There are a lot of people who get confused over the different Bible translations that are out there. Speaking specifically of the English translations, there are those who claim that the King James Bible is the only valid Bible, while Muslims claim that the English Bibles have many errors in them because they have been translated from previous translations over and over again. Finally, there are those who have created their own version of the Bible to make it say what they want it to say, such as the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, there is a reality and a truth about Bible translations: a translation is only valid if it is translated from the original language – The Old Testament from the Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and the New Testament from the Greek (the New World Translation uses the Hebrew New Testament (i.e.: a translation) for its source for many New Testament verses, which is part of what makes it an incorrect translation).
With that, following is a history of Bible translations. This is by no means a complete list. But it is a list of the most important translations. In order to keep it brief, each translation mentioned is given a short paragraph regarding the date, translator and what the source texts were (this also means that a lot of information is put into a very small space thereby making it a little dry and technical to read). However, by this, we should be able to see how the current English translations came into existence. (A note about translations: No two translations are ever exactly the same. This makes sense since more than one person translated them. In other words, for example, if two people who speak Spanish were to translate the English sentence, “In 24-hours, I will endeavor to enter the supermarket”, they could give multiple translations which could all be correct, yet different from each other.)
Latin Vulgate – Translated into Latin by Jerome beginning in 382 AD. The New Testament was translated from the manuscripts in the original Greek. Several of the Old Testament Books were translated from the Septuagint. (The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, or what Christians call the Old Testament, as well as other Hebrew writings). However, afterwards, he translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew Tanakh (instead of the Septuagint), though sometimes paraphrased rather than translated. Despite the occasional paraphrase, this new translation from the Hebrew enables us to call this a proper translation. Jerome also defined the Apocrypha (a series of books written between 400 BC and the birth of Christ) and properly termed them non-canonical (meaning that they should not be considered scripture). However, he was overruled and the Apocrypha was included in the Vulgate. It became the official translation of the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in response to the Protestant Reformation and the translations coming out of it in languages other than Latin.
Wycliffe Bible – Translated into Middle English by John Wycliffe from 1382-1395 due to the Lollard movement prior to the Reformation. There are two versions: one purported to be written by Wycliffe himself and was a word for word translation of the Vulgate; the other purported to be written by John Purvey allowed for a smoother, more understandable Middle English translation. (Word for word translations often read awkwardly in another language) However, since this was translated from Latin and not the original languages, these would not be considered proper translations.
Textus Receptus – A term coined in 1633 in the preface of the second edition by Elziver (a Dutch publisher)of The New Testament, first put together by Erasmus and published by Basel in 1516. Originally, it was intended to improve on the Latin of Jerome in the Vulgate but it included not only the new and improved Latin but also the original Greek based on six Byzantine Greek manuscripts. (Since there were gaps in those 6 manuscripts, Erasmus used the Vulgate and translated from the Latin back to the Greek for those passages which were missing). The second edition was printed in 1519 and fixed many (but not all) of the typographical errors that occurred due to the new printing press which had become available and also added Miniscule 3 (the seventh Greek manuscript) which contains most of the NT (it is missing Revelation) dated from the 12th century. Additional editions were printed in 1522, 1527 and 1535. Continued updates were made by Stephanus (Robert Estienne – a French publisher) in 1546, 1549, 1550 (called the Royal Edition and was now based on 14 Byzantine Greek manuscripts), and 1551. Theodore Beza produced nine updates between 1565 and 1604. Finally, Elzevir published editions in 1624, 1633 (the first to be called the Textus Receptus) and 1641.
Luther Bible – Translated into German by Martin Luther in 1522-1534 as part of the Reformation. Used the “Textus Receptus” (the Greek portion, not the Latin translation) and translated into the common German language spoken in towns and markets. Moved the Apocrypha between the OT and NT and claimed that “These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read” which was the same sentiment held by Jerome in the first place.
Tyndale Bible – Prompted by Luther’s German translation, the Bible translated into English by William Tyndale in 1526 and revised by him in 1534 and 1536. Not a full Bible until after his execution (he was executed for translating the Bible into English), he had printed the New Testament and half of the Old Testament. The New Testament Translation is based on the third edition of the Textus Receptus, the Greek portion as well as the Latin translation from Erasmus, as well as Luther’s German version and the Vulgate. The Old Testament may have been from the Hebrew Pentateuch, Hebrew Bible and/or Septuagint. The Tyndale Bible was banned by the king in 1530 due to language and notes unacceptable to the king (This will be an ongoing issue for the King of England since the Reformation translations and notes removed the power of the Pope and king and gave reign and rule, and thus power, to Christ).
Matthew Bible – English Translation done in 1537 by Thomas Matthew, whose real name was John Rogers. His goal was to complete the Tyndale Bible (since Tyndale was executed prior to completing the entire Bible translation). Hence the NT and half the OT was from The Tyndale Bible. The rest was taken from the work of Myles Coverdale. The “Prayer of Manassah” was the work of John Rogers himself, taken from a French translation done in 1535.
Great Bible – Anglican – Translated into English by Myles Coverdale in 1538, authorized by King Henry VIII and commissioned by Lord Thomas Cromwell for the Church of England. Like the Matthew Bible, Coverdale used Tyndale’s Bible as the starting point, but he completed the missing parts from the Latin Vulgate and Luther’s Bible (therefore the Great Bible was not translated from the original languages) and updated Tyndale’s language that was deemed unacceptable to the king. (Ironically, both Tyndale and John Rogers were burned at the stake, while Coverdale was enlisted by Cromwell to create the Great Bible).
Geneva Bible – Protestant – Translated into English by William Whittingham (a student of John Calvin) and others in 1560. First brought to England in 1575 (NT) and 1576 (whole Bible). Included notes in the margins to help readers understand the text. 80-percent of the New Testament follows Tyndale’s Bible. The Old Testament was the first English version to translate entirely from Hebrew. Hence, as opposed to the Tyndale Bible, the Matthew Bible or the Great Bible, which had parts translated from languages other than the original, the Geneva Bible is a proper translation from the original languages. It would be the most read English Bible for the next 150 years (including the first 100 years of the King James Bible). This is the Bible that the Pilgrims used as well as men such as William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and John Milton in their writings.
Bishops Bible – Anglican – Translated into English in 1568 by Matthew Parker (Archbishop of Canterbury). In response to the Calvinist Geneva Bible and the Vulgate-translated OT (and therefore improper translation) of the Great Bible. The Apocrypha was kept based on the Great Bible (also from the Vulgate). Extensively revised in 1572 to correct the text to be more in line with the Geneva Bible, which was being used by most people. Was intended for Church use. Viewed as a failure due to its incompetence in both scholarship and language.
Douay-Rheims Bible – Catholic – Translated into English by members of the English College, Douai in the service of the Catholic Church. Based on the Latin Vulgate. Included notes on the text, including information on the Greek text from which the Vulgate was originally translated. NT – 1582 in Reims, France. OT – two volumes – by University of Douai in 1609 and 1610. Done in response to the Protestant Reformation.
King James Version (a.k.a. Authorized Version) – Anglican – from the “Textus Receptus”, specifically used mainly the Royal Edition of 1550 along with Beza’s 1598 edition. It was written as a response against the Geneva Bible due to the notes of the Geneva Bible against Earthly kings. This is the third attempt by a king of England (The Great Bible and the Bishops Bible) to create a Bible in English which would be satisfactory for his continued right to rule. In 1604, King James I, via the Hampton Court Conference, commissioned a new English Bible due to problems in the Bishop’s Bible detected by Puritans, and which would conform to the Ecclesiology and Episcopal structure of the Anglican Church. Based mostly on the Bishops Bible except where problematic. Completed in 1611 and Authorized by King James I (a.k.a. King James VI of Scotland prior to the union of Scotland and England in 1603).
Revised Version (a.k.a. English Revised Version) – revision of the 1611 King James Version. First and only recognized revision of KJV. NT published in 1881, OT published in 1885, Apocrypha published in 1894. Westcott and Hort were on the translation committee, which was made up of British scholars with several Americans used as consultants. Did not use Textus Receptus since other manuscripts, many of them older than those used in the Royal Edition of the Textus Receptus, had been found in the 300 years since the KJV was written. Spurgeon said of it, “strong in Greek, weak in English”.
American Standard Version – 1901 update based on the Revised Version. Once the 14-year agreement between the British and Americans had expired, the Americans updated the Revised Version with their own updates. When originally asked to assist in the RV, the American scholarship was only added to the RV if two-thirds of the British scholars were in agreement. Hence, the ASV adds back those suggestions which were ignored in the RV. Was a very literal translation of the text.
Revised Standard Version – 1946-NT, 1952-OT, 1957-Apocrypha, Modified Edition-1962, NT second Edition – 1971 Supposed to be an update of the ASV, though not much is kept. Used Nestle 17th edition of the Greek for NT. Much less literal than the ASV, its aim was to clarify the text rather than translate word for word. Updated the Elizabethan English of the ASV. Kept “thou” and “thee” when speaking of God but removed those words when speaking of man. Is viewed as a liberal translation.
New American Standard Version – 1963-NT, 1971-OT, In response to the liberal translation of the RSV, a literal, hence conservative, update of the American Standard Version. Deliberately interprets the Old Testament from a Christian standpoint, in harmony with the New Testament (as opposed to the RSV). The literal translation has caused many difficulties for its awkward and unnatural English, hence like the RV, it is strong in Greek, weak in English and thus often used for study and reference and less for reading. In 1995, updated to improve the English style and less literal word for word translation. Still one of the most literal translations available.
New International Version – 1973-NT, 1978-OT, Not an update of a former version. Created to bring the Bible into the modern English language. Translated by a committee of scholars, financed by the New York Bible Society, which is now called Biblica. OT based on the Masoretic Text (Original Hebrew) with several additional texts consulted. NT is based on Nestle-Aland version of Greek NT, though not in all places. Updated in 1984, then again in 2011. Intended to be used for evangelical purposes and to ensure the unity of the scriptures in both the OT and NT
New King James Version – 1979-NT, 1982-OT. Update of King James Version. Uses the same Greek and Hebrew texts as KJV but updates the English. There are notes added where there are differences between the original texts used and those of manuscripts found since 1611. Literal version, though not as literal as the New American Standard Version. Extensive notes, though not always without bias. Kept much of KJV problems, such as 1 John 5:7-8 (though note informs that only 4-5 manuscripts have these words).
New Revised Standard Version – 1989 – Updated the RSV and included the Dead Sea Scrolls as part of the translation process for the OT. Removed “thou” and “thee” altogether, making it fully contemporary English. Also made changes to use inclusive gender language (i.e. – “person” instead of “man”). Recognizing that the RSV was considered a liberal translation, the NRSV might be considered even more so.
English Standard Version – 2001 – based on the RSV (not the NRSV to exclude inclusive gender language). Goal was to be more literal than NIV but more readable than NASB, thus attempting to find a middle ground between the two.
A final note: though many of the translations listed above used a previous translation as a basis, they were written as translations from the original languages. However, when the existing translations were valid and proper, the English translation was kept. In other words, if the Greek in a particular verse was translated one way and there was no reason to change it, the updated version kept that translation. For instance, after reviewing the original Greek for John 3:1-2, the New American Standard kept verse 1 exactly the same as the American Standard Version, but updated verse 2 to make the English more readable:
ASV: Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him.
NASB: Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”