Bible Versions        

Hebrew Old Testament.
      Written between approximately 1490 BC and 400 BC.
      Written first on Papyrus and later on scrolls
      Most in Hebrew but some in Aramaic
      Hebrew alphabet 22 letters but only 3 vowels, read from right to left.
      Aramaic - e.g. parts of Daniel. It was the official language of Persian Empire.
            and used for trade and diplomacy
Earliest fragments 9thC AD were copies of 6thC 'Masoretic' text.
Dead Sea scrolls discovered 1947 from 100 BC confirm accuracy of Masoretic text. e.g. Isaiah
Septuagint 270-130 BC. Greek translation of the Old Testament made in Alexandria.
      It is said to be a very free translation, differing in many cases from the original Hebrew.
      Earliest book fragments 200 AD
      Most NT quotes are from Septuagint.
There seems little argument about 'best' original Hebrew is Masoretic text developed by Jewish scholars.
      First introduction of vowel points into the Hebrew text.

Greek New Testament.
Written as a codex (pages with writing both sides)
Written in 'common' Greek everyday language in Eastern part of Roman Empire.
Latin Vulgate Bible 400 AD.
Entire Bible translated into Latin by Jerome at Bethlehem
      Standard Bible in the Roman Catholic churches for 1000 years.
      Wycliffe translated Vulgate Bible into English 1382.

Samaritan Pentateuch
Hebrew text in Samaritan characters.

Peshitta or Syriac
Whole Bible translated into common language certain parts of Syria.

Bede 735 AD.
John's Gospel in Anglo Saxon.

Lindisfarne Gospels.
These 698 Latin texts have a 'gloss' or translation in the Northumberland dialect
      added by a priest named Aldred in the 10th century.

Wycliffe's Bible 1384 AD.
First complete English Bible, which was translated from the Latin Vulgate.
Aided by Nichalas of Hereford and John Purvey;
      it was divided into according to Cardinal Hugo's arrangement.
This hand written version was copied many times,
      each copy would have taken about 10 months to complete.

Erasmus Greek New Testament with Latin translations.  5 editions 1516-1535 AD.
New Greek text selected from several ancient Greek manuscripts in Basle and from Constantinople,
      before it fell to the Turks in 1453.
(Latin vulgate was considered less accurate and only used for last 6 verses of Revelation).
Third edition (1522) was used by Tyndale for the first English New Testament (1526)
      and later by translators of the Geneva Bible and the King James Version (1611).

Tyndale's New Testament (1526 and 1534 AD.) used Erasmus Greek NT 1522 and Masoretic Hebrew OT.

Coverdale Bible 1535 AD.
First complete printed English Bible using all of Tyndale’s work for NT and OT Pentateuch,
      together with Erasmus Greek NT and Masoretic Hebrew OT.

Matthew's Bible 1537 AD.
Drawing on Tyndale and Coverdale.

Great Bible 1539 AD.
Coverdale's revision of Matthew's Bible and Tyndale's work,
      appointed by Henry VIII to be read in all churches.

Geneva Bible 1560 AD.
Also called 'Breeches Bible'; revision of Great Bible by Protestants in exile
      in Geneva who had fled from reign of Mary Tudor.

Bishop's Bible 1568 AD.
Revision of Great Bible by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Douai-Rheims Bible 1609 AD.
First English Roman Catholic Bible translated from the Vulgate by Gregory Martin.

King James or Authorised Version 1611 AD.
Mostly used Geneva Bible, but slso Wycliffe, Matthew, Coverdale, Bishop's Bible, and Tyndale.

Greek NT Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai discovered 1844
Although older than texts gathered by Erasmus, this does not necessarily prove it is more accurate.
Both have considerable errors, misspellings and omissions., yet Westcott and Hort used these to publish
      what they claimed to be the 'best' Greek text in 1881.
It is hotly disputed by lovers of the KJV, but is used for most modern translations.

Revised Version 1881-5 AD.
Used language of Authorised Version
      but revised to take account of new work on Hebrew and Greek texts.

Revised Standard Version 1952 AD.
Claimed to be revision of Authorised Version, but mainly based on Westcott and Hort Greek NT.

Jerusalem Bible 1966 AD.
Work of Roman Catholic School of Biblical Studies, Jerusalem.

New English Bible 1970 AD.
Completely new formal translation, sponsored by main British churches and Bible Societies.
It never achieved any lasting popularity. The Living Bible 1971 AD.
      A modern paraphrase.

Good News Bible 1976 AD or Today's English Version.
A new translation using normal, clear, contemporary English.

New International Version 1979 AD. (Revised 1984 and 2011)
New translation by a group of international scholars.

New King James' Version 1982 AD.
Substituted modern words

The Message 1993-95 AD.
A very contemporary rendering that surrendered accuracy for popularity.
Crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events and ideas
      in somewhat colloquial language.

English Standard Version 2001
      Used RSV as a basis for a new literal translation Bible.

See   also 'Story of the Bible' by F.G.Kenyon 1936
Tyndale's first New Testament was epoch-making in many ways. It was the first English printed New Testament; it laid the foundations, and much more than the foundations, of the Authorized Version of 1611; it set on foot the movement which went forward without a break until it culminated in the production of that 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 Tyndale's New Testament 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 the 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 directly from the German Bible, the rest being independent. It is in this connection with Luther, rather than in anything to be found in the work itself, that the secret of the official hostility to Tyndale'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 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.

Exeter Refernce Library: o1594. - STC 2160/3
Many Protestants fled England during Mary's reign, among them John Bodley, the Exeter merchant and father of Sir Thomas Bodley, who settled in Geneva, where he was involved in the translation of the Bible into English by a group of scholars including William Whittingham. During Elizabeth's reign Bodley was granted the monopoly for seven years for distributing the Geneva Bible in England. Printed in a smaller format than previous Bibles, the first edition was the first English version to use roman type and to be divided into verses. The translation is also known as the Breeches Bible from its translation of Genesis iii, 7.

History of the English Bible

The first hand-written English language manuscripts of the Bible were produced in 1380's AD by Oxford theologian John Wycliff (Wycliffe). Curiously, he was also the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses. Wycliff spent many of his years arguing against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. Though he died a non-violent death, the Pope was so infuriated by his teachings that 44 years after Wycliff died, he ordered the bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in the river!

Gutenburg invented the printing press in the 1450's, and the first book to ever be printed was the Bible. It was, however, in Latin rather than English. With the onset of the Reformation in the early 1500's, the first printings of the Bible in the English language were produced...illegally and at great personal risk of those involved.

Erasmus printed his Greek/Latin New Testament in 1516. Erasmus and the great printer, scholar, and reformer John Froben published the first non-Latin Vulgate text of the Bible in a millennium. Latin was the language for centuries of scholarship and it was understood by virtually every European who could read or write. Erasmus' Latin was not the Vulgate translation of Jerome, but his own fresh rendering of the Greek New Testament text that he had collated from six or seven partial New Testament manuscripts into a complete Greek New Testament.

With Erasmus' work in 1516, the die was cast. Martin Luther declared his intolerance with the Roman Curch's corruption on Halloween in 1517, by nailing 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Door. Luther, who would be exiled in the months following the Diet of Worms Council in 1521 that was designed to martyr him, would translate the New Testament into German from Erasmus' Greek/Latin New Testament and publish it in September of 1522. Simultaneously, William Tyndale would become burdened to translate that same Erasmus text into English. It could not, however, be done in England. Tyndale showed up on Luther's doorstep in 1525, and by year's end had translated the New Testament into English. Tyndale was fluent in eight languages and is considered by many to be the primary architect of today's English language. 1525/6 Tyndale printed the first English New Testament. 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.

The Tyndale New Testament was the first ever printed in the English language. Its first printing occurred in 1525/6, but only one complete copy of the first printing exists. Any Edition printed before 1570 is very rare and valuable, particularly pre-1540 editions and fragments. 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. 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. His last words were, "Lord, open the eyes of the King of England".

Myles Coverdale and John Rogers were loyal disciples the last six years of Tyndale's life, and they carried the project forward and even accelerated it. Coverdale finished translating the Old Testament, and in 1535 he printed the first complete Bible in the English language, making use of Luther's German text and the Latin as sources. Thus, the first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.

John Rogers went on to print the second complete English Bible in 1537. He printed it under the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew", as a considerable part of this Bible was the translation of Tyndale, whose writings had been condemned by the English authorities. It is a composite made up of Tyndale's Pentateuch and New Testament (1534-1535 edition) and Coverdale's Bible and a small amount of Roger's own translation of the text. It remains known most commonly as the Matthews Bible.

In 1539, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canturbury, hired Myles Coverdale at the bequest of King Henry VIII to publish the "Great Bible". It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, as it was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English. It would seem that William Tyndale's last wish had been granted...just three years after his martyrdom. Cranmer's Bible, published by Coverdale, was known as the Great Bible due to its great size: a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions of this version were printed between April of 1539 and December of 1541.

The ebb and flow of freedom continued through the 1540's...and into the 1550's. The reign of Queen Mary (a.k.a. "Bloody Mary") was the next obstacle to the printing of the Bible in English. She was possessed in her quest to return England to the Roman Church. In 1555, John Rogers ("Thomas Matthew") and Thomas Cranmer were both burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn reformers at the stake by the hundreds for the "crime" of being a Protestant. This era was known as the Marian Exile, and the refugees fled from England with little hope of ever seeing their home or friends again.

In the 1550's, the Church at Geneva, Switzerland, was very sympathetic to the reformer refugees and was one of only a few safe havens for a desperate people. Many of them met in Geneva, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe (publisher of the famous Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which is to this day the only exhaustive reference work on the persecution and martyrdom of Early Christians and Protestants from the first century up to the mid-16th century), as well as Thomas Sampson and William Whittingham. There, with the protection of John Calvin and John Knox, the Church of Geneva determined to produce a Bible that would educate their families while they continued in exile.

The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. It became known as the Geneva Bible. Due to a passage in Genesis desribing the clothing that God fashioned for Adam and Eve upon expulsion from the Garden of Eden as "Breeches" (an antiquated form of "Britches"), some people referred to the Geneva Bible as the Breeches Bible.

The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. William Shakespeare quotes thousands of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice of English speaking Christians and between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale's original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611! The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims.

With the end of Queen Mary's bloody rein, the reformers could safely return to England. The Aglican Church, 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, however. Another version, one with a less inflamatory tone was desired. In 1568, the Bishop's Bible was introduced. Despite 19 editions being printed between 1568 and 1606, the version never gained much of a foothold of popularity among the people.

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 Latin Vulgate as a source text, they went on to publish an English Bible. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims ( or Rhemes) New Testament. The Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Doway (also spelled Douay and Douai). The combined product is commonly refered to as the "Doway/Rheims" Version.

In 1589, Dr. 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.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. The Protestant clergy approached the new King in 1604 and announced their desire for a new translation to replace the Bishop's Bible first printed in 1568. They knew that the Geneva Version had won the hearts of the people because of its excellent scholarship, accuracy, and exhaustive commentary. However, they did not want the controversial marginal notes (proclaiming the Pope an Anti-Christ,etc.) Essentially, the leaders of the church desired a Bible for the people, with scriptural references only for word clarification when multiple meanings were possible.

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 as "The King James Bible" came off the printing press.

A typographical error in Ruth 3:15 rendered the pronoun "He" instead of the correct "She" in that verse. This caused some of the 1611 First Editions to be known by collectors as "He" Bibles, and others as "She" Bibles.

It took many years for it to overtake the Geneva Bible in popularity with the people, but eventually the King James Version became the Bible of the English people. It became the most printed book in the history of the world. In fact, for around 250 years...until the appearance of the Revised Version of 1881...the King James Version reigned without a rival.

In 1841, the English Hexapla New Testament was printed. This wonderful textual comparison tool shows in parallel columns: The 1380 Wycliff, 1534 Tyndale, 1539 Great, 1557 Geneva, 1582 Rheims, and 1611 King James versions of the entire New Testament...with the original Greek at the top of the page.

Consider the following textual comparison of John 3:16 as they appear in many of these famous printings of the English Bible:
1st Ed. King James (1611): "For God so loued the world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life."

Rheims (1582): "For so God loued the vvorld, that he gaue his only-begotten sonne: that euery one that beleeueth in him, perish not, but may haue life euerlasting"

Geneva (1557): "For God so loueth the world, that he hath geuen his only begotten Sonne: that none that beleue in him, should peryshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."

Great Bible (1539): "For God so loued the worlde, that he gaue his only begotten sonne, that whosoeuer beleueth in him, shulde not perisshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe."

Tyndale (1534): "For God so loveth the worlde, that he hath geven his only sonne, that none that beleve in him, shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe."

Wycliff (1380): "for god loued so the world; that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that eche man that bileueth in him perisch not: but haue euerlastynge liif,"

It is possible to go back to manuscripts earlier than Wycliff, but the language found can only be described as the "Anglo-Saxon" roots of English, and would not be easily recognisable as similar to the English spoken today. For example, the Anglo-Saxon pre-English root language of the year 995 AD yields a manuscript that quotes John 3:16 as: " lufode middan-eard swa, dat he seade his an-cennedan sunu, dat nan ne forweorde de on hine gely ac habbe dat ece lif."