History of the Bible

This article, as is ‘Differences in Bible Translations ‘, is a lengthy article. It is however, a MUST read. At the end of the article is  a briefing on 4 Christian prophets and Martyrs for the cause, including William Tyndale. So little is known about these Christian hero’s and even less credit given to them by the public.

The first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in the 1380’s AD by John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, scholar, and theologian. Wycliffe, (also spelled “Wycliff” & “Wyclif”), was well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. With the help of his followers, called the Lollards, and his assistant Purvey, and many other faithful scribes, Wycliffe produced dozens of English language manuscript copies of the scriptures. They were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, which was the only source text available to Wycliffe. The Pope was so infuriated by his teachings and his translation of the Bible into English, that 44 years after Wycliffe had died, he ordered the bones to be dug-up, crushed, and scattered in the river!

John Hus
One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. The last words of John Hus were that, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) into the church door at Wittenberg. The prophecy of Hus had come true! Martin Luther went on to be the first person to translate and publish the Bible in the commonly-spoken dialect of the German people; a translation more appealing than previous German Biblical translations. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in that same year, 1517, seven people were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for the crime of teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin.

Johann Gutenberg
Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450’s, and the first book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany. Gutenberg’s Bibles were surprisingly beautiful, as each leaf Gutenberg printed was later colorfully hand-illuminated. Born as “Johann Gensfleisch” (John Gooseflesh), he preferred to be known as “Johann Gutenberg” (John Beautiful Mountain). Ironically, though he had created what many believe to be the most important invention in history, Gutenberg was a victim of unscrupulous business associates who took control of his business and left him in poverty. Nevertheless, the invention of the movable-type printing press meant that Bibles and books could finally be effectively produced in large quantities in a short period of time. This was essential to the success of the Reformation.

Thomas Linacre
In the 1490’s another Oxford professor, and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th, Thomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.” The Latin had become so corrupt that it no longer even preserved the message of the Gospel… yet the Church still threatened to kill anyone who read the scripture in any language other than Latin… though Latin was not an original language of the scriptures.

John Colet
In 1496, John Colet, another Oxford professor and the son of the Mayor of London, started reading the New Testament in Greek and translating it into English for his students at Oxford, and later for the public at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The people were so hungry to hear the Word of God in a language they could understand, that within six months there were 20,000 people packed in the church and at least that many outside trying to get in! (Sadly, while the enormous and beautiful Saint Paul’s Cathedral remains the main church in London today, as of 2003, typical Sunday morning worship attendance is only around 200 people… and most of them are tourists). Fortunately for Colet, he was a powerful man with friends in high places, so he amazingly managed to avoid execution.

Erasmus
In considering the experiences of Linacre and Colet, the great scholar Erasmus was so moved to correct the corrupt Latin Vulgate, that in 1516, with the help of printer John Froben, he published a Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament. The Latin part was not the corrupt Vulgate, but his own fresh rendering of the text from the more accurate and reliable Greek, which he had managed to collate from a half-dozen partial old Greek New Testament manuscripts he had acquired. This milestone was the first non-Latin Vulgate text of the scripture to be produced in a millennium… and the first ever to come off a printing press. The 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus further focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate had become, and how important it was to go back and use the original Greek (New Testament) and original Hebrew (Old Testament) languages to maintain accuracy… and to translate them faithfully into the languages of the common people, whether that be English, German, or any other tongue. No sympathy for this “illegal activity” was to be found from Rome… even as the words of Pope Leo X’s declaration that “the fable of Christ was quite profitable to him” continued through the years to infuriate the people of God.

William Tyndale
William Tyndale was the Captain of the Army of Reformers, and was their spiritual leader. Tyndale holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. Tyndale was a true scholar and a genius, so fluent in eight languages that it was said one would think any one of them to be his native tongue. He is frequently referred to as the “Architect of the English Language”, (even more so than William Shakespeare) as so many of the phrases Tyndale coined are still in our language today.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther had a small head-start on Tyndale, as Luther declared his intolerance for the Roman Church’s corruption on Halloween in 1517, by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door. Luther, who would be exiled in the months following the Diet of Worms Council in 1521 that was designed to martyr him, would translate the New Testament into German for the first time from the 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus, and publish it in September of 1522. Luther also published a German Pentateuch in 1523, and another edition of the German New Testament in 1529. In the 1530’s he would go on to publish the entire Bible in German.

William Tyndale wanted to use the same 1516 Erasmus text as a source to translate and print the New Testament in English for the first time in history. Tyndale showed up on Luther’s doorstep in Germany in 1525, and by year’s end had translated the New Testament into English. Tyndale had been forced to flee England, because of the wide-spread rumor that his English New Testament project was underway, causing inquisitors and bounty hunters to be constantly on Tyndale’s trail to arrest him and prevent his project. God foiled their plans, and in 1525-1526 the Tyndale New Testament became the first printed edition of the scripture in the English language. Subsequent printings of the Tyndale New Testament in the 1530’s were often elaborately illustrated.

They were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, but copies trickled through and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII. The more the King and Bishop resisted its distribution, the more fascinated the public at large became. The church declared it contained thousands of errors as they torched hundreds of New Testaments confiscated by the clergy, while in fact, they burned them because they could find no errors at all. One risked death by burning if caught in mere possession of Tyndale’s forbidden books.

Having God’s Word available to the public in the language of the common man, English, would have meant disaster to the church. No longer would they control access to the scriptures. If people were able to read the Bible in their own tongue, the church’s income and power would crumble. They could not possibly continue to get away with selling indulgences (the forgiveness of sins) or selling the release of loved ones from a church-manufactured “Purgatory”. People would begin to challenge the church’s authority if the church were exposed as frauds and thieves. The contradictions between what God’s Word said, and what the priests taught, would open the public’s eyes and the truth would set them free from the grip of fear that the institutional church held. Salvation through faith, not works or donations, would be understood. The need for priests would vanish through the priesthood of all believers. The veneration of church-canonized Saints and Mary would be called into question. The availability of the scriptures in English was the biggest threat imaginable to the wicked church. Neither side would give up without a fight.

Today, there are only two known copies left of Tyndale’s 1525-26 First Edition. Any copies printed prior to 1570 are extremely valuable. Tyndale’s flight was an inspiration to freedom-loving Englishmen who drew courage from the 11 years that he was hunted. Books and Bibles flowed into England in bales of cotton and sacks of flour. Ironically, Tyndale’s biggest customer was the King’s men, who would buy up every copy available to burn them… and Tyndale used their money to print even more! In the end, Tyndale was caught: betrayed by an Englishman that he had befriended. Tyndale was incarcerated for 500 days before he was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536. Tyndale’s last words were, “Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. This prayer would be answered just three years later in 1539, when King Henry VIII finally allowed, and even funded, the printing of an English Bible known as the “Great Bible”. But before that could happen…

Myles Coverdale
Myles Coverdale and John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers had remained loyal disciples the last six years of Tyndale’s life, and they carried the English Bible project forward and even accelerated it. Coverdale finished translating the Old Testament, and in 1535 he printed the first complete Bible in the English language, making use of Luther’s German text and the Latin as sources. Thus, the first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.

John Rogers
John Rogers went on to print the second complete English Bible in 1537. It was, however, the first English Bible translated from the original Biblical languages of Hebrew & Greek. He printed it under the pseudonym “Thomas Matthew”, (an assumed name that had actually been used by Tyndale at one time) as a considerable part of this Bible was the translation of Tyndale, whose writings had been condemned by the English authorities. It is a composite made up of Tyndale’s Pentateuch and New Testament (1534-1535 edition) and Coverdale’s Bible and some of Roger’s own translation of the text. It remains known most commonly as the Matthew-Tyndale Bible. It went through a nearly identical second-edition printing in 1549.

Thomas Cranmer
In 1539, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hired Myles Coverdale at the bequest of King Henry VIII to publish the “Great Bible”. It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, as it was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English. It would seem that William Tyndale’s last wish had been granted…just three years after his martyrdom. Cranmer’s Bible, published by Coverdale, was known as the Great Bible due to its great size: a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions of this version were printed between April of 1539 and December of 1541.

King Henry VIII
It was not that King Henry VIII had a change of conscience regarding publishing the Bible in English. His motives were more sinister… but the Lord sometimes uses the evil intentions of men to bring about His glory. King Henry VIII had in fact, requested that the Pope permit him to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. The Pope refused. King Henry responded by marrying his mistress anyway, (later having two of his many wives executed), and thumbing his nose at the Pope by renouncing Roman Catholicism, taking England out from under Rome’s religious control, and declaring himself as the reigning head of State to also be the new head of the Church. This new branch of the Christian Church, neither Roman Catholic nor truly Protestant, became known as the Anglican Church or the Church of England. King Henry acted essentially as its “Pope”. His first act was to further defy the wishes of Rome by funding the printing of the scriptures in English… the first legal English Bible… just for spite.

Queen Mary
The ebb and flow of freedom continued through the 1540’s…and into the 1550’s. After King Henry VIII, King Edward VI took the throne, and after his death, the reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary was the next obstacle to the printing of the Bible in English. She was possessed in her quest to return England to the Roman Church. In 1555, John “Thomas Matthew” Rogers and Thomas Cranmer were both burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn reformers at the stake by the hundreds for the “crime” of being a Protestant. This era was known as the Marian Exile, and the refugees fled from England with little hope of ever seeing their home or friends again.

John Foxe
In the 1550’s, the Church at Geneva, Switzerland, was very sympathetic to the reformer refugees and was one of only a few safe havens for a desperate people. Many of them met in Geneva, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe (publisher of the famous Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which is to this day the only exhaustive reference work on the persecution and martyrdom of Early Christians and Protestants from the first century up to the mid-16th century), as well as Thomas Sampson and William Whittingham. There, with the protection of the great theologian John Calvin (author of the most famous theological book ever published, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion)and John Knox, the great Reformer of the Scottish Church, the Church of Geneva determined to produce a Bible that would educate their families while they continued in exile.

John Calvin
The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. It became known as the Geneva Bible. Due to a passage in Genesis describing the clothing that God fashioned for Adam and Eve upon expulsion from the Garden of Eden as “Breeches” (an antiquated form of “Britches”), some people referred to the Geneva Bible as the Breeches Bible.

John Knox
The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. Every chapter was also accompanied by extensive marginal notes and references so thorough and complete that the Geneva Bible is also considered the first English “Study Bible”. William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale’s original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611! The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It is truly the “Bible of the Protestant Reformation.” Strangely, the famous Geneva Bible has been out-of-print since 1644, so the only way to obtain one is to either purchase an original printing of the Geneva Bible, or a less costly facsimile reproduction of the original 1560 Geneva Bible.

With the end of Queen Mary’s bloody reign, the reformers could safely return to England. The Anglican Church, now under Queen Elizabeth I, reluctantly tolerated the printing and distribution of Geneva version Bibles in England. The marginal notes, which were vehemently against the institutional Church of the day, did not rest well with the rulers of the day. Another version, one with a less inflammatory tone was desired, and the copies of the Great Bible were getting to be decades old. In 1568, a revision of the Great Bible known as the Bishop’s Bible was introduced. Despite 19 editions being printed between 1568 and 1606, this Bible, referred to as the “rough draft of the King James Version”, never gained much of a foothold of popularity among the people. The Geneva may have simply been too much to compete with.

By the 1580’s, the Roman Catholic Church saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the will of God: that His Holy Word be available in the English language. In 1582, the Church of Rome surrendered their fight for “Latin only” and decided that if the Bible was to be available in English, they would at least have an official Roman Catholic English translation. And so, using the corrupt and inaccurate Latin Vulgate as the only source text, they went on to publish an English Bible with all the distortions and corruptions that Erasmus had revealed and warned of 75 years earlier. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims New Testament (also spelled Rhemes). The Douay Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Douay (also spelled Doway & Douai). The combined product is commonly referred to as the “Doway/Rheims” Version. In 1589, Dr. William Fulke of Cambridge published the “Fulke’s Refutation”, in which he printed in parallel columns the Bishops Version along side the Rheims Version, attempting to show the error and distortion of the Roman Church’s corrupt compromise of an English version of the Bible.

King James I
With the death of Queen Elizabeth I, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. The Protestant clergy approached the new King in 1604 and announced their desire for a new translation to replace the Bishop’s Bible first printed in 1568. They knew that the Geneva Version had won the hearts of the people because of its excellent scholarship, accuracy, and exhaustive commentary. However, they did not want the controversial marginal notes (proclaiming the Pope an Anti-Christ, etc.) Essentially, the leaders of the church desired a Bible for the people, with scriptural references only for word clarification or cross-references.

This “translation to end all translations” (for a while at least) was the result of the combined effort of about fifty scholars. They took into consideration: The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament. The great revision of the Bishop’s Bible had begun. From 1605 to 1606 the scholars engaged in private research. From 1607 to 1609 the work was assembled. In 1610 the work went to press, and in 1611 the first of the huge (16 inch tall) pulpit folios known today as “The 1611 King James Bible” came off the printing press. A typographical discrepancy in Ruth 3:15 rendered a pronoun “He” instead of “She” in that verse in some printings. This caused some of the 1611 First Editions to be known by collectors as “He” Bibles, and others as “She” Bibles. Starting just one year after the huge 1611 pulpit-size King James Bibles were printed and chained to every church pulpit in England; printing then began on the earliest normal-size printings of the King James Bible. These were produced so individuals could have their own personal copy of the Bible.

John Bunyan
The Anglican Church’s King James Bible took decades to overcome the more popular Protestant Church’s Geneva Bible. One of the greatest ironies of history, is that many Protestant Christian churches today embrace the King James Bible exclusively as the “only” legitimate English language translation… yet it is not even a Protestant translation! It was printed to compete with the Protestant Geneva Bible, by authorities who throughout most of history were hostile to Protestants… and killed them. While many Protestants are quick to assign the full blame of persecution to the Roman Catholic Church, it should be noted that even after England broke from Roman Catholicism in the 1500’s, the Church of England (The Anglican Church) continued to persecute Protestants throughout the 1600’s. One famous example of this is John Bunyan, who while in prison for the crime of preaching the Gospel, wrote one of Christian history’s greatest books, Pilgrim’s Progress. Throughout the 1600’s, as the Puritans and the Pilgrims fled the religious persecution of England to cross the Atlantic and start a new free nation in America, they took with them their precious Geneva Bible, and rejected the King’s Bible. America was founded upon the Geneva Bible, not the King James Bible.

Protestants today are largely unaware of their own history, and unaware of the Geneva Bible (which is textually 95% the same as the King James Version, but 50 years older than the King James Version, and not influenced by the Roman Catholic Rheims New Testament that the King James translators admittedly took into consideration). Nevertheless, the King James Bible turned out to be an excellent and accurate translation, and it became the most printed book in the history of the world, and the only book with one billion copies in print. In fact, for over 250 years…until the appearance of the English Revised Version of 1881-1885…the King James Version reigned without much of a rival. One little-known fact, is that for the past 200 years, all King James Bibles published in America are actually the 1769 Baskerville spelling and wording revision of the 1611. The original “1611” preface is deceivingly included by the publishers, and no mention of the fact that it is really the 1769 version is to be found, because that might hurt sales. The only way to obtain a true, unaltered, 1611 version is to either purchase an original pre-1769 printing of the King James Bible, or a less costly facsimile reproduction of the original 1611 King James Bible.

In 1982, Thomas Nelson Publishers produced what they called the “New King James Version”. Their original intent was to keep the basic wording of the King James to appeal to King James Version loyalists, while only changing the most obscure words and the Elizabethan “thee, thy, thou” pronouns. This was an interesting marketing ploy, however, upon discovering that this was not enough of a change for them to be able to legally copyright the result, they had to make more significant revisions, which defeated their purpose in the first place. It was never taken seriously by scholars, but it has enjoyed some degree of public acceptance, simply because of its clever “New King James Version” marketing name.

In 2002, a major attempt was made to bridge the gap between the simple readability of the N.I.V., and the extremely precise accuracy of the N.A.S.B. This translation is called the English Standard Version (E.S.V.) and is rapidly gaining popularity for its readability and accuracy. The 21st Century will certainly continue to bring new translations of God’s Word in the modern English language.

As Christians, we must be very careful to make intelligent and informed decisions about what translations of the Bible we choose to read. We have people who would give us heretical new translations that attempt to change God’s Word to make it politically correct. One example of this, which has made headlines recently is the Today’s New International Version (T.N.I.V.) which seeks to remove all gender-specific references in the Bible whenever possible! Not all new translations are good… and some are very bad.

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Christian Martyrs in the fight for Gods Word in the English language

William Tyndale

William Tyndale (1494-1536) Biblical translator and martyr; born most probably at North Nibley (15 miles south-west of Gloucester), England, in 1494; died at Vilvoorden (6 miles north-east of Brussels), Belgium, Oct. 6, 1536. Tyndale was descended from an ancient Northumbrian family, went to school at Oxford, and afterward to Magdalen Hall and Cambridge.

William Tyndale Overview

Tyndale was a theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English. He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the scriptures in the English language. Besides translating the Bible, Tyndale also held and published views which were considered heretical, first by the Catholic Church, and later by the Church of England which was established by Henry VIII. His Bible translation also included notes and commentary promoting these views. Tyndale’s translation was banned by the authorities, and Tyndale himself was burned at the stake in 1536, at the instigation of agents of Henry VIII and the Anglican Church.

The Early Years of William Tyndale

Tyndale enrolled at Oxford in 1505, and grew up at the University. He received his Master’s Degree in 1515 at the age of twenty-one! He proved to be a gifted linguist. One of Tyndale’s associates commented that Tyndale was “so skilled in eight languages – Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, English, and German, that whichever he speaks, you might think it his native tongue!” This gift undoubtedly aided him in his successful evasion of the authorities during his years of exile from England.

Early Controversy Surrounding Tyndale

Around 1520, William Tyndale became a tutor in the family of Sir John Walsh, at Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire. Having become attached to the doctrines of the Reformation, and devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures, the open avowal of his sentiments in the house of Walsh, his disputes with Roman Catholic dignitaries there, and especially his preaching, excited much opposition, and led to his removal to London (about Oct., 1523), where he began to preach, and made many friends among the laity, but none among church leaders.

A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted Tyndale with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”. Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

William Tyndale First Prints The Scripture in English

He was hospitably entertained at the house of Sir Humphrey Monmouth, and also financially aided by him and others in the accomplishment of his purpose to translate the Scriptures into the commonly spoken English of the day. Unable to do so in England, he set out for the continent (about May, 1524), and appears to have visited Hamburg and Wittenberg. The place where he translated the New Testament, is thought to have been Wittenberg, under the aid of Martin Luther. The printing of this English New Testament in quarto was begun at Cologne in the summer of 1525, and completed at Worms, and that there was likewise printed an octavo edition, both before the end of that year. William Tyndale’s Biblical translations appeared in the following order: New Testament, 1525-26; Pentateuch, 1530; Jonah, 1531.

His literary activity during that interval was extraordinary. When he left England, his knowledge of Hebrew, if he had any, was of the most rudimentary nature; and yet he mastered that difficult tongue so as to produce from the original an admirable translation of the entire Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First Chronicles, contained in Matthew’s Bible of 1537, and of the Book of Jonah, so excellent, indeed, that his work is not only the basis of those portions of the Authorized King James Version of 1611, but constitutes nine-tenths of that translation, and very largely that of the English Revised Version of 1885.

In addition to these he produced the following works. His first original composition, A Pathway into the Holy Scripture, is really a reprint, slightly altered, of his Prologue to the quarto edition of his New Testament, and had appeared in separate form before 1532; The Parable of the Wicked Mammon (1527); and The Obedience of a Christian Man (1527-28). These several works drew out in 1529 Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, etc. In 1530 appeared Tyndale’s Practyse of Prelates, and in 1531 his Answer to the Dialogue, his Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, and the famous Prologue to Jonah; in 1532, An Exposition upon the V. VI. VII. Chapters of Matthew; and in 1536, A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments, etc., which seems to be a posthumous publication. Joshua-Second Chronicles also was published after his death.

All these works were written during those mysterious years, in places of concealment so secure and well chosen, that neither the ecclesiastical nor diplomatic emissaries of Wolsey and Henry VIII., charged to track, hunt down, and seize the fugitive, were able to reach them, and they are even yet unknown. Under the idea that the progress of the Reformation in England rendered it safe for him to leave his concealment, he settled at Antwerp in 1534, and combined the work of an evangelist with that of a translator of the Bible.

The Betrayal and Death of William Tyndale

Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, Philips, the agent either of Henry or of English ecclesiastics, or possibly of both. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden for over 500 days of horrible conditions. He was tried for heresy and treason in a ridiculously unfair trial, and convicted. Tyndale was then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard, Oct. 6, 1536. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”.

Tyndale’s place in history has not yet been sufficiently recognized as a translator of the Scriptures, as an apostle of liberty, and as a chief promoter of the Reformation in England. In all these respects his influence has been singularly under-valued. The sweeping statement found in almost all histories, that Tyndale translated from the Vulgate and Luther, is most damaging to the reputation of the writers who make it; for, as a matter of fact, it is contrary to truth, since his translations are made directly from the originals, with the aid of the Erasmus 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament, and the best available Hebrew texts. The Prolegomena in Mombert’s William Tyndale’s Five Books of Moses show conclusively that Tyndale’s Pentateuch is a translation of the Hebrew original.

Tyndales Challenges to the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church had long proclaimed that the church was an institution. The word church to them had come to represent the organizational structure that was the Catholic Church. Tyndale’s translation was seen as a challenge to this doctrine because he was seen to have favored the views of reformers like Martin Luther who proclaimed that the church was made up and defined by the believers, or in other words their congregations. Some radical reformers preached that the true church was the “invisible” church, that wherever true Christians meet together to preach the word of God was where the church was. To these reformers the structure of the Catholic Church was unnecessary and its very existence proved that it was in fact not the “true” Church. When Tyndale decided that the Greek word εκκλησία (ekklesia) is more accurately translated congregation he was undermining the entire structure of the Catholic Church. Many of the reform movements believed in the authority of scripture alone. To them it dictated how the church should be organized and administered. By changing the translation from church to congregation Tyndale was providing ammunition for the beliefs of the reformers. Their belief that the church was not a visible systematized institution but a body defined by the believers themselves was now to be found directly in the Holy Scripture. Furthermore Tyndale’s use of the word congregation attacked the Catholic Church’s doctrine that the lay members and the clergy were to be separate. If the true church is defined as a congregation, as the common believers, then the Catholic Church’s claim that the clergy were of a higher order than the average Christian and that they had different roles to play in the religious process no longer held sway.

Tyndale’s translation of the Greek word πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) to mean elder instead of priest also challenged the doctrines of the Catholic Church. In particular, it asked what the role of the clergy should be and whether or not they were to be separated from the common believers as they were in the current Catholic system. The role of the priest in the Catholic Church had been to lead religious sermons and ceremonies like mass, to read the scripture to the people, and to administer the sacraments. They were considered separate from the common believers. In many reform movements a group of elders would lead the church and take the place of the Catholic priests. These elders were not a separate class from the common believers; in fact, they were usually selected from amongst them. Many reformers believed in the idea of the “priesthood of all believers,” which meant that every Christian was in fact a priest and had the right to read and interpret scripture. Tyndale’s translation stripped away the scriptural basis of Catholic clerical power. Priests no longer administered the church: it was the job of the elders, which implied that the power rested in the hands of the people.

Catholic doctrine was also challenged by Tyndale’s translation of the Greek μετανοείτε (metanoeite) as repent instead of do penance. This translation attacked the Catholic sacrament of penance. Tyndale’s version of scripture backed up the views of reformers like Luther who had taken issue with the Catholic practice of sacramental penance. Reformers believed that it was through faith alone that one was saved. This differed from the views of the Catholic Church, which followed the belief that salvation was granted to those who lived accordingly to what the church told them and thus participated in the seven sacraments. Tyndale’s translation challenged the belief that one had to do penance for one’s sins. According to Tyndale’s New Testament and other reformers, all the believer had to do was repent with a sincere heart, and God would forgive them. The believer did not have to earn their salvation; it was given freely to them by God. All they had to do was believe in his promise and live accordingly.

The Tyndale Bible also challenged the Catholic Church in many other ways. The fact that it was translated into a vernacular language made it available to the common people. This allowed everyone access to scripture and gave the common people the ability to read (if they were literate) and interpret scripture how they wished, exposing it to the threat of being “twisted to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3.16) instead of relying on the church for their access to scripture. The main threat that Tyndale’s Bible caused to the Catholic Church is best summed up by Tyndale himself when he tells us of his reason for creating his translation in the first place. Tyndale’s purpose was to “[cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more scripture] than the clergy of the day”, many of which were poorly educated. Thus Tyndale sought to undermine the Catholic Church’s grip on the both access to and interpretation of scripture. They were no longer needed as intercessors between the people and God.

Legacy left by William Tyndale

The legacy of Tyndale’s Bible cannot be overstated. His translations laid the foundations for many of the English Bibles which followed his. His work made up a significant portion of the Matthew Bible which was the first authorized version of the English Bible. The Tyndale Bible also played a key role in spreading reformation ideas to England which had been reluctant to embrace the movement. His works also allowed the people of England direct access to the words and ideas of Martin Luther whose works had been banned by the state. Tyndale achieved this by including many of Luther’s commentaries in his works. The Tyndale Bible’s greatest impact on society today is that it heavily influenced and contributed to the creation of the King James Version, which is one of the most popular and widely used Bibles in the world today. Scholars tell us that around 90% of the King James Version is from Tyndale’s works with as much as one third of the text being word for word Tyndale. Many of the popular phrases and Bible verses that people quote today are mainly in the language of Tyndale. An example of which is Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The importance of the Tyndale Bible in shaping and influencing the English language is paramount. According to one scholar Tyndale is “the man who more than Shakespeare even or Bunyan has moulded and enriched our language.”

Tyndale used thou and never you as the singular second-person pronoun in his work (usage that was later reflected in the very influential King James Version), which had the double effect of rescuing thou from complete obscurity and also imbuing it with an air of religious solemnity that is antithetical to its former sense of familiarity or disrespect.
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Myles Coverdale

Myles Coverdale produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible in English. He was born probably in the district known as Cover-dale, in that part of the North Riding of Yorkshire called Richmondshire, England, 1488. He died in London and was buried in St. Bartholomew’s Church Feb. 19, 1568.

Early Years of Myles Coverdale

Myles Coverdale became priest at Norwich in 1514, and entered the convent of Austin friars at Cambridge, where Robert Barnes was prior in 1523 and probably influenced him in favor of Protestantism. When Barnes was tried for heresy in 1526 Coverdale assisted in his defense, and shortly afterward left the convent and gave himself entirely to preaching. He studied at Cambridge, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in canon law 1531.

The Coverdale Bible

In 1535, Myles Coverdale secured his place in history forever, by becoming the first person to print an entire Bible in the English language. In 1537 some of his translations were included in the Matthew-Tyndale Bible, the first true, direct English translation of the complete Bible. In 1538 he was in Paris, superintending the printing of King Henry VIII’s “Great Bible,” of 1539, and the same year, published, both in London and Paris, an English New Testament. He also edited “Cranmer’s Bible “, the 1540 edition of the Great Bible.

He returned to England in 1539, but on the execution of Thomas Cromwell (who had been his friend and protector since 1527) in 1540 was compelled, again to go into exile, lived for a time at Tubingen. Between 1543 and 1547, Myles Coverdale was Lutheran pastor and schoolmaster at Bergzabern in the Palatinate, and very poor.

Coverdale’s Long & Productive Career in Bible Printing

In Mar., 1548, he went back to England, was well received at court and made King’s Chaplain. In 1551 he became bishop of Exeter, but was deprived of that position in 1553 after the succession of Queen “Bloody” Mary. He went to Denmark (where his brother-in-law was chaplain to the king), then to Wesel, and finally back to Bergzabern. In 1559 he was again in England, but was not reinstated as Bishop, perhaps because of Puritanical scruples about vestments. Myles Coverdale contributed to the production of the Protestant refugee’s Geneva Bible, first produced in 1577 (New Testament) and 1560 (whole Bible). From 1564 to 1566 he was rector of St. Magnus’s, near London Bridge.

Myles Coverdale was said to be a “pious, conscientious, laborious, generous, and a thoroughly honest and good man”. He knew German and Latin well, some Greek and Hebrew, and a little French. He did little original literary work. As a translator he was faithful and harmonious. He was fairly read in theology, and became more inclined to Puritan ideas as his life wore on. All accounts agree in his remarkable popularity as a preacher. He was a leading figure during the progress of the Reformed opinions. It could also be said of Myles Coverdale, that he had a part in the publication of more different editions of England language Bibles in the 1500’s, than any other person in history.
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John Rogers

John Rogers was born in 1500 in the parish of Aston, near Birmingham. He was a minister, Bible translator and commentator. John Rogers was the first English Protestant martyr to be executed by Mary I of England, a.k.a. “Queen Bloody Mary”. He was burned at the stake on February 4, 1555 at Smithfield.

Early Years of John Rogers

John Rogers, was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University, where he graduated with a B.A. in 1526. Six years later he was rector of Holy Trinity, Queenhithe, London, and in 1534 went to Antwerp as chaplain to the English merchants of the Company of the Merchant Adventurers. Here he met William Tyndale, under whose influence he abandoned the Roman Catholic faith. Rogers took a wife named Adriana, a native of Antwerp, who eventually bore him ten children.

John Rogers / Thomas Matthew and the 1537 Bible

After Tyndale’s death Rogers pushed on with his predecessor’s English version of the Old Testament, which he used as far as Second Chronicles, employing Myles Coverdale’s translation of 1535 for the remainder and for the Apocrypha. The complete Bible was put out under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew in 1537. John Rogers used the assumed name “Thomas Matthew” to avoid persecution and prosecution by the authorities who continued to forbid under penalty of death, the printing of the scriptures in the English language. As the work could obviously not be done safely in England, the Bible was printed in Paris and Antwerp by his wife Adriana’s uncle, Sir Jacobus van Meteren.

John Rogers had little to do with the translation, but he contributed some valuable prefaces and marginal notes — often cited as the first original English language commentary on the Bible. Rogers also contributed the Song of Manasses in the Apocrypha which he found in a French Bible printed in 1535. His work was largely used by those who prepared the Great Bible of1539-40, out of which in turn came the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 and the Authorized Version of King James in 1611.

After taking charge of a Protestant congregation in Wittenberg for some years, John Rogers returned to England in 1548, where he published a translation of Philipp Melanchthon’s Considerations of the Augsburg Interim. In 1551, John Rogers was made a prebendary of St. Paul’s Church, where the Dean and Chapter soon appointed him as the divinity lecturer. He courageously denounced the greed shown by certain courtiers with reference to the property of the suppressed monasteries, and defended himself before the privy council. He also declined to wear the prescribed vestments, donning instead a simple round cap.

John Rogers Preaches Boldly Against Catholicism

As Queen Mary took the throne, John Rogers preached at Paul’s Cross commending the “true doctrine taught in King Edward’s days,” and warning his hearers against the “pestilent Popery, idolatry and superstition.” Of the Roman Catholic Church. Ten days after this bold public display, on August 16, 1553, John Rogers was summoned before the council and bidden to keep within his own house. In January 1554 Bonner, the new bishop of London, sent him to Newgate Prison, where he lay with John Hooper, Laurence Saunders, John Bradford and others for a year, where their petitions were disregarded. In December 1554 parliament re-enacted the penal statutes against Lollards, and on January 22, 1555, two days after they took effect, Rogers with ten others came before the council at Gardiner’s house in Southwark, and held his own in the examination that took place. On January 28 & 29, he came before the commission appointed by Cardinal Pole, and was sentenced to death by Gardiner for heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the physical presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament of communion.

The Death of John Rogers

When the time came that he should be brought out of Newgate Prison to Smithfield, the place of his execution, Mr. Woodroofe, one of the sheriffs, first came to John Rogers, and asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and the evil opinion of the Sacrament of the altar. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” Then Mr. Woodroofe said, “Thou art an heretic.” Rogers replied “That shall be known at the Day of Judgment.” Mr. Woodroofe added, “I will never pray for thee.” Though Rogers responded “But I will pray for you.”

John Rogers awaited and met death on the 4th of February 1555 at Smithfield cheerfully, though he was denied even a last moment with his wife. Rogers stands as the first blood on the hands of Queen “Bloody” Mary… and the first of hundreds more to come. Noailles, the French ambassador, speaks of the support given to John Rogers by the majority of the people commenting, “even his children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding rather than an execution.”
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Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer was born in 1489 at Nottingham. He was educated at Cambridge, and became a priest following the death of his first wife. Cranmer served as Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of the English kings Henry VIII and Edward VI.

The Early Years of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer entered the ministry for a simple reason: his father only had enough land to give his eldest son, so Thomas and his younger brother – as poor members of the gentry – joined the clergy. Cranmer was given a fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge in 1510, which he lost when he married the daughter of a local tavern-keeper. She died in childbirth, at which point he was re-accepted by the college and devoted himself to study. He took holy orders in 1523.

Cranmer’s Friends in High Places

A plague forced Cranmer to leave Cambridge for Essex. Here, he came to the attention of King Henry VIII, who was staying nearby. The King found Cranmer a willing advocate for desired divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer argued the case as part of the embassy to Rome in 1530, and in 1532 became ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Cranmer’s Change of Heart

Cranmer was sent to Germany to learn more about the Lutheran movement, where he met Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran reformer whose ideology appealed to him. Osiander’s niece also appealed to him, and Cranmer and the niece, Margaret, were married that year. Cranmer was becoming a Protestant… in the Kings Court!

On March 30, 1533, he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and forced (for a time) to hide his married state. Once his appointment was approved by the Pope, Cranmer declared King Henry’s marriage to Catherine void, and four months later married him to Anne Boleyn. In 1536 it was Anne Boleyn’s marriage that was declared invalid, then Anne of Cleves 1540, then Catherine Howard. As King Henry divorces his many wives, Cranmer continued to be warmly supported by King Henry.

The Church of England & The Book of Common Prayer

Thomas Cranmer carefully danced around the politics of his position, and was able to push through the reforms that led gradually to the creation of the Church of England. Under the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was allowed to make the doctrinal changes he thought necessary to the church. In 1549 he helped complete the Book of Common Prayer, for which his contributions are well-known.

After Edward VI’s death, Thomas Cranmer supported Lady Jane Grey as successor. Her nine-day reign was followed by the Roman Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary, who tried him for treason. After a long trial and imprisonment, he was forced to proclaim to the public his error in the support of Protestantism, an act designed to discourage followers of the religion.

The Death of Thomas Cranmer

However, at his execution on March 21, 1556, he withdrew his forced confession, and proclaimed the truth of the Protestant faith. He placed his hand in the fire, the hand with which he had falsely signed his renouncement of his beliefs, and said, “This hath offended!” With that gesture, the government’s hope of quelling the Protestant Reformation was lost.

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About Spiritual Messiah Ministries
We are based in Florida, but we also have satellite churches all over the country and international including nations such as UK, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Germany, Australia We officially opened our doors and launched April 6, 2011 and the Lord has truly blessed us. We are truly saving the lost and guiding them back home to God. We are greatly surprised in the speed of the expansion of our ministry. In less than a years time we have already gone international and began the establishment of "home churches" and "satellite churches".

One Response to History of the Bible

  1. Pingback: Beware Modern Bible Translations | Spiritual Messiah Ministries

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