Meanderings of a Minister


What English Bible Should I Read?
February 20, 2017, 12:16 pm
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bible

I have a friend that pastors a church in Nebraska.  The other day, a man called his church and asked which version of the Bible my friend preaches from.  He informed the caller that he preached from the English Standard Version.  The caller asked why my friend had adulterated the Bible and why he would give up on God’s word.  When my friend attempted to explain to the man that God inspired the original writers of the Bible and that translations translate those original writings and that no translation is perfect, the man hung up on him.

So, how did we get the Bible in English?  While it is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the translation of the original autographs into the various languages until we get to English, know there is much more to the story.

The first full English version of the Bible was translated and copied by John Wycliffe in 1382.  He became concerned about the corruption that had entered the church and saw that the average Englishman had no access to the Bible from which to judge these corruptions and took it upon himself to study the original Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin manuscripts to produce an English version of the Bible.  His original version was published in 1380 and was a word for word translation of the Latin Vulgate produced by Jerome for the Roman Catholic Church.  Anyone caught reading Wycliffe’s bible was to forfeit their cattle, land, life, and goods.  Wycliffe, himself, was killed for the work.

The next English version of the Bible came on the scene in 1534.  The New Testament had been released in 1526 and the Bible was completed and published in 1534.  Its translator was William Tyndale.  He was born in Gloucesterhire and went to Cambridge.  He was convinced that the clergy and the laity alike knew little of scripture because the Wycliffe version was hard to read and many of the day had little education.  Again, Tyndale was found guilty of heresy and condemned to death for his translation work.  His last words before dying by burning at the stake were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

Next in the line of translators was Miles Coverdale, and Augustinian friar, but was influenced so strongly by the Reformation that he left the order and worked on an English translation of the Bible.  He used Tyndale’s English Translation, Luther’s German Translation, the Zurich Swiss Translation of Ulrich Zwingli, the Latin Vulgate or Jerome, and Pagnini’s Latin Version to produce the Coverdale Bible in English.  Threatened by Henry VIII, who was still sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church and opposed to an English version of the Bible, Coverdale ran away to other parts of Europe to produce his new Bible.

The next years saw an explosion of English versions, some better, some not so much.  In 1537 John Rogers produced the Matthew Bible.  This time, Archbishop Cranmer of the Church of England, appealed to Thomas Cromwell to embrace the English version and he did so.  This began a desire for many to own an English bible for there was no persecution for doing so.

In 1539, Miles Coverdale, encouraged by the reception of the Matthew Bible, produced the Great Bible.  This time, Coverdale was not run away, but was embraced by the king and engaged for the work of an English Bible.  Originally printed in Paris, the Bible took some time to get into the hands of the people due to the tensions between France and England in that day.

The Geneva Bible was next in 1560.  A complete revision of the Great Bible, this was the first translation of the Bible into English that involved a committee of translators.  It was also the first English bible to include chapter and verse designations.  Using the original languages, the translators used the Great Bible as a starting point and amended it where needed to produce the new version.  With Queen Elizabeth sympathetic to the Protestant Reformation, the work proceeded uninterrupted and the results were widely embraced.

The Bishops’ Bible was produced in 1568.  Matthew Parker, the archbishop of the Church of England, was tasked with another English translation.  He made the translation with a conscious attempt to produce a version that would be safe for public reading and was written to support the power and position of the bishops within the Church of England.  Queen Elizabeth I and her chief minister, Sir William Cecil, approved the version and made it the only authorized version of the English Bible to be used in churches in chapels throughout the land.

The Roman Catholic Church responded with their own English version of the Bible in the Douay-Rheims Bible.  The New Testament was produced in 1582 and the completed Bible was produced in 1610.  This version was a direct translation of the Latin Vulgate version produced by Jerome many years earlier.  This version included the Apocryphal books which were considered scripture by the Roman Catholic Church, but not recognized by the Protestant churches.  The Apocryphal books were interspersed with the other Biblical books to reinforce that they were considered scripture.

After all of this, came the King James Version of 1611.  Also called the Authorized Version,  King James I came to power and was no friend of the Puritans of his day because they had constantly refuted his claims within the Anglican Church of his day.  Dr. John Rainolds made a motion at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604 that a new English version of the Bible be produced.  Richard Bancroft, future Archbishop of Canterbury opposed the translation of the Bible saying, “if every man humour were followed…there would be no end of translation work…”  The work was overwhelmingly recommended by the Court and authorized by King James with the following requirements:  (1) the Bishops’ Bible would be used as the basis for revision, but that the Hebrew and Greek of the original would be consulted.  (2) A variety of English words would be used for the same Greek and Hebrew so that the Bible did not appear too stilted.  (3) Words necessary in English, but not present in the original languages would be in italics.  (4) Name of biblical characters were to be those in common use.  (5) Old ecclesiastical words were to be retained.  (6) No marginal notes were to be used.  (7) Chapter and verse division were to be retained and headings added for pericopes or sections.

The King James Version of the Bible was produced in 1611.  Almost immediately, revisions were made, but were not given new names or designations.  A major revision was released in 1638.  Another revision came in 1729 as was the Greek New Testament.  Another revision would come in 1762 the Cambridge Bible of the Authorized Version was released by Dr. Thomas Paris with over 360 changes.  In 1768, John Wesley released The New Testament with Notes, for Plain Unlettered Men who know only their Mother Tongue.  This included thousands more changes.  1769 saw another revision by Dr. Benjamin Blayney with over 75000 changes.  The changes would continue, but it was in 1881 that the translations began to move away from the Authorized Version and would get new names for each Bible produced.

If you are still reading this article, you might wonder what all of this means or why I would bring it up.  This brief history shows that the Bible has been translated over and over, even prior to the English King James Version of the Bible.  So, what is the best translation?  Rick Warren is quoted as saying the best translation of the Bible is when we translate it into action in our hearts, lives, and relationships.

If you cannot study Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the best thing to do is to use the version of the Bible your church uses.  To study it personally and corporately and pray for God to turn it into action.  But that’s just my opinion.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

in india they have a great saying – it matters little

Comment by apocalypse2blog

Good point. In India it would matter little which English Bible is read.

Comment by pastorjackliberal




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