Episco-Fact #108
September 27, 2018

What was the first time the Bible was translated into English, and who did the translation? Is it true that we still use idioms from the King James Version of the Bible?

It is true that there was no official translation of the Bible into English until the early 16th Century. In Western Christianity, that area of the World where the Roman form of Catholicism held sway, the language of the Bible was Latin, and more specifically the Vulgate, a translation by a man named Jerome from the period 382 CE to 405 CE. It replaced texts in Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament) and remained as the language of educated church participants until just before the Reformation begins in 1517.

The first English Bible was translated into Middle English under the supervision of John Wycliffe in the late 14th Century. This translation was associated with a pre-Reformation group known as the Lollards whose theology and church structure differ from Rome's. This association results in the Council of Constance banning his writings, including his translation of the Bible in 1415.

In 1453 the city of Constantinople, the last remaining part of the Eastern Roman Empire, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, a tribal and language grouping that practiced Islam. The Eastern Orthodox scholars and educated classes scatter to other parts of Europe. They bring with them the classics of Christianity in Greek and Hebrew. This flourishing of education ignites the beginnings of Christian Humanism. One of its leading intellectuals is Desiderius Erasmus who publishes a translation of the New Testament in Greek in 1516, just a year before Martin Luther, another Christian Humanist posts his 95 Theses on the church door in Worms.

Inspired by the works of Wycliffe and Erasmus, William Tyndale begins a life-long love of the Bible and teaching English men and women about the gospel of the justification by faith. Fluent in seven languages, including ancient Hebrew and Greek, Tyndale publishes his "modern" (pre-Elizabethan, but readable) version of the Bible in 1525. His translation is famous for many phrases used as part of the currency of English including: Passover (for the Hebrew Pesach), scapegoat, atonement (at one with Christ), mercy seat, my brother's keeper, seek and ye shall find, let there be light, salt of the earth, filthy lucre, and more. For his efforts and his criticisms of the Roman Church hierarchy and dogma, Tyndale was arrested in Antwerp, tried, and executed for heresy in 1536.

Theologically, he may have been England's first Puritan. He opposed doctrines that upheld the Roman system: denouncing prayers to saints and advocating the supreme authority of the Holy Spirit, the deity of Christ and his divine glory, salvation by grace alone, justification by faith, and that the Papacy was the anti-Christ.

Tyndale's contributions, linguistically and religiously, are celebrated on October 6.