The Catholic Church

When was the Bible translated into English?

The earliest English-language translations of any part of the Bible first appeared around the eighth century. The Vespasian Psalter was a primitive English translation of the Latin text of the book of Psalms. But the Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate, continued to prevail for several centuries as the version authorized by the Roman Catholic Church. It was not until the 1300s that the first comprehensive translation into English was undertaken by the controversial religious reformer John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384). Wycliffe, an English theologian and professor at Oxford University, was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. He believed that all authority—religious and secular—can be derived only from God, and he attacked the worldliness of the medieval church. In 1377 Pope Gregory XI (1329–1378) accused Wycliffe of heresy, but the reformer escaped trial. Nevertheless, he spent the rest of his life under the watchful eye of the church, which did everything in its power to curtail Wycliffe’s activities, eventually forcing him to retire. He managed to initiate the first complete translation of the Bible, which was finished by his followers.

As an early leader of the Reformation, the Anglican priest William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536) believed that the Scriptures needed to be available to everyone, not just the scholarly or learned. So he began translating the New Testament and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) from Greek and Hebrew into English; he also referred to his friend Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) German translation of the Bible. But Tyndale was unable to get his English translation published at home in England, where the Anglican church was determined to seize the work. In 1524 he fled the country for Germany, where he worked for the next five years to get his translations into print. Copies of it were smuggled back into England. Eventually he was arrested in Antwerp, Belgium, and condemned for heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536. His version later became the chief basis for the King James Version of the Bible (1611).


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