After the decision was made as to which books would go into our Bibles, it was still a long, complex, and difficult time before most people had what we take for granted—our own Bibles in the language we speak.
When we see staid, serious, old-fashioned pictures of Bible translators we have no idea of their sacrifices and heroics involved in bringing us God’s Word as we have it today.
In this lesson we will talk about the history, but also how we got the translations we have, the value of listening to the Bible, and which translation is the best one for us for our study and application to our lives.
Below is the Podcast, video, a chart of Bible Translations, and notes of the lesson.
A SPECIAL BONUS: the image of the challenge from the lesson that “You are writing a gospel” is a downloadable, 8.5×11 PDF, free for you. CLICK on the image to download it. Other versions of the image, many sizes for print and social media use are available Bibleverse Shop at: https://payhip.com/b/lNHB7
The chart below is from the Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Time Lines and is not part of any sales but copied for educational purposes. Click on the chart to download it.
Chart of Bible Translations from Rose Publishing use for Educational Purposes
If the Bible was originally in Greek and Hebrew, how did the English translations come about?
• How long did it take?
• Were people really persecuted and killed for translating the Bible?
• Which translation is best for us to use?
• These questions and more we’ll answer in our lesson today…..
How we got our English Bibles
The long and winding road from Greek and Hebrew to English translations
Yvon Prehn, Bible805
Where we are in our series
How we got our Bibles
• Review: We’ve been looking at how we got these parts of our Bibles by evaluating the oral history, the documentary evidence, the number of manuscripts, when they were written, and associated historical facts for each of these areas:
• Old Testament—why in our Bible, including the early oral history and how Adam was still alive when Noah’s father was born, Shem, Noah’s son was alive when Abram was born.
• Apocrypha—why is was not in the Protestant Bible and how it was related to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
• In between the Testaments We then talked about what went on during the 400 “Silent Years”
• New Testament—why in all Bibles, extraordinary historical textual support for it
• Gnostic Gospels—why not included in any Bible
• We then talked about: Canonicity—why we have the books we have in the Bible
it is NOT a decision by the church
• Canonicity determined which books made up the Bible and it is important to remember. . . .
• The Church Councils formalized the Canon, but the CANON had been determined by God and then discovered and accepted by the people of God long before Councils formalized it.
After the Canon was decided
• It was still a long way and time before most people had what we take for granted—our own Bibles in the language we speak.
• The story of how we got here is quite long, complex, and filled with fascinating characters.
• We see funny old-fashioned pictures and have no idea of the sacrifices and heroics involved in bringing us God’s Word.
• That’s what our lesson is about today.
• Initially the Old Testament books were in Hebrew, with bits in Aramaic, and in the New Testament was in Greek.
• The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew into Greek when most spoke Greek.
• There were some early translations one being the Old Testament Syrian translation into the Peshitta (meaning “simple text”), probably in the 2nd century—the New Testament came later.
• By 200 it had been translated into 7 languages, by 500, 13 languages and these scattered translations reflect how people want the Bible in their own language……BUT overall…..
The language of the World was now shifting to Latin
• As Rome conquered the entire known world.
• And with that, the people in the conquered nations now learned to speak Latin as it dominated trade, the military, education, all areas of life.
• It also became the official language of the Christian church, even more solidly after the Roman empire began to decline and the church pulled away from the East.
• Early translations, bits and pieces of the Bible were translated into Latin from the Septuagint but they were often filled with errors.
Finally, a monk, named Jerome proposed to the Pope that an official translation be made
• He was the Pope’s secretary and began the translation in Rome, but after Pope Damascus died,
• He moved to Bethlehem to finish it.
• He worked for over 30 years in a tiny cave next to the cave of the Nativity.
• Today, only a closed door separates the two caves, and many people are not aware of Jerome’s connection to it.
• He was also buried there, but his bones have been moved to Rome.
The result of his work was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate
• He began translating the Old Testament from the Septuagint but found many errors in it and didn’t like the inclusion of the Apocrypha.
• Jerome did NOT want it in the Bible, he strongly objected, but the Pope insisted it be put in.
• However, overall, the Vulgate was an excellent translation made from the Hebrew and the Greek and it set the standard that quality translations should be from the original languages.
• By design, it was also easy to read and understandable; Jerome wanted anyone to be able to read it
• “Vulgate” isn’t a scholarly term, it means the “vulgar” or common tongue.
• It was also the translation first printed in the first Gutenberg Bible.
• It remained one of the most popular Bibles well into the 20th century.
One challenge to today’s readers—the order of the books, was not chronological
• Jerome followed both the Old Testament organization and that of the Septuagint of organizing by type or genre: Law, History, Poetry, Prophets.
• He used a similar one for the New Testament also based on categories. First come the historical books—the Gospels and Acts. Then come the epistles (letters)—first those from Paul, then those written by the other writers. Revelation comes at the end, or History, Letters, Prophecy.
• Keep in mind, people then by and large KNEW the history of the Bible and what fit in where, what prophets spoke when, the setting of Paul’s letters to what churches and when he wrote them.
• They also understood the types, the genres of the writing—how prophets differed from history and proverbs from covenants.
• We have lost that background knowledge today. That is why it is so important to read the Bible in chronological order with an additional emphasis on genre which we’ve done and will do again next year as we go through the entire Bible on Bible805.
A bit more about organization before we talk about the people
• Chapters and verses were NOT in the originals—added for study and public reading in a process and in various manuscripts.
• The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place in around A.D. 1227.
• The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton’s chapter divisions.
• The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in A.D. 1448.
• Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555. Stephanus essentially used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. http://www.gotquestions.org/divided-Bible-chapters-verses.html#ixzz3HBrO3ynx
• Later the Geneva Bible was divided into chapters and verses like our Bibles are today to make the study of the scriptures more precise and easier.
Organized into verses or not, fewer and fewer could read Latin
• This didn’t really matter because most people couldn’t read or didn’t have a Bible of their own anyway.
• But there have always people who cared about the Biblical message, and they wanted to share it.
• So, the content of the Bible was communicated visually.
• Through illustrations, tapestries, paintings, stained glass, DRAMA and music.
• Most popular became known as the Medieval Mystery or Miracle plays. Bible stories, performed in cycles, troupes of actors, musicians, priests, and guards traveled from city to city.
• Still today in Passion Plays and Christmas nativity plays large and small. Oberammergau’s Passion play, has been performed every 10 years since 1633.
Back to history of translating the Bible to English (each language has its own story)
• British Isles became Christian because of Roman influence very early, 2nd century, waxed and waned until became dominate.
• Scattered attempts were made to translate the Latin Vulgate into more understandable English, and one of the earliest was a monk, the Vernerable Bede, translated John 735 AD
• It wasn’t Latin, but you may have had some trouble reading it….here is Jn: 3:16
• “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.“ From the Anglo-Saxon Proto-English Manuscripts (995 AD):
The years passed
• By the time of the Middle Ages, many people couldn’t read.
• In addition, books were very expensive to reproduce, few had them, and there was no universal education.
• If people attended Mass regularly (or the plays of various sorts) they would hear the Bible read through and many memorized parts of it.
IMPORTANT to note that through most of human history people HEARD rather than READ the Bible
• HOW we take in the Bible is not nearly as important as:
• THAT we take in the content of the Bible.
• Many people today don’t like to read….
• NO problem—
• You can listen or look at YouTube Videos.
• YouVersion app-can listen or read many translations
• The Bible Project on YouTube
But people still wanted to read it
• A scholar, teacher John Wycliffe, a “pre-Reformer” denounced many of the current practices of the Catholic church.
• Produced the first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts in the 1380’s AD, translation not all by him
• His followers were called the Lollards, itinerant preachers, another name “Bible Men.”
• Copies produced by friends, assistants, shared widely, though constantly in contact with authorities, many of his followers killed.
Wycliff’s translation was in Middle English, not modern
• Latin Vulgate: Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux
• Later Wycliffe: And God seide, Liȝt be maad; and liȝt was maad
• John 3:16 is rendered in the later Wycliffe version as:
• For God louede so the world, that he ȝaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.
• He was later declared a heretic for his work, his bones dug up and burned.
• Later became a modern hero of Biblical translation, namesake of the Wycliff Bible Translators.
Not a translation, but important development
• 1450’s Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450’s.
• First book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible, The Vulgate, printed in Mainz, Germany.
• Greatly increased distribution of Bible, reduced cost—printing designed to resemble a written manuscript. The black parts printed, then the artwork added later.
• Latin still (and for centuries to come) was the language of scholars and the Church.
William Tyndale comes next
• First to print the New Testament in the English language.
• Translated same time as Luther who was translating into German.
• Persecuted, hunted, imprisoned, and finally strangled and burned. After a horrible life of struggle, fighting, running, hiding.
• Dying words, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.
• Beautiful writer, excellent translator, wording used in successive versions, many of the sayings we have today come from his wording.
Phrases from Tyndale that went into the KJV and eventually into common speech
• “Give up the ghost” “the powers that be” “my brother’s keeper” “the salt of the earth” “fight the good fight” “a law unto themselves”
• The King James Bible used much of his work and wording in it.
• The KJV was not a translation from original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and it borrowed heavily from Tyndale.
His followers carried on work
• The first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.
• Then in 1535 The Great Bible was the first authorized edition of the Bible in English, authorized by King Henry VIII of England to be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England.
• The Great Bible was prepared by Myles Coverdale, working under commission of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII and Vicar General.
• In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.“
• Very large and often chained in the church so it couldn’t be stolen.
Groups would meet in the church
to hear it read
• One was a woman named Anne Askew who history shows in a portrait of a group of people meeting in a church and listening to the Bible read.
• But she did more than listen, she memorized much of it and began preaching to all who would listen.
• When the government reversed their permission and encouragement for people to read the Bible and began persecuting Protestants, she continued to be an outspoken preacher of God’s Word.
• She was arrested and pressured to tell who was studying the Bible with her. When she refused, she was horribly tortured on the rack (the only woman treated in this way). Her hips and arms were pulled out of joint, and she was in horrible pain.
• She still refused to recant or name those who studied with her and was condemned to be burned at the stake.
• Over a month later her body was so broken from the torture that she had to be carried to the stake and propped up on a chair to be burnt.
• She was again challenged to recant, and instead cried out that she “Came not hither to deny my Lord and Master!”
• The fire was lit and a supporter of her threw gunpowder into the flames quickly ending her life.
Other persecuted Protestants left England
• Produced the Geneva Bible 51 years prior to the King James.
• Translated by persecuted English Protestants—Miles Coverdale, John Foxe, and William Whittingham (brother-in-law of John Calvin)
• Who went to Geneva Switzerland, home of many Reformers, including John Calvin
• At that time Queen Mary (killed/burned over 300) in an attempt to destroy the Protestant Reformation.
A Bible of many firsts
• The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use cross-references and the first to use verse numbers for easy reference and memorization.
• It was the first English Bible to translate the Old Testament directly out of the Hebrew.
• The first to be printed in Roman (rather than Gothic) type for easy reading.
• It was the first English Bible published for the common man.
• the first “study Bible” with extensive notes throughout to help explain and apply the text. It was also the Bible that the Pilgrims brought to America on the Mayflower.
• Shakespeare, William Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress all quoted from the Geneva Bible
• The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking, Protestant Christians and it remained more popular than the King James Version for decades .
• It was the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims.
• Reprinted and popular still today in many versions—be careful if you consider them.
• Facsimiles are nice for historical interest, but they are virtually unreadable.
• Kindle versions that intersperse notes with the text can be confusing.
• Useful—the versions by Tolle Lege Press (available through Amazon) that place the notes in the same way as study Bibles today.
They were not appreciated by everyone
• The annotations which are an important part of the Geneva Bible were Calvinist and Puritan in character, and as such they were disliked by the ruling pro-government Anglicans of the Church of England.
• Application caution with ALL Study Bibles—the notes are not inspired scripture—always remember that.
• Bishops’ Bible (Anglican) under Elizabeth I produced in reaction
• And the later Rheims-Douai edition by the Catholic community.
• King James I commissioned the “Authorized Version”, or King James Bible, in order to replace it.
King James Bible
• 47 scholars, Church of England, done by the King’s authority
• Title page:
THE HOLY BIBLE, Containing the Old and New Testaments : Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties Special Commandment
• The title – page carries the words ‘Appointed to be read in Churches’
Summary of the progression of translations after King James Version
• After the King James Version came into being it was the most widely used for centuries.
• Though written in the same style of English as Shakespeare wrote in, people accepted it, thinking it was a more spiritual way to talk about God. (Though at the time it was written the language of Shakespeare was that of popular plays).
• In the late 1800s there was an explosion of discoveries of ancient texts and not only that ancient grammars and various aids that helped make a more “accurate” translation.
• In 1947 the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the accuracy of the translations we have, refuting the claims that the constant recopying and translation of scriptures changed them and so we need a new version (as the Mormons claim) of what we have.
• The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that manuscripts written before 70 AD are virtually the SAME as manuscripts we have today.
Translation Results of these discoveries
• The Revised Version, the American Standard, the NIV and New King James all made much of these more accurate resources.
• And claimed rightly so that their translations were more exact and closer to the original texts—though the changes primarily minor ones or ones already disputed, such as the ending of Mark.
• No major doctrines are altered in any way—nothing about the character of our God, sinfulness of man, or the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
• Another translation movement in the spirit of both the original writings themselves, the Septuagint, Jerome, and many of the early translators was to translate the Bible into more everyday, understandable language. The Living Bible, Phillips, and the Message are all examples of this approach.
• The Greek of the New Testament was Koine, not Classical—for the common people.
• The goal of the historical translators was always to get the Bible into the language of the people.
• For an excellent chart on this, go to the website, Bible805.com. I can’t put it here because of copyright restrictions.
• One more note: that’s also why online resources, being able to listen to or access your Bible on your phone so good today—truly a heritage of the early translators to make God’s Word accessible to God’s people.
Thoughts on all translations into all languages
• God created language
• God is eternal
• God values His Word
• He knew the language chosen for the original recording
• He knew the languages for translations
• Perhaps none a diminishment, but facets of a jewel that enable us to understand more completely the thoughts of our God.
So, what is the best translation?
• They are all good.
• In part it depends on what you are looking for—precise study or application.
• I find application much more difficult to avoid when reading or listening to a modern translation.
• Strongly recommend reading a variety of translations as that is one of the best commentaries available.
• Bottom line—the best translation—is the one you will read, study, and apply to your life.
God continues to translate The Bible not only into words, but into our lives
• You are writing a gospel,
• A chapter each day,
• By the things that you do
• And the words that you say.
• People read what you write,
• Distorted or true.
• WHAT is the Gospel
• According to YOU?
• Links to:
• Podcasts, blogs, and eBooks
• Printables & merch of Bible verses & encouraging sayings
• Chronological Bible-reading schedules