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English Bible Translations by J. G. W.

The first complete translation of the Bible into our language was made about the year 1380 by John de Wycliffe, or Wickliffe. There are several manuscript copies of it in the Bodleian and other European libraries. This great work unlocked the Scriptures to the multitude, or, as one of his antagonists, bewailing such an enterprise, worded it, "the gospel pearl was cast abroad and trodden under foot." Long before the appearance of this translation various versions of portions of the Bible had appeared, specimens of which, of every century from the reign of Alfred to Chaucer's time, are preserved in the British Museum and elsewhere. Sir Thomas More says: "The Holy Byble was longe before Wycliffis daies by virtuose and well-learned men translated into the English tongue, and by good and godly people with devotion and soberness well and reverently read." This statement is further corroborated by Foxe, the martyrologist, who remarks: "If histories be well examined, we shall find both before and after the Conquest, as well before John Wickliffe was borne as since, the whole body of the Scriptures by sundry men translated into this our country tongue." Wycliffe's Bible was first printed at Oxford in 1850, previous to which the New Testament appeared in 1721 and was reprinted in 1810.

In 1526, William Tyndale completed and published in English his translation of the New Testament. He also translated and printed the Pentateuch and the book of Jonah, and was preparing them for publication when he was put to death in Flanders, being strangled and burnt for heresy. Tyndale's translation, with his latest revisions (1534), was republished in the English Hexapla in 1841. A copy of his translation of the Pentateuch which had belonged to Bishop Heber was sold in 1854 for $795. Four years later another copy sold for within twenty dollars of that amount.

The first English translation of the entire Bible was made by Miles Coverdale, who afterward became bishop of Exeter, and was printed in folio in the year 1535. In 1538 a second edition of Coverdale's Bible was printed at Paris, but the Inquisition interfered and committed the whole edition of twenty-five hundred copies to the flames. No perfect copy of Coverdale's version is known to exist, but one lacking the original title-page and first leaf was sold in 1854 for $1725. Another, at the Perkins' sale, in June, 1873, brought $2000.

Two years after the appearance of the first edition of Coverdale's Bible, John Rogers, the first martyr in Queen Mary's reign, published his version of the Scriptures. He made some emendations, but the text is chiefly that of Tyndale and Coverdale. It was printed by Grafton and Whitchurch in 1537, and the title runs: "The Byble, which is all the holy Scripture: in which are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament truely and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew." For safety, Rogers assumed the name of Matthew, whence it is known as Matthew's Bible. Seven hundred and fifty dollars have been paid for a copy.

The third version of the Bible, known as Taverner's, was published in 1539. Richard Taverner was a learned man who published many translations during the sixteenth century. Horne says of his translation, "This is neither a bare revisal of Cranmer's Bible nor a new version, but a kind of intermediate work, being a correction of what is called 'Matthew's Bible.'"

The first edition of Cranmer's Bible, the printing of which was begun in Paris in 1538 and completed in London in 1540—the Inquisition having interposed by imprisoning the printers and burning the greater part of the impression—is excessively rare. Cranmer's Bible—or the Great Bible, as it was called—is Tyndale's, Coverdale's and Rogers's translations most carefully revised throughout. This was the first sound and authorized English version; and as soon as it was perfected a proclamation was issued ordering it to be provided for every parish church, under a penalty of forty shillings a month. A second edition of Cranmer's Bible appeared in 1560, a copy of which brought, at a recent sale in England, the sum of $610.

The Genevan version of the Bible was made by several English exiles at Geneva in Queen Mary's reign—viz., Cole, Coverdale, Gilby, Knox, Sampson, Whittingham and Woodman—and was first printed in 1560. It went through fifty editions in the course of thirty years. This translation was very popular with the Puritan party. In this version the first division into verses was made. It is commonly known as the "Breeches Bible," from the peculiar rendering of Genesis iii. 7—" breeches of fig-leaves." To the Geneva Bible we owe the beautiful phraseology of the admired passage in Jeremiah viii. 22. Coverdale, Matthew and Taverner render it, "For there is no more treacle at Gilead?" Cranmer, "Is there no treason at Gilead?" The Genevan first gave the poetic rendering, "Is there no balm in Gilead?"

In the year 1568 another translation appeared, which is indiscriminately known as "Matthew Parker's Bible," the "Bishops' Bible" and the "Great English Bible." This version was undertaken and carried on under the inspection of Matthew Parker, second Protestant archbishop of Canterbury. Of the fifteen translators, six were bishops, hence this edition is often called the Bishops' Bible, though it is sometimes designated the Great English Bible, from its being a huge folio volume. In 1569 it was published in octavo form. There is a well-preserved copy of the first edition of Matthew Parker's Bible in the possession of a gentleman residing in New York City. This was the authorized version of the Scriptures for forty years, when it was superseded by our present English Bible.

The English Roman Catholic College at Rheims issued in the year 1582 a translation of the New Testament, known as the "Rhemish New Testament." It was condemned by the queen of England, and copies imported into that country were seized and destroyed. In 1609 the first volume of the Old Testament, and in the following year the second volume, were published at Douay, hence ever since known as the Douay Bible. Some years since Cardinal Wiseman remarked that the names Rhemish and Douay, as applied to the current editions, are absolute misnomers. The publishers of the edition chiefly used in this country state that it is translated from the Latin Vulgate, "being the edition published by the English College at Rheims A.D. 1582, and at Douay in 1609, as revised and corrected in 1750, according to the Clementine edition of the Scriptures, by the Rt. Rev. Richard Challoner, bishop of Debra, with his annotations for clearing up the principal difficulties of Holy Writ."

Theodore Beza translated the New Testament out of the Greek into the Latin. This was first published in England in 1574, and afterward frequently. In 1576 it was "Engelished" by Leonard Tomson, under-secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham, and was afterward frequently annexed to the Genevan Old Testament. The following is a copy of the title-page of the New Testament, verbatim et literatim: "The New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, translated out of Greeke by Theod Beza: with brief summaries and expositions upon the hard places by the said authour, Ioach Amer and P Loseler Vallerius. Engelished by L Tomson. Together with the Annotations of Fr Junius upon the Revelation of S. John. Imprinted at London by the Deputies of Christopher Barker, Printer to the Queene's Most Excellent Majestie—1599." The volume opens with a primitive version of the Psalms in verse, then follow the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and the New Testament, as in Bibles of the present day.

The version of the Scriptures now in use among Protestants was translated by the authority of King James I., and published in 1611. Fifty-four learned men were appointed to accomplish the work of revision, but from death or other causes seven of the number failed to enter upon it. The remaining forty-seven were ranged under six divisions, different portions of the Bible being assigned to each division. They entered upon their task in 1607, and after three years of diligent labor the work was completed. This version was generally adopted, and the former translations soon fell into disuse. The authors of King James's version of the Bible included the most learned divines of the day; one of whom was master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac and fifteen modern languages.

Among other rare and highly-coveted editions of the Bible is one printed in England in the seventeenth century, in which the important word not was omitted in the seventh commandment, from which circumstance it has ever since been known as "The Adulterer's Bible." Another edition, known as the Pearl Bible, appeared about the same time, filled with errata, a single specimen of which will suffice: "Know ye not the ungodly shall inherit the kingdom of God?" Bibles were once printed which affirmed that "all Scripture was profitable for destruction;" while still another edition of the sacred volume is known as the "Vinegar Bible," from the erratum in the title to the twentieth chapter of St. Luke, in which "Parable of the Vineyard" is printed "Parable of the Vinegar."