English Translations of the Bible–A History

Another phase of the Bible’s transmission lies in the history of English translations. Back in the seventh century, an Anglo-Saxon monk of the late 600s A.D. named Caedmon arranged in verse form stories of the Bible. This is the first known attempt to put the Bible accounts into the native Anglo-Saxon language.


The Norman Conquest in 1066 A.D. modified the old, Germanic language and created what we now call Middle English. The first memorable name in the story the English Bible is John Wycliffe (1330-1384). He grew up in an England full of faction and unrest due primarily to the popes excessive demands for money. Wycliffe emerged in the controversy over papal oppression as the champion of the people. Unlike so many of his time, Wycliffe believed the common man was worth something. As he said, “No man was so rude a scholar but that he might learn the words of the Gospel according to his simplicity.” He undertook a translation of the Scriptures from the Latin into the English tongue and completed this in 1382, having created the first English translation of the complete Bible.


The true father of the English Bible is William Tyndale. Having received a good education at Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale desire to give to the English people a translation of the Bible based not on Latin, but the original Greek and Hebrew. To an opponent he once said, “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that drives the plow shall know more of the Scripture then thou doest.” In 1524 he had to leave England because of threats against his work. The following year in Germany his translation of the New Testament was completed. His work had associated him with Martin Luther, so those who opposed the Reformation and Luther became enemies of Tyndale. Early in 1526 he was able to publish his translation, which was smuggled into England and bought with enthusiasm. He then started translating the Old Testament from Hebrew.


For several years he was an exiled, hunted man always on the run. Tyndale was eventually captured by those who opposed the Reformation and imprisoned near Brussels. Steadfast to the end, on an October morning in 1536 Tyndale went to the stake. He was strangled and burned, crying out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” His translation was for the common person – he used the word “love” instead of “charity,” ” repentance” instead of “penance.” He coined such words as Passover, scapegoat, mercy seat, and long-suffering. It was Tyndale who created such well-known phrases as the kingdom of heaven is at hand, the salt of the earth, daily bread, consider the lilies of the field how they grow, shepherds abiding in the field, eat drink and be merry, only begotten son, in my father’s house are many mansions, in the twinkling of an eye, and behold I stand at the door and knock.