The First English Translations of The Bible

The followers of John Wycliffe undertook the first complete English translations of the Christian scriptures in the 15th century. These translations were banned in 1409 due to their association with Wycliffe’s followers, known as The Lollards. The Lollards preached anticlerical and biblically-centred reforms. This movement was a precursor to the Protestant Reformation.

Wycliffe was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. He was also one of the earliest opponents of papal authority influencing secular power. The text translated in the various versions of the Wycliffe Bible was based on the Latin Vulgate. This was a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible which was largely the work of St. Jerome, commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382.

The Tynedale Bible

In 1525, William Tyndale, an English contemporary of Martin Luther, undertook a translation of the New Testament. Tyndale was an English scholar and translator who became a leading figure in Protestant reformism towards the end of his life. Tyndale's was the first English translation of The Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution. This was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony of both the Roman Catholic Church and the English church and state. In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed for over a year. He was tried for heresy, choked, impaled and burnt on a stake. The Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world. The fifty-four independent scholars who created the King James Version of the bible in 1611 drew significantly on Tyndale's translations. One estimation suggests the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale's, and the Old Testament 76%.

When Mary I succeeded to the throne in 1553, she returned the Church of England to the communion of the Roman Catholic faith and many English religious reformers fled the country, some establishing an English-speaking colony at Geneva. Under the leadership of John Calvin, Geneva became the chief international centre of Reformed Protestantism and Latin biblical scholarship.

The Geneva Bible

These English expatriates undertook a translation of The Bible that became known as the Geneva Bible. This translation was a revision of Tyndale's Bible and the Great Bible. The Church of England responded with the Bishops' Bible, a revision of the Great Bible in the light of the Geneva version. While officially approved, this new version failed to displace the Geneva translation as the most popular English Bible of the age – partly because the full Bible was only printed in editions that were huge and at a cost several pounds. Accordingly, Elizabethan lay people overwhelmingly read the Bible in the Geneva Version – small editions that were available at a relatively low cost.

In May 1601, King James VI of Scotland attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, at which proposals were put forward for a new translation of the Bible into English. Two years later, he acceded to the throne of England as King James I of England.

The King James Version

The King James Version, King James Bible or KJV (also known as The Authorised Version), is an English translation of the Christian Bible by the Church of England. It was begun in 1604. In January of that year, King James I of England convened the Hampton Court Conference where a new English version of The Bible was conceived in response to perceived problems of the earlier translations as detected by the Puritans (a faction within the Church of England). The KJV was completed in 1611, and was the third official translation of The Bible into English; the first having been the Great Bible commissioned by the Church of England in the reign of King Henry VIII, and the second was the Bishop's Bible of 1568.

James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the theology and structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy. The translation was completed by 47 scholars who were members of the Church of England. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin. In the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the text of the Authorized Version replaced the text of the Great Bible – for Epistle and Gospel readings – and as such was authorized by Act of Parliament. By the first half of the 18th century, the Authorized Version was effectively unchallenged as the English translation used in Anglican and Protestant churches. Over the course of the 18th century, the Authorized Version replaced the Latin Vulgate as the standard version of scripture for English speaking scholars.

The phrase "King James's Bible" was used as far back as 1715, although it is not clear whether this was a name or simply a description.

The New International Version

The New International Version (NIV) is an English translation of the Christian Bible, published in theUSA and UK. It has become one of the most popular modern translations ever.

The New International Version project was started after a meeting in 1965 between the Christian Reformed Church, National Association of Evangelicals, and a group of international scholars. The New York Bible Society (now Biblica) was selected to undertake the translation. The New Testament was released in 1973 and the full Bible in 1978. A planned 1997 edition was discontinued over the use of gender inclusive language. The King James Version had already translated at least one passage in this manner: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). The Greek word translated "children" is usually translated "sons", but in this passage, the translators chose to use a term that included both genders.

A revised edition titled “Today's New International Version” released a New Testament in March 2002 with the complete Bible published February 2005.

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