The Bible was not originally written in English: the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with some small parts in Aramaic), and the New Testament was written in Greek with the inclusion of some Aramaic words and phrases. At the time of Jesus, it seems that Greek may have been the common language of people in the region, although Aramaic was the native language of many.
The books that became the Old Testament we have today, were most likely finally settled after the Jewish return from exile under Ezra. The first Greek translation of the Old Testament was completed in 132 BC. This translation came to be called the Septuagint. There were a number of other Jewish historical and religious writings around as well which came to be known as the Apocrypha, but they were not considered on the same level as the Hebrew scriptures.
The New Testament books were written during the formation of the Christian church in the first century AD. After some decades, it became necessary to come to a decision about what books should be included in the New Testament, and which should not. Several criteria were used, such as: it must be written by an apostle or someone closely connected with one; it must agree with the accepted and approved teaching of the church; it must focus on the redemptive work of Christ; it must have high moral and spiritual qualities; and it must be widely accepted and used by the church. This took place around the end of the third century AD.
Around 400 AD, a scholar named Jerome completed a translation of the Bible into Latin. This became known as the Vulgate. He included the Apocrypha in this translation. Over the next few hundred years, translations were completed in a few other languages including Gothic, Syriac, Coptic, French, Czech and German.
In the 1300s, an Englishman named John Wycliff became an advocate for translating the Bible into the language of the ordinary people. The Wycliff Bible was translated into middle English from the Vulgate and completed by 1384. This was before the invention of the printing press, however, so copies had to be made labouriously by hand. This took about ten months and cost the equivalent of a common person’s salary for a year. The Wycliff Bible was not popular with the leaders of the church, who believed that the Bible should only be available to the clergy. Thus, forty years after his death, Wycliff’s bones were dug up and burned as a warning to other aspiring translators.
By the sixteenth century, as printing became commonplace, William Tyndale took on the task of an English Bible for the common people. His translation was the first English translation to be based directly on the Hebrew and Greek texts rather than the Latin Vulgate. It was also the first to be printed in English. Tyndale was arrested in 1535 and executed in 1536 for heresy.
The Church in England broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and King Henry VIII authorized the Great Bible for the church; this was mostly Tyndale’s work, with missing sections filled in by Miles Coverdale. In 1611, the authorized King James Version of the Bible was completed, translated and amended by forty-seven scholars and heavily influenced by the earlier work of William Tyndale. With the invention of stereotype printing in the nineteenth century, the KJV became the most widely printed book in history.
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