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English Versions

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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ENGLISH VERSIONS . 1. The history of the English Bible begins early in the history of the English people, though not quite at the beginning of it, and only slowly attains to any magnitude. The Bible which was brought into the country by the first missionaries, by Aidan in the north and Augustine in the south, was the Latin Bible; and for some considerable time after the first preaching of Christianity to the English no vernacular version would be required. Nor is there any trace of a vernacular Bible in the Celtic Church, which still existed in Wales and Ireland. The literary language of the educated minority was Latin; and the instruction of the newly converted English tribes was carried on by oral teaching and preaching. As time went on, however, and monasteries were founded, many of whose inmates were imperfectly acquainted either with English or with Latin, a demand arose for English translations of the Scriptures. This took two forms. On the one hand, there was a call for word-for-word translations of the Latin, which might assist readers to a comprehension of the Latin Bible; and, on the other, for continuous versions or paraphrases, which might be read to, or by, those whose skill in reading Latin was small.

2. The earliest form, so far as is known, in which this demand was met was the poem of Caedmon , the work of a monk of Whitby in the third quarter of the 7th cent., which gives a metrical paraphrase of parts of both Testaments. The only extant MS of the poem (in the Bodleian) belongs to the end of the 10th cent., and it is doubtful how much of it really goes back to the time of Caedmon. In any case, the poem as it appears here does not appear to be later than the 8th century. A tradition, originating with Bale, attributed an English version of the Psalms to Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne ( d. 707), but it appears to be quite baseless (see A. S. Cook, Bibl. Quot. in Old Eng. Prose Writers , 1878, pp. xiv xviii). An Anglo-Saxon Psalter in an 11th cent. MS at Paris (partly in prose and partly in verse) has been identified, without any evidence, with this imaginary work. The well-known story of the death of Bede (in 735) shows him engaged on an English translation of St. John’s Gospel [one early MS (at St. Gall) represents this as extending only to John 6:9; but so abrupt a conclusion seems inconsistent with the course of the narrative], but of this all traces have disappeared. The scholarship of the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, which had an important influence on the textual history of the Latin Vulgate, did not concern itself with vernacular translations; and no further trace of an English Bible appears until the 9th century. To that period is assigned a word-for-word translation of the Psalter, written between the lines of a Latin MS (Cotton MS Vespasian A.I., in the British Museum), which was the progenitor of several similar glosses between that date and the 12th cent.; and to it certainly belongs the attempt of Alfred to educate his people by English translations of the works which he thought most needful to them. He is said to have undertaken a version of the Psalms, of which no portion survives, unless the prose portion ( Psalms 1:1-6; Psalms 2:1-12; Psalms 3:1-8; Psalms 4:1-8; Psalms 5:1-12; Psalms 6:1-10; Psalms 7:1-17; Psalms 8:1-9; Psalms 9:1-20; Psalms 10:1-18; Psalms 11:1-7; Psalms 12:1-8; Psalms 13:1-6; Psalms 14:1-7; Psalms 15:1-5; Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 17:1-15; Psalms 18:1-50; Psalms 19:1-14; Psalms 20:1-9; Psalms 21:1-13; Psalms 22:1-31; Psalms 23:1-6; Psalms 24:1-10; Psalms 25:1-22; Psalms 26:1-12; Psalms 27:1-14; Psalms 28:1-9; Psalms 29:1-11; Psalms 30:1-12; Psalms 31:1-24; Psalms 32:1-11; Psalms 33:1-22; Psalms 34:1-22; Psalms 35:1-28; Psalms 36:1-12; Psalms 37:1-40; Psalms 38:1-22; Psalms 39:1-13; Psalms 40:1-17; Psalms 41:1-13; Psalms 42:1-11; Psalms 43:1-5; Psalms 44:1-26; Psalms 45:1-17; Psalms 46:1-11; Psalms 47:1-9; Psalms 48:1-14; Psalms 49:1-20; Psalms 50:1-23 ) of the above-mentioned Paris MS is a relic of it; but we still have the translation of the Decalogue, the summary of the Mosaic law, and the letter of the Council of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:23-29 ), which he prefixed to his code of laws. To the 10th cent. belongs probably the verse portion of the Paris MS, and the interlinear translation of the Gospels in Northumbrian dialect inserted by the priest Aldred in the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Museum), which is repeated in the Rushworth Gospels (Bodleian) of the same century, with the difference that the version of Mt. is there in the Mercian dialect. This is the earliest extant translation of the Gospels into English.

3. The earliest independent version of any of the books of the Bible has likewise generally been assigned to the 10th cent., but if this claim can be made good at all, it can apply only to the last years of that century. The version in question is a translation of the Gospels in the dialect of Wessex, of which six MSS (with a fragment of a seventh) are now extant. It was edited by W. Skeat, The Holy Gospels in Anglo-Saxon (1871 1877); two MSS are in the British Museum, two at Cambridge, and two (with a fragment of another) at Oxford. From the number of copies which still survive, it must be presumed to have had a certain circulation, at any rate in Wessex, and it continued to be copied for at least a century. The earliest MSS are assigned to the beginning of the 11th cent.; but it is observable that Ælfric the Grammarian, abbot of Eynsham, writing about 990, says that the English at that time ‘had not the evangelical doctrines among their writings, … those books excepted which King Alfred wisely turned from Latin into English’ [preface to Ælfric’s Homilies , edited by B. Thorpe, London, 1843 46]. In a subsequent treatise ( Treatise concerning the Old and New Testament , ed. W. Lisle, London, 1623) also (the date of which is said to be about 1010, see Dietrich, Zeitsch. f. hist. Theol . 1856, quoted by Cook, op. cit. , p. lxiv.) he speaks as if no English version of the Gospels were in existence, and refers his readers to his own homilies on the Gospels. Since Ælfric had been a monk at Winchester and abbot of Cerne, in Dorset, it is difficult to understand how he could have failed to know of the Wessex version of the Gospels, if it had been produced and circulated much before 1000; and it seems probable that it only came into existence early in the 11th century. In this case it was contemporaneous with another work of translation, due to Ælfric himself. Ælfric, at the request of Æthelweard. son of his patron Æthelmær, ealdorman of Devonshire and founder of Eynsham Abbey, produced a paraphrase of the Heptateuch, homilies containing epitomes of the Books of Kings and Job, and brief versions of Esther, Judith, and Maccabees. These have the interest of being the earliest extant English version of the narrative books of the OT. [The Heptateuch and Job were printed by E [Note: Elohist.] . Thwaites (Oxford, 1698). For the rest, see Cook, op. cit. ]

4. The Norman Conquest checked for a time all the vernacular literature of England, including the translations of the Bible. One of the first signs of its revival was the production of the Ormulum , a poem which embodies metrical versions of the Gospels and Acts, written about the end of the 12th century. The main Biblical literature of this period, however, was French. For the benefit of the Norman settlers in England, translations of the greater part of both OT and NT were produced during the 12th and 13th centuries. Especially notable among these was the version of the Apocalypse, because it was frequently accompanied by a series of illustrations, the best examples of which are the finest (and also the most quaint) artistic productions of the period in the sphere of book-illustration. Nearly 90 MSS of this version are known, ranging from the first half of the 12th cent. to the first half of the 15th [see P. Berger, La Bible Française au moyen âge , p. 78 ff.; L. Delisle and P. Meyer, L’Apocalypse en Français (Paris, 1901); and New PalÅ“ographical Society , part 2, plates 38. 39], some having been produced in England, and others in France; and in the 14th cent. it reappears in an English dress, having been translated apparently about that time. This English version (which at one time was attributed to Wyclif) is known in no less than 16 MSS, which fall into at least two classes [see Miss A. C. Paues, A Fourteenth Century English Biblical Version (Cambridge, 1902), pp. 24 30]; and it is noteworthy that from the second of these was derived the version which appears in the revised Wyclifite Bible, to be mentioned presently.

5. The 14th cent., which saw the practical extinction of the general use of the French language in England, and the rise of a real native literature, saw also a great revival of vernacular Biblical literature, beginning apparently with the Book of Psalms. Two English versions of the Psalter were produced at this period, one of which enjoyed great popularity. This was the work of Richard Rolle , hermit of Hampole, in Yorkshire ( d. 1349). It contains the Latin text of the Psalter, followed verse by verse by an English translation and commentary. Originally written in the northern dialect, it soon spread over all England, and many MSS of it still exist in which the dialect has been altered to suit southern tastes. Towards the end of the century Rolle’s work suffered further change, the commentary being re-written from a strongly Lollard point of view, and in this shape it continued to circulate far into the 16th century. Another version of the Psalter was produced contemporaneously with Rolle’s, somewhere in the West Midlands. The authorship of it was formerly attributed to William of Shoreham, vicar of Chart Sutton, in Kent, but for no other reason than that in one of the two MSS in which it is preserved (Brit. Mus. Add. MS 17376, the other being at Trinity College, Dublin) it is now bound up with his religious poems. The dialect, however, proves that this authorship is impossible, and the version must be put down as anonymous. As in the case of Rolle’s translation, the Latin and English texts are intermixed, verse by verse; but there is no commentary. [See K. S. Bülbring, The Earliest Complete English Prose Psalter (Early English Text Society), 1891.]

6. The Psalter was not the only part of the Bible of which versions came into existence in the course of the 14th century. At Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepys MS 2498), is an English narrative of the Life of Christ, compiled out of a re-arrangement of the Gospels for Sundays and holy days throughout the year. Quite recently, too, a group of MSS, which (so far as they were known at all) had been regarded as belonging to the Wyclifite Bible, has been shown by Miss Anna C. Paues [ A Fourteenth Century English Biblical Version (Cambridge, 1902)] to contain an independent translation of the NT. It is not complete, the Gospels being represented only by Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 6:8 , and the Apocalypse being altogether omitted. The original nucleus seems, indeed, to have consisted of the four larger Catholic Epistles and the Epistles of St. Paul, to which were subsequently added 2 and 3 John, Jude, Acts, and Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 6:8 . Four MSS of this version are at present known, the oldest being one at Selwyn College, Cambridge, which was written about 1400. The prologue narrates that the translation was made at the request of a monk and a nun by their superior, who defers to their earnest desire, although, as he says, it is at the risk of his life. This phrase seems to show that the work was produced after the rise of the great party controversy which is associated with the name of Wyclif.

7. With Wyclif (1320 1384), we reach a land mark in the history of the English Bible, in the production of the first complete version of both OT and NT. It belongs to the last period of Wyclif’s life, that in which he was engaged in open war with the Papacy and with most of the official chiefs of the English Church. It was connected with his institution of ‘poor priests,’ or mission preachers, and formed part of his scheme of appealing to the populace in general against the doctrines and supremacy of Rome. The NT seems to have been completed about 1380, the OT between 1382 and 1384. Exactly how much of it was done by Wyclif’s own hand is uncertain. The greater part of the OT (as far as Bar 3:20 ) is assigned in an Oxford MS to Nicholas Hereford, one of Wyclif’s principal supporters at that university; and it is certain that this part of the translation is in a different style (more stiff and pedantic) from the rest. The NT is generally attributed to Wyclif himself, and he may also have completed the OT, which Hereford apparently had to abandon abruptly, perhaps when he was summoned to London and excommunicated in 1382. This part of the work is free and vigorous in style, though its interpretation of the original is often strange, and many sentences in it can have conveyed very little idea of their meaning to its readers. Such as it was however, it was a complete English Bible, addressed to the whole English people, high and low, rich and poor. That this is the case is proved by the character of the copies which have survived (about 30 in number). Some are large folio volumes, handsomely written and illuminated in the best, or nearly the best, style of the period; such is the fine copy, in two volumes (now Brit. Mus. Egerton MSS 617, 618), which once belonged to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, uncle of Richard II. Others are plain copies of ordinary size, intended for private persons or monastic libraries; for it is clear that, in spite of official disfavour and eventual prohibition, there were many places in England where Wyclif and his Bible were welcomed. Wyclif, indeed, enjoyed advantages from personal repute and influential support such as had been enjoyed by no English translator since Alfred. An Oxford scholar, at one time Master of Balliol, holder of livings successively from his college and the Crown, employed officially on behalf of his country in controversy with the Pope, the friend and protégé of John of Gaunt and other prominent nobles, and enjoying as a rule the strenuous support of the University of Oxford, Wyclif was in all respects a person of weight and influence in the realm, who could not be silenced or isolated by the opposition of bishops such as Arundel. The work that he had done had struck its roots too deep to be destroyed, and though it was identified with Lollardism by its adversaries, its range was much wider than that of any one sect or party.

8. Wyclif’s translation, however, though too strong to be overthrown by its opponents, was capable of improvement by its friends. The difference of style between Hereford and his continuator or continuators, the stiff and unpopular character of the work of the former, and the imperfections inevitable in a first attempt on so large a scale, called aloud for revision; and a second Wyclifite Bible, the result of a very complete revision of its predecessor, saw the light not many years after the Reformer’s death. The authorship of the second version is doubtful. It was assigned by Forshall and Madden, the editors of the Wyclifite Bible, to John Purvey , one of Wyclif’s most intimate followers; but the evidence is purely circumstantial, and rests mainly on verbal resemblances between the translator’s preface and known works of Purvey, together with the fact that a copy of this preface is found attached to a copy of the earlier version which was once Purvey’s property. What is certain is that the second version is based upon the first, and that the translator’s preface is permeated with Wyclifite opinions. This version speedily superseded the other, and in spite of a decree passed, at Arundel’s instigation, by the Council of Blackfriars in 1408, it must have circulated in large numbers. Over 140 copies are still in existence, many of them small pocket volumes such as must have been the personal property of private individuals for their own study. Others belonged to the greatest personages in the land, and copies are still in existence which formerly had for owners Henry VI., Henry VII., Edward VI., and Elizabeth.

9. At this point it seems necessary to say something of the theory which has been propounded by the well-known Roman Catholic historian, Abbot Gasquet, to the effect that the versions which pass under the name of ‘Wyclifite’ were not produced by Wyclif or his followers at all, but were translations authorized and circulated by the heads of the Church of England, Wyclif’s particular enemies. [ The Old English Bible , 1897, pp. 102 178.] The strongest argument adduced in support of this view is the possession of copies of the versions in question both by kings and princes of England, and by religious houses and persons of unquestioned orthodoxy. This does, indeed, prove that the persecution of the English Bible and its possessors by the authorities of the Catholic Church was not so universal or continuous as it is sometimes represented to have been, but it does not go far towards disproving the Wyclifite authorship of versions which can be demonstratively connected, as these are, with the names of leading supporters of Wyclif, such as Hereford and Purvey; the more so since the evidence of orthodox ownership of many of the copies in question dates from times long after the cessation of the Lollard persecution. Dr. Gasquet also denies that there is any real evidence connecting Wyclif with the production of an English Bible at all; but m order to make good this assertion he has to ignore several passages in Wyclif’s own writings in which he refers to the importance of a vernacular version (to the existence of his own version he could not refer, since that was produced only at the end of his life), and to do violence alike to the proper translation and to the natural interpretation of passages written by Wyclif’s opponents (Arundel, Knyghton, and the Council of Oxford in 1408) in which Wyclif’s work is mentioned and condemned. Further, Dr. Gasquet denies that the Lollards made a special point of the circulation of the Scriptures in the vernacular, or were charged with so doing by the ecclesiastical authorities who prosecuted them; and in particular he draws a distinction between the versions now extant and the Bible on account of the heretical nature of which (among other charges) one Richard Hun was condemned by the Bishop of London in 1514. It has, however, been shown conclusively that the depositions of the witnesses against the Lollards (which cannot be regarded as wholly irrelevant to the charges brought against them) constantly make mention of the possession of vernacular Bibles; and that the changes against Richard Hun, based upon the prologue to the Bible in his possession, are taken verbatim from the prologue to the version which we now know as Purvey’s. It is true that Dr. Gasquet makes the explicit statement that ‘we shall look in vain in the edition of Wyclifite Scriptures published by Forshall and Madden for any trace of these errors’ ( i.e. the errors found by Hun’s prosecutors in the prologue to his Bible); but a writer in the Church Quarterly Review (Jan. 1901, p. 292 ff.) has printed in parallel columns the charges against Hun and the corresponding passages in Purvey’s prologue, which leave no possibility of doubt that Hun was condemned for possessing a copy of the version which is commonly known as Purvey’s, or as the later Wyclifite version. The article in the Church Quarterly Review must be read by everyone who wishes to investigate Dr. Gasquet’s theory fully; the evidence there adduced is decisive as to the unsoundness of Dr. Gasquet’s historical position. It is impossible to attribute to the official heads of the English Church a translation the prologue to which (to quote but two phrases) speaks of ‘the pardouns of the bisschopis of Rome, that ben opin leesingis,’ and declares that ‘to eschewe pride and speke onour of God and of his lawe, and repreue synne bi weie of charite, is matir and cause now whi prelatis and summe lordis sclaundren men, and clepen hem lollardis, eretikis, and riseris of debate and of treson agens the king.’ In the face of this evidence it will be impossible in future to deny that the Wyclifite Bible is identical with that which we now possess, and that it was at times the cause of the persecution of its owners by the authorities of the Church. That this persecution was partial and temporary is likely enough. Much of it was due to the activity of individual bishops, such as Arundel; but not all the bishops shared Arundel’s views. Wyclif had powerful supporters, notably John of Gaunt and the University of Oxford, and under their protection copies of the vernacular Bible could be produced and circulated. It is, moreover, likely, not to say certain, that as time went on the Wyclifite origin of the version would often be forgotten. Apart from the preface to Purvey’s edition, which appears only rarely in the extant MSS, there is nothing in the translation itself which would betray its Lollard origin; and it is quite probable that many persons in the 15th and early 16th cent. used it without any suspicion of its connexion with Wyclif. Sir Thomas More, whose good faith there is no reason to question, appears to have done so; otherwise it can only be supposed that the orthodox English Bibles of which he speaks, and which he expressly distinguishes from the Bible which caused the condemnation of Richard Hun, have wholly disappeared, which is hardly likely. If this be admitted, the rest of More’s evidence falls to the ground. The history of the Wyclifite Bible, and of its reception in England, would in some points bear restatement; but the ingenious, and at first sight plausible, theory of Abbot Gasquet has failed to stand examination, and it is to be hoped that it may be allowed to lapse.

10. With the production of the second Wyclifite version the history of the manuscript English Bible comes to an end. Purvey’s work was on the level of the best scholarship and textual knowledge of the age, and it satisfied the requirements of those who needed a vernacular Bible. That it did not reach modern standards in these respects goes without saying. In the first place, it was translated from the Latin Vulgate, not from the original Hebrew and Greek, with which there is no reason to suppose that Wyclif or his assistants were familiar. Secondly, its exegesis is often deficient, and some passages in it must have been wholly unintelligible to its readers. This, however, may be said even of some parts of the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , so that it is small reproach to Wyclif and Purvey; and on the whole it is a straightforward and intelligible version of the Scriptures. A few examples of this, the first complete English Bible, and the first version in which the English approaches sufficiently near to its modern form to be generally intelligible, may be given here.

John 14:1-7 . Be not youre herte affraied, ne drede it. Ye bileuen in god, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyogis: if ony thing lasse I hadde seid to you, for I go to make redi to you a place. And if I go and make redi to you a place, eftsone I come and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be. And whidir I go ye witen: and ye witen the wey. Thomas seith to him, Lord, we witen not whidir thou goist, and hou moun we wite the weie. Ihesus seith to him, I am weye truthe and liif: no man cometh to the fadir, but bi me. If ye hadden knowe me, sothli ye hadden knowe also my fadir: and aftirwarde ye schuln knowe him, and ye han seen hym.

2 Corinthians 1:17-20 . But whanne I wolde this thing, whether I uside unstidfastnesse? ether tho thingis that I thenke, I thenke aftir the fleische, that at me be it is and it is not. But god is trewe, for oure word that was at you, is and is not, is not thereinne, but is in it. Forwhi ihesus crist the sone of god, which is prechid among you bi us, bi me and siluan and tymothe, ther was not in hym is and is not, but is was in hym. Forwhi hou many euer ben biheestis of god, in thilke is ben fulfillid. And therfor and bi him we seien Amen to god, to oure glorie.

Ephesians 3:14-21 . For grace of this thing I bowe my knees to the fadir of oure lord ihesus crist, of whom eche fadirheed in heuenes and in erthe is named, that he geue to you aftir the richessis of his glorie, vertu to be strengthid bi his spirit in the yoner man; that criste dwelle bi feitn in youre hertis; that ye rootid and groundid in charite, moun comprehende with alle seyntis wniche is the breede and the lengthe and the highist and the depnesse; also to wite the charite of crist more excellent thanne science, that ye he fillid in all the plente of god. And to hym that is myghti to do alle thingis more pleuteuousli thanne we axen, or undirstande bi ths vertu that worchith in us, to hym be glorie in the chirche and in crist ihesus in to alle the generaciouns of the worldis. Amen.

11. The English manuscript Bible was now complete, and no further translation was issued in this form. The Lollard controversy died down amid the strain of the French wars and the passions of the wars of the Roses; and when, in the 16th century, religious questions once more came to the front, the situation had been fundamentally changed through the invention of printing. The first book that issued from the press was the Latin Bible (popularly known as the Mazarin Bible), published by Fust and Gutenberg in 1456. For the Latin Bible (the form in which the Scriptures had hitherto been mainly known in Western Europe) there was indeed so great a demand, that no less than 124 editions of it are said to have been issued before the end of the 15th century; but it was only slowly that scholars realized the importance of utilizing the printing press for the circulation of the Scriptures, either in their original tongues, or in the vernaculars of Europe. The Hebrew Psalter was printed in 1477, the complete OT in 1488. The Greek Bible, both OT and NT, was included in the great Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes, printed in 1514 17, but not published till 1522. The Greek NT (edited by Erasmus) was first published by Froben in 1516, the OT by the Aldine press in 1518. In the way of vernacular versions, a French Bible was printed at Lyons about 1478, and another about 1487; a Spanish Pentateuch was printed (by Jews) in 1497; a German Bible was printed at Strassburg by Mentelin in 1466, and was followed by eighteen others (besides many Psalters and other separate books) between that date and 1522, when the first portion of Luther’s translation appeared. In England, Caxton inserted the main part of the OT narrative in his translation of the Golden Legend (which in its original form already contained the Gospel story), published in 1483; but no regular English version of the Bible was printed until 1525, with which date a new chapter in the history of the English Bible begins.

12. It was not the fault of the translator that it did not appear at least as early as Luther’s. William Tindale ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 1490 1536) devoted himself early to Scripture studies, and by the time he had reached the age of about 30 he had taken for the work of his life the translation of the Bible into English. He was born in Gloucestershire, where his family seems to have used the name of Hutchins or Hychins, as well as that of Tindale, so that he is himself sometimes described by both names); and he became a member of Magdalen Hall (a dependency of Magdalen College) at Oxford, where he definitely associated himself with the Protestant party and became known as one of their leaders. He took his degree as B.A. in 1512, as M.A. in 1515, and at some uncertain date he is said (by Foxe) to have gone to Cambridge. If this was between 1511 and 1515, he would have found Erasmus there; but in that case it could have been only an interlude in the middle of his Oxford course, and perhaps it is more probable that his visit belongs to some part of the years 1515 to 1520, as to which there is no definite information. About 1520 he became resident tutor in the house of Sir John Walsh, at Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire, to which period belongs his famous saying, in controversy with an opponent: ‘If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.’ With this object he came up to London in 1523, and sought a place in the service of Tunstall, bishop of London, a scholar and patron of scholars, of whom Erasmus had spoken favourably; but here he received no encouragement. He was, however, taken in by Alderman Humphrey Monmouth, in whose house he lived as chaplain and studied for six months; at the end of which time he was forced to the conclusion ‘not only that there was no room in my lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England.’

13 . About May 1524, therefore, Tindale left England and settled in the free city of Hamburg, and in the course of the next 12 months the first stage of his great work was completed. Whether during this time he visited Luther at Wittenberg is quite uncertain; what is certain, and more important, is that he was acquainted with Luther’s writings. In 1525, the translation of the NT being finished, he went to Cologne to have it printed at the press of Peter Quentel. Three thousand copies of the first ten sheets of it, in quarto, had been printed off when rumours of the work came to the ears of John Cochlæus, a bitter enemy of the Reformation. To obtain information he approached the printers (who were also engaged upon work for him), and having loosened their tongues with wine he learnt the full details of Tindale’s enterprise, and sent warning forthwith to England. Meanwhile Tindale escaped with the printed sheets to Worms, in the Lutheran disposition of which place he was secure from interference, and proceeded with his work at the press of Peter Schoeffer. Since, however, a description of the Cologne edition had been sent to England, a change was made in the format . The text was set up again in octavo, and without the marginal notes of the quarto edition; and in this form the first printed English NT was given to the world early in 1526. About the same time an edition in small quarto, with marginal notes, was also issued, and it is probable (though full proof is wanting) that this was the completion of the interrupted Cologne edition. Three thousand copies of each edition were struck off; but so active were the enemies of the Reformation in their destruction, that they have nearly disappeared off the face of the earth. One copy of the octavo edition, complete but for the loss of its title-page, is at the Baptist College at Bristol, whither it found its way from the Harley Library, to which it once belonged; and an imperfect copy is in the library of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Of the quarto, all that survives is a fragment consisting of eight sheets ( Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 22:12 ) in the Grenville Library in the British Museum.

14 . The hostility of the authorities in Church and State in England was indeed undisguised. Sir T. More attacked the translation as false and heretical, and as disregarding ecclesiastical terminology. Wolsey and the bishops, with Henry’s assent, decreed that it should be burnt; and burnt it was at Paul’s Cross, after a sermon from Bishop Tunstall. Nevertheless fresh supplies continued to pour into England, the money expended in buying up copies for destruction serving to pay for the production of fresh editions. Six editions are said to have been issued between 1526 and 1530; and the zeal of the authorities for its destruction was fairly matched by the zeal of the reforming party for its circulation. It was, in fact, evident that the appetite for an English Bible, once fairly excited, could not be wholly balked. In 1530 an assembly convoked by Archbishop Warham, while maintaining the previous condemnation of Tindale, and asserting that it was not expedient at that time to divulge the Scripture in the English tongue, announced that the king would have the NT faithfully translated by learned men, and published ‘as soon as he might see their manners and behaviour meet, apt, and convenient to receive the same.’

15 . Tindale’s first NT was epoch-making in many ways. It was the first English printed NT; it laid the foundations, and much more than the foundations, of the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] of 1611; it set on foot the movement which went forward without a break until it culminated in the production of that AV [Note: Authorized Version.]; and it was the first English Bible that was translated directly from the original language. All the English manuscript Bibles were translations from the Vulgate; but Tindale’s NT was taken from the Greek, which he knew from the editions by Erasmus, published in 1516, 1519, and 1522. As subsidiary aids he employed the Latin version attached by Erasmus to his Greek text, Luther’s German translation of 1522, and the Vulgate; but it has been made abundantly clear that he exercised independent judgment in his use of these materials, and was by no means a slavish copier of Luther. In the marginal notes attached to the quarto edition his debt to Luther was greater; for (so far as can be gathered from the extant fragment) more than half the notes were taken direct from the German Bible, the rest being independent. It is in this connexion with Luther, rather than in anything to be found in the work itself, that the secret of the official hostility to Tindale’s version is to be found. That the translation itself was not seriously to blame is shown by the extent to which it was incorporated in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , though no doubt to persons who knew the Scriptures only in the Latin Vulgate its divergence from accuracy may have appeared greater than was in fact the case. The octavo edition had no extraneous matter except a short preface, and therefore could not be obnoxious on controversial grounds; and the comments in the quarto edition are generally exegetical, and not polemical. Still, there could be no doubt that they were the work of an adherent of the Reformation, and as such the whole translation fell under the ban of the opponents of the Reformation.

16 . Tindale’s work did not cease with the production of his NT. Early in 1530 a translation of the Pentateuch was printed for him by Hans Luft, at Marburg in Hesse. The colophon to Genesis is dated Jan. 17, 1530. In England, where the year began on March 25, this would have meant 1531 according to our modern reckoning; but in Germany the year generally began on Jan. 1, or at Christmas. The only perfect copy of this edition is in the British Museum. The different books must have been set up separately, since Gn. and Nu. are printed in black letter, Ex., Lev., and Dt. in Roman; but there is no evidence that they were issued separately. The translation was made (for the first time) from the Hebrew, with which language there is express evidence that Tindale was acquainted. The book was provided with a prologue and with marginal notes, the latter being often controversial. In 1531 he published a translation of the Book of Jonah, of which a single copy (now in the British Museum) came to light in 1861. After this he seems to have reverted to the NT, of which he issued a revised edition in 1534. The immediate occasion of this was the appearance of an unauthorized revision of the translation of 1525, by one George Joye, in which many alterations were made of which Tindale disapproved. Tindale’s new edition was printed by Martin Empereur of Antwerp, and published in Nov. 1534. One copy of it was printed on vellum, illuminated, and presented to Anne Boleyn, who had shown favour to one of the agents employed in distributing Tindale’s earlier work. It bears her name on the fore-edge, and is now in the British Museum. The volume is a small octavo, and embodies a careful revision of his previous work. Since it was intended for liturgical use, the church lections were marked in it, and in an appendix were added, ‘The Epistles taken out of the Old Testament, which are read in the church after the use of Salisbury upon certain days of the year.’ These consist of 42 short passages from the OT (8 being taken from the Apocrypha), and constitute an addition to Tindale’s work as a translator of the OT. The text of the NT is accompanied throughout by marginal notes, differing (so far as we are in a position to compare them) from those in the quarto of 1525, and very rarely polemical. Nearly all the books are preceded by prologues, which are for the most part derived from Luther (except that to Heb., in which Tindale expressly combats Luther’s rejection of its Apostolic authority).

17 . The edition of 1534 did not finally satisfy Tindale, and in the following year he put forth another edition ‘yet once again corrected.’ [The volume bears two dates, 1535 and 1534, but the former, which stands on the first title-page, must be taken to be that of the completion of the work.] It bears the monogram of the publisher, Godfried van der Haghen, and is sometimes known as the GH edition. It has no marginal notes. Another edition, which is stated on its title-page to have been finished in 1535, contains practically the same text, but is notable for its spelling, which appears to be due to a Flemish compositor, working by ear and not by sight. These editions of 1535, which embody several small changes from the text of 1534, represent Tindale’s work in its final form. Several editions were issued in 1536, but Tindale was not then in a position to supervise them. In May 1535, through the treachery of one Phillips, he was seized by some officers of the emperor, and carried off from Antwerp (where he had lived for a year past) to the castle of Vilvorde. After some months’ imprisonment he was brought to trial, condemned, and finally strangled and burnt at the stake on Oct. 6, 1536, crying ‘with a fervent, great, and a loud voice, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” ’

The chief authority for the life of Tindale is the biography by the Rev. R. Demaus (2nd ed., revised by R. Lovett, 1886). The fragmentary quarto of 1525 is published in photographic facsimile by E. Arber ( The First Printed English NT , 1871), with an important introduction. The octavo of 1525 is reproduced in facsimile by F. Fry (1862), as also is the Jonah of 1531 (1863). The Pentateuch is reprinted by Mombert (Bagster, 1884), and the NT of 1534 in Bagster’s English Hexapla . See also the general bibliography at the end of this article.

18. Coverdale’s Bible (1535). Tindale never had the satisfaction of completing his gift of an English Bible to his country; but during his imprisonment he may have learnt that a complete translation, based largely upon his own, had actually been produced. The credit for this achievement, the first complete printed English Bible, is due to Miles Coverdale (1488 1569), afterwards bishop of Exeter (1551 1553). The details of its production are obscure. Coverdale met Tindale abroad in 1529, and is said to have assisted him in the translation of the Pentateuch. His own work was done under the patronage of Cromwell, who was anxious for the publication of an English Bible; and it was no doubt forwarded by the action of Convocation, which, under Cranmer’s leading, had petitioned in 1534 for the undertaking of such a work. It was probably printed by Froschover at Zurich; but this has never been absolutely demonstrated. It was published at the end of 1535, with a dedication to Henry VIII. By this time the conditions were more favourable to a Protestant Bible than they had been in 1525. Henry had finally broken with the Pope, and had committed himself to the principle of an English Bible. Coverdale’s work was accordingly tolerated by authority, and when the second edition of it appeared in 1537 (printed by an English printer, Nycolson of Southwark), it bore on its title-page the words, ‘Set forth with the Kinges moost gracious licence.’ In thus licensing Coverdale’s translation, Henry probably did not know how far he was sanctioning the work of Tindale, which he had previously condemned. In the NT, in particular, Tindale’s version is the basis of Coverdale’s, and to a somewhat less extent this is also the case in the Pentateuch and Jonah; but Coverdale revised the work of his predecessor with the help of the Zurich German Bible of Zwingli and others (1524 1529), a Latin version by Pagninus, the Vulgate, and Luther. In his preface he explicitly disclaims originality as a translator, and there is no sign that he made any noticeable use of the Greek and Hebrew; but he used the available Latin, German, and English versions with judgment. In the parts of the OT which Tindale had not published he appears to have translated mainly from the Zurich Bible. [Coverdale’s Bible of 1535 was reprinted by Bagster (1838).]

19. In one respect Coverdale’s Bible was epoch-making, namely, in the arrangement of the Books of the OT. In the Vulgate, as is well known, the books which are now classed as Apocrypha are intermingled with the other books of the OT. This was also the case with the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , and in general it may be said that the Christian Church had adopted this view of the Canon. It is true that many of the greatest Christian Fathers had protested against it, and had preferred the Hebrew Canon, which rejects these books. The Canon of Athanasius places the Apocrypha in a class apart; the Syrian Bible omitted them; Eusebius and Gregory Nazianzen appear to have held similar views; and Jerome refused to translate them for his Latin Bible. Nevertheless the Church at large, both East and West, retained them in their Bibles, and the provincial Council of Carthage (a.d. 397), under the influence of Augustine, expressly included them in the Canon. In spite of Jerome, the Vulgate, as it circulated in Western Europe, regularly included the disputed books; and Wyclif’s Bible, being a translation from the Vulgate, naturally has them too. On the other hand, Luther, though recognizing these books as profitable and good for reading, placed them in a class apart, as ‘Apocrypha,’ and in the same way he segregated Heb., Ja., Jude, and Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] at the end of the NT, as of less value and authority than the rest. This arrangement appears in the table of contents of Tindale’s NT in 1525, and was adopted by Coverdale, Matthew, and Taverner. It is to Tindale’s example, no doubt, that the action of Coverdale is due. His Bible is divided into six parts (1) Pentateuch; (2) Jos. [Note: Josephus.] -Est.; (3) Job-‘Solomon’s Balettes’ ( i.e. Cant.); (4) Prophets; (5) ‘Apocripha, the bokes and treatises which amonge the fathers of olde are not rekened to be of like authorite with the other bokes of the byble, nether are they founde in the Canon of the Hebrue’; (6) NT. This represents the view generally taken by the Reformers, both in Germany and in England, and so far as concerns the English Bible, Coverdale’s example was decisive. On the other hand, the Roman Church, at the Council of Trent (1546), adopted by a majority the opinion that all the books of the larger Canon should be received as of equal authority, and for the first time made this a dogma of the Church, enforced by an anathema. In 1538, Coverdale published a NT with Latin (Vulgate) and English in parallel columns, revising his English to bring it into conformity with the Latin; but this (which went through three editions with various changes) may be passed over, as it had no influence on the general history of the English Bible.

20. Matthew’s Bible (1537). In the same year as the second edition of Coverdale’s Bible another English Bible appeared, which likewise bore upon its title-page the statement that it was ‘set forth with the Kinges most gracyous lycence.’ It was completed not later than Aug. 4, 1537, on which day Cranmer sent a copy of it to Cromwell, commending the translation, and begging Cromwell to obtain for it the king’s licence; in which, as the title-page prominently shows, he was successful. The origin of this version is slightly obscure, and certainly was not realized by Henry when he sanctioned it. The Pentateuch and NT are taken direct from Tindale with little variation (the latter from the final ‘GH’ revision of 1535). The books of the OT from Ezra to Mal. (including Jonah) are taken from Coverdale, as also is the Apocrypha. But the historical books of the OT (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] -2 Chron.) are a new translation, as to the origin of which no statement is made. It is, however, fairly certain, from a combination of evidence, that it was Tindale’s (see Westcott 3 , pp. 169 179). The style agrees with that of Tindale’s other work; the passages which Tindale published as ‘Epistles’ from the OT in his NT of 1534 agree in the main with the present version in these books, but not in those taken from Coverdale; and it is expressly stated in Hali’s Chronicle (completed and published by Grafton, one of the publishers of Matthew’s Bible) that Tindale, in addition to the NT, translated also ‘the v bookes of Moses, Josua, Judicum, Ruth, the bookes of the Kynges and the bookes of Paralipomenon, Nehemias or the fyrst of Esdras, the prophet Jonas, and no more of ye holy scripture.’ If we suppose the version of Ezra-Nehemiah to have been incomplete, or for some reason unavailable, this statement harmonizes perfectly with the data of the problem. Tindale may have executed the translation during his imprisonment, at which time we know that he applied for the use of his Hebrew books. The book was printed abroad, at the expense of R. Grafton and E. Whitchurch, two citizens of London, who issued it in London. On the title-page is the statement that the translator was Thomas Matthew, and the same name stands at the foot of the dedication to Henry VIII. Nothing is known of any such person, but tradition identifies him with John Rogers (who in the register of his arrest in 1555 is described as ‘John Rogers alias Matthew’), a friend and companion of Tindale. It is therefore generally believed that this Bible is due to the editorial work of John Rogers, who had come into possession of Tindale’s unpublished translation of the historical books of the OT, and published them with the rest of his friend’s work, completing the Bible with the help of Coverdale. It may be added that the initials I. R. (Rogers), W. T. (Tindale), R. G. and E. W. (Grafton and Whitchurch), and H. R. (unidentified,? Henricus Rex) are printed in large letters on various blank spaces throughout the OT. The arrangement of the book is in four sections: (1) Gen.-Cant., (2) Prophets, (3) Apocrypha (including for the first time the Prayer of Manasses, translated from the French of Olivetan), (4) NT. There are copious annotations, of a decidedly Protestant tendency, and Tindale’s outspoken Prologue to the Romans is included in it. The whole work, therefore, was eminently calculated to extend the impulse given by Tindale, and to perpetuate his work.

21. Taverner’s Bible (1539). Matthew’s Bible formed the basis for yet another version, which deserves brief mention, though it had no influence on the general development of the English Bible. Richard Taverner, formerly a student of Cardinal College [Christ Church], Oxford, was invited by some London printers (‘John Byddell for Thomas Barthlet’) to prepare at short notice a revision of the existing Bible. In the OT his alterations are verbal, and aim at the improvement of the style of the translation; in the NT, being a good Greek scholar, he was able to revise it with reference to the original Greek. The NT was issued separately in two editions, in the same year (1539) as the complete Bible; but the success of the official version next to be mentioned speedily extinguished such a personal venture as this. Taverner’s Bible is sometimes said to have been the first English Bible completely printed in England; but this honour appears to belong rather to Coverdale’s second edition.

22. The Great Bible (1539 1541). The fact that Taverner was invited to revise Matthew’s Bible almost immediately after its publication shows that it was not universally regarded as successful; but there were in addition other reasons why those who had promoted the circulation and authorization of Matthew’s Bible should be anxious to see it superseded. As stated above, it was highly controversial in character, and bore plentiful evidence of its origin from Tindale. Cromwell and Cranmer had, no doubt, been careful not to call Henry’s attention to these circumstances; but they might at any time be brought to his notice, when their own position would become highly precarious. It is, indeed, strange that they ever embarked on so risky an enterprise. However that may be, they lost little time in inviting Coverdale to undertake a complete revision of the whole, which was ready for the press early in 1538. The printing was begun by Regnault of Paris, where more sumptuous typography was possible than in England. In spite, however, of the assent of the French king having been obtained, the Inquisition intervened, stopped the printing, and seized the sheets. Some of the sheets, however, had previously been got away to England; others were re-purchased from a tradesman to whom they had been sold; and ultimately, under Cromwell’s direction, printers and presses were transported from Paris to London, and the work completed there by Grafton and Whitchurch, whose imprint stands on the magnificent title-page (traditionally ascribed to Holbein) depicting the dissemination of the Scriptures from the hands of Henry, through the instrumentality of Cromwell and Cranmer, to the general mass of the loyal and rejoicing populace. [A special copy on vellum, with illuminations, was prepared for Cromwell himself, and is now in the library of St. John’s College, Cambridge.]

23. The first edition of the Great Bible appeared in April 1539, and an injunction was issued by Cromwell that a copy of it should be set up in every parish church. It was consequently the first (and only) English Bible formally authorized for public use; and contemporary evidence proves that it was welcomed and read with avidity. No doubt, as at an earlier day ( Philippians 2:15 ), some read the gospel ‘of envy and strife, and some also of good will’; but in one way or another, for edification or for controversy, the reading of the Bible took a firm hold on the people of England, a hold which has never since been relaxed, and which had much to do with the stable foundation of the Protestant Church in this country. Nor was the translation, though still falling short of the perfection reached three-quarters of a century later, unworthy of its position. It had many positive merits, and marked a distinct advance upon all its predecessors. Coverdale, though without the force and originality, or even the scholarship, of Tindale, had some of the more valuable gifts of a translator, and was well qualified to make the best use of the labours of his predecessors. He had scholarship enough to choose and follow the best authorities, he had a happy gift of smooth and effective phraseology, and his whole heart was in his work. As the basis of his revision he had Tindale’s work and his own previous version; and these he revised with reference to the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, with special assistance in the OT from the Latin translation by Sebastian Münster published in 1534 35 (a work decidedly superior to the Zurich Bible, which had been his principal guide in 1534), while in the NT he made considerable use of Erasmus. With regard to the use of ecclesiastical terms, he followed his own previous example, against Tindale, in retaining the familiar Latin phrases; and he introduced a considerable number of words and sentences from the Vulgate, which do not appear in the Hebrew or Greek. The text is divided into five sections (1) Pent., (2) Jos. [Note: Josephus.] -Job, (3) Psalms-Mal., (4) Apocrypha, here entitled ‘Hagiographa,’ though quite different from the books to which that term is applied in the Hebrew Bible, (5) NT, in which the traditional order of the books is restored in place of Luther’s. Coverdale intended to add a commentary at the end, and with this view inserted various marks in the margins, the purpose of which he explains in the Prologue; but he was unable to obtain the sanction of the Privy Council for these, and after standing in the margin for three editions the sign-post marks were withdrawn.

24. The first edition was exhausted within twelve months, and in April 1540 a second edition appeared, this time with a prologue by Cranmer (from which fact the Great Bible is sometimes known as Cranmer’s Bible , though he had no part in the translation). Two more editions followed in July and November, the latter (Cromwell having now been overthrown and executed) appearing under the nominal patronage of Bishops Tunstall and Heath. In 1541 three editions were issued. None of these editions was a simple reprint. The Prophets, in particular, were carefully revised with the help of Münster for the second edition. The fourth edition (Nov. 1540) and its successors revert in part to the first. These seven editions spread the knowledge of the Bible in a sound, though not perfect, version broadcast through the land; and one portion of it has never lost its place in our liturgy. In the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. the Psalter (like the other Scripture passages) was taken from the Great Bible. In 1662, when the other passages were taken from the version of 1611, a special exception was made of the Psalter, on account of the familiarity which it had achieved, and consequently Coverdale’s version has held its place in the Book of Common Prayer to this day, and it is in his words that the Psalms have become the familiar household treasures of the English people. [Note: Hastings, J., Selbie, J. A., Lambert, J. C., & Mathews, S. (1909). Dictionary of the Bible (iii 226). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.]

25. With the appearance of the Great Bible comes the first pause in the rapid sequence of vernacular versions set on foot by Tindale. The English Bible was now fully authorized, and accessible to every Englishman in his parish church; and the translation, both in style and in scholarship, was fairly abreast of the attainments and requirements of the age. We hear no more, therefore, at present of further revisions of it. Another circumstance which may have contributed to the same result was the reaction of Henry in his latter years against Protestantism. There was talk in Convocation about a translation to be made by the bishops, which anticipated the plan of the Bible of 1568; and Cranmer prompted Henry to transfer the work to the universities, which anticipated a vital part of the plan of the Bible of 1611; but nothing came of either project. The only practical steps taken were in the direction of the destruction of the earlier versions. In 1543 a proclamation was issued against Tindale’s versions, and requiring the obliteration of all notes; in 1546 Coverdale’s NT was likewise prohibited. The anti-Protestant reaction, however, was soon terminated by Henry’s death (Jan. 1547); and during the reign of Edward VI., though no new translation (except a small part of the Gospels by Sir J. Cheke) was attempted, many new editions of Tindale, Coverdale, Matthew, and the Great Bible issued from the press. The accession of Mary naturally put a stop to the printing and circulation of vernacular Bibles in England; and, during the attempt to put the clock back by force, Rogers and Cranmer followed Tindale to the stake, while Coverdale was imprisoned, but was released, and took refuge at Geneva.

26. The Geneva Bible (1557 1560). Geneva was the place at which the next link in the chain was to be forged. Already famous, through the work of Beza, as a centre of Biblical scholarship, it became the rallying place of the more advanced members of the Protestant party in exile, and under the strong rule of Calvin it was identified with Puritanism in its most rigid form. Puritanism, in fact, was here consolidated into a living and active principle, and demonstrated its strength as a motive power in the religious and social life of Europe. It was by a relative of Calvin, and under his own patronage, that the work of improving the English translation of the Bible was once more taken in hand. This was W. Whittingham, a Fellow of All Souls’ College, Oxford, and subsequently dean of Durham, who in 1557 published the NT at Geneva in a small octavo volume, the handiest form in which the English Scriptures had yet been given to the world. In two other respects also this marked an epoch in the history of the English Bible. It was the first version to be printed in Roman type, and the first in which the division of the text into numbered verses (originally made by R. Stephanus for his Græco-Latin Bible of 1551) was introduced. A preface was contributed by Calvin himself. The translator claims to have made constant use of the original Greek and of translations in other tongues, and he added a full marginal commentary. If the matter had ended there, as the work of a single scholar on one part of the Bible, it would probably have left little mark; but it was at once made the basis of a revised version of both Testaments by a group of Puritan scholars. The details of the work are not recorded, but the principal workers, apart from Whittingham himself, appear to have been Thomas Sampson, formerly dean of Chichester, and afterwards dean of Christ Church, and A. Gilby, of Christ’s College, Cambridge. A version of the Psalter was issued in 1559 [the only two extant copies of it belong to the Earl of Ellesmere and Mr. Aldis Wright], and in 1560 the complete Bible was given to the world, with the imprint of Rowland Hall, at Geneva. The Psalter in this was the same as that of 1559; but the NT had been largely revised since 1557. The book was a moderate-sized quarto, and contained a dedication to Elizabeth, an address to the brethren at home, the books of the OT (including Apocrypha) and NT in the same order as in the Great Bible and our modern Bibles, copious marginal notes (those to the NT taken from Whittingham with some additions), and an apparatus of maps and woodcuts. In type and verse-division it followed the example of Whittingham’s NT.

27. The Genevan revisers took the Great Bible as their basis in the OT, and Matthew’s Bible ( i.e. Tindale) in the NT. For the former they had the assistance of the Latin Bible of Leo Juda (1544), in addition to Pagninus (1527), and they were in consultation with the scholars (including Calvin and Beza) who were then engaged at Geneva in a similar work of revision of the French Bible. In the NT their principal guide was Beza, whose reput

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'English Versions'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​e/english-versions.html. 1909.
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