Lesson 11 - Berachah Bible Church

How the Bible Came to Us
The English Bible to 1611
Introductory Remarks
• For more than nine hundred years (fourth to
fourteenth centuries) English-speaking
people did not have a Bible in their own
– A major reason for this was the 1000 year
dominance of the Latin Vulgate as the
authoritative translation in the church.
– Second, few had the skill or the time to render the
Bible into English.
– Third, the church was reluctant, even antagonistic,
towards having the Bible translated into English,
fearing it would lose power and revenue.
Some Historical Background
• The Romans conquered Britain in the early
second century.
• By this time Christianity was well established
in the Roman Empire...as was persecution of
• This persecution caused Christians to flee to
the farthest reaches of the Empire.
– There is evidence that Christianity had reached
England by at least the early fourth century.
– Constantine’s decree in 313 was a very significant
change in direction, but Latin would remain the
language of the church for centuries. Early on,
only small portions of Scripture were translated
into English from the Latin Vulgate.
Some Historical Background
• When the French-speaking Normans
conquered England in 1066, Old
English culture was dealt a death blow.
• By the twelfth century the English
language had virtually died out.
• But in the middle twelfth century, a new
language – a mixture of Norman and
Old English – came into being and
Middle English was born.
– Still, for three more centuries, few Bible
books were translated into English.
The Wycliffe Bible
(NT, 1380; Entire Bible, 1382)
• John Wycliffe (c. 1329-1384) was a brilliant English
scholar, lecturer (at Oxford University), debater, and
• In time he grew concerned about the power and
corruption in the established Church, and began to
speak and write about this.
• Wycliffe was convinced that the people needed the
Bible in their own language.
– His translation was from the Latin Vulgate. A second edition
appeared in 1388.
– The hierarchy of the church condemned the Bible. Yet the
threat of severe penalties for those found reading it had the
reverse effect of arousing interest, in both the Bible and
– A number of Wycliffe’s associates were executed; his bones
were dug up and burned, and the ashes scattered in the
River Swift.
The Tyndale Bible
(NT, 1526; OT Portions 1534)
While opposition to translations into English remained strong, William
Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) translated the NT into English in 1526.
Tyndale taught at Oxford and Cambridge and became proficient in
Tyndale was initially housed in London by a wealthy English cloth
merchant as he began his work, but subsequently fled to Hamburg to
finish it.
His NT was printed in Worms, Germany, then smuggled into England in
cotton bales or other containers.
Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London and the man from whom Tyndale
had sought permission to translate the Bible, sought to buy and destroy
every copy he could...which actually helped Tyndale in his work through
increased sales!
– His revised and corrected edition of 1534 was his best work.
Tyndale was kidnapped from Antwerp and imprisoned near Brussels,
– In addition to warmer clothing, he requested a copy of the Hebrew Bible and
a Hebrew grammar and dictionary, in order to translate the OT.
– In 1536 he was found guilty of heresy and executed.
Comparison between Wycliffe’s
and Tyndale’s Bibles
• Wycliffe’s Bible
– Translated from the
Latin Vulgate
– Hand copied
– Middle English
• Tyndale’s Bible
– Translated from
Greek and Hebrew.
– Printed
– Modern English
– Included marginal
notes, about half of
which were
translated from
Luther’s Bible.
The Coverdale Bible
• Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was an avid learner
who, under the influence of the Reformation, left his
order as an Augustinian friar.
• Coverdale developed his edition while in exile in
– Not proficient in the biblical languages, he consulted five
earlier translations.
• Upon hearing of King Henry VIII’s amenability to an
English translation, he dedicated the work to him.
– The king subsequently accepted the translation.
– Though it was re-printed twice, it never became an
authorized English version.
• Coverdale also edited the Great Bible (1539), which
was a revision of the Matthew Bible and so named
because of its size (11 x 16.5).
– It was the first English Bible to be authorized for public use in
The Matthew Bible
• John Rogers studied at Cambridge, served
as a rector in a London church, and helped
smuggle Bibles into England.
• He took the pen name of Thomas Matthew
and finished editing the OT portion of
Tyndale’s Bible.
• By this time the Bible in English was gaining
widespread popularity...but when England
reverted to Roman Catholicism under Mary
Tudor, Rogers was one of the first people to
be burned at the stake in 1555.
The Geneva Bible
• During the reign of Mary, Protestant fugitives fled to
Geneva, which was a safe haven for biblical
– William Wittingham, brother-in-law of Calvin’s wife and an
instructor at All Souls College at Oxford, was one of these
• Whittingham undertook a revision of the English Bible
which came to be known as the Geneva Bible and
which was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, who
favored Protestantism.
• This was a thorough revision of the Great Bible in the
OT. The NT was primarily Tyndale’s version, with
some revisions based on the Great Bible and Beza’s
Latin NT.
– The marginal notes were clearly Calvinistic and anti-Roman,
and made a strong impact upon the people of England and
Scotland...but this Bible was never authorized to be read in
the churches of England.
The Bishops’ Bible
• Recognizing the need for a new
translation, Matthew Parker, Archbishop
of Canterbury, was asked to oversee a
revision of the Great Bible.
– Bishops were also invited to participate,
hence the name.
• This became the authorized version and
was placed in all the churches.
– Its few footnotes were expressly noncontroversial.
The Douay-Rheims Bible
(NT, 1582; OT, 1609-10)
• Driven by Protestant translations with the
notes of Calvin and other Protestants, Roman
Catholics needed an English translation with
notes supporting its doctrine.
• William Allen, an Oxford fellow and devout
Roman Catholic, along with Gregory Martin, a
lecturer at St. John’s College, worked
together to fill this need.
• This Bible sought to refute the “false
teachings” of Protestantism, particularly in the
marginal notes.
• It was based on the Latin Vulgate and not as
good a translation as the Protestant versions,
but served its purpose of getting the Bible into
English for Roman Catholics.
Next Time:
The Authorized Version of 1611
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