Before delving into the history of the Bible, let’s first clarify some definitions. Translation is the process of writing from one language into another (ex.: translator Hebrew into English). In translation, words can change due to the nature of the language. For example, in English, we say “I am hungry.” In Spanish, one would say “Yo tengo hambre” which literally means “I I have hunger.” We would expect to find such changes in the Bible as it pertains to each language, but the true meaning is not lost. Transmission, on the other hand, is the process of copying the texts and preserving them so as to keep them for future generations. This article pertains to both the process of transmission and translation.
The Masoretic Scribes were known for their meticulous method of carefully copying the scriptures by hand, and it was from these copies that we get today’s Bible translations. The following is a brief history of how we got the Bible from the Masoretes into today’s languages.
In the year of 382 A.D., Pope Damasus requested to have the Bible written in Latin. At this time in history, Latin was the common language and before it that, the common language was Greek. Pope Damasus enlisted a man named Jerome to translate the Septuagint Old Testament and Greek New Testament into Latin. After his work was completed, the Latin Vulgate was used as the Bible from the 4th century until the 15th century. It was called Vulgate because it was written in the common language of the people, or, the “vulgar” language. The Catholic Church at that time was in great opposition to the Bible being translated for the common man to read. This opposition proved to be a snare to future translators.
The Vulgate became corrupted over time, and English was becoming the common language while Latin was fading away, so John Wycliffe, a Catholic priest, translated the Latin Vulgate into English. Wycliffe wanted everyone to have access to God’s Word despite what the ruling Catholic Church wanted. The Wycliffe Bible was used for the next century. A side note: Thirty years after Wycliffe’s death, his body was exhumed and his bones were burned and thrown into a river.
William Tyndale, another Catholic priest, translated the New Testament from Greek into English in 1525. He finished his work of translating the Pentateuch in 1530 but was not able to finish the entire Old Testament because he was hanged in 1536. Other translators who were contemporaries of Tyndale continued the translation work, but because of persecution at the hands of Queen “Bloody” Mary, they fled to Geneva, Switzerland and created the Geneva Bible in 1560, which was used by the Pilgrims and Puritans when they migrated to America.
In 1604, King James appointed 54 scholars of Biblical languages to work in groups and translate the Bible into English. They used the best manuscripts and commentaries available. After each translation was finished, they consulted among the other groups to determine how to answer any questions they had with the translations. In 1611, the first copy of the KJV was created. It went through many changes to fix errors, some caused by careless printing companies while others were from spelling errors. By 1769, the KJV had been through many revisions and finally provided an accurate translation. For more information about the history of the Bible, RTG recommends the following book: Visual History of the English Bible.
For an online article about the origin of the English translations, here is a link: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/05/03/bible-in-english