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Bible Dictionaries

Morrish Bible Dictionary

Versions of the Scripture, English

Bede relates that Caedmon embodied a history of the Bible in Anglo-Saxon poetry; Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, translated the Psalms in the seventh century; and Bede translated the Gospel of John; he finished dictating it as he breathed his last, A.D. 735. King Alfred translated Exodus 20 Exodus 23 as the groundwork of his legislation: he desired indeed that "all the free-born youth of his kingdom should be able to read the English scriptures."

There is also an Anglo-Saxon MS of a version of the Gospels interlinear with the Latin Vulgate in the British Museum (cir. A.D. 680); also another (cir. 900) in a different translation at Oxford. There was also a translation of the Psalms. These and other portions were the first sparks of light that created the longing for the full light of God's word in English.

1. WYCLIFFE was the first to give to England a translation of the whole of the New Testament. He completed the four Gospels first, with a commentary, saying in his preface that he did it "so that pore Cristen men may some dele know the text of the Gospel with the comyn sentence of olde holie doctores."

The Old Testament was undertaken by his coadjutor, Nicholas de Hereford. He had proceeded as far as the middle of Baruch (following the order of the Vulgate) when he was in A.D. 1382 cited before Archbishop Arundel. Others followed to revise and increase the copies. All these were translations of the Latin.

Wycliffe's version must have been well circulated, for though Arundel destroyed many copies there are about 150 manuscripts of it still existing.

WYCLIFFE — John 1:1 .

In the bigynnynge was the word and the word was at god, and god was the word.

Succeeding translations have "with God." Coverdale and Cranmer have "God was the word."

2. TYNDALE. This man made the translation of the scriptures the work of his life. He said he would cause "a boy that driveth the plough" to know more of scripture than the great body of the clergy then knew. In his workthere was a great advance inasmuch as after study he was able to translate from both the Hebrew and the Greek. He had to carry on his work abroad, and to change his abode frequently in order to baffle those who sought his life.

Edition followed edition, which were smuggled into England in various ways, and were there readily bought and circulated. On one occasion his enemies purchased a large portion of an edition to destroy it, and the money thus obtained furnished the funds for bringing out a revised issue.

To show the opposition of the Papists to these copies of the scripture being brought into England, Sir Thomas More may be quoted: " . . . . which books, albeit that they neither can be there printed without great cost, nor here sold without great adventure and peril: yet cease they not with money sent from hence, to print them there, and send them hither, by the whole vatts-full at once. And, in some places, looking for no lucre, cast them abroad by night; so great a pestilent pleasure have some devilish people caught, with the labour, travel, cost, charge, peril, harm, and hurt of themselves, to seek the destruction of others."

Through God's intervention neither Wolsey nor the king, neither More nor Cromwell, with all their agents, were able to arrest the supposed culprit. Other plans, however, were at last successful: Henry Philips and Gabriel Dunne with subtilty entrapped him, the former passing as a gentleman, and the latter as his servant. Philips by mixing with the merchants discovered Tyndale's retreat, made his acquaintance, and professed great friendship for him, but only first to rob him under the plea of a loan, and then to betray him into the hands of his enemies. He lingered in prison several months and then suffered martyrdom in 1536.

His translation of the New Testament appeared in A.D. 1525, and he translated portions of the O.T. before his death. The New Testament was reprinted many times abroad and once in London.

TYNDALE — John 10:16 .

And other shepe I have, which are not of this folde. Them also must I bringe, that they maye heare my voyce, and that ther maye be one flocke and one shepeherde.

Both Wycliffe and Coverdale agree with the "one flock," so that if the translators of the A.V. had made the best use of the translations that preceded them, they would not have put "one fold."

3. COVERDALE. This translation was produced under a somewhat different spirit from that possessed by Tyndale. As we have seen Tyndale's was his life's work and a labour of love, but Coverdale could say that he "sought it not, neither desired it," but accepted it as work assigned him. Yet he attempted to do his best, and with good will. The people in England began generally to desire the scriptures. Tyndale's prefaces and notes had given so much offence, that there was no prospect of the king giving his sanction to that translation being reprinted. But through the influence of Cranmer and Cromwell all difficulties were removed as to Coverdale's, and the work was completed. The king sent copies to the bishops, who were in no hurry to give their judgement. They were at length requested to give their opinion as to its merits. They declared that there were many faults therein. "Well," said king Henry, "but are there any heresies maintained thereby?" They replied that there were no heresies. "Then if there are no heresies," said the king, "in God's name let it go abroad among the people."

The edition was issued in 1535, but it is not now known where it was printed. Coverdale placed the Apocrypha at the end of the O.T., instead of mixing it with the canonical books, as in the Vulgate.

It is curious to notice that on the title page it says "faithfully translated out of Douche and Latyn." One would have naturally expected that it should have been from the Hebrew and Greek; but it has been remarked that in those troublous times the 'Douche' would be pleasing to those who held Luther's name in honour, whereas the 'Latyn' would conciliate Gardiner and his party. Coverdale apparently alludes to having Tyndale's translation before him, but also speaks of five others: these were probably the Vulgate, Luther's, the German Swiss, the Latin of Pagninus, and perhaps Wycliffe's.

COVERDALE — Psalm 26 : (27) 14.

O tary thou the LORDES leysure, be stronge, let thine hert be of good comforte and wayte thou still for the LORDE.

4. MATTHEW. This has been judged to have been the translation of Rogers, of Cambridge, the name of Matthew being assumed to conceal the translator. Rogers, when indicted in the days of Mary, is called Joannes Rogers, alias Matthew, and his martyrdom followed. It was probably printed abroad, and published in England by Grafton and Whitchurch, who wanted not only the king's sanction but a monopoly for five years. This the king would not grant. They then asked that every incumbent should purchase a copy and that every abbey should take six copies. The result was that the king ordered by royal proclamation that a copy should be set up in every church, the cost being divided between the clergy and the people.

This was therefore the first "Authorised Version," and for it to be in every church was a great advance in the circulation of the scriptures in England. Its date is A.D. 1537.

5. CRANMER'S (passing over TAVERNER'S Edition, 1539, as a reprint of Matthew's, with the notes altered and some omitted) takes precedence of all that had yet been attempted as to detail of interpretation. Words not in the original were in a different type. It was pointed out, at least partially, where the Vulgate differed from the Hebrew, and where the Chaldee and Hebrew differed. It had marginal references, but no notes.

It appended the Preface to the Apocrypha that had appeared in Matthew's Bible, but, curiously enough, in order to avoid giving offence to the Romish party by the name of Apocrypha, they sought for some other word, and adopted the inaccurate statement that the "Books were called Hagiographa ,' because "they were read in secret and apart"! This term, which signifies 'holy writings,' is applied to some of the canonical books, of the O.T. See BIBLE.

The first edition was in 1539 or 40, and in 1541 an edition appeared as "authorised" to be used and frequented in every church in the kingdom.

CRANMER — 1 John 3:4 .

Whosoeuer commytteth synne, committeth vnryghteousnes also, and synne is vnryghteousnes.

Tyndale and Coverdale agree with Cranmer; Wycliffe has "synne is wickidnesse," and the Rheims Version has "sinne is iniquitie" — there were thus five early witnesses against the A.V.'s translation of "sin is the transgression of the law".

6. GENEVA. Cranmer's edition did not give general satisfaction. Some thought the English might be improved, and its bulk in folio and its expense were against its circulation. It, however, held its ground until Queen Mary ascended the throne, when a stop was put to all Bible-printing in England. The persecution drove many away, and among other exiles the following took refuge at Geneva: Whittingham, Gilby, Goodman, Sampson, and Coverdale, the last-named having laboured on Cranmer's edition. These men zealously set to work on a new translation, and laboured for two years or more "night and day."

In A.D. 1557 the New Testament was ready, and in 1560 the whole Bible. It was largely imported in the reign of Elizabeth, and was reprinted in England. Being smaller and cheaper it found favour, and held its ground for about 60 years — partly owing no doubt to a monopoly being given to James Bodleigh. This was transferred to Barker whose family held the right of printing Bibles for more than a century.

This edition was printed in Roman type instead of the black letter which had formerly been employed. It was also divided into verses, and was the first English Bible that entirely omitted the Apocrypha.

GENEVA — Romans 5:11 .

And not only so , but we also reioyse in God by the meanes of our Lord Iesus Christe, by whom we haue now receaued the atonement.

Wycliffe and the Rheims version have "reconciliation," the right translation.

7. THE BISHOPS' BIBLE. Fault being found with the Geneva version, especially by the clergy, Archbishop Parker was very desirous for a new translation. Some eight bishops with deans and professors proceeded with the work, and in A.D. 1568 a folio Bible was issued. It was sought to make it attractive: finer woodcuts were inserted, also a map of Palestine, and genealogical tables.

A novelty was introduced by classifying the books as legal, historical, sapiential, and prophetic. The Gospels, the Catholic Epistles, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews were grouped as legal; Paul's other Epistles as sapiential; the Acts as historical; and the Revelation as prophetical. Some passages were marked to be omitted when read in the service of the church.

Opinions were divided as to the translation: some extolled it highly, but it did not commend itself to scholars generally. On the whole it had but little success.

8. RHEIMS AND DOUAY. The Romanists had often pointed a finger of scorn at the different English translations as not exhibiting unity; and, as they could not hinder the circulation of Bibles in England, they determined to have a translation of their own. The Protestant refugees had produced the Geneva Edition, and now some Romanists, who had resorted to the continent, set to work at Rheims. The principal persons engaged in it were William Allen, Gregory Martin, and Richard Bristow.

As the title states it was a translation from "the authentic Latin, according to the best corrected copies of the same, diligently conferred with the Greek and other editions in divers languages." They gave various reasons why the Latin was chosen, such as that it agreed with the Greek, or where it did not, it was better than the Greek. The New Testament was issued in A.D. 1582; and the Old Testament, printed at Douay, in 1609. We give a specimen.

The RHEIMS Edition — Luke 15:7 .

I say to you, that euen so there shall be ioy in heauen vpon one sinner that doth penance, then vpon ninetie nine iust that neede not penance.

It is remarkable that Wycliffe also used the word "penance" in this and other passages.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Versions of the Scripture, English'. Morrish Bible Dictionary. 1897.

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