Bible Translations Through the Years


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 Syriac (Aramaic) e.g. Daniel 2:4b through 7:28.
Presumably they had access to earlier 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.

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.

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.

After translating the last Hebrew book in the scriptures, additional Greek books (Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees and others) were 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 his second letter 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 then translated into Greek.

Matthew, according to the early church fathers, was written also in Hebrew with another version in Greek, however this Hebrew version has since been lost. Matthew doubtless jotted down notes and sermons and parables during 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 was written in Greek for the early church gatherings that were forming outside of Israel. It is significantly shorter than the other gospels, and according to Jerome, was written in Greek probably at Peter's dictation / sermons, with Peter most likely speaking in Hebrew about Jesus's life, extempore fashion, moved by the Holy Spirit. It records Jesus's ministry, 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 to be more acceptable to Muslim scholars.

Luke may have been around during the time of Jesus's ministry, but as the companion of Paul, and as a physician, he doubtless interviewed many, e.g. Mary, to obtain a record of Jesus's early life for his friend Theophilus to whom he wrote. Quite probably he had Matthew's records to assist him. However, unlike Matthew, his letter was written just in Greek. Because a Jewish man speaking Greek was generally frowned upon in Israel, no doubt the early church outside Israel found his book, longer than Mark, a great blessing.

John's is the last gospel written. 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.

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.

Out in the Middle East provinces, Syriac Aramaic 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. While Greek was the official language, many eastern churches, today referred to as the "Assyrian Church of the East", used this translation as the gospel gradually spread through the Middle East into India China and Africa.

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 was the language of most of the townspeople, of administration and the ruling class, the army and thus, the church, using early Latin translations.

So as the use of Latin spread through the west, the church historian Jerome was commissioned by the Pope to translate the Greek and Hebrew scriptures into a new translation in 382AD using a single, stylistically consistent Latin text. Completed about 400AD, it is now called the "Vulgate", gradually replacing the earlier translations as the version most "commonly" in use. Whilst communities retained their own local languages after the Roman army left, Latin remained the literary language for businesses and governments, and educated scholars, for nearly the next 1500 years.

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

Approximately 1350, an English translation, word for word from the Vulgate, was made by John Wycliffe, at a time of great civil unrest, sickness, inflation, both in Europe, and in England. So while the translation does not appear to have been opposed (at first) by the authorities in the Catholic Church, Wycliffe's "fiery" sermons were later seen as a catalyst for warfare, as groups set places on fire, and caused a number of deaths.

About 1520, Martin Luther, a Catholic friar or "brother", renounced his monastic vows and formed the Lutheran Church which used his German translation of the scriptures.

And with the advent of the printing press, a number of English translations followed, the most famous, for hundreds of years, being the authorized King James version. See further details below.

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Translation   ↑ ↓
Author and Publisher
King James Version
English Church authorities
1611 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.

Revised Standard Version
US National Council of Churches, Thomas Nelson
1952 In 1885, work on a Revised Version (RV) was entrusted by the Anglican convocation of Canterbury to over 50 scholars from various denominations in Britain. American scholars were invited to cooperate by correspondence. 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. The King James Version had employed this term in a few places, but everywhere else used the English word Lord (or in certain cases God) printed in capitals. Following some controversy, the RSV in 1952 returned to this traditional rendering, removing the term "Jehovah" altogether. Click here for further background.
Jerusalem Bible
Catholic Church
1956-1966 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. This 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
1958-1965 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.
New American Standard Bible
Lockman Foundation, La Habra, California with the Zondervan Publishing House
1963-1971 The NASB is an alternate revision by the Lockman Foundation of the American Standard Version of 1901.
Good News Bible
American Bible Society
1966-1976 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.
New International Version
Christian Reformed Church and National Association of Evangelicals
1973-1978 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 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 A paraphrase of the original text, an attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms in the original language.
New Living Translation
Kenneth Taylor, Tyndale House Publishers
1996 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.
English Standard Version
Crossway Books, Good News Publishers
2001 A revision of the Revised Standard Version.

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