Although there were earlier attempts of an English translation of the Bible, the first whole translation of the Bible into the English language is ascribed to John Wycliffe (1384), who was an English theologian and religious reformer. Wycliffe born in 1320 grew up when the prestige of the Roman Catholic church was low, with the rival of two popes, one at Avignon (1309-1378) and one at Rome. His rejection of the biblical basis of papal power and dispute with the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the host anticipated the Protestant Reformation. All he tried to do is "put the Bible into the hands of the common people."
He organized a religious order of poor preachers, called Lollards, whom he sent throughout England to preach his doctrines and to read Scriptures to all who wished to hear. He died in 1384, and was unable to attain support from the church and was labeled a heretic in 1408 with a decree known as the "Constitutions of Oxford." His translation was from the Latin version of the New Testament, released in 1380 and the OT version came out two years later. His manuscript circulated illegally for almost 150 years before the first printed English Bible appeared. Today, about 170 manuscript copies (hand written) of Wycliffe's Bible have survived. For more than a century, The Wycliffe Bible was the only vernacular edition available, it was never printed until 1850.
In other parts of the continent, significant events were shaping the world and the spread of Christianity. Such men as Columbus, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Kepler and Marco Polo were involved with human history. The capture of Constantinople occurred in 1453, and led to a revival of interest in biblical studies and a new look at various Greek manuscripts, now being introduced in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
About 1455, Johan Gutenberg's printing press in Mainz produced the first printed Bible. It was a copy of the Vulgate, Jerome's translation of the Bible (about A.D. 400) into the common language (Latin) of the time. The Gutenberg Bible is printed in Gothic type, which was based on a popular handwriting style of the time. It was printed in two columns of 42 lines of type on each of the 1,282 pages. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the 42-line Bible. Today, there are 47 existing copies of the original 200 that were printed.
By 1500, vernacular editions of the Bible were being published in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. With only scattered copies of the Wycliffe manuscript, with a language that had become obsolete, England found themselves without a new translation of the Bible, from the original languages.
The German Protestant reformer Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522 and the rest of the Bible in 1534. Martin Luther based his German translation of the New Testament (1522) on Erasmus's Greek text (1516). This marked the first significant departure from the sole use of the Vulgate as a basis for translation. Twelve years later, Luther completed his work with a translation of the Old Testament from a Hebrew edition that had been published in 1495. It marked a milestone by giving people who could read vernacular, but not the classical languages, access to an accurate rendering of the ancient texts. It was the first complete version of the Bible in any modern language.
The best translation was by William Tyndale (1536), who was an English religious reformer and martyr whose translation of the New Testament was the basis of the King James Bible. Tyndale based some of his translation on Luther's German version.
As the reformation movement continued through the European continent, he tried to convince the church authorities of the need for a printed English Bible. Having failed, he took his translation overseas. Tyndale's New Testament translation marks the second milestone in the English Bible's history. His work was greatly influenced by Erasmus's modern Latin translations of the New Testament (1516), and he resolved to base his version on the Greek text. He issued the Pentateuch and the book of Jonah before being denounced a heretic. He died a martyr in 1536. The remainder of his Old Testament appeared separately a year later. In 1525, three thousand copies of the first printed English NT were published. By 1530 six editions, numbering about 15,000 copies, were published. They were all smuggled into England, hidden in bales of cotton, sacks of flour, and bundles of flax. Bishops were buying up whole editions to be burned. His work created an appetite for the Bible in English, before Tyndale was condemned to death, strangled and burned at the stake for his efforts.
The break with the papacy in 1534 helped change the government to begin providing the Bible in English for common use.
While Tyndale was imprisoned in Belgium in 1535, Miles Coverdale published the first complete printed Bible in English. It was not translated from the Hebrew and Greek. His translation work depended heavily upon the Latin Vulgate and Luther's German Bible, but mostly upon Tyndale's English version. He also helped produce the Great Bible (1539).
In 1537, another Bible appeared in England, this one by Thomas Matthew (a pen name for John Rogers, a former associate of Tyndale’s), who was burned at the stake by Queen Mary in 1555.
The Great Bible, called such because of its great size, and was a revision of the Matthew Bible, done by Coverdale, completed in England in 1539. It made use of the Hebrew and Greek texts available, and was by order to have a copy to be place in every church in the land.
The later years of Henry VIII were marked by a serious reaction against the Reform movement. In 1543 Parliament passed an act to ban the use of Tyndale’s NT, and a crime for reading it publicly to others. This situation did not improve with the brief reign of Edward VI.
In 1553, the accession of Mary Tudor, resulted in hundreds of Protestants loosing their lives, including John Rogers and Thomas Cranmer. Coverdale escaped to the Continent, while English Reformers escaped to Geneva, one being John Calvin. In 1557 William Wittingham, thus produced the first English NT printed in roman type and with text divided into verses. By 1560 with his associates they undertook the revision of the whole Bible in 1560, known as the Genevan Bible, or as the Breeches Bible, which endured during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth restored the Great Bible, but it could not compete with the Genevan Bible. The clergy and Archbishop Parker, eight bishops and other scholars made a revision of the Great Bible, which was completed in 1568 and came to be known as the Bishops’ Bible. It still did not exceed the popularity of the Genevan Bible.
Gregory Martin, left England at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign and settled in NE France. Thus this came from the Church of Rome, the Rheims and Douai Version, named originally for Rheims college in 1582, before it moved to Douai in 1609-10. It warns readers against the profane translations and blames Protestants for casting what was holy to dogs. Between 1749 and 1763 Bishop Richard Challoner revised the Rheims-Douay Bible in use today, which conforms to Roman Catholic teaching, but is not the same as the one made by Gregory Martin. It was first authorized for use by American Roman Catholics in 1810.
After Elizabeth died in 1603, the crown passed to James I, the king of Scotland. In 1604, King James I of England authorized a committee of about 50 scholars to prepare a revision of earlier English translations of the Bible (Bishop and Geneva). The scholars were divided into six committees of nine members each. The members were laymen as well as Anglican (Church of England) and Puritan clergy and included ranking Oriental and Greek scholars of the time. Two of the committees were at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. They drew on all of the previously published English translations, some Latin versions, and even on Luther's German translation and consulted Hebrew and Greek texts available to them. The work was greatly influenced by William Tyndale's New Testament. One third of the text was carried over from Tyndale's translation. The King James Bible took seven years to complete and was published in 1611. It was known as the King James (or Authorized) Version (KJV), and it became the most widely used translation in the English-speaking world. It was never officially sanctioned by king, Parliament, or the church. It has had many revisions and alterations since its creation.
Other items of interest:
Although around 1515 a book entitled The Polyglot of Paris was published by Cardinal Ximenes, with permission of the Vatican, this book was printed in three languages, each page had three columns with the first column in the original Hebrew text, the second the Latin Vulgate and the third the Greek Septuagint. After three thousand years someone finally showed the Mosaic Hebrew text to the world.
In 1810 a French scholar named Fabre d'Olivet, after several years of study found a copy of the Cardinals book, he wrote his book La Langue Hebraique Restituee (The Hebraic Tongue Restored). This allowed the European scholars for the first time to delve into the mysteries of the secret doctrine of the Hebrews, the true Torah. This is where the modern Kabbalists have made it possible to reinterpret the Book of Genesis to see its mystical content.
During the course of two and a half centuries, only authorized revisions of the King James Version were made (these were mainly to modernize or colloquialize the original). By the mid-1800's, scholars and religious leaders were calling for fresh translations of the Bible. Scholars had more accurate knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek Biblical texts and so uncovered many errors in the texts used by the King James revisers. These same Scholars had also gained more knowledge of other ancient Near Eastern languages, which added to their understanding of the Biblical languages.
There has been many translations in the 1900's:
An American edition of both text, American Standard Version (ASV) was published in 1901, and regarded as superior to the ERV. It was released by the American scholars who cooperated with the English revisers. One error that occurred in it is the substitution of "Jehovah" for "Lord."
The result of the revision was not good from the point of modern idiom and led to the production of other texts, such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV, a revision of the American Standard Version completed in 1946 and revised in 1952). It was sponsored by the International Council of Religious Education. Its language is modernized.
New English Bible (NEB, a completely new translation completed in 1961 and revised in 1970, and included the Apocrypha). C. H. Dodd, directed this behind the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and a joint effort of all the major religious denominations (with the main Bible Societies) in the British Isles, apart from the Roman Catholic church.