Gothic invasions in the 3rd century

The Goths were a group of loosely allied Germanic tribes, most likely beginning in Scandinavia. In the first few centuries after Jesus Christ life and death, they migrated as far south as the Black Sea and the Danube River, to the very outposts of the Roman Empire. The Gothic Bible was the first literary work in any Germanic tongue. Ulfilas (c. 311–383 C.E.) was the missionary translator, who was also known as by his Gothic name Wulfila (“Little Wolf”).


Wulfila (Ulfilas) explaining the Gospels to the Goths

Who’s Who in Christian History offers us some insights into Ulfilas’ life. “Born in Cappadocia (east Asia Minor), Ulfilas may have been captured by Gothic raiders as a youth. Yet his residence by early adulthood was Constantinople, the Roman Empire’s eastern capital. Here undoubtedly he received his education and began his life of service to the church. In 341 Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of Constantinople, consecrated Ulfilas as bishop. Soon afterward the young bishop proceeded to Dacia (north of the Danube River), and for his remaining years he served as the church’s principal missionary to the western Goths in this region. The many converts indicate that Ulfilas’s efforts to spread the gospel had extensive results. After several years, persecution forced Ulfilas out of Dacia, and his work thereafter originated from a residence in Moesia (south of the Danube), an area within the empire’s borders. Ulfilas’s removal to Moesia also saw the beginnings of the project for which he is best remembered. This was his translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Goths’ vernacular language. Toward this end, Ulfilas first had to reduce Gothic speech to writing, a task involving the invention of an alphabet based on Greek. Surviving remnants of this translation, as copied in the early Middle Ages, represent the earliest extant examples of Gothic literature. Ulfilas appears to have translated the whole New Testament and also the Old Testament except for the Books of Kings (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings). It is supposed that the missing Old Testament sections were omitted purposely because of Ulfilas’s fear that they would only encourage the aggressive Goths.”[1]

Ulfilas Gothic Bible

Ulfilas finished his translation just two or three years before he died in 383 C.E. The Goths who migrated to Spain and Italy mostly used this translation. Many copies of Gothic Bibles were made. It is probable that several manuscripts were produced in the scriptoria of Ravenna and Verona. This is the area where the Goths had setup their kingdom. There are surviving fragments of codices from the 6th to 8th century of the Wulfila Bible, which contain about half the Gospels and portions of the apostle Paul’s letters.

  • goth (Codex Argenteus) part of the four gospels (Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark); 6th c.
  • goth (Codex Ambrosianus A-E) Pauline epistles; c. 6th-11th c.
  • goth (Codex Carolinus) Romans 11-15; 6th or 7th c.
  • goth (Codex Vaticanus Latinus 5750) John; 6th c.
  • goth (Codex Gissensis) Luke; 5th c.

Today, the Gothic Bible should be of interest to both the Bible scholar and the serious Bible student (i.e., all churchgoers). It gives us the history of one translator, Ulfilas, in the sea of many who gave their lives, which was filled with a tremendous desire and determination to have the Word of God translated into the common tongue of their days. It was by the work of Ulfilas that the Gothic people were able to have an understanding of the Christian faith. The Gothic Bible gave them a hope that all Christians share, namely, the life that is to come.–1 Peter 3:15.

See Also:

The Coptic Versions

The Latin Versions

The Syriac Versions

The Armenian Version

[1] K.J. Bryer, “Ulfilas,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 686.

Locations of the Origins of Versions

(Wegner 2006, p. 271) Location of the Origins of the Versions

Spread of Christianity