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"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  Thus, over time it was translated into various other languages.  The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, in that all of the authors of the books were Jews and they were living in a time prior to the Greecian Empires attempt to "Helenize" the then known world and have one universal language.

Thus the New Testament is commonly believed to have been written in Greek.  There is also, however, a school of thought that many (or all) of the books may have been originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic as well.  However, there is virtually no existing manuscript evidence to support this.   There are several comments made by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, and the writings of Josephus that seem to support this, as well as some of the various usages of Semitic words and sentence structure.  

It is rather amazing how much time seems to have progressed before the Apostles began to really obey the great commission.  They were originally content to stick around Jerusalem and enjoy the great move of God's Spirit.  The Day of Pentecost is believed to have been in 29 AD.  (Dates used are taken from The Reese Chronological Bible)

It is believed that the death of Stephen did not take place until 35 AD.  With this increase of persecution, the saints began to flee from Jerusalem.  The revival in Samaria is believed to have been between 35-36 AD.  Saul's conversion was in 37 AD and the message finally reached Cornelius's household in 41 AD.  In other words, 12 years after, Jesus made such statements as:

"Go therefore and teach all nations..."  Matthew 28:19
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."  Mark 16:15 
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations..."  Luke 24:47
"And ye shall be witnesses unto me... unto the utter most part of the earth."  Acts 1:8

So 12 years later, the first Gentile receives the Gospel!  But it is believed that Paul's first missionary journey did not begin until about 45 AD.  And with Paul's missionary endeavors, the Gospel began to be preached more and more to the Greek speaking Gentiles, thus, IF there was the possibility that it had not already begun to be written in Greek from the beginning, it certainly would have increased now.  Also, there were the other languages, such as Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Latin, etc., that it would have been translated into as the Gospel spread to more cultures.

During the first some three hundred years, the Church suffered a great deal of persecution.  At first it was at the hand of the Jews.  But as time passed, the Romans began to severely persecute the Christians.  Many were put to death in various cruel manners and their sacred writings were burned.  In spite of this oppression, the Church marched on.  Finally, in 313 AD, Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan that granted religious liberty to the Roman Empire.

Within a short time, Christianity was the official religion of the empire and Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Greek Scriptures to be made and distributed throughout the empire.  It is believed that two of these 50 may have survived to this day.  Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus have enough similarities for some scholars to believe that they were produced at the same scriptorium, and about the time of Constantine's request. 

It must be remembered that it took a great deal of time to produce a complete Bible in those days.  This was still some 1,100 years before the printing press and every book was produced by hand.  It would have taken nearly a year to produce a complete Bible!  Thus the time and cost made it nearly impossible for anyone to own a complete Bible.  Today there are very few that have survived intact. 

With Christianity as the official religion of the empire, the Catholic Church grew to posses great power.  Unfortunately, power generally has a way of corrupting, and that is what happened.  It wasn't long until the Roman Catholic Church was in full control.  They controlled the Bible that were produce, they controlled the language that they were produced in, and it soon became illegal for the laity to possess a Bible.

Latin became the official language of the Church.  The Church had the feeling that only they were capable of interpreting Scripture so thus the layman did not need a Bible in their language.  In fact, they began to hold their masses in Latin regardless of the vernacular of the people. This was done all the way to 1963.  It was illegal for any one to translate the Bible in Italy into any other language but Latin until 1870!   

Pope Innocence III proclaimed,  "... to be reproved are those who translate into French the Gospels, the letters of Paul, the Psalter, etc. They are moved by a certain love of Scripture in order to explain them clandestinely and to preach them to one another. The mysteries of the faith are not to explained rashly to anyone. Usually in fact, they cannot be understood by everyone but only by those who are qualified to understand them with informed intelligence. The depth of the divine Scriptures is such that not only the illiterate and uninitiated have difficulty understanding them, but also the educated and the gifted ."  1199 AD

"We prohibit the permission of the books of the Old and New Testament to laymen, except perhaps they might desire to have the Psalter, or some Breviary for the divine service, or the Hours of the blessed Virgin Mary, for devotion; expressly forbidding their having the other parts of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue"  Council of Toulouse, 1229

"It is dangerous, as St. Jerome declares, to translate the text of Holy Scriptures out of one idiom into another, since it is not easy in translations to preserve exactly the same meaning in all things. We therefore command and ordain that henceforth no one translate the text of Holy Scripture into English or any other language as a book, booklet, or tract, of this kind lately made in the time of the said John Wyclif or since, or that hereafter may be made, either in part or wholly, either publicly or privately, under pain of excommunication, until such translation shall have been approved and allowed by the Provincial Council. He who shall act otherwise let him be punished as an abettor or heresy and error."  Third synod of Oxford, England, 1408 AD

Of course, John Wycliff produced his translation of the Bible from Latin into English in 1382. His was the first complete English translation.  He did this under the threat of death. In fact, some 40 years after his death by old age, his bones were dug up and burned, because of his translating the Bible into English.

Here is an early 14th century English translation of the 23rd Psalm translated by Richard Rolle of Hampole

Our lord gouerneth me and nothyng to me shal wante: 
stede of pasture that he me sette.
In the water of hetyng he me brougte: my soule he turnde.
He ladde me on in the stretis of rygtwisnesse: for his name.
For win gif I hadde goo in myddil of the shadewe of deeth: 
I shal not dreede yueles, for thou art with me.
Thi geerde and thi staf: thei haue coumfortid me.  
Thou hast greythid in my sygt a bord: agens hem that angryn me.
Thou fattide myn heued in oyle: and my chalys drunkenyng what is cleer.
And thi mercy shal folewe me: in alle the dayes of my lyf.
And that I wone in the hous of oure lord in the lenghe of dayes.

The Englsih Hexapla produced by Samuel Bagster and Sons, in its Historical Account of the English Versions of the Scriptures says that Wycliff was the first English translation to be published.  That is of course using the word in the context of which it would have been used prior to the printing press.  

William Tyndale was the first to translate the New Testament (and portions of the Old) from Greek (the OT from Hebrew) into English.  His translation was also the first English translation to be printed.  In 1525, he produced his first New Testament.  This was later revised and printed again in 1534.  In September of 1536 Tyndale was first strangled, and then burned at the stake.  

The first complete English translation was produced by Myles Coverdale was completed in 1535.  He used the part of the Old Testament completed by Tyndale and then Luther's German and the Latin as his sources.

A Look at John 1:1 from some of the various early English translations.

Wycliff 1382
"IN the bigynnynge was the word and the word was at god, and god was the word."  

Tyndale 1525
"IN the begynnynge was that worde, ad that worde was with god: and god was thatt worde."  

Cranmer 1539
"IN the begynnynge was the worde, and the worde was wyth God: and God was the worde."

Geneva 1557
"IN the beginnyng was the word, and the worde was with God, and that worde was God."

Rheims 1582
"IN the beginning vvas the WORD, and the WORD vvass vvith God, and God vvas the WORD."

Authorized Version 1611
"IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."


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ęCopyright 2001 Randall D. Hughes