Bible translation goes back to 280 to 150 B.C.E., when (seventy-two, according to tradition) translators gave us the Hebrew Old Testament books in Greek. From those days forward, translators have lived very dangerous lives, in trying to bring us the Word of God in the common languages of man. Most times this has been from the religious organizations themselves, who have caused the suffering and death of many translators. There are many good books out there on the history of the Bible, one being by Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible; another by Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible In Translation; As well as Journey from Texts to Translations, The: The Origin and Development of the Bible, by Paul Wegner.

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The English Bible

The English Bible translation came to us in the late fourteenth century. John Wycliffe (c. 1328 – December 31, 1384), is the one credited with the handwritten translation. However, it was not rendered from the original language texts of Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate. Therefore, it was a translation of a translation. Exactly how much of the translation Wycliffe completed before his death in 1384 is unknown. However, what we do know is that there was strong opposition to his work. Both Wycliffe and those helping received bitter hatred from the religious leaders of his day. If it were not for his influence, he would have been martyred like many others.

However, the story of Wycliffe does not end with his death. The Church leadership continued to oppose the copying of the Wycliffe translation. Some 24-years after Wycliffe’s death, in 1408, a Church council met in Oxford at the direction of Archbishop Arundel, prohibiting the use of the Holy Scriptures in English. This ban by the clergy was not going to stand up as the people wanted to have a copy of the only English translation available to them. We have evidence of such, as we possess today nearly 200 copies of the Wycliffe translation, many that were made after 1420. John Wycliffe was so despised that these religious leaders had his bones dug up in 1428 to be burned, with the ashes to be cast into the river Swift.

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William Tyndale

It would not be until the sixteenth century that we would see a translation that was rendered from the original language texts of Hebrew and Greek. It would be the William Tyndale, who would bring us our first printed English translation. Thinking that he could acquire the backing of Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, Tyndale went to London. However, he was unsuccessful in getting the bishop’s support.

While still in London, Tyndale came to the realization that there would be no translation with the current attitude of the religious leaders in England. Therefore, in 1524 he headed for Germany. Once in Cologne, the translation of the New Testament got under way. However, the magistrates of Cologne were none too happy about this news as it reached them. Thus, they put a stop to the work. This forced Tyndale to move on to Worms; there the printing of the New Testament was finally completed. In time, translations of this New Testament were flooding England. Meanwhile, back in Worms, Tyndale continued his revision work on the translation.

Needless to say, the English church authorities were beside themselves with rage. On May 4, 1530, copies of Tyndale’s translation were burned at St. Paul’s Cross in London. At the end of May, there was a royal decree backed by the church authorities, which listed the translation of Tyndale among wicked books and stated, “Detest them, abhor them; keep them not in your hands, deliver them to the superiors such as call for them.” For those that would think of ignoring the decree, it continued, “The prelates of the church, having the care and charge of your souls, ought to compel you, and your prince to punish and correct you.” There was no effort spared in attempts at destroying the translations in England.

One of the reasons for such great hatred on the part of the religious leaders was Tyndale’s choice renderings of some terms. For instance, he chose to use “congregation” over “church;” “overseer” instead of “bishop;” and “love” in place of “charity.” It did not matter to the religious authorities that his choice of words was more accurate as to the original language terms. Even still, Tyndale had said he would correct anything that was proven inaccurate or that could be translated more clearly. The fact of the matter was that the religious authorities knew that these renderings affected the power of the church, giving the power back to the people.

In time, Tyndale’s efforts were to come to a close, as a man named Phillips pretended to be his friend and then betrayed him like Judas had done Christ. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvorde, near Brussels. In September of 1536, he was executed by being strangling and burned.

The man, William Tyndale, a great scholar, set the foundation of translation from the 1611 King James Version, which was 90 percent Tyndale up unto the 2001 English Standard Version. Tyndale knowing that day-in-and-day-out, his life was at risk, but he sought to bring to the English world, the Word of God, and not for glory or honor, but for the love of God and neighbor. There are dozens of men and women, who have suffered martyrdom to bring us God’s Word. Truly, the Bible translator has taken on a very dangerous task.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 his is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to an accurate knowledge[1] of truth.

[1] Epignosis is a strengthened or intensified form of gnosis (epi, meaning “additional”), meaning, “true,” “real,” “full,” “complete” or “accurate,” depending upon the context. Paul and Peter alone use epignosis.