The Incredible Bible Chapter 5 - English Translations
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a translation as "the act or process
of translating, especially from one language to another."
Because most people who want to read the Bible have not learned how to read the original Hebrew and Greek , there is an obvious need for translations of the Scriptures into every
language in the world. Our desire is to study the English translations or versions
and their progressive revisions and improvements as new resources develop.
The English language continues to change. Since the first English translation
of the Bible, the language has changed so much that it barely seems
intelligible today. The language is still changing, with new words and expressions coming
in and old ones going out.
Because the Bible, being the message of God to man, is so important to be
understood properly, it should be made available with the best versions possible,
which will reproduce in the modern language, the thought of the original. This
will, therefore, clear the way for a person to find out for himself what the
Bible has to say.
The Time Period (Just before the First English Version )
The Time period from 600 - 1500 A.D. was an extremely dark time in both the
church and the world. The visible church had become corrupt, traditionalized and
structured. It was characterized by "Papal" power, internal schisms and
barbaric crusades. The church had moved into a "religious system" that primarily
catered to the clergy and the elite. It's hard to comprehend the incredible
devilish things that went on. God's glory was blurred and the truth of the Word of God
was altered. The system had become incurably flawed, and now it was to be
condemned. When things were about the darkest, then slowly some light began to dawn
on the scene of history. There was a gradual spiritual awakening in people. A
glimmer of hope that God was still alive and longing for a deeper personal
relationship with His people. Their came a growing concern in individuals and in
certain movements to somehow get the Word of God out to the people. For now we
will look briefly at a few of the pre - Reformation people and movements.
They were known as the "Cathari" or "Puritans" of that time period, having
been organized in Southern France about 1170. They strongly opposed the Roman Catholic Church, called for reforms, and circulated the New Testament as widely as possible. Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against them in 1208, even after many of their numbers
had been burned at the stake. There were many more crusades against them until
they were finally exterminated.
This group was found around 1170, about the same time as the Albigenses, by a
man named "Peter Waldo." He was a rich merchant in Lyons, Southern France and
circulated the Bible through his business. He wrote many tracts against the
Catholic church. He deposed of his property, took a vow of poverty and gathered a
group of likeminded men to go around preaching. They were known as "the poor men
of Lyons," and later as Waldenses . The movement spread rapidly until Pope Lucius III excommunicated them in
1184 and officially condemned them as heritics along with the Albigenses.
In 1229 the Council of Toulouse decreed to forcefully suppress the heresy. The
inquisition came down upon the Waldenses with great force. They were
eventually driven from France where they escaped to caves in the valleys of Northern
Italy. Waldo died about 1217 but his movement has survived until the present day.
Other pre - Reformation people and movements that are worthy of study at a
future time are the Lollards, the Hussites, Jerom Savonarola, Jaques Lefevre.
We now move on to the study of the first English translations.
The First English Translations
The earliest evidence of an English translation of the New Testament is around
1000 A.D. by a priest who wrote the English between the lines of a Latin text
he was copying.
Moving on to the 14th Century we come to a man named John Wycliffe (1320-1384) "The Morning star of the Reformation" born of Saxon blood in
Hipswell, England. He entered Balliol College as a student and later became master.
He was soon esteemed the ablest member of the faculty. Having become a doctor
of theology he was given appointment by the king to the rectory of Lutterworth.
Soon he began to speak as a religious reformer, preaching in Oxford and London
against the Pope's secular sovereignty and publicizing his ideas by tracts and
leaflets. In 1377, the Pope condemned Wycliffe's writings. But Wycliffe had
strong support from the people, the scholars, and the nobles of England. He
provided England with a new and "pure" Gospel, establishing the Bible as the only
source of truth and stating that the clergy were not to rule, but to serve the
people. He also denounced the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory and
many others. He raised up preachers from the students at Oxford known as "the
Lollards" and spent most of his time writing and translating.
He died in 1384 having "lit a fire which shall never be put out." The Catholic
Church ordered his books burned and his body exhumed and burned. Nevertheless,
about 150 copies of Wycliffe's version have survived, but only one is
Another Englishman, William Tyndale (1494-1536) was a capstone figure in providing an English translation of the
Bible. Tyndale attended Oxford and Cambridge becoming a very proficient Greek
scholar. The Greek New Testament of Erasmus and the works of Luther awakened in him the desire to give the
Bible to the common people in their own language. He then went to Hamburg and
studied Hebrew with some prominent Jews, and then to Germany to confer with Luther.
It was in Worms, Germany that Tyndale printed his first New Testament (1525)
and it was smuggled into England.
He produced several other works while he was in hiding (no one knows where)
that greatly affected England. By 1534, believing that the Reformation in England
had reached a point that it would be safe for him to come out from hiding, he
settled in Belgium and continued his writing. He was soon arrested, imprisoned
in the castle of Vilvorde, (near Brussels) Belgium, tried for heresy and
treason, and convicted. He was first strangled and then burned at the stake in the
prison yard on October 6, 1536.
Also in 1535, an Englishman named Miles Coverdale published the first English translation of the entire Bible in the city of
Zurich. This edition had the support of King Henry VIII because Coverdale was an
ordained priest and translated the Bible in a way that supported Anglican
Catholic doctrine and therefore favored over the Latin Vulgate . In 1539, he incorporated the best of Tyndale and other translators and
prepared a huge (9 in. x 15 in.) book which earned the name "the Great Bible." The
British government ordered that the book be displayed prominently in every
church throughout England.
In 1553, Queen Mary (Tudor) banned the use of all English Bibles by the
people. Coverdale and most of the Bible translators fled to Geneva, Switzerland,
where John Calvin structured a Protestant stronghold. William Whittingham of Geneva
encouraged many of these scholars to begin work on a new English Bible, which
was published in 1560. This was the first Bible that was divided into verses by a printer named Robert Estienne. It was called the Geneva Bible. This
translation was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, who had taken the throne of England
in 1558. This translation became the most popular at the time.
In 1604 James VI, King of Scotland from his youth, became King James I of
England, the first ruler of Brittain and Ireland. Because of the growing animosity of James toward the Puritans, a leading Puritan spokesman, Dr. John Reynolds,
proposed that a new English Bible be issued in honor of the new King. King
James appointed 54 learned scholars in the making of this new translation from the
original Greek and Hebrew into English. For the Old Testament they used the ben Asher text, and for the New Testament they used the Greek
text of Erasmus and a Greek and Latin text of the 6th Century found by Theodore
Beza. They used Chapters (developed by Archbishop Stephen Langton in 1551) and
Verses (the verse divisions of Robert Estienne). It was completed and published
in 1611 and became known as the "Authorized Version" because the making of it
was authorized by King James. It became the "Official Bible of England" and the
only Bible of the English church. There have been many revisions of the King James Bible ie. 1615, 1629, 1638, and
1762. Some of them include marginal notes containing the chronology of Biblical
events laid out by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), which dates Adam and Eve at 4004 B.C. The 1762 revision is what
we now presently know as the King James Version.
- The King James Bible (KJV)
We will be looking at 3 revisions, the English Revised Version (ERV or RV),
the American Standard Version (ASV) , and the New King James Version (NKJ) .
a. The English Revised Version (RV)
In 1881 two respected Anglican leaders, Bishop Harold Browne and Bishop C.J.
Ellicot along with an American committee produced a Revised Version of the New
Testament. The RV was received well in Brittain and the U.S. By 1885 the
committee introduced the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The RV later lost
its reputation in the United States because of its semi Brittish slant.
b. The American Standard Version (ASV)
This version was published in 1901. Some members of the American committee
produced their own scholarly version of the King James headed by J. Henry Thayer.
Their aim was for a word for word rendering of the Greek and Hebrew wherever
possible. This made it a little harder to read and it lost its King James, Old
c. The New King James Version (NKJ)
In 1979, Thomas Nelson Publishers issued a new edition of the of the KJV New
Testament. The Publisher assembled 119 scholars to work on this new version. By
1982, the entire NKJV was published and immediately widely accepted. The New
King James version was based on the 1894 version of the Textus Receptus. It is
known for its integrity in preserving the true meaning of the text and also for
easy readable style (or at least much easier than the KJV). It preserves some of
the old archaic expressions.
- Revisions of the King James Bible
Scholars have produced several totally new translations of the Bible. We will
be looking at the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New English Bible (NEB) .
a. The Revised Standard Version (RSV)
In 1929, the ICRE (International Council of Religious Education) which is part
of the WCC (World Council of Churches) began work on a revision of the ASV.
They decided on an entirely new translation, based on the latest scholarly Greek
texts. It was much different than Westcott and Hort although it was scholarly
and very readable. The New Testament was published in 1946, and the Old
Testament in 1952. The RSV had its praises and its criticisms (theologically liberal at
b. The New English Bible (NEB).
This was not a revision like the RSV but a completely new translation from the
Hebrew and the Greek. Many scholars from Great Britain headed up by C. H. Dodd
worked on this project. The New Testament was released in 1961, exactly 350
years after the first publishing of the KJV and the complete version in 1970. The
NEB was immediately loved in Britain having been written in a very modern yet
dignified way. It was criticized for being a little too sophisticated and
therefore less popular in the United States. Some scholars say that there are many
theological problems with the Greek renderings of the NEB and can be misleading
to the person who doesn't know any Greek.
- New Translations
Obviously, this is an exhaustive topic, but we will try to examine some of the
highlights of the newest revisions and paraphrases.
a. The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
This is the American Standard version of 1901 with the English a little more
modernized and some criticisms corrected. The emphasis of the writers were
stated as three goals: accuracy of translation, clarity of English, and adequecy of
notes. They mainly used Nestle Greek text by Nestle (23rd ed.) based on
Westcott and Hort, and the Hebrew text taken from Kittel. They made it a point to
transliterate (write in English letters) the Hebrew and Greek names, and they
capitalized the personal pronouns referring to God. It also included lots of
marginal notes that are very helpful to the reader. The NASB was complete and released
in 1971 and well received. Some scholars say that the NASB is the best literal
work done by a committee and an exceptionally valuable word for word study
b. The New International Version (NIV)
In 1965, several (100) scholars representing several denominations with ample
financial support devoted their time and efforts wholeheartedly to the
establishing of a critical text made from the originals that would be known by its
accuracy, clarity, and literary quality, and secondly, to translating a number of
Old and New Testament passages with a "dynamic equivalent" principle in mind.
This principle would allow for the choosing of words or phrases that the original
had on its first readers, which made it easier to grasp in our changing
culture. It was complete, both Old and New Testament, by 1978 and is similar in some
sorts to the RSV. The NIV is a prime example of contemporary evangelical
c. The Good News Bible (TEV)
This version known as TEV "Todays English Version," was sponsored by the
American Bible Society. This translation was complete and available by 1976. The
main writer, Robert Bratcher used a critical text of the Bible and made a
paraphrase that is considered an excellent tool for learning the simple panorama of the
Biblical events, but departs radically from the exact meaning of the original
in many places.
d. The Living Bible (TLB)
Another paraphrase known as the Living Bible was published by Kenneth Taylor,
an editor at a Chicago publishing house, in an effort to make the Bible more
understandable to his children. His version gained exceptional popularity and he
founded his own publishing company (Tyndale House). The Living Bible was
complete and available by 1972. This paraphrase is of great benefit for clarity and
simplicity, but readers should be cautioned that paraphrases can be misleading.
Amen. Bibliography Credits
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