Bible Translations Through the Years

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The oracles, or written "sayings" of God, were recorded by Moses and other writers in Israel some time between 1500BC and 300BC in the Hebrew language, with some sections written in Classical Aramaic (Syriac) e.g. Daniel 2:4 through Daniel 7:28.
Presumably Moses had access to family cuneiform records, huge numbers of which have now been discovered in the Middle East, dating back to 3400BC. The Jewish people, via God's hand, now carefully protected these accounts. Click here for this timeline.

After returning to Israel about 417BC, Ezra was a prolific writer, according to authoring the book of Ezra, the book of Malachi, and the book of Chronicles up until his era. He also meticulously established a model text for the Torah, writing a scroll against which all other Torah scrolls were to be checked for accuracy. It was kept in the Temple together with all the other Hebrew books - their scriptures. It was due to Ezra's diligence that the Torah scrolls have remained invariably and remarkably accurate until today.

Following the Second Temple period, which lasted until the temple was destroyed by Rome in 70AD, the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee increasingly became the chief seat of learning.

Extract below from Jewish historian Josephus circa 100AD about this Jewish passion, echoing Jesus's warning about belittling even the smallest literal word / commandment in the Hebrew scriptures.

Against Apion 1:8

Against Apion 1:8

by Josephus, a Jewish soldier and author in Rome, written in Greek circa 100AD

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another as the Greeks have, but only twenty-two books which contain the records of all the past times - which are justly believed to be divine - and of them five belong to Moses which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years (Editor 2553 years to be precise) but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia (Ed. named Ahasuerus in Esther), who reigned after Xerxes (Ed. named Artaxerxes in Ezra-Nehemiah), the prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books.

Editor: 1.Joshua, 2.Judges-Ruth, 3.Samuel-1&2, 4.Kings-1&2, 5.Isaiah, 6.Jeremiah-Lamentations, 7.Ezekiel, 8.Job, 9.Daniel, 10.Chronicles-1&2, 11.Ezra-Nehemiah, 12.Esther, 13.Book of 12 Prophets-Hosea to Malachi.

The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life (Ed. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon).

It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books (called the Tanakh, Hebrew: תנ"ך) Play to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and if occasion be willingly to die for them.

End of extract from Josephus

According to the Targum article in Wikipedia, at the time of Josephus, Targumim (singular: "targum") Hebrew: תרגום Play were spoken paraphrases explanations and expansions of the Hebrew Bible that a teacher would give in the day to day Aramaic language of the listeners. Hebrew was primarily used for schooling with rote learning, and worship. Note too that in line with Josephus's words above, writing down the targum was traditionally prohibited.

After Alexander the Great, Greek became the universal literary language throughout the Middle East though it was spurned by teachers in Israel. Only with the permission of the Jewish authorities could a young government official learn Greek, and then solely for the purpose of political discourse on the national or international level.

In approximately 250BC, a translation of the scriptures into Greek was started under the auspices of the Egyptian Pharaoh called the "Septuagint" as it was, traditionally, started by "seventy" (or so) Jewish scholars.

While translating the Hebrew books in the scriptures, additional Greek books (Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees and others) were also added to the Septuagint by authors unknown and accordingly referred to by some (e.g. Jerome) as being "apocryphal" or obscure.

But this Greek language Bible enabled Jewish missionaries to reach out to people everywhere.

Between 50AD and 100AD approximately, the New Testament books and letters were all written, most of them thought to have been written between 50AD and 65AD. John's book of Revelation was written perhaps about 70AD and John's gospel was written towards the end of his life about 95AD.

The authors:- John, Paul and Peter, Mark, Matthew, Luke, James and Jude were early Jewish Christians who encountered the Lord, Jesus, recorded in Luke as being 77 generations via Adam, down from Jehovah God. Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-16 referred to Paul's letters in the context of "scripture". All the letters were written in Greek although the book of Hebrews associated by many with Paul was probably written initially in Hebrew, and rewritten in Greek.

And Matthew, according to Jerome, was "the first to commit to writing the Gospel of Christ and he published his work in Judæa in Hebrew characters" Jerome 383AD. Further notes here. According to early tradition it was by far the most popular gospel, though John's gospel overtook it in popularity in Asia Minor. It was later rewritten in Greek, with its Hebrew text soon being altered by Jewish rabbis. Matthew doubtless jotted down notes during (or shortly after) Jesus's ministry, starting after John the Baptist had been imprisoned, when he himself i.e. Matthew (also called Levi), as a tax collector, had been called to be a disciple. After writing about Jesus's birth and baptism by John, he records the 40 days in the wilderness, then skips to Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. Importantly, Matthew is the only writer to talk about Joseph's background, as an honest and upright man in Israel, and about Jesus's birth in relation to Joseph and King Herod, note, Matthew's father may possibly have been the brother of Joseph.

Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria, by tradition wrote his gospel next in Greek. It is significantly shorter than the other gospels and according to Jerome was written as an "interpreter of Peter" who by tradition was Bishop of Antioch for seven years ca 47-54. It leaves out Jesus's birth, and only briefly mentions the 40 days in the wilderness. By highlighting Jesus as the Servant of God, the Aramaic translation of Mark has been found more acceptable to Muslim scholars.

Luke in Luke 1:1-4 acknowledges these early gospels. He may have been around during the time of Jesus's ministry, but as the companion of Paul he doubtless interviewed many e.g. Mary, to obtain a record for his friend Theophilus to whom he wrote, with an early tradition placing Theophilus in Alexandria. According to Jerome, the gospel of Luke was written in Achaia and Boeotia (modern day Greece), with its second part the Book of Acts written in Rome. It closed about 62AD.

John's is the last gospel written, perhaps in Ephesus where traditionally he was living when he died. He leaves out much of the information in the other gospels, including the 40 days in the wilderness, but records a most useful "chronology" for us all e.g. says after Andrew and himself introduced themselves to Jesus following John the Baptist's preaching, on the third day Jesus and the disciples (that now included Peter, Philip and Nathanael) went to a wedding in Cana where the first miracle is recorded. Down to Capernaum, and shortly after, up to Jerusalem for the Passover, baptized some converts, came back through Samaria, and then the next miracle took place. And then many more, as recorded in the other three gospels, and so the ministry in Galilee got underway.

About 170AD, church leader Irenaeus decreed the four gospel accounts to be authoritative scripture: 1.Matthew-Jesus as Lord/King, 2.Mark-Jesus as Servant, 3.Luke-Jesus as Weak/Son of Man, 4.John-Jesus as Timeless/Son of God. Click here for numerous pages expounding on this.

And thus these books became part of the Greek Bible, with the other authors. And referred to by Jerome as the 27 books of the "New Testament", contrasting with the Old.

Click here for further background history of the "original" Greek city church — the church of Antioch, capital city of Syria. Also the other Greek-speaking city churches — the Church of Jerusalem (yes, particularly after the expulsion of Jews in 135 AD, speaking Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic), the Church of Alexandria in Egypt, and the Church of Constantinople (prior to 313 AD, known as Byzantium, and today, modern Istanbul). Referred to as Romans.

In 331AD Constantine commissioned Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, to provide 50 bibles to the Bishop of Constantinople. These possibly included the Codex Vaticanus and/or Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest two copies of the Greek Bible that exist today.

Coptic A translation into "Coptic", the Greek word for the language of daily life in Egypt (using mainly the Greek script), was made around 200AD. This language is now extinct, having been replaced by Egyptian Arabic, but it is still used inside both the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Aramaic Out in the Middle East provinces, Middle Aramaic (Syriac) was used to translate the four gospels, also all of Paul's letters, starting approximately in 160AD. This translation over the next 300 years along with the Old Testament became known as the "Peshitta" (Per-sheeta) or "common" version as the gospel spread into India China and Africa.

Reflecting on Josephus's words at the top, and an extract from Peshitta Holy Bible Translated, Jewish synagogues had been built in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, as well as Europe. Those were the bases of operations. Acts 15:21 "For Moses from ancient times (generations) has in the cities the ones that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." And as people struggled with understanding the Hebrew language, for many, particularly in the East, Aramaic was their "lingua franca".
And so the Peshitta became their Bible.

German (and old English) The earliest known and partly still available Germanic version of the Bible was the Gothic translation of Ulfilas (circa 360AD). This version, translated primarily from the Greek, established much of the Germanic Christian vocabulary that is in use today in Norwegian Swedish and Danish, Flemish Dutch and German, as well as Anglo-Saxon (Old English).

Click here for an extract from Matthew 6:3-17 (including the Lord's Prayer), showing the same passage side by side in Middle English (Wycliffe 1389AD), Early Modern English (Tyndale 1526 AD), Gothic 360 AD, and Old English Anglo-Saxon 995 AD.

Latin Over in Britain and Gaul, the early Latin theologian Tertullian in 208AD spoke of the Christian communities which existed there. However we have zero evidence of any Celtic translation of the scriptures (back then). Latin became the first or second language of many of the people, the main language of administration and the ruling class, the army, and thus the church, using early Latin translations.

So as the use of Latin spread through France, Britain, and Spain, variations were added in different texts. In 382AD the church historian Jerome was commissioned by the Pope to fix it by translating the scriptures into a new version using a single, stylistically consistent Latin text:

  1. 27 New Testament books, in accordance with Athanasius of Alexandria's letter in 367AD which was widely acknowledged.
  2. 39 Old Testament books, which were widely acknowledged by the Jews as being their scriptures
  3. and a number of Apocryphal books ("apocryphal" — of "obscure" authorship) written in the period between the Old and New Testaments, not regarded as genuine by the Jews, but which some churches found helpful.

In 383AD he translated the Gospels from the Greek Bible, but finding the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament unsatisfactory, he translated the Hebrew afresh (in a cave in Bethlehem), a process he completed about 405AD. It was called the "Vulgate", and gradually replaced all earlier translations as the version most "commonly" in use. Whilst communities developed new local languages after the Romans left, Latin remained the literary language for businesses and governments, and educated scholars, for nearly the next 1500 years. In fact up until 1900 — almost everyone who went to college anywhere had to learn Latin. How times have changed.

So, famous monasteries that then doubled as Bible schools, and provided scholars with Latin literacy where there had been minimal written records previously, were subsequently built in

In 813 AD, the Council of Tours in Western France required that the parish priests preach either in "Rusticam Romanam" – Country Romance language(s) ie old French, old Spanish, old Italian or in "The-odiscus" ie "De-utsch" in old German rather than classical Latin. The Lindisfarne Gospels (written in Latin) were shortly afterwards interleaved with old English, as were the Vespasian Psalms in Southern England.

Russian About 893 in Preslav, the capital city of Bulgaria at the time, the Preslav Literary School developed the Cyrillic script for the Slavic peoples. It followed the activity of two apostles, Cyril and Methodius, to Great Moravia in the west, where the work was later opposed by Germans using the Latin alphabet, also to Kiev in the east where the work was welcomed.
Their version of the scriptures is known today as Old Church Slavonic, completed eventually in Moscow about 1499.

Asian Languages In 1305, the Franciscan priest Friar John of Monte Corvino, while living in Beijing translated the New Testament, the Psalms and the Liturgy of the Mass into Chinese using the Mongolian Old Uyghur (We-gur) alphabet derived from Aramaic, plus pictures and explanations using Latin and Persian (Arabic-Perso) script. However, none of his work survived the destruction from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that followed.

In the 19th century came further publishing starting with missionary William Carey in Bengali in 1800 (followed by Hindi and Sanskrit), in Persian in 1812, in Chinese (Mandarin) in 1813, and a later translation in Japanese in 1880.

Chapter Divisions and the Wycliffe English Bible About 1227, new chapter divisions were put in place in the Latin Vulgate, attributed to Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. There were no verse divisions at the time, instead a system of letters (A-G) divided the chapters into sections. His chapter divisions were subsequently adopted by Jewish scholars, for purposes of reference, and by Wycliffe's coming English translation in 1382.

This translation, now referred to as "Middle English", was word for word from the Vulgate, and overseen by John Wycliffe, a seminary professor at Oxford University shortly before he passed away in 1384. It was a significant translation at a time of great civil unrest, sickness, inflation, both in Europe, and in England. Although it does not appear to have been opposed (at first) by the authorities in England, in 1401 it was banned along with publications of his "fiery" sermons attacking the papacy, clerical celibacy, praying to saints and selling of indulgences. They were seen as a catalyst for warfare as groups set places on fire and caused a number of deaths. In 1415 his translation was banned by Rome, with many of his followers burned at the stake, including Jan Hus in Prague. However, many copies of the English translation survived, written out by hand.

Printing Press About 1450, on a printing press with movable type, Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bible, the Latin Vulgate, in Mainz, Germania.

In 1522 Martin Luther, a Catholic friar or "brother" who having published his ninety-five propositions in Mainz in 1517, renounced his monastic vows, formed the Lutheran Church — now finished translating the scriptures into German.

William Tyndale's New Testament in early Modern English followed in 1525. Tyndale changed words like "charity" in 1 Corinthians 13:1 in the Wycliffe Bible see here to the word "love" see here, also "church" to "congregation", "do penance" to "repent" (change), "priests of the church" (James 5:14) to "elders". His removing words on "doing penance" i.e. making payments to the established church (a major industry), also the other newly translated words, were a major attack. Similar to the earlier publications of Wycliffe they were viewed as church-splitting, even treasonous. In 1530 Tyndale had also written an article opposing King Henry VIII's planned act of annulment of his first marriage, which didn't help. He was thus executed in Flanders in 1536. Still thousands of copies of Tyndale's Bible were rapidly printed using this printing press.

Verse Divisions Next came the Arabic "verse" numbers. From ancient times, possibly even before the time of Christ, verse divisions had been marked in the Hebrew Old Testament by having accents under the last word of the verse, followed by two dots. The first use of numbers that followed these divisions in the Old Testament, was a translation into Latin published in 1528 by Santes Pagninus in Lyons, France. He also created verse numberings for his Latin New Testament but these were much longer than we would recognize.

In 1551 in Geneva, Robert Estienne from Paris (also known as Stephanus) divided his edition of the Greek New Testament into our present verse numbering system. In 1560 also in Geneva, an Englishman William Whittingham produced the first English translation for Old and New Testaments with these verse divisions. Known as the Geneva Bible, it employed Estienne's verse divisions in the New Testament, and Pagninus's verse divisions in the Old Testament.

In 1582, a Catholic translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate into English (the Douay-Rheims Bible) was made by Catholic Priest Gregory Martin in Reims in northern France, restoring words like charity, priests, etc. Revised by Richard Challoner in 1752.

Thus with the advent of the printing press, and these English translations with chapter and verse divisions, the most famous for hundreds of years was the authorized King James version. See further details below.

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Translation   ↑ ↓
Author / Publisher
King James Version
English Church authorities
1611 04 In January 1604, King James I convened the Hampton Court Conference. The translation was done by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew and Aramaic text, while the *Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin.
*of obscure pre-Christian authorship, anciently used in private study but not written in Hebrew and not permitted for public reading in Jewish synagogues and gatherings.
Note that in those places where variations did occur in the Greek and Hebrew texts, the **existence of the words (or not) in the Wycliffe Bible of 1382 eg 1 John 5:7-8, which had word for word followed the Latin Vulgate of 382 when Jerome had access to texts used by the early church, was a significant help to the English translators.
**One exception was the Lord's Prayer Doxology in Matthew 6:13 "For thine is the kingdom … Amen". It was omitted in a few early Greek texts, in the Vulgate and in Wycliffe as it was seen as an addition to Jesus's words at the time. Included in the KJV, due to its popularity.
New Revised Standard Version
US National Council of Churches, Thomas Nelson
1885-1989 n/a In 1870, work on a Revised Version (RV) was entrusted by the Church of England convocation of Canterbury to over 50 scholars from various denominations in Britain. American scholars were invited to cooperate by correspondence. The work was begun in 1879, with the New and Old Testaments completed in 1885. The Apocrypha came out in 1895.
In 1901, an American Standard Version (ASV) was published, largely identical to this Revised Version published in Britain, but substituting the term "Jehovah" in the nearly 7,000 places where the Hebrew letters IHVH occur, starting in Genesis 2. Modern Hebrew will pronounce those letters as "Yehovah", though Jewish innate preference is "Adonai" or "Ha Shem" (The Name).
The King James Version had employed "Jehovah" in a few places, but everywhere else used the English word Lord (or in certain cases God) printed in capitals. Following some controversy, in 1952 the RSV returned to this traditional rendering, removing the term "Jehovah" altogether.
Click here for further background.
In 1989 the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was published, continuing in the tradition of the KJV and the RSV. It is used by many mainline churches worldwide with the NRSV (Catholic Edition) officially approved by the Catholic Church.
Knox Bible
Burns & Oates London, Ronald Knox
1945-1949 n/a A new English translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible by Ronald Knox that he commenced in 1936. The New Testament was published in 1945, the Old Testament and Apocrypha in 1949. Subsequently used in Catholic services during the 1960s and 1970s.
Jerusalem Bible
Catholic Church
1956-1966 n/a In 1943 Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical letter (to all bishops) "Divino afflante Spiritu" — Inspired by the Divine Spirit — which encouraged Catholics to translate the Scriptures from the Hebrew and Greek texts, rather than from Jerome's Latin Vulgate. As a result, a number of Dominicans and other scholars at the École Biblique — Bible School — in Jerusalem translated the scriptures into French. The product of these efforts was published as La Bible de Jérusalem in 1956.
It introduced the term "Yahweh" as a pronunciation of the Hebrew letters "IHVH", a term apparently first seen in German in 1869. See further notes in Revised Standard Version issues above.
The French translation served as the impetus for an English translation in 1966, the Jerusalem Bible.
Amplified Bible
Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California with the Zondervan Publishing House
1958-2015 n/a The bulk of the work, beginning in 1952, was done by Mrs Frances Siewert (1881-1967) and used synonyms and definitions to explain and expand on the meaning of words.
Revised English Bible
Oxford & Cambridge Universities
Not available online
1961-1989 n/a With the copyright to the Revised Version due to expire (in 1935), the Oxford University Press (OUP) and the Cambridge University Press (CUP), who were its copyright holders, began investigations to determine whether a modern revision of the text was necessary. A committee of literary advisers and three committees of translators (New Testament, Old Testament, and Apocrypha) were enlisted, with Donald Coggan (Archbishop of York, and later Canterbury) as committee chairman, resulting in the New English Bible. The New Testament was published in 1961, followed by the complete bible in 1970. In 1989, it was updated to become the Revised English Bible.
New American Standard Bible
Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California with the Zondervan Publishing House
1963-1995 09 The NASB is an alternate revision by the Lockman Foundation of the American Standard Version of 1901. Revised in 1995.
Good News Bible
American Bible Society
1966-1976 n/a The beginnings of the Good News Bible can be traced to requests made by people in Africa and the Far East for a version of the Bible that was easy to hear for non-native English speakers, a translation based on "thought for thought" rather than "word for word". In 1966, the New Testament with the title "The Good News for Modern Man" was published, followed by the Good News Bible in 1976. Also known as Today's English Version (TEV) in the US prior to 2001.
New American Bible
Catholic Church
1970-2011 n/a First published in 1970 by the Catholic Church, with its latest revision in 2011. Currently its 1986 edition is the basis of the Lectionary (scripture readings for given days or occasions) and the only translation approved for use at Mass in Catholic dioceses in the United States and the Philippines.
New Living Translation
Kenneth Taylor, Tyndale House Publishers
1971-1996 03 An easily readable paraphrase, the Living Bible, was published by Kenneth Taylor in 1971 and gained an early endorsement by Billy Graham. In the late 1980s, Taylor and his colleagues at Tyndale House Publishers invited a team of 90 Greek and Hebrew scholars to participate in a project of revising the text of The Living Bible. It became an entirely new translation.
New International Version
Christian Reformed Church and National Association of Evangelicals
1973-1978 01 The core translation group consisted of fifteen Biblical scholars. The translation took ten years and involved a team of up to one hundred scholars from the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The range of those participating included many different denominations such as Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Christian Reformed, Lutheran and Presbyterian. At the forefront of their translation was an emphasis on the contextual meaning, rather than word-for-word.
New King James Version
Thomas Nelson
1979-1982 06 The aim of its translators was to update the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Version, while preserving the classic style and literary beauty of the original 1611 KJV.
The Message (Bible)
Eugene Petersen, Navpress
1993-2002 10 A paraphrase of the original text, an attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms in the original language.
English Standard Version
Crossway Books, Good News Publishers
2001-2016 02 A revision of the Revised Standard Version. Updated in 2016.
Christian Standard Bible
Holman Bible Publishers, Southern Baptist Convention
2004-2017 05 The Holman Bible was published 1872-1961. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) was published in 2004 as a revision of the New King James Bible. It employed Yahweh as a term for the Hebrew letters IHVH in 78 (of 6000+) places, increasing to 495 places in a 2010 edition.
In 2017 this CSB employed the latest available Greek Hebrew Aramaic text, and removed all occasions of Yahweh, returning to the use of the traditional title (Lord).
The Passion Translation
Brian Simmons, Broadstreet Publishing
2017 n/a A paraphrase of the original New Testament, plus Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Isaiah and said to incorporate insights from the Aramaic Peshitta, as well as the Roth text by Andrew Gabriel Roth. It employed Yahweh as a term for the Hebrew letters IHVH. See notes in Jerusalem Bible and Revised Standard Version above.

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