed in America was done in the native Algonquin Indian Language (by John Eliot in 1663), the first English language Bible to be printed in America (by Robert Aitken in 1782) was a King James Version. In 1791, Isaac Collins vastly improved upon the quality and size of the typesetting of American Bibles and produced the first "Family Bible" printed in America...also a King James Version. Also in 1791, Isaiah Thomas published the first Illustrated Bible printed in the King James Version.

In 1841, the English Hexapla New Testament was printed. This wonderful textual comparison tool shows in parallel columns: The 1380 Wycliff, 1534 Tyndale, 1539 Great, 1557 Geneva, 1582 Rheims, and 1611 King James versions of the entire New Testament...with the original Greek at the top of the page.

(Hexaplas are available on our Book Vault Page).

Consider the following textual comparison of John 3:16 as they appear in many of these famous printings of the English Bible:

 1st Ed. King James (1611): "For God so loued the world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life."
Rheims (1582): "For so God loued the vvorld, that he gaue his only-begotten sonne: that euery one that beleeueth in him, perish not, but may haue life euerlasting"
Geneva (1557): "For God so loueth the world, that he hath geuen his only begotten Sonne: that none that beleue in him, should peryshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."
Great Bible (1539): "For God so loued the worlde, that he gaue his only begotten sonne, that  whosoeuer beleueth in him, shulde not perisshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."
Tyndale (1534): "For God so loveth the worlde, that he hath geven his only sonne, that none that beleve in him, shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe."
Wycliff (1380): "for god loued so the world; that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that eche man that bileueth in him perisch not: but haue euerlastynge liif,"
It is possible to go back to manuscripts earlier than Wycliff, but the language found can only be described as the "Anglo-Saxon" roots of English, and would not be easily recognizable as similar to the English spoken today.

For example, the Anglo-Saxon pre-English root language of the year 995 AD yields a manuscript that quotes John 3:16 as:

"God lufode middan-eard swa, dat he seade his an-cennedan sunu, dat nan ne forweorde de on hine gely ac habbe dat ece lif."

I hope that this short essay has served to enhance your appreciation for the Bible of our language. Should you wish to learn more...or see full-color pictures of all of these Bibles...or even purchase any of these ancient treasures, please visit our online Book Vault. We also have a special information section on selected Four-Century Old English Bibles from under $1,500 on our Family Heirloom Page. Of course, the most affordable way to begin a Bible collection is to obtain a single leaf from one or more of these famous Bibles. Visit our unique online Giftshop for more information, pictures, and prices. You may also wish to read about the chronology of the famous printings of the Bible on our 2,500 Year Bible Timeline Page. May  the Lord richly bless you as you study and appreciate His Word.

Soli Deo Gloria,
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                               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 All 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 for Scripture.

995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New Testament Produced.

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

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 Latin.

1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.

1522 AD: Martin Luther's German New Testament.

1525 AD: William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament to be Printed in the English Language.

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 (80 Books).

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 Numbered 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 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.

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, with All 80 Books.

1808 AD: Jane Aitken's Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be Printed by a Woman.

1833 AD: 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, with All 80 Books.

1885 AD: The "Revised Version" Bible; The First Major English Revision of the King James Bible.

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 and 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.

1982 AD: The "New King James Version" (NKJV) is Published as a "Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James."

"Bible Translation," Encyclopedia Britannica, DVD version, 2002 edition.
        "Bible Translation. the art and practice of rendering the Bible into languages other than those in which it was originally written. Both the Old and New Testaments have a long history of translation.
         A brief treatment of biblical translation follows. For full treatment, see Biblical Literature and Its Critical Interpretation: Texts and versions.
        The Jewish Bible, the Old Testament, was originally written almost entirely in Hebrew, with a few short elements in Aramaic. When the Persian empire controlled the eastern Mediterranean basin, Aramaic became the lingua franca of the area, and for liturgical reasons it became necessary for the Jewish communities of the region to have the Torah, or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), translated into the common language from traditional Hebrew. The resulting Targums (from Aramaic meturgeman, “translator”) survived after original Hebrew scrolls had been lost.
        By the mid-3rd century BC Greek was the dominant lingua franca, and Jewish scholars began the task of translating the Hebrew canon into that language, an undertaking that was not completed for more than a century. Because tradition held that each of the 12 tribes of Israel contributed six scholars to the project, the Greek version of the Jewish Bible came to be known later (in Latin) as the Septuagint (septuaginta: “70”).
        The Hebrew Scriptures were the only Bible the early Christian church knew, and as the young religion spread out through the Greek-speaking world, Christians adopted the Septuagint. In the meantime, many of the books of the Christian Bible, the New Testament, were first written or recorded in Greek, and others in Aramaic.
         The spread of Christianity necessitated further translations of both the Old and New Testaments into Coptic, Ethiopian, Gothic, and, most important, Latin. In 405 St. Jerome finished translating a Latin version that was based in part on the Septuagint, and this version, the Vulgate, despite errors introduced by copyists, became the standard of Western Christianity for a thousand years or more.
        Hebrew scholars at Talmudic schools in Palestine and Babylonia about the 6th century AD began trying to retrieve and codify the Hebrew scriptures, restoring them authoritatively and in the Hebrew language. Over centuries they laboured to complete the traditional, or Masoretic, text, which since its completion in the 10th century has come to be universally accepted. The Masoretic version was transmitted by scribes with amazing fidelity down to the time of movable type in the 15th century.
        Jerome's Latin Vulgate served as the basis for translations of both the Old and New Testament into Syriac, Arabic, Spanish, and many other languages, including English. The Vulgate provided the basis for the Douai-Reims Version (New Testament, 1582; Old Testament, 1609–10), which remained the only authorized Bible in English for Roman Catholics until the 20th century.
        The new learning in the 15th and 16th centuries revived the study of ancient Greek and led to new translations, among them an important one by the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who in 1516 published an edition of the New Testament containing the Greek text and his own translation into Latin. Meanwhile, in Germany, Martin Luther produced the first complete translation from the original Greek and Hebrew into a modern European language. His German-language translation of the New Testament was published in 1522 and that of the complete Bible in 1534; this remained the official Bible for German Protestants and was the basis for Danish, Swedish, and other translations.
        The first complete English-language version of the Bible dates from 1382 and was credited to John Wycliffe and his followers. But it was the work of the scholar William Tyndale, who from 1525 to 1535 translated the New Testament and part of the Old Testament, that became the model for a series of subsequent English translations. All previous English translations culminated in the King James Version (1611; known in England as the Authorized Version), which was prepared by 54 scholars appointed by King James I. Avoiding strict literalism in favour of an extensive use of synonym, it was a masterpiece of Jacobean English and the principal Bible used by English-speaking Protestants for 270 years.
        About the time of the invention of printing in AD 1450, there were only 33 different translations of the Bible. By about 1800 the number had risen to 71; by the late 20th century the entire Bible had been translated into more than 250 languages, and portions of the Bible had been published in more than 1,300 of the world's languages.
        New translations of the Bible into English proliferated in the 20th century. Among the more recent Protestant Bibles are the Revised Version (1881–85), a revision of the King James Version; the Revised Standard Version (1946–52) and the New Revised Standard Version (1989), which are widely accepted by American Protestants; The New English Bible (1961–70) and The Revised English Bible (1989). Among the Roman Catholic Bibles are a translation by Ronald Knox (1945–49), The Jerusalem Bible (1966), The New Jerusalem Bible (1989), and The New American Bible (1970)."
Copyright © 1994-2002 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Early Period (up to late 1800s)
        From the above summations one can easily conclude that the English Bible, especially in the early period, was closely connected with efforts to reform Christianity, in particular the Roman Catholic Church. John Wycliffe had no desire to begin a new Christian movement with his translation. To the contrary, he loved the Church and wanted to create an atmosphere for reform and revitalization. Getting the Bible into the hands of the laity where they could read it for themselves, rather than being told what the Bible said by the clergy based on the Latin Vulgate, was seen as a key means of encouraging this reform.
        Not until Martin Luther had revolutionized the European continent with his German translation becoming a major tool in the Protestant Reformation did the idea of an English translation gain popular acceptance on the British Isles. From the work of William Tyndale in the early 1500s to the release of the King James Version in 1611, the English Bible became a powerful force in bringing change and reformation to the English language Christian world. These translations depended heavily on the Latin Vulgate as their starting point for translation, since the Vulgate had been the Bible to western Christianity for over a thousand years. With the publication of Erasmus' Greek text of the New Testament in 1516, a gradual increase in consultation took place with both the Hebrew text for the Old Testament and the Greek text for the New Testament. In the early 1600s the Roman Catholic Church released an English translation, based on the Vulgate, called the Douay-Rheims Version, in order to compete with the Protestant Bishops Bible that was widely used at the time..
        Once the KJV overcame stiff initial resistance -- for the first fifty years it was often labeled the "Devil's Bible" by the general populace because of its adoption of a higher form of English spoken mainly by educated elite Englishmen during the 1600s -- this translation eventually became for Protestant Christianity in the English speaking world what the Latin Vulgate had been for over a millennium to Roman Catholic Christianity. From the late 1600s until the late 1800s, when the word 'Bible' would be mentioned virtually all English speaking Protestant Christians would automatically associate that word with the King James Version. Even still today this tradition continues on in a few ultra-conservative branches of Protestantism. One interesting side note is that the OT Apocrypha was included in the KJV editions from 1611 until the late 1800s. Modern Period (late 1800s to present)
        The modern era of English Bible translation emerged from a number of dynamics that combined created the desire for a new, updated translation of the Bible into English. Most importantly was the development of Biblical archaeology that significantly contributed to the growing discovery of a massive number of ancient Greek manuscripts of portions or all of the text of the New Testament. The Textus Receptus Greek text of the New Testament that played a role in the early period of the English Bible was based on less than a dozen very late, inferior Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. From the late 1800s to the present over five thousand Greek manuscripts have been uncovered and made available for comparison to the text of the New Testament. A way of analyzing and comparing all these manuscripts gradually developed called Text Criticism. [For an introduction into this field, see my Study in Text Criticism page at] The result has been the printing of revised Greek texts of the New Testament with the discovery of these manuscripts. At present, the two most influential Greek texts of the New Testament are the fourth revised edition of the United Bible Society's The Greek New Testament edited by Kirk Aland, and the very similar twenty-seventh edition of the Novum Testamentum Graecum edited by Kirk Aland as well. Most every English translation of the New Testament for the past hundred years has been largely based on one of these printed Greek texts.
        The Hebrew text of the Old Testament remained rather static during this period until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940s. The Jewish rabbis who produced the Masoretic text in the late middle ages laid a foundation for the Hebrew text that still dominates today. Gradually a critical Hebrew text evolved, with the dominant one used today being the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia.
        Not only has Biblical archaeology contributed to English Bible translation, but the Modern Missions Movement occurring during the same period of time has played an important role. With the explosion of missionaries traveling into distant lands to carry the message of Christianity has come the need for the Bible to be translated into the various languages and dialects. Consequently, one can trace the emergence of Bible Societies parallel to the missions movement as organizations designed to fund and promote Bible translation. A spill over effect has been to produce the necessary means for an explosion of English translations during the twentieth century especially.
        Several streams of translation orientation have evolved in the modern period. In the beginning during the late 1800s, the new English translations were largely based on the principle of 'updating' the King James Version with more current forms of the now developing American and British expressions of English, as well as to take advantage of the latest available Greek text of the New Testament. In the middle of the twentieth century a trend caught on that had had various supporters for several decades previously. The contemporary English translation increasingly became an alternative type of translation to the KJV update approach. Perhaps the best known expression of this is the Good News For Modern Man, or more formally labeled the Today's English Version. Closely connected to this has been the exploration of translation methodology taking into consideration growing modern insights into the nature of language (epistemology, linguistics etc.) and human nature and behavior (anthropology, sociology etc.). The creation of a large number of Bible Societies in the western Christian world has provided a base for employing professional Bible translators who spend their lives working in this area. In the U.S., the American Bible Society along with the Wycliff Bible Translators, are two of the largest, most influential groups, but a large number of smaller U.S. organizations are engaged in Bible translation both in English and other languages.
        We will now give some consideration to the modern English Bible in its varied expressions for both the American and British English speaking readerships. For a listing of a large number of English translations see my page "English Translations" at Also very helpful is the "English Versions" page at The Bible gateways listed below in the Bibliography section will provide access to the texts of the various translations.
        English Bible translations in the modern era can be grouped in a variety of ways, but two ways seem more helpful: (1) How they were translated; (2) What translation methodology was used (treated in topic 1.2.2)?
        First, how they were translated. By this is intended whether the translation was produced by an individual or by a committee. Both approaches have produced a large number of translations. During the first half of the twentieth century especially, many individuals released a translation of the Bible, but mostly just of the New Testament. In the American English world two of the better known such translations are The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People by Charles B. Williams and Ken Taylor's Living Bible, while The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips served the British English speaking world. One of the few biblical scholars with sufficient expertise in both Hebrew and Greek to produce an individual translation of the entire Bible was the British scholar James Moffatt, who released his A New Translation of the Bible in 1935. A variety of factors, mostly economic, has led to the decline of individually produced translations for the past several decades. These individually produced translations served as a foundation for the subsequent development of formalized principles of the contemporary English translation approach.
        Gradually, the committee approach to producing translations has become the dominant way of doing Bible translation. Under the sponsorship of a Bible society and/or religious publisher(s), the necessary funding to underwrite the costs of Bible translation can more easily be brought together. These costs are gigantic today, usually running into the millions of U.S. dollars. One of the inherent limitations of the individually produced translation is the theological perspective of the single translator. Every translation reflects some theological perspective; Bible translation cannot be done without it. With just one person doing the translating, his/her theological perspective is going to dominant the translation product. Kenneth Taylor's seminary training at Dallas Theological Seminary automatically slanted his Living Bible to the very conservative Bible Church tradition, as an illustration. The larger concern for Christian unity, reinforced by the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century, gave impetus to producing a 'non-sectarian' translation of the Bible. Consequently, the so-called 'standard' versions -- committee based translations -- have brought together Bible scholars and translators from a wide circle of Christian traditions. At first, these committees were largely formed with representation of a wide array of Protestant denominations being represented, e.g., the Revised Standard Version. This was unlike the committee assembled by King James of England in the early 1600s; these were strictly Church of England members. Increasingly, over the past several decades, the composition of these translation committees has expanded to include both Roman Catholics and members of various Eastern Orthodox traditions. The conviction has been that a committee made up of such diverse denominational traditions would be the best safeguard against producing a sectarian translation.
        Another trend has been globalization of these committees. From the late 1880s through the 1950s the translation committees were typically composed of either Americans or British English speaking members. Their translations were primarily targeted to either an American or British English readership. But during the past fifty plus years the translation committees have been made up of a variety of nationalities from different parts of the English speaking world. To be sure, two English translations may still be the outcome, but the committee membership is international and thus both English language versions have had interaction and input from an internationally based team of translators.
        To be sure, the present Southern Baptist Convention venture into Bible translation with its Holman Christian Standard Bible experiment goes against the grain in producing a "Southern Baptist Bible." But the current leaders of the SBC have a politically and economically charged agenda with this project, which will limit its impact largely to Southern Baptists. The Christian world in general is greatly concerned that the scriptures themselves not be the basis of division. Differing interpretations of scripture are inevitable, but with a common set of scripture documents Christianity can find ways to more easily dialogue with one another, as well as present a more unified message to the non-believing world.

1.2.2 Translation Theory and Methodology
        Now we come to the second grouping of translations: What translation methodology was used? The twentieth century has witnessed an explosion of research and experimentation with different methods of Bible translation. To be sure, this is a part of a larger phenomenon in our world: globalization. The work of translation at the United Nations, the expansion of companies selling goods and services internationally, the explosion of world travel for both business and pleasure -- all these things and more have created interest in human language and how we humans communicate with one another across cultural and linguistic barriers. The two world wars of the first half of the twentieth century played a powerful role in creating this dynamic.
        A spill over effect has been on Bible translation. As research into human language and languages has advanced our understanding, Bible translators have sought to take advantage of these emerging insights. To be sure, the discussion about this is lively and sometimes heated. One only has to follow the threads of discussion in the professional Bible Translation discussion forum on the internet to realize just how intense the discussion can become.
        Let me summarize a more detailed, technically oriented discussion, Principles of Translating the Greek Text of the New Testament at Two foundational approaches will be found among Bible translations today. One concentrates on preserving not only the meaning of the underlying biblical language text, but also places value on preserving as much as possible the form -- that is, the grammar and syntax -- of the biblical language. This Form-Oriented (i.e., word-for-word) approach goes by a variety of labels, but more commonly among professional Bible translators today it will be called Formal Equivalence (FE) translation. The other methodology is Content-Oriented (i.e., thought-for-thought). That is, the primary emphasis is upon preserving the perceived meaning of the underlying biblical language text. Various labels have been attached to this approach, but it is commonly called Dynamic Equivalence (DE) or Meaning Based (MB) translation. The so-called Paraphrase is but an extension of this method. The DE approach seeks to express the thoughts in the original language text (called the Source Language text) in the clearest and most natural expression of the translation language (called the Receptor Language text). In our situation of studying the Synoptic Gospels this would be Greek (SL) to English (RL).
        An illustration of what I'm talking about might be helpful. Mark 1:14-15 will serve as our model.

First a rendering of the Greek text word for word:
After but the to be handed over in reference to John came Jesus into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying Has been fulfilled the time and has come near the Kingdom of God; repent and believe in the Gospel.

Now the New American Standard Bible, which is one of the better FE translations:
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

The an example of DE translation, the New Living Translation:
Later on, after John was arrested by Herod Antipas, Jesus went to Galilee to preach God's Good News. "At last the time has come!" he announced. "The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!"

A quick glance at the above examples will illustrate several differences between the two approaches to translation. Clearly the NASB more closely follows the form of the Greek text. The sequence of core elements of thought expression is preserved; the single Greek sentence is preserved etc. Yet the NLT expresses these same ideas in three English sentences and in a way much more natural to American English patterns of thought. And it is significantly clearer in its expression.
        When these two methodologies are implemented in actual translations, neither a pure FE nor a pure DE translation results. Bible translation today always uses a mixture of these two methods in producing a given translation. Thus, no such thing as a strictly 'literal' translation exists; the closest thing to this would be to remove the English words from above the Greek text in one of the interlinear Greek texts, such as the old Marshall Interlinear Greek New Testament. The resulting English words, when placed together would produce a pure FE translation, but ninety nine times out of a hundred the resulting English expression would make no sense whatsoever! Just a beginning study of any foreign language is sufficient to demonstrate just how different any two languages are in expressing similar ideas. When one encounters American English and ancient Koine Greek, the differences are enormous.
        Thus, in examining various translations, one needs to determine which methodology dominates. Signs of both methods will be present, but usually one method will be the dominating approach to translation. Also, one will encounter variation in methodology from passage to passage throughout the Bible.
        How then can one determine the dominating translation method in examining a specific English translation? You should look for several things. Start with the Preface or its equivalent in the front of the translation. Normally, when the Greek text contains very long sentences, these will be broken up into multiple sentences by DE type translations, while the lengthy Greek sentences will be mostly preserved by the FE type translations. Additionally, DE type translations will sequentially rearrange sentence elements -- mostly phrases and dependent clauses -- into a more natural English sequence, while FE type translations will leave them in tact even if the result is ambiguous meaning. The way some words are translated will signal whether a translation is FE or DE oriented. For example, the Greek word for gospel, to euaggelion, will typically be rendered as 'Gospel' by FE translations, but as 'Good News' by DE translations. These are some of the more obvious indicators of translation methodology. Of course, consulting charts where this analysis has already been done is helpful as well; for example, see my "English Translations" at, or Fa. Felix Just's efforts at English Translations of the Bible at

Varying Perspectives:

Gibbs, Jeffrey A. "All Those Translations! How are we to decide which English translation of the Bible to use?" []

Methods of Translating []

1.2.3 Using Translations as Commentaries
        The bottom line of translation analysis is how to make use of them as a part of your Bible study, and subsequently in your teaching or preaching of scripture text. Some suggestions on this will follow.
        Translations can be very useful in highlighting interpretative differences in a scripture passage. As noted above, all translation work involves interpretation to some extent. While translating, the scholar must make many value judgments about the meaning of the underlying Greek text. To illustrate. In Mark 1:1 the Greek text uses the phrase (in transliteration) tou euaggeliou Iesou Christou (tou' eujaggelivou  jIhsou' Cristou'). The issue here that the translator much decide upon before translating concerns the relationship of Iesou Christou to tou euaggeliou. The Greek words for Jesus Christ, Iesou Christou, are in the genitive case. Now some two dozen plus distinct ideas can be expressed by the genitive case in ancient Greek. The choices here range from (1) Does Jesus posses the gospel? Possessive genitive case usage assumed, resulting in the NASB et als. rendering, "the gospel of Jesus Christ." (2) Is the gospel about Jesus Christ? Descriptive genitive case, or genitive of reference case use, resulting in the TEV rendering, "the Good News about Jesus Christ." Also, theoretically possible but not likely are the choices, (3) Ablative of source, "the gospel from Jesus Christ" or (4) Subjective genitive, "the gospel that Jesus Christ produced." To be sure, a thorough knowledge of ancient Koine Greek is extremely helpful in coming to a firm conclusion about which rendering is more accurate to the Greek expression. But, even without this knowledge, the Bible student can consult commentaries on this passage in order to help arrive at a good decision. Then, in either preaching or teaching, different translations can be quoted as a clear way to illustrate the interpretative alternatives. Most audiences outside a seminary classroom have little interest in the details of the Greek grammar parsing of these words, but they do care about the precise meaning of the words. Translations reflecting the alternative parsings can be very useful in getting the ideas across in an interesting and helpful manner.
        Another interpretative issue that arises in Mark 1:1 is function of the seven Greek words in this verse. The expression contains no verb, but is one implied? Or should these words be taken as the initial expression of a longer sentence in verses two through four? Most scholars agree that verse one functions as a title, rather than as a sentence segment. But disagreement surfaces over whether the titular function of verse one pertains to the entire document, or just to the description of the ministry of John the Baptizer in verses two through eleven. Translations that remain neutral and thus ambiguous such as the RSV et als will render the verse along the lines of the RSV, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mostly the FE type translations move this direction. But the view that this statement is a heading for the initial segment of Mark's gospel will be rendered more clearly by DE type translations such as the NLT, "Here begins the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God."
        The classic illustration of this is found in one of the most ambiguous passages in the entire New Testament, James 4:5. The precise meaning and the grammatical connections of the Greek expression remain a puzzle to modern translators and interpreters. Thus, most recent translations, especially the DE type, will produce a rendering that is listed in the scripture text, but also will through the use of footnotes indicate the other alternative possibilities. Note how the NRSV handles this verse:
       (1) the understood text reading: "What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?"
       (2) in a footnote the two legitimate alternative readings are provided: "Or the spirit that God placed within us tends to envy, or the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, opposes our envy."
The Bible student, through first encountering these alternative translations, gains insight into legitimate differences of interpretative understanding of the scripture text. Then, through careful study of commentaries, he/she can come to a personal conclusion as to the best understanding. Of course, the translation that the NRSV translators considered most likely is the printed text. Comparison of other translations of this verse will reflect different interpretative understandings. Note the TEV rendering, "The spirit that God placed in us is filled with fierce desires." Then the NASB, "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." Quite interesting is the highly DE oriented translation, The Message: "And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that 'he's a fiercely jealous lover.'"
        Translations can help bring out clearer meaning of Greek expressions. From the above examples cited, a couple of illustrations surface. The Greek word tou euaggeliou can be expressed either as Gospel (usually by FE type translations) or as Good News (usually by DE type translations. Additionally, the Greek word Christou can be rendered as Christ (usually by FE type translations, assuming its use here is more a personal name) or by Messiah (by the NLT, on the assumption that here it is used as a title of Jesus basically). Of course, commentary etc. study of the Greek word Christos will reveal that its etymological meaning is 'anointed one' and that the meaning of the Hebrew oriented word Messiah is also 'anointed one.'
        Sometimes a specific translation principle has been adopted by a translation committee that reflects their understanding of the meaning of some repetitive words or phrases. The most controversial one is the gender inclusive principle now being adopted by increasing numbers of recent translations. Perhaps one of the better implementations of this principle is by the New Revised Standard Version. One place where this shows up numerous times is in the vocative case Greek expression hoi adelphoi. Most older FE translations will render this as 'Brethren." But the NRSV translators, following the gender inclusive principle, consistently render it "Brothers and Sisters." You should carefully read the introductory section of the translation for an explanation of how this principle is defined in each translation employing it. Regardless of one's views of this principle [see topic Inclusive Language in the Bible Translation URL], these translations do provide stimulating thought on the meanings of certain expressions in the Bible.
        Translations can help explain complex issues of text criticism in the passage. Quite often over the years I've had lay people come up to me after I preached or led a Bible study at their church with the question, "Preacher, tell me why my translation is missing this verse? It was in the King James I used to use, but isn't in this new Bible I have. Why?" One such instance is Mark 7:16. When English translations began to be seriously based on the newer printed Greek texts, then some verses began dropping out of the translations, simply because they were not contained in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The Revised Standard Version created a firestorm of controversy as one of the first to do this in the late 1940s. The way more recent translations typically handle this issue is through a system of footnotes. One should carefully read the introductory section of the translation for explanations of how this is being handled. The New Revised Standard Version simply adds a footnote after the verse 16 marking that reads: "Other ancient authorities add Let anyone with ears to hear listen." In isolated instances where the issues are more extensive, such as the ending of Mark's gospel in 16:8-20, the footnotes are more involved and thus more helpful. Here we are encountered omissions or additions to the original wording of the Greek text. But numerous other types of textual variations surface in the Greek text. For a more detailed discussion, see Rich Elliott's Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism at
        Various recent translations will use individualized systems of footnotes to alert the reader of these variations in the Greek text that produce alternative translation possibilities. These will help the interpreter to better grasp the issues at stake. Of course, the more technical commentaries will contain a section under each passage where issues of textual criticism are treated.
         The above reflect some of the ways that translations can serve as useful commentaries on scripture passages. Of course, presupposed in this is the comparisons of different types of translations for a given passage. Crucial to the study of scripture via translations is comparing not just translations per say, but comparing translations representing the range of translation methodology employed. To compare four translations of the FE type would typically produce little new insight. But to compare four translations distributed across the range of FE to DE types would generate substantially greater insight.


Online Resources:

Hardcopy Sources:

Bibliography on Bible Translation []

A developing multi-topic bibliography dealing with a variety of issues related to Bible translation.

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