A Short Account of the English Translation of the Bible
Taken from the book entitled, “Help to Reading the Bible”, 1850.
We have accounts of various parts of the Bible being translated into Saxon, when that language was spoken in England.
The Psalms were translated by Adhelm, the first Bishop of Sherborne (A.D. 706). The Four Gospels, by Egbert, Bishop of Lindisfern, who died A.D. 721.
The Venerable Bede also translated various parts, if not the whole of the Bible, into Saxon. King Alfred translated the Psalms, and Elfric, Abp. of Canterbury, parts of the Old Testament, about A.D. 995.
English translations of the Bible were also made in the 13th and 14th centuries. But of the complete English translations of the Bible the first was:
Wickliffe's Bible, (about A.D. 1380). This was before printing was invented; transcripts therefore were obtained with difficulty, and copies were scarce. Before Wickliffe's translation, the price of a Bible in Latin, an unknown tongue to all but the learned, was as much as a labouring man's price of work for fifteen years, and equal to 300l. of our money. Even after Wickliffe's own copy was finished, the value of a New Testament was 2l. 16s. 6d., equal to 30l. now. (Gilly's Protestant Forefathers.)
In 1390, the 13th year of Richard II., a bill was brought into the House of Lords for the purpose of suppressing it, but through the influence of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the king's uncle, was rejected. The followers of "Wickliffe were then encouraged to publish another and more correct translation of the Bible. But in the year 1408, in a convocation held at Oxford by Archbishop Arundel, it was decreed that no one should thereafter translate any text of holy Scripture into English by way of a book, or little work, or tract; and that no book of this kind should be read, that was composed lately in the time of John Wickliffe, or since his death. This constitution led the way to great persecution; and many persons were punished severely, and even with death, for reading the Scriptures in English.
Tindal's New Testament (A.D. 1526). This was the first printed edition of any part of the Scriptures into English. He had taken the precaution of printing it on the Continent; but Tonstall, Bishop of London, and Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor, succeeded in buying up and burning almost the whole impression. This enabled Tindal to publish an improved edition. He also translated parts of the Old Testament.
In the year 1531, at the instigation of Henry VIII. And his council, he was imprisoned, and, after a long confinement, strangled, A.D. 1536, by order of the Emperor, at Villefort, near Brussels, and his body reduced to ashes.
Miles Coverdale's Bible (A.D. 1535). Coverdale, afterwards Bishop of Exeter, published a translation of the Bible (the greater part of which was Tindal's) and dedicated it to King Henry the Eighth. This is the first English Bible allowed by royal authority, and a copy of it was by royal proclamation ordered to be placed in the choir of every parish church, to enable every man to read therein.
Matthews' Bible (A.D. 1537). John Rogers, who assumed the name of Thomas Matthews, and who had assisted Tindal in his Biblical labours, edited a Bible, probably at Hamburgh.
Taverner's Bible (A.D. 1539). This was a kind of intermediate work, being a correction of Matthews' Bible.
The Great Bible (A.D. 1539). This was a revised edition, corrected by Cranmer and Coverdale, and so called because printed in large folio. There were several editions of it, and particularly one in 1540, for which Cranmer wrote a preface, showing that "Scriptures should be had and read of the lay and vulgar people;" hence this edition of 1540 is called Cranmer's Bible.
During the reign of Edward VI. (a period of seven years and a half) no new versions were executed, though eleven editions were printed both of the Old and New Testament.
The Geneva Bible (A.D. 1560). Coverdale, John Knox, Christopher Goodman, and other English exiles, who had taken refuge in Geneva, published this translation; the New Testament in 1557, and the remainder of the work in 1560. To it were added notes, favouring the peculiar doctrines of Calvin.
Abp. Parker's, or the Bishops' Bible (A.D. 1568). This was so called because he, with other learned persons, eight of whom were Bishops, published this translation. This was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
The Rhemish New Testament (A.D. 1582). This translation into English was published by the Romanists at Rheims. They retained many Eastern, Greek, and Latin words, and introduced so many difficult expressions, that they contrived to render it unintelligible to the common people. Shortly after,
The Douay Old Testament (A..B. 1609-10). Cardinal Allen is understood to have had a principal share in this work. The Rhemish New Testament, and Douay Old Testament, form the present English Bible of the Romanists.
King James's Bible. This is the English translation of the Bible now in common use. It was begun in the spring of 1607, in the reign of King James I., and finished in about three years. Fifty-four of the most learned men in the "Universities and other places were commissioned to undertake the work of translation: but seven of these having, from illness and other causes, relinquished their task, the work was performed by forty-seven. The translators were ranged under six divisions, and several portions of the Bible were assigned to them, according to the several places where they were to meet, confer, and consult together. The name which stands at the head of the list of translators is that of Dr. Lancelot Andrews, first Fellow, and afterwards Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was at that time Dean of Westminster, and became Bishop successively of Ely and Winchester. After long expectation, and great desire of the nation, the translation of the Bible came forth in the year 1611, the divines employed having taken the greatest pains in conducting the work; for they had not only examined the original, but also compared together all the existing translations, both ancient and modern.
As the free circulation of the Scriptures in the language of any country has ever been one of the most important instruments in implanting true religion where it did not previously exist, and in awakening a revival of it where it has become decayed, our privileges in this respect ought to awaken in us a solemn sense of our responsibility to make that book a lamp to our feet, and light to our path, which the providence and grace of God have rendered so accessible.
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