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The history of the English BibleThe first Bible to be written in the English language were translated to English by John Wycliffe, who wrote them by hand in the 1380s. Wycliffe, an Oxford theologian, used the fourth century Latin Vulgate as a basis for his translation, since the Greek and Hebrew languages of the Old and New Testaments were not accessible to him. Wycliffe devoted much of his life to writing and teaching against the practices and dogmas of the Roman Church, which he believed to be contrary to the holy writ. Although he died nonviolently, the Pope was so infuriated by his teachings that he ordered his body excavated, his bones crushed, and scattered in a river.

Gutenburg invented the printing press in the 1450s. The first book to be printed was the Bible, which was printed in Latin. During the Reformation in the early 1500s, the Bible was illegally printed in English, and at great risk to those involved.

William Tyndale, an English reformer, worked to translate the Greek New Testament into plain English. His effort was made possible through Erasmus' publication of the Greek/Latin New Testament in 1516. Erasmus and printer/reformer John Froben published the first non-Latin Vulgate text of the Bible in a millennium. Latin, widely used amongst the literate, was considered the language of scholarship for centuries. Erasmus' Latin was not the Vulgate translation of Jerome, but his own rendering of the Greek New Testament text. Erasmus' translation revealed huge discrepancies in the Vulgate's integrity, convincing rank and file scholars, many of whom were already disenchanted with the established church.

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Door. Luther, who would be exiled in the months after the Diet of Worms Council in 1521, would translate the New Testament into German from Erasmus' Greek/Latin New Testament, publishing it in 1522. William Tyndale would translate the New Testament into English, but he was not permitted to do this in England.

Tyndale worked to completed his New Testament in English. inquisitors and bounty hunters were on Tyndale's trail in an attempt to prevent the Bible from being translated into English. Nevertheless, in 1525 Tyndale printed the first translation of New Testament in English. The Bishop of London took steps to confiscate and burn them as they found their way into England, but copies continued to circulate among Christians, this despite the fact that possession of one of Tyndale's New Testaments carried a penalty of death by burning.William Tyndale

Betrayed by a friend, Tyndale was eventually taken into custody. Imprisoned for more than a year, he was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. Only two copies of his first printing of the New Testament in English are known to have survived.

Myles Coverdale and John Rogers assisted Tyndale during the last six years of life, carrying the project forward after his death. Coverdale finished translating the Old Testament, and in 1535 he printed the first complete Bible in the English language, using Luther's German text and the Latin as sources. Thus, the first translation of the complete Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.

John Rogers later printed the second complete English Bible in 1537. He printed it under a pseudonym - Thomas Matthew - since a significant portion of his Bible was the translation of Tyndale, whose works were still condemned by the English authorities. It is a composite of the 1534-1535 edition of Tyndale's Pentateuch and New Testament, the Coverdale Bible, and Roger's own translation of the text. It is commonly known as the Matthew's Bible.

The climate changed. At the order of King Henry VIII, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, hired Coverdale to publish the first English Bible authorized for public use. It was distributed to every church and chained to the pulpit.  By the decree of the king, a reader was provided so that the illiterate could hear the Scriptures in their own language. Cranmer's Bible, published by Coverdale, was known as the Great Bible due to its large size - a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions were printed between 1539 and 1541.

The reign of Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) was the next obstacle to the printing of the Bible in English. Queen Mary was sought to return England to the Church of Rome. In 1555, John Rogers and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake. She went on to burn protestants at the stake. During her reign, many people fled England, never to return.

The Church at Geneva (Switzerland) was sympathetic to these reformers exiled from England. Led by Myles Coverdale, John Foxe, Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham, many of them met in Geneva. There, under the protection of John Calvin and John Knox, the Church of Geneva decided to produce a Bible in the English language.

They completed the New Testament in 1557, and the complete Bible was published in 1560. Although it was officially known as the Geneva Bible, due to a passage in Genesis describing the clothing that God fashioned for Adam and Eve upon expulsion from the Garden of Eden as "breeches", some people referred to it as the Breeches Bible.

The Geneva Bible was the first to add numberings to the chapters, so that it would be easier to reference specific passages of Scripture. Each chapter also included extensive margin notes and references, making it the first Study Bible. The Geneva Bible was the English-language Bible of choice for more than a century, and greatly influenced the King James Version, published in 1611, and remained more popular than the version authorized by King James for many decades. The Geneva Bible was the first Bible taken to America.

With the death of Queen Mary, the reformers were free to return to England. Under Queen Elizabeth I, the Anglican Church tolerated the printing and distribution of the Geneva Bible, but reluctantly. The margin notes, in particular, some of which proclaimed the Pope to be the Antichrist, did not rest well with Church authorities. In 1568, another version was printed, without the inflammatory margin notes. Despite 19 printings, the Bishop's Bible never gained popularity among people.

By 1580, the Church at Rome dispensed with its insistence on Latin only. Using the Latin Vulgate as a source, they published an English Bible. As the New Testament was translated at the Catholic College at Rheims, and the Old Testament at its College at Doway, this official Roman Church translation of the Bible was known as the Doway/Rheimes Version. The NT was published in 1582, the OT in 1609.

Queen Elizabeth I was succeeded by King James I. Seeking to produce a Bible that had the popularity of the Geneva Bible but without the controversy associated with it, King James I authorized work on what was intended to be the translation to end all translations. Using each of the available English translations as a source, combined with the private research of more than 50 scholars, the King James Version went to press in 1611.

It took years for the King James Version to overtake the Geneva Bible in popularity, but eventually the KJV became the English Bible of choice. For 250 years, until the publication of the Revised Version in 1881, the KJV was unrivaled. Even today, there are huge numbers of people (including several entire churches) who will insist upon the use of the King James Version.



Latin Vulgate Bible

Latin Vulgate Bible

Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Versionem- Edition Minor. GBS, 1994. R. Gryson, B. Fischer, H.I. Frede, H.F.D. Sparks, W. Thiele, editors. Based on the Old Testament edition of the Benedictines of St. Jerome's Monastery in Rome, and the New Testament edition of Wordsworth and White. Appendix: Prayer of Manasseh, 3-4 Ezra, Psalm 151, Epistle to the Laodiceans. Key to sigla. GBS, Stuttgart, 1994, 4th edition. Cloth, 19 x 14 cm., xliii, 1980 p.


Overview of Bible Study