How We
Got Our



   We have received several requests for a brief outline
of the history of our English Bible.   Many large volumes
have been written on the subject, and it may seem

presumptuous to attempt to summarize such a vast
accumulation of literature in a mere eight pages.   It is
hoped that many who have neither the time nor the
inclination to read a lengthy treatise on the subject may
find the information they need in this short article.

"The LORD Gave The Word"

   The Bible is the gift of God and the writers of the
individual books testify that they received a revelation
from God.   "The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and
[H]is [W]ord was in my tongue"
(2 Samuel 23:2); "I have
put [M]y [W]ords in thy mouth"
(Jeremiah 1:9); "All
[S]cripture is given by inspiration of God"
(2 Timothy
3:16); "[H]oly men of God spake as they were moved by
the Holy Ghost"
(2 Peter 1:21).   The Lord Jesus Christ
in Matthew 4 describes the Holy Scriptures as "every
[W]ord that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

   The Books of the Old Testament were written in
Hebrew on rolls prepared from the skins of animals,
and scrupulous care was taken to ensure that copies
were accurate.   These books were compiled over a
period of nearly one thousand years and were
completed about 400 years before the birth of the Lord
Jesus Christ at Bethlehem.   Nearly 300 years before that
event the Hebrew books appeared in a Greek
translation which became known as the Version of the
Seventy (Septuagint) because the translation was
believed to be the work of seventy learned Jews of
Alexandria.   This version was in common use in the
days of the Apostles and is often quoted in the New

Inspiration And Authority

   The New Testament Books were written in Greek and
were added at intervals during the hundred years
following the Saviour's birth.   Like the Old Testament
Books they were recognised as "Holy Scripture" and
acknowledged to be divinely inspired.   Peter includes
the epistles of Paul with "the other [S]criptures" (2 Peter
3:16), and Paul declares that his teaching was delivered
"not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which
the Holy Ghost teacheth"
(1 Corinthians 2:13).   From
the last quarter of the first century to the end of the
second there is a widening stream of testimony to the
unique authority of the New Testament Scriptures.
These testimonies may be gathered from the surviving
writings of early Christian teachers in the Greek and
Latin churches of Africa, Palestine, Syria, Rome and
France.   Here we may allow Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 180)
to speak for them all--"The Scriptures are perfect,
inasmuch as they were uttered by the Word of God and
His Spirit"
--and he proceeds to use the Old and New
Testaments as "Scripture" without distinction.
   Councils of the Churches made official pronounce-
ments on the subject from time to time during the
following centuries, but it can be seen that there is no
ground for the claim often made by the Roman Church
that we received our Bible from her hands.   All of the
Books of the Bible were in use and acknowledged
among Christian people generations before Rome ever
claimed to be "mother and mistress of all the

   In the first five hundred years of the Christian era
there were several important translations of the Holy

Scriptures in Syriac, Latin, Egyptian (Coptic), Gothic
and Armenian.   These were all in existence centuries
before there was a Bible in English.   Early in the 4th
century Jerome of Bethlehem completed a Latin
translation which became known as the "Vulgate"
because it was in common or "vulgar" tongue of a
large portion of the professing Church.   Early attempts
to put the Bible into the language of our own country
were based not on the Hebrew and Greek, but on this
Latin version.

The English Language

   In order to trace the history of the English versions of
the Holy Scriptures it is necessary to remember a little
of the history of the English people and their language.
When the Roman forces withdrew early in the fifth
century the South Britons obtained the help of the
Saxons against the attacks of the Picts and Scots.
The Saxons returned from their victory in the North and
began to take possession of the South.   This struggle
continued for about 150 years during which the Angles,
Saxons and Jutes, a heathen people, gradually gained
control and divided the country into seven kingdoms.
Each of these in turn was absorbed by its stronger
neighbour and finally in AD 827 Egbert combined them
under his own rule, and his kingdom came to be known
as Angle-land or England.   In this period the light of the
Gospel was practically extinguished over much of the
country and then rekindled after the conversion of
Ethelbert, King of Kent, at the end of the 6th century.
   During the Saxon period the Danes repeatedly
invaded and occupied large areas of the country.   In AD
878 Alfred the Great overcame their army at Ethandune
and their king embraced the Christian faith and
submitted to Alfred.   The next one hundred and fifty
years witnessed many periods of strife between the
English and the Danes, culminating in the Danish
invasion of the northern counties at the instigation of
William of Normandy.   Harold defeated the Danes in
the North, but was himself defeated at Hastings by the
Normans under William, who divided up a large part of
the country among his nobles.   The English Church was
reorganised under Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canter-

Anglo Saxon Versions

   There were several attempts to make the light of
God's Word available to the people in the Anglo Saxon
tongue.   Early in the 8th century Eadhelm of
Glastonbury translated the Psalms and Egbert of Holy
Island translated the Gospels.   A copy of this version
may be seen in the British Museum.   In AD 735 Bede
laboured at Jarrow on his translation of the Gospel.   A
letter written by one of his pupils describes how the
aged scholar pressed on with this work of translating
the Scriptures up to the last moment of his life.   Early in
the morning of "Ascension Day" in AD 735 he
summoned his helpers to continue with the task and
dictated to them the translation of John's Gospel from
the words, "What are they among so many?"   As the
sun was setting one of the scribes told him there was
only one more chapter, but it seemed hard for Bede to
speak.   He replied, "Nay, it is easy, take up thy pen and
write quickly."
  The young scribe wrote on until he

could tell his master that only one sentence was
wanting, when Bede dictated it the young man
exclaimed, "It is finished, master!"   Bede replied,
"Aye it is finished!   Lift me up and place me by the
window where I have so often prayed to God."
with the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon
his lips he passed into the presence of the Lord.
   Alfred the Great desired that his people should be
able to read the Word of God and he personally
engaged in a translation of the Psalms until his death in
AD 901.   In the later 10th century Archbishop Aelfric
and a number of others endeavoured to provide
translations which could be read in the Churches so that
many who could not read would at least hear the Word
of Truth.

Wycliffe's Bible

   The next four hundred years were an important
period in the development of the English language.   It is
not possible to give precise dates but from AD 1066 to
about 1150 Saxon and Norman French were in use side
by side.   From about 1150 the gradual fusion of the two
peoples caused their languages to mingle and merge
with one another, producing what has been described
as "semi-Saxon".   The old Saxon and the Norman
French fell into disuse, and from about 1250 "English"
emerges to pass through a century or more of
development before being used as the vehicle of
Wycliffe's English Bible of AD 1382.
   Wycliffe, knowing no Hebrew or Greek, translated
from the Latin Vulgate which was far from perfect, but
the English Version nevertheless showed only too
clearly how far the doctrines of the Roman Church were
removed from the plain teaching of God's Word.
Wycliffe was accused of heresy and excommunicated,
but continued with his task until his death in 1384.
Every copy of his translation had to be written by hand,
but so many were written that a Bill was enacted in
Parliament to forbid its circulation.   Archbishop
Arundel complained to the Pope of "that pestilent
wretch Wycliffe."
  The convocation of Oxford under
Arundel in 1408 decreed "that no man hereafter by his
own authority translate any text of the Scripture into
English or any other tongue, by way of book, pamphlet
or treatise; and that no man read any such book,
pamphlet or treatise, now lately composed in the time
of John Wycliffe or since . . . publicly or privately, upon
pain of greater excommunication . . . . He that shall do
contrary to this shall likewise be punished as a favourer
of heresy and error."
  During the next hundred years
many Christian martyrs were burned to death with
Wycliffe's Bible tied around their necks, but 170 copies
remain to this day to testify to this faithfulness and the
diligence of his helpers.

Invention Of Printing

   About twenty years after Wycliffe's death a boy
named Gensfleisch ("Gooseflesh") was amusing
himself cutting out the letters of his name from a piece
of bark.   He dropped one of these accidentally in a pot of
hot dye, snatched it out and dropped it on a piece of
white skin on a bench near the fire and was intrigued to
see the pattern of the letter was impressed on the skin.
It is possible that this experience lingered in his mind

and suggested the idea of printing.   Thirty years
afterwards he set up his famous press at Menz under
the name of Gutenburg, his mother's family name.   This
was an epoch-making invention and was to contribute
greatly towards the rapid reproduction of the Scriptures
and the establishment of the Reformation in Europe.

William Tyndale

   For several hundred years the Greek language was
almost unknown in Western Europe, but a great revival
of Greek learning commenced about the middle of the
15th century and the new art of printing was the means
of placing printed copies of the Greek Scriptures in the
hands of Christian scholars.   Erasmus of Rotterdam
published his first edition of the Greek New Testament
in 1516, and provided William Tyndale with the means
of giving to English readers for the first time a New
Testament translated directly from the Greek, the
language in which it was first written.   Like Wycliffe,
Tyndale was accused of heresy, and was not allowed to
pursue his studies in peace.   He spent several years on
the Continent and was eventually betrayed by a false
friend, arrested, imprisoned, and burned at the stake at
Vilvorde in Belgium in 1536.   The place in marked by a
memorial erected by the Trinitarian Bible Society and
the Belgian Bible Society and the inscriptions include
Tyndale's dying prayer--"Lord open the eyes of the
King of England."
  His prayer was answered when in
1538 King Henry VIII gave instructions that a large
Bible should be placed in every parish church.
   Tyndale published an edition of the New Testament
in a conveniently small size and arranged for thousands
of copies to be smuggled into England in barrels, bales
of cloth, and even in flour sacks.   By these means the
New Testament was rapidly and widely distributed.
Many copies were seized and burned at St. Paul's, as
"a burnt offering most pleasing to Almighty God"-- as
Cardinal Campeggio wrote to Wolsey.   Tyndale said
that he was not surprised and would not be surprised if
later they should burn him also.

Opposition Providentially Over-ruled

   The Bishop of London, who was anxious to obstruct
the progress of the Reformation, consulted with
Pakington, a merchant with connections in Antwerp,
and asked his advice about buying up all the copies that
could be obtained in Europe.   He did not know that
Pakington was a friend of Tyndale.   "Halle's Chron-
contains a quaint description of the incident.
"Gentle Master Pakington," said the Bishop, deeming
that he had God by the toe, when in truth he had, as he
after thought, the devil by the fist, "do your diligence to
get them for me, and I will gladly give you whatever
they cost, for the books are naughty and I intend to
destroy them all, and to burn them at Paul's Cross."

The bargain was made, and the story continues, "The
Bishop had the Books, Pakington had the thanks, and
Tyndale had the money."

   Tyndale was quite pleased with the arrangement, as
the money relieved him of his debts, the burning of
some of the Testaments had effect of encouraging many
people to support the work he was doing, and he now
had resources to spend on an improved edition.   Some
time afterwards a man named Constantine was being

tried before Sir Thomas Moore for heresy.   He was
promised leniency if he would tell where Tyndale and
his helpers obtained the money to pay for their editions.
Constantine replied--"It is the Bishop of London that
hath holpen us, for he bestowed among us a great deal
of money upon New Testaments to burn them, and that
hath been our chief succour and comfort."

Editions Of The Greek Text

   The remainder of the 16th century saw the
completion and fruitful use of several printed editions
of the Greek New Testament and several translations of
the entire Bible in the English language.   Robert
Stephens produced editions of the Greek in 1546, 1549,
1550 and 1551, Theodore Beza produced five editions of
the Greek between 1559 and 1598, and the Elzevir
brothers published at Leyden in 1633 an edition
described in the title page as the "Received Text," the
"Textus Receptus."   Among English readers this title
has often been given to Robert Stephen's edition of

The English Versions

   The English translation of Tyndale was followed by
those of Coverdale (1536), Rogers (1537), Traverner
(1538), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1557-
1560) and the Bishops' Bible (1568).   These all owed
much to Tyndale's pioneer labours and each contrib-
uted to the progress and establishment of the
Reformation in this country.   The Geneva Bible was
translated and published by Protestant scholars who
found refuge in Geneva during the persecutions of
Mary's reign, 1553-1558.   This version was very popular
and remained in use for a considerable time after the
first appearance of the Authorised Version.   The Geneva
Version was produced during a period when the
Protestants were suffering violent persecution, and it is
not surprising that the marginal notes very pungently
exposed the errors of the Roman church.
   The most noticeable changes in the Geneva Bible
were the adoption of Roman type in place of the old
"black letter," and the division of the chapters into
verses.   These changes made the Geneva version much
easier to use, and it achieved wonderful popularity.
From 1560 to 1616 one or more editions appeared every
year, and in 1599 ten separate editions were printed.
About two hundred editions of this version are known
to have been printed.   It has been known as the
"Breeches Bible" because of the use of this word in
Genesis 3:7, where the A.V. has "aprons."

The Bishops' Bible

   Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Archbishop Parker
to produce a Bible free from these controversial notes
and his version appeared in 1568.   It never achieved
great popularity but it was later used as the basis of the
revision of 1611 which was to become known as the
"Authorised Version."   Incidentally the Bishops' Bible
had this caption--"Authorised and appointed to be
read in Churches,"
but the version of 1611 did not have
the word "authorised" on its title page.
   The Bishops' Bible took the place of the Great Bible
in the public services of the Church, but for private use
it never displaced the Geneva Version.   The Puritans who

held livings in the Church of England disregarded the
ruling of Convocation and continued to take their texts
from the Geneva Version.   The last edition of the
Bishops' Bible was printed in 1619, eight years after
the appearance of the "Authorised Version."   This 1619
edition contained at the end of the New Testament a
number of readings from the Old Testament to be used
in the Communion service on certain days.   Strangely
enough, these readings were taken from Matthew's
Bible of 1537.

The Authorised Version

   At the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 the Puritan
leader Reynolds made the suggestion--which was first
opposed and then adopted by the conference with the
enthusiastic approval of James I-- that there should be
a new translation of the Holy Scriptures in English to
replace the different versions in common use.   Fifty-four
men, including "High Churchmen" and Puritans, the
greatest Hebrew and Greek scholars of the age, formed
six companies to undertake the task.   Using their Greek
sources and the best commentaries of European
scholars and referring to existing versions in several
other languages, they produced a version which
accurately expresses the sense of the Hebrew and
Greek in clear, vigorous idiomatic English.   This Bible
won its battles against the prejudice and criticism
which greeted its first appearance, and became the
Bible of the English-speaking world.
   The Authorised Version has been well described as
"the purest well of our native English, in its grand
simplicity standing out in contrast to the ornate and
affected diction of the language of that time."
  In the
language of a competent judge, "If accuracy and
strictest attention to the letter of the text be supposed
to constitute an excellent version this is of all versions
the most excellent."
  The spelling and punctuation were
extensively revised in 1762 and 1769 by Dr. Paris and
Dr. Blayney, and at various times there have been
considerable additions to the marginal references,
which in the first edition were not more than about nine
thousand in number.

The Modern Versions

   Advocates of the modern versions often argue that
the discovery of many ancient manuscripts unknown to
the earlier translators has made it necessary to
"correct" the Authorised Version in many places.
Many people have been very sadly misled in this matter
and have accepted the allegation that the manuscript
evidence is unfavourable to our old Bible.   This is very
far from being the case.   It is true that Erasmus,
Stephens and Beza had comparatively few Greek
manuscripts at their disposal, but these few were
representative of the Greek text preserved in the great
majority of the documents which have since come to
light.   These now number several thousand, and they
give a very full measure of support to the Greek text
underlying the Authorised Version.   Surviving copies of
very ancient translations originating in the second,
third and fourth centuries, also testify to the integrity of
our English Bible.   The quotations from the ancient
Scriptures preserved in the writings of the earliest
Christian writers after the Apostles, also make it quite

clear that those "fathers" had in their hands copies of
the Greek Scriptures similar to those underlying our
English Bible.
   During the last 150 years it has unfortunately become
increasingly the fashion among Biblical scholars and
translators to adopt as their guides to the original text a
small group of ancient but unreliable manuscripts,
including the Vatican and Sinai copies of the 4th
century, and a few others which exhibit the same kind
of abbreviated and altered text.   One result of this
tendency of modern scholarship is that modern critical
editions of the Greek, and modern English versions
based upon them, present in a weaker form many of the
plainest declarations of the deity of the Lord Jesus

The Trustworthiness Of The Authorised Version

   The English reader is on safe ground in regarding the
Authorised Version as a faithful translation made from
trustworthy sources.   God has exercised His wisdom,
power and grace in sending forth His Word by the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and He has exercised His
providence in the preservation of the written revelation
and its propagation throughout the world.
   There have been many attempts to replace the
Authorised Version by a translation in more modern
English, but as yet none of these excels the version
which has held its place in the English speaking world
for more than 350 years.   It was very significant that
while the American astronauts were encircling the
moon they read and broadcast to the world the story of
the creation -- not from a modern version, not from an
American version, not from the R.S.V. or N.E.B., but
from the Bible of the English-speaking world -- the
Authorised Version--an acknowledgement that this
still has its preeminent place even in this age of modern
   At the present time there are about one hundred
modern English translations, most of which are based
on less reliable manuscript sources, were translated by
scholars with less respect for the authority of the
inspired Word and the eternal deity of the Lord Jesus
Christ--"The Chief Subject of the Sacred Book,"--
and display less command of the wealth and resources
of our English tongue.
   As we recall the long history of our English Bible we
remember the words of the Lord Jesus Himself--"Oth-
er men laboured and ye are entered into their labours."

(Reprinted by permission of:)

217 Kingston Road
London, S.W. 19, England

Tract #A-210 Order From:

1911 34th St., E.L. Bynum, former Pastor
P.O. Box 3100, Lubbock, TX 79452

Send payment with order and we pay postage!
If total order is less than $5.00, add .50 cents.

10 for $2.00     100 for $ 8.00     500 for $28.00
50 for $5.00    250 for $16.00    1,000 for $44.00

··All foreign add 40% and send U.S. funds.··

[Christian Helps Ministry (USA)] [Christian Home Bible Course]