Timeline of Bible Translation History
1,400 BC: The first written Word of God: The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses.
500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make up The 39 Books of the Old Testament.
200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts which contain The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.
1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make up The 27 Books of the New Testament.
315 AD: Athenasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, identifies the 27 books of the New Testament which are today recognized as the canon of scripture.
382 AD: Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain All 80 Books (39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).
500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.
600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.
995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New Testament Produced.
1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.
1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin.
1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.
1522 AD: Martin Luther’s German New Testament.
1526 AD: William Tyndale’s New Testament; The First New Testament printed in the English Language.
1535 AD: Myles Coverdale’s Bible; The First Complete Bible printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).
1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English. Done by John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers (80 Books).
1539 AD: The “Great Bible” Printed; The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).
1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).
1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).
1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).
1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.
1782 AD: Robert Aitken’s Bible; The First English Language Bible (KJV) Printed in America.
1791 AD: Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas Respectively Produce the First Family Bible and First Illustrated Bible Printed in America. Both were King James Versions, with All 80 Books.
1808 AD: Jane Aitken’s Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be Printed by a Woman.
1833 AD: Noah Webster’s Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.
1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison showing the Greek and 6 Famous English Translations in Parallel Columns.
1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible printed in America. A King James Version, with All 80 Books.
1885 AD: The “English Revised Version” Bible; The First Major English Revision of the KJV.
1901 AD: The “American Standard Version”; The First Major American Revision of the KJV.
1971 AD: The “New American Standard Bible” (NASB) is Published as a “Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation” of the Bible.
1973 AD: The “New International Version” (NIV) is Published as a “Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation” of the Bible.
1982 AD: The “New King James Version” (NKJV) is Published as a “Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James.”
2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is Published as a translation to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB and the readability of the NIV.
English Bible History
The fascinating story of how we got the Bible in its present form actually starts thousands of years ago, as briefly outlined in our Timeline of Bible Translation History. As a background study, we recommend that you first review our discussion of the Pre-Reformation History of the Bible from 1,400 B.C. to 1,400 A.D., which covers the transmission of the scripture through the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, and the 1,000 years of the Dark & Middle Ages when the Word was trapped in only Latin. Our starting point in this discussion of Bible history, however, is the advent of the scripture in the English language with the “Morning Star of the Reformation”, John Wycliffe.
John Wycliffe – The first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in the 1380’s AD by John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, scholar, and theologian. Wycliffe, (also spelled “Wycliff” & “Wyclif”), was well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. With the help of his followers, called the Lollards, and his assistant Purvey, and many other faithful scribes, Wycliffe produced dozens of English language manuscript copies of the scriptures. They were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, which was the only source text available to Wycliffe. The Pope was so infuriated by his teachings and his translation of the Bible into English, that 44 years after Wycliffe had died, he ordered the bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in the river!
John Huss – One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. The last words of John Hus were that, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) into the church door at Wittenberg. The prophecy of Hus had come true! Martin Luther went on to be the first person to translate and publish the Bible in the commonly-spoken dialect of the German people; a translation more appealing than previous German Biblical translations. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in that same year, 1517, seven people were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for the crime of teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin.
William Tyndale wanted to use the same 1516 Erasmus text as a source to translate and print the New Testament in English for the first time in history. Tyndale showed up on Luther’s doorstep in Germany in 1525, and by year’s end had translated the New Testament into English. Tyndale had been forced to flee England, because of the wide-spread rumor that his English New Testament project was underway, causing inquisitors and bounty hunters to be constantly on Tyndale’s trail to arrest him and prevent his project. God foiled their plans, and in 1525-1526 the Tyndale New Testament became the first printed edition of the scripture in the English language. Subsequent printings of the Tyndale New Testament in the 1530’s were often elaborately illustrated.
They were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, but copies trickled through and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII. The more the King and Bishop resisted its distribution, the more fascinated the public at large became. The church declared it contained thousands of errors as they torched hundreds of New Testaments confiscated by the clergy, while in fact, they burned them because they could find no errors at all. One risked death by burning if caught in mere possession of Tyndale’s forbidden books.
Having God’s Word available to the public in the language of the common man, English, would have meant disaster to the church. No longer would they control access to the scriptures. If people were able to read the Bible in their own tongue, the church’s income and power would crumble. They could not possibly continue to get away with selling indulgences (the forgiveness of sins) or selling the release of loved ones from a church-manufactured “Purgatory”. People would begin to challenge the church’s authority if the church were exposed as frauds and thieves. The contradictions between what God’s Word said, and what the priests taught, would open the public’s eyes and the truth would set them free from the grip of fear that the institutional church held. Salvation through faith, not works or donations, would be understood. The need for priests would vanish through the priesthood of all believers. The veneration of church-canonized Saints and Mary would be called into question. The availability of the scriptures in English was the biggest threat imaginable to the wicked church. Neither side would give up without a fight.
Today, there are only two known copies left of Tyndale’s 1525-26 First Edition. Any copies printed prior to 1570 are extremely valuable. Tyndale’s flight was an inspiration to freedom-loving Englishmen who drew courage from the 11 years that he was hunted. Books and Bibles flowed into England in bales of cotton and sacks of flour. Ironically, Tyndale’s biggest customer was the King’s men, who would buy up every copy available to burn them… and Tyndale used their money to print even more! In the end, Tyndale was caught: betrayed by an Englishman that he had befriended. Tyndale was incarcerated for 500 days before he was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. Tyndale’s last words were, “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. This prayer would be answered just three years later in 1539, when King Henry VIII finally allowed, and even funded, the printing of an English Bible known as the “Great Bible”. But before that could happen…
With the end of Queen Mary’s bloody reign, the reformers could safely return to England. The Anglican Church, now under Queen Elizabeth I, reluctantly tolerated the printing and distribution of Geneva version Bibles in England. The marginal notes, which were vehemently against the institutional Church of the day, did not rest well with the rulers of the day. Another version, one with a less inflammatory tone was desired, and the copies of the Great Bible were getting to be decades old. In 1568, a revision of the Great Bible known as the Bishop’s Bible was introduced. Despite 19 editions being printed between 1568 and 1606, this Bible, referred to as the “rough draft of the King James Version”, never gained much of a foothold of popularity among the people. The Geneva may have simply been too much to compete with.
By the 1580’s, the Roman Catholic Church saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the will of God: that His Holy Word be available in the English language. In 1582, the Church of Rome surrendered their fight for “Latin only” and decided that if the Bible was to be available in English, they would at least have an official Roman Catholic English translation. And so, using the corrupt and inaccurate Latin Vulgate as the only source text, they went on to publish an English Bible with all the distortions and corruptions that Erasmus had revealed and warned of 75 years earlier. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims New Testament (also spelled Rhemes). The Douay Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Douay (also spelled Doway & Douai). The combined product is commonly referred to as the “Doway/Rheims” Version. In 1589, Dr. William Fulke of Cambridge published the “Fulke’s Refutation”, in which he printed in parallel columns the Bishops Version along side the Rheims Version, attempting to show the error and distortion of the Roman Church’s corrupt compromise of an English version of the Bible.
This “translation to end all translations” (for a while at least) was the result of the combined effort of about fifty scholars. They took into consideration: The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament. The great revision of the Bishop’s Bible had begun. From 1605 to 1606 the scholars engaged in private research. From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled. In 1610 the work went to press, and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inch tall) pulpit folios known today as “The 1611 King James Bible” came off the printing press. A typographical discrepancy in Ruth 3:15 rendered a pronoun “He” instead of “She” in that verse in some printings. This caused some of the 1611 First Editions to be known by collectors as “He” Bibles, and others as “She” Bibles. Starting just one year after the huge 1611 pulpit-size King James Bibles were printed and chained to every church pulpit in England; printing then began on the earliest normal-size printings of the King James Bible. These were produced so individuals could have their own personal copy of the Bible.
Protestants today are largely unaware of their own history, and unaware of the Geneva Bible (which is textually 95% the same as the King James Version, but 50 years older than the King James Version, and not influenced by the Roman Catholic Rheims New Testament that the King James translators admittedly took into consideration). Nevertheless, the King James Bible turned out to be an excellent and accurate translation, and it became the most printed book in the history of the world, and the only book with one billion copies in print. In fact, for over 250 years…until the appearance of the English Revised Version of 1881-1885…the King James Version reigned without much of a rival. One little-known fact, is that for the past 200 years, all King James Bibles published in America are actually the 1769 Baskerville spelling and wording revision of the 1611. The original “1611” preface is deceivingly included by the publishers, and no mention of the fact that it is really the 1769 version is to be found, because that might hurt sales. The only way to obtain a true, unaltered, 1611 version is to either purchase an original pre-1769 printing of the King James Bible, or a less costly facsimile reproduction of the original 1611 King James Bible.
Up until the 1880’s every Protestant Bible (not just Catholic Bibles) had 80 books, not 66! The inter-testamental books written hundreds of years before Christ called “The Apocrypha” were part of virtually every printing of the Tyndale-Matthews Bible, the Great Bible, the Bishops Bible, the Protestant Geneva Bible, and the King James Bible until their removal in the 1880’s! The original 1611 King James contained the Apocrypha, and King James threatened anyone who dared to print the Bible without the Apocrypha with heavy fines and a year in jail. Only for the last 120 years has the Protestant Church rejected these books, and removed them from their Bibles. This has left most modern-day Christians believing the popular myth that there is something “Roman Catholic” about the Apocrypha. There is, however, no truth in that myth, and no widely-accepted reason for the removal of the Apocrypha in the 1880’s has ever been officially issued by a mainline Protestant denomination.
The Americans responded to England’s E.R.V. Bible by publishing the nearly-identical American Standard Version (A.S.V.) in 1901. It was also widely-accepted and embraced by churches throughout America for many decades as the leading modern-English version of the Bible. In the 1971, it was again revised and called New American Standard Version Bible (often referred to as the N.A.S.V. or N.A.S.B. or N.A.S.). This New American Standard Bible is considered by nearly all evangelical Christian scholars and translators today, to be the most accurate, word-for-word translation of the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures into the modern English language that has ever been produced. It remains the most popular version among theologians, professors, scholars, and seminary students today. Some, however, have taken issue with it because it is so direct and literal a translation (focused on accuracy), that it does not flow as easily in conversational English.
For this reason, in 1973, the New International Version (N.I.V.) was produced, which was offered as a “dynamic equivalent” translation into modern English. The N.I.V. was designed not for “word-for-word” accuracy, but rather, for “phrase-for-phrase” accuracy, and ease of reading even at a Junior High-School reading level. It was meant to appeal to a broader (and in some instances less-educated) cross-section of the general public. Critics of the N.I.V. often jokingly refer to it as the “Nearly Inspired Version”, but that has not stopped it from becoming the best-selling modern-English translation of the Bible ever published.
In 1982, Thomas Nelson Publishers produced what they called the “New King James Version”. Their original intent was to keep the basic wording of the King James to appeal to King James Version loyalists, while only changing the most obscure words and the Elizabethan “thee, thy, thou” pronouns. This was an interesting marketing ploy, however, upon discovering that this was not enough of a change for them to be able to legally copyright the result, they had to make more significant revisions, which defeated their purpose in the first place. It was never taken seriously by scholars, but it has enjoyed some degree of public acceptance, simply because of its clever “New King James Version” marketing name.
In 2002, a major attempt was made to bridge the gap between the simple readability of the N.I.V., and the extremely precise accuracy of the N.A.S.B. This translation is called the English Standard Version (E.S.V.) and is rapidly gaining popularity for its readability and accuracy. The 21st Century will certainly continue to bring new translations of God’s Word in the modern English language.
As Christians, we must be very careful to make intelligent and informed decisions about what translations of the Bible we choose to read. On the liberal extreme, we have people who would give us heretical new translations that attempt to change God’s Word to make it politically correct. One example of this, which has made headlines recently is the Today’s New International Version (T.N.I.V.) which seeks to remove all gender-specific references in the Bible whenever possible! Not all new translations are good… and some are very bad.
But equally dangerous, is the other extreme… of blindly rejecting ANY English translation that was produced in the four centuries that have come after the 1611 King James. We must remember that the main purpose of the Protestant Reformation was to get the Bible out of the chains of being trapped in an ancient language that few could understand, and into the modern, spoken, conversational language of the present day. William Tyndale fought and died for the right to print the Bible in the common, spoken, modern English tongue of his day… as he boldly told one official who criticized his efforts, “If God spare my life, I will see to it that the boy who drives the plowshare knows more of the scripture than you, Sir!”
Will we now go backwards, and seek to imprison God’s Word once again exclusively in ancient translations? Clearly it is not God’s will that we over-react to SOME of the bad modern translations, by rejecting ALL new translations and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. The Word of God is unchanging from generation to generation, but language is a dynamic and ever-changing form of communication. We therefore have a responsibility before God as Christians to make sure that each generation has a modern translation that they can easily understand, yet that does not sacrifice accuracy in any way. Let’s be ever mindful that we are not called to worship the Bible. That is called idolatry. We are called to worship the God who gave us the Bible, and who preserved it through the centuries of people who sought to destroy it.
How To Study The Bible
via the River Church of the South Bay
The goal of good Bible study is to learn what the Bible is saying and how it applies it to your life.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22
Once you know the passage you want to study, simply observe, interpret and apply. Three steps will get the word into your life. Observe the passage by asking the question: What do I see?” Interpret the passage by asking the question: “What does it mean?” Apply the passage by asking the question: “What do I do?” Just answer the following questions as you study your passage. I have given you blank sheets for the Observation, Interpretation, and Application steps that you can use as often as you do bible study. This bible study technique is not original with me. I have tried to simply explain what each of these steps involve below. I hope and pray that personal bible study becomes a regular part of your daily walk with God. Take one day at a time.
I. SELECT A PASSAGE. (Usually 3-10 verses dealing with the same topic)
Why do you want to study this passage?
II. OBSERVE THE PASSAGE BY ASKING QUESTIONS. (All observations are valuable. Write them down)
Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
What is the passage about?
Where does this take place?
When does this take place?
Why does the speaker or author say/write what he does? What problem were the recipients facing?
What are the commands?
What are the promises or cause/effect relationships?
What are the repeated words and ideas?
What do I learn about God?
What do I learn about Jesus?
What do I learn about the Holy Spirit?
What do I learn about me (or mankind)?
Write out any additional observations or insights from the passage. This may include contrasts, lists, comparisons, etc.
III. WHAT IS THE “BIG IDEA” OF THE PASSAGE – YOUR THEME?
(This can most readily be identified from the commands and the repeated words and ideas. Often there will be one command in the passage with several motivations.) In one phrase sum up the main thought of the passage. Make sure your theme is large enough in scope to include all the author is saying in the passage. It’s often the biggest point that is being made. It often requires you to step back and look at the passage as a whole.
IV. THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE RAISED FROM THE OBSERVATION STEP.
Put your answers in the form of an outline. Take your main theme and break down the passage into sub points under the theme. These subpoints form principles of life and ministry. A principle is defined as a timeless lesson in the way God works or is doing things in the world. To develop each principle (each point in your outline) you will want to EXPLAIN IT (interpretation), ILLUSTRATE IT (from the BIble or personal examples of how this principle worked out both positively and negatively) and APPLY IT. (Not every point will have specific application.) You may want to do this on a separate sheet of paper.
For example, you may be studying Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary. The passage is about choosing what is best for your spiritual life. The author is saying that sitting at the feet of Jesus is best. Now, how does each verse fit into the theme? This is where interpretation comes in. Martha is distracted by busyness. Busyness robs from our spiritual life. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Sitting and listening to Jesus is always a priority in our spiritual lives. Jesus says make time to sit and listen.
STEPS TO INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE (Use as many or as few as you need)
- What are the meanings of the words?
- What does the immediate context suggest? (preceding and succeeding verses)
- What does the broader context suggest? (Chapter and book)
- What do other cross references suggest?
- What is the cultural meaning? (What did it mean to those to whom it was originally addressed?)
- What do commentaries suggest?
This is where you purpose to do what God has taught you through bible study. (Jas. 1:21-25, Mt. 7:24-27) It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives. Application does not happen by osmosis but by intent. God enlightens us from the Word, we enact the application with our wills and the Holy Spirit empowers us to carry out these choices. It is usually best to concentrate on applying one principle at a time. The goal of all application is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:
- TEACHING: What did I learn?
- for REPROOF: Where do I fall short? Why do I fall Short?
- For CORRECTION: What will I do about it?
- For TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: How can I make this principle a consistent part of my life?