Ancient Versions of the New Testament



When the first Christian missionaries began to carry the gospel message beyond the bounds of Judea and Samaria, the Gr. language was known and spoken almost everywhere they went throughout the Rom. empire. Even Lat., the official language of the Rom. conquerors, was less the common language of the empire than was Gr.

This means that many people of the lands around the Mediterranean were bilingual or even trilingual, speaking their own language as well as Gr. and often Lat. To many, of course, either Gr. or Lat. was their native tongue; but in many areas their own language was neither of these. Therefore, although a missionary could have preached in Gr. in many areas, in order to be lastingly effective the Gospel needed to be tr. into the language which the people used in their homes and in intimate conversation. An indication of this fact is seen in Paul’s experience at Lystra (Acts 14:8-18), where, even though the people evidently understood Paul when he spoke in Gr., when they themselves wanted to speak of religious matters they used their own Lycaonian speech.

The ancient VSS of the NT, in common with virtually all subsequent VSS, were missionary in origin and purpose. They were made so that the people to whom the Christian message was being taken could read it in their own language rather than in a language which they may have known, if at all, only as a language of trade and commerce.

These trs. differed in quality and accuracy. At times they reflect interesting interpretations of a Gr. word or phrase. One of their most important uses today, however, is the contribution which they make in the field of NT textual criticism, by aiding in the reconstruction of the original text of the Gr. NT. In this respect, it is not the wording of the VS itself which is important, but rather the information which the VS gives concerning the wording of the Gr. text from which the VS is derived.

At the same time, there are limitations in the use which can be made of VSS in determining the Gr. text from which they were tr. First, some variants in the Gr. text cannot be or would not ordinarily be reflected in certain VSS.; e.g., many differences in word order which are frequently involved in Gr. variants, would not be reflected in languages whose meaning is largely dependent upon a fixed word order, as is Eng. Latin has no definite article, and therefore would not ordinarily reflect the presence or absence of the Gr. definite article. Some languages might tr. the Gr. aorist and the Gr. perfect tenses, or the aorist and the imperfect, without distinction. Differences of orthography of Gr. words would not commonly be reflected in other languages.

Second, in no case is the original MS of an ancient VS extant, but only copies more or less remote from the original, just as is the case of the Gr. MSS. This means that the VS itself must be submitted to study for the purpose of determining as nearly as possible the original wording of the VS before the VS can be used to determine the Gr. from which it was tr. This process is further complicated when the VS has been later revised. Even if there was no official revision, individual MSS of the VS may have been compared with and corrected by other Gr. MSS.

Third, it must be determined whether the VS was tr. directly from Gr. or whether it is a secondary VS, tr. from another VS.

Fourth, the usefulness of a VS in determining the underlying Gr. text will be affected by the extent of the trs. knowledge both of Gr. and of the language of his VS. For example, Metzger (Text of the NT, 67, n. 3) quotes a complaint of St. Augustine concerning trs. into Lat., that “no sooner did anyone gain possession of a Gr. MS, and imagine himself to have any facility in both languages (however slight that might be), than he made bold to translate it” (De doctr. Christ. ii, 11 (16)). In addition, care must be taken not to mistake the liberties of interpretation or paraphrase by the tr. for indications of textual differences in the underlying Gr.

Finally, a VS which is in the best literary form of its language will generally be less helpful to the textual critic than one which is literal and unidiomatic, since the better a VS expresses its language the more likely it is to fail to reflect the very differences which form the basis for many Gr. textual variants.

On the other hand, VSS are generally reliable in reflecting the presence or absence of a phrase or passage in the underlying Gr.; e.g. the addition or omission of “openly” at the end of Matthew 6:4 (KJV).

The ancient VSS of the NT, therefore, have much to contribute to Biblical studies. Not only do they provide, by their very wording, a certain amount of interpretation and commentary upon the Gr. text together with some indication of the time and location in which these interpretations were known, but they are also of significance in the determination of the original form of the Gr. text. Yet to a large degree the use of the VSS in textual criticism has been neglected in the past. To some extent this neglect has been due to a failure to recognize the contribution which the VSS could make, as is reflected in Bishop Walton’s comment that the use of VSS to correct the Gr. text would be like using a clock to correct the sun (Biblia Sacra Polyglotta, London [1655], referred to by Metzger, in NT MSS Studies, ch. II, 25). Even when the textual scholar recognizes the importance of the evidence of the VSS, he must still either learn the language of each VS which he wishes to use, and learn it thoroughly enough to use it accurately, or else depend upon the work of someone who does know the language. Rare indeed is the contemporary scholar who has been willing to expend the time and effort to learn all or most of the languages of the significant ancient VSS of the NT (but see the work of Arthur Vööbus, Early Versions of the NT). This limitation, together with the lack of generally available full collations of the VSS in a form which the Gr. student can easily use, constitutes a serious obstacle to the adequate use of the VSS in many textual studies in which the VSS would be an important or even crucial factor.

It is worth noting that the very existence of ancient VSS of the NT is unique. Prior to the Christian era, literary works were rarely tr. into another language; and in the few instances in which it was done, the resulting tr. was generally too free a rendering to have appreciable value in determining the text of the original. When the OT, therefore, was tr. into Gr., it stood virtually alone as a tr. which, on the whole, adequately reflected the sense of the Heb. original.

The versions


Old Latin (Itala).

The origin of the NT in Lat. is obscure regarding its location, its date, and its authorship. Greek was widely known over the Mediterranean world, esp. in the centers of trade and culture. Paul wrote in Gr. to the church in Rome, as did Clement and Ignatius near the beginning of the 2nd cent. Vööbus states that not until nearly the middle of the 3rd cent. did Lat. become the language of lit. in Rome.

It has therefore been believed by many that the Lat. NT originated in response to needs from people in other parts of the Rom. empire. Some scholars because of an apparent knowledge of Heb. and Aram. by the trs., have suggested that it originated in Syria. The more commonly accepted view, however, is that the Lat. NT originated in N Africa. Here not only was Lat. the common and official language, but also the earliest clear evidence of the use of the Lat. NT is in the writings of Church Fathers of N Africa, including Cyprian and perhaps Tertullian. On the other hand, Vööbus insists that Italy must not be ruled out as a possible place of its origin, either in the provinces or even in Rome itself, where there may have been a significant number of non-Gr.-speaking believers at a relatively early date. The Lat. of the earliest form of the text is inelegant and at times literalistic, which some have taken to imply that the Lat. NT originated either away from centers of culture or from interlinear trs. in Gr. MSS; but some of these characteristics may reflect nothing more than tr. by simple believers whose bilingualism was not highly literary. In summary, therefore, the place of origin of the Lat. NT is not known.

The date of the origin of the Lat. NT has not been definitely established, but it was likely during the latter part of the 2nd cent.; and not long thereafter the Lat. NT was known on both sides of the Mediterranean. It is not certain to what extent this Old Lat. (OL), or Itala as it is sometimes called, is one VS or a number of VSS, or to what extent the text of N Africa was independent of that of Europe. There are both noteworthy agreements and noteworthy differences between these two families of MSS. Even within these two principal families, however, there are textual differences so great and so frequent that they suggest that the OL represents a number of trs., and possibly some revision. In Luke 24:4, 5, e.g., there are some twenty-seven forms of the text in OL MSS (Metzger, Text of the NT, 72).

There is no single MS of the complete NT in OL, and most of the extant MSS are fragmentary even regarding the books which they contain. About thirty-two MSS, plus a few fragments, of the gospels are extant. Acts is known in approximately sixteen MSS, most of which include the Catholic epistles as well. Four extensive MSS, plus a number of fragments, are known of the Pauline epistles. Revelation is extant in one complete MS plus several fragments. These MSS come from as early as the 4th cent. and as late as the 13th, thus indicating that the OL was in use to some extent long after it had officially been replaced by the Vul.

MSS of the OL are commonly designated by lower-case letters. Some of the more significant are the following (see the Bible Societies’ Gr. NT, xxvi ff., for an extensive list; and Metzger, Text of the NT, 73-75, for additional descriptions):

a. Codex Vercellensis, in the cathedral in Vercelli, Italy, dating from the 4th cent., one of the two most important OL MSS of the gospels.

b. Codex Veronensis, in the cathedral of Verona, Italy, a 5th-cent. MS written in silver ink on purple parchment, containing the gospels in the Western order of Matthew, John, Luke, Mark.

d. The Lat. side of the Greco-Lat. Codex Bezae, a 6th-cent. MS of the gospels and Acts in the library of Cambridge University, which reflects a basically 3rd-cent. text.

gig. Codex Gigas (“giant”), a 13th-cent. MS whose pages measure twenty by thirty-six inches, in the Royal Library of Stockholm. It contains the entire Lat. Bible and other works, but only its text of Acts and Revelation preserve the OL.

k. Codex Bobbiensis, containing about half of Matthew and Mark, in the National Library of Turin, the most important witness to the African form of the OL.

m. This symbol refers to any of several MSS of a collection of Biblical passages illustrating points of conduct, called Speculum. The quotations represent the African OL.


As time passed, particularly after Christianity became officially recognized early in the 4th cent., the wide range of variation within the OL MSS became increasingly intolerable. Finally, in 382 Pope Damasus asked his theological advisor, Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus, now commonly known as St. Jerome, to undertake a rev. of the Lat. text, standardizing it by the “true Greek text.” Jerome was doubtless the best-qualified man of his day for this task. He had studied Lat. and Gr. in Rome and Heb. in Pal., and had devoted his life to Biblical studies. He undertook the task as a labor of love, yet with reluctance, well realizing that his work would provoke criticism by those who would resent any change in the NT text from the form with which they were familiar. Partly, perhaps, for this reason, Jerome worked under very conservative principles which he set for himself, as he explained in his letter of preface to his gospels: he selected what he felt was a relatively good Lat. text as the basis for his work comparing it with some old Gr. MSS and revising the Lat. only where he felt the meaning of the original was distorted by the Lat.

Neither the Lat. MSS which Jerome used nor the Gr. MSS with which he compared them are known and subsequent revisions and changes make it impossible to determine the nature of these MSS with certainty but they seem to have included MSS of a good form of text.

Questions persist concerning the extent of Jerome’s rev. Qualitatively his work seems to have been more careful at some points than at others. In some instances he changed Lat. renderings but at the same time, e.g., he retained three different renderings for “high priest” in three gospels. Quantitatively, some scholars have questioned whether Jerome’s rev. went beyond the gospels or whether the rest of the NT was revised by others and included with Jerome’s work under his name. Probably Jerome’s own labors did include the entire NT; but the rest of the NT reflects a much more superficial treatment than do the gospels.

Determination of the original form of Jerome’s text, which much later became known as the Vul. (i.e. “common”), is almost hopelessly complicated, not only because of the scribal errors which resulted from ordinary copying of the MSS, but also from the inevitable mixing of readings from the OL, since for some centuries the OL continued to be known and used alongside the Vul. This contamination of readings led to attempts during the Middle Ages to edit the text to recover the original text of Jerome; but these efforts produced even greater confusion. As a result, the MSS of the Vul. include a wide range of textual affinities.

More than 8,000 MSS of the Lat. Vul. are known. Since many additional MSS certainly perished, the Vul. NT is thus seen to be the most frequently copied work of lit. of ancient times. The MSS are commonly designated by capital letters or by the first syllable of their names, (e.g., A or am, F or fu, Z or harl). The oldest known is Codex Sangallensis (Σ or san) a 5th-cent. MS of the gospels, part of which is in the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland. The “Golden Gospels” of the Pierpont Library in New York City is a 10th-cent. MS written in gold letters on purple parchment, possibly the finest purple Biblical MS in existence.


Syriac is a dialect of Aram., which in turn was the common language of Pal. in the 1st Christian cent. and the language which Jesus and His disciples ordinarily spoke. Nevertheless, the Syr. MSS of the NT represent trs. from Gr. and are thus secondary witnesses to the text, as are all other VSS, with no claim to represent the words of Jesus as faithfully as does the Gr. text.


The earliest form in which the Gospel message was known in Syr. may have been a continuous account in which all four gospels were interwoven. It is not certain whether this work, known as the “Diatessaron” (“through the Four”), was composed originally in Syr. or in Gr. The only known MS which is assumed to contain any actual text of the Diatessaron itself is a fragment in Gr. which was discovered at Dura in the Middle E in 1933.

The author, or ed., of the Diatessaron, was Tatian, a Syrian, a native of Mesopotamia, who was converted to the Christian faith c. a.d. 150 in Rome, became a student under Justin Martyr, and composed the Diatessaron c. a.d. 170.

Whether the work was originally composed in Gr. or Syr., it soon became popular in its Syr. form and was still in use in Syria in the 5th cent. At that time, since Tatian had accepted some heretical views later in his life, Bishop Theodoret ordered all copies of the Diatessaron destroyed and separate gospels substituted for them.

Other than the Dura fragment, no direct remains of the Diatessaron are extant, and the work is known only through quotations from it found in the writings of Syrian Church Fathers, esp. St. Ephraem’s commentary on the Diatessaron. Certain harmonies in Arab., Pers., Lat., and other languages, written at a much later date, are assumed to exhibit some degree of dependence upon the work of Tatian.

Old Syriac.

Apart from the Diatessaron, all or most of the NT had been tr. into Syr. by the end of the 2nd cent. or the beginning of the third. Some scholars maintain that this Old Syr. (OS), as it is called, antedates even the Diatessaron, but more likely it is later.

The OS is known in two MSS. The first of these was discovered in a monastery in the Nitrian Desert of Egypt in 1842 by Dr. William Cureton and ed. by him in 1858. This MS, known as the Curetonian Syr. (Syrc) and housed in the British Museum, was written in the 5th cent. It contains the gospels but with large gaps in the text. The second MS was discovered in 1892 in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai by Mrs. A. S. Lewis and published in 1894. This MS, designated the Sinaitic Syr. (Syrs), is a palimpsest. It dates from the 4th cent. and likewise contains extensive portions of the gospels.

These two OS MSS preserve a 3rd-cent. text, although they differ from each other at various points. The Sinaitic appears to represent a slightly earlier form of the text than does the Curetonian. Generally speaking, they are witnesses to the so-called Western text.

The OS VS outside the gospels has not survived in MSS, but is known in fragmentary form from quotations in the writings of Syrian Fathers.


Near the end of the 4th cent. a new Syr. VS was prepared, which however lacked 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. That this VS was in circulation well before the schism of the Syr. church in 431 is indicated by the fact that both branches of the church accept it. Several centuries later this VS became known as the Peshitta or “simple,” perhaps meaning that it was the common VS or perhaps to contrast it with other VSS which had a critical apparatus. The Peshitta (Syrp) remains today the Syr. VS in common use, with the missing books supplied from the later Philoxenian VS.

The Peshitta was long thought to be the work of Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa, but his work may actually have been a transition stage between the OS and the Peshitta.

This VS is extant in some 350 MSS, from the 5th cent. and later. Its textual affinities are closer to the later or Byzantine text than is the OS, although it has numerous Western readings in Acts.


The first Syr. NT to include all the books of the canon was produced in 508 by Polycarp, “rural bishop” to Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabug in eastern Syria. The NT books not included in the Peshitta were incorporated into that VS from the Philoxenian (Syrph), and it is possible that only these books of the Philoxenian VS survive. This question, however, is interwoven with the question of the nature of the Harkleian VS.


The question of the relationship between the Philoxenian and the Harkleian Syr. VSS is exceedingly confused. In 616 Thomas of Harkel, who like Philoxenus was Bishop of Mabug, issued a Syr. NT. In a colophon Thomas says that he took the VS of 508 and compared it with a few Gr. MSS. It is much disputed, however, whether Thomas did content himself with merely adding variant readings and marginal notes on the basis of his comparison of the Syr. with his Gr. MSS, or whether he revised the Philoxenian so extensively that he produced a new VS. The solution to this problem is complicated by the fact that the Philoxenian as such survives in only one copy of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

The Harkleian (Syrh) is extant in numerous MSS, most of which are of a late date. Those who distinguish the Harkleian from the Philoxenian state that while the Philoxenian was a highly literary and idiomatic VS, the Harkleian renders the Gr. so literally that it violates Syr. style.


Part of the NT exists in a somewhat different dialect of Syr. which is more closely related to Palestinian Aram. This Palestinian Syr. (Syrpal), as it is called, is of uncertain date but prob. originated about the 5th cent. It is unique not only in its dialect but also in the fact that it is known almost entirely in lectionary form, with only fragments of the gospels, Acts, and epistles in continuous text. The three principal MSS of this VS are lectionaries dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, with affinities to the Caesarean type of text. This VS appears to have been made directly from a Gr. lectionary, since the Scripture passages and even the introductory phrases of the lections are almost completely identical with those of Gr. lectionaries.


Greek was well-known in Egypt in the early part of the Christian era. Not only have MSS of the Gr. NT from as early as the 2nd cent. been recovered from the sands of Egypt, but also countless business documents, personal letters, and other literary and nonliterary items in Gr. have been preserved from the centuries before and after the time of Christ. These documents make it clear that Gr. was known by both educated and uneducated people, and in various parts of the country. At the same time, Gr. was not the language of the country. Many of the people doubtless knew Gr. only as a second language, if at all, and needed the Scriptures in the language which was native to them.

By the 2nd Christian cent., or earlier, there had been developed an alphabet for the Coptic language which used Gr. letters, supplemented, where Gr. had no equivalent symbol, by additional forms taken from the older demotic script.

The Coptic language had developed into six dialects by this period, with the two principal dialects located in the N and in the S and intermediate dialects geographically between. These dialects differed from one another primarily in phonetics, and to a lesser degree in vocabulary and syntax.


By the beginning of the 3rd cent., part of the NT had been tr. into Sahidic, the dialect of Thebes and southern Egypt, and the complete NT was available within the cent., apparently tr. at various times by several trs. The extant MSS include most of the NT, although Revelation exists only in fragments. Some papyri are included in these MSS, which date from the 4th cent. and later. The Sahidic is generally Alexandrian in text-type, but with some Western affinities.


The region of Alexandria and northern Egypt, which was the cultural center of the country, seems not to have had the NT in its dialect, Bohairic, until later than Sahidic. Until recently, moreover, although c. 100 Bohairic NT MSS were known, none were written earlier than the 9th cent., and the earliest complete MS of the gospels was from the 12th cent. In 1958, however, a papyrus codex of the gospel of John from the Bodmer Library was published, which its ed. assigns to the 4th cent., thus giving a date prior to that in which the Bohairic VS originated.

The Bohairic VS, much like the Sahidic, is related to the Alexandrian text-type.

Middle Egyptian dialects.

Between the two principal Coptic dialects were spoken four others—Memphitic, Fayumic, Achmimic, and sub-Achmimic. A 4th-cent. papyrus codex in Fayumic containing half of the gospel of John is in the University of Michigan Library. In sub-Achmimic, the gospel of John is extant in a 4th-cent. papyrus. In Achmimic, fragments of Matthew, Luke, John, James, and Jude survive, at least part of which date from the 4th or 5th cent.


Ulfilas, called the apostle to the Goths, was born about 310 to Christian parents who had been carried captive from their native Cappadocia to Dacia, in Europe, by invading Goths. When he was c. thirty years of age he was consecrated bishop for Dacia. After c. seven years he was driven out by the king of the Goths and settled in the Rom. empire in what is now part of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Here he tr. the Bible into the language of the Goths. Since he apparently tr. on a very literalistic basis, his VS often retains Gr. word order even against Gothic idiom.

Ulfilas is credited with having created the Gothic alphabet and reducing the language to writing as a preliminary to tr. the Scriptures, although this is disputed by some. At any rate, the Gothic Bible is the earliest written Gothic lit., having been completed before the death of Ulfilas about 383.

The Gothic NT is extant in some six MSS, almost all fragmentary palimpsests. An exception is Codex Argenteus, in Uppsala, Sweden, which contains portions of all four gospels written in silver and gold ink on purple vellum. All of the Gothic MSS are from the 5th and 6th centuries.


There have been two principal theories of the origin of the Armenian NT. According to one view, which goes back to Armenian writers of the 5th and 6th centuries, St. Mesrop created the Armenian alphabet and tr. the NT into Armenian from Gr. with the help of St. Sahak. According to another 5th-cent. writer, St. Sahak tr. the NT from Syr. Both views have been espoused by modern scholars, and the question cannot be regarded as decided.

The Armenian is said to be one of the most beautiful and accurate of all VSS. Moreover, its more than 1,500 extant MSS rank it less numerous than only the Lat. Vul. and Gr. The oldest MS is dated a.d. 887. A rev. which became the dominant form of the VS in the 8th cent. is the basis of the Armenian text still in use. The older form of the text had affinities with the Caesarean text-type, and this character is observable even in the revised VS.


Christianity was introduced into Georgia, between the Black and Caspian seas, in the 4th cent. Soon thereafter, at least by the middle of the 5th cent., the NT had been tr. into the Georgian language. Tradition attributes the Georgian alphabet to the same Mesrop who is said to have developed the Armenian alphabet.

Various theories have been put forth concerning the origin of the Georgian, holding that it was tr. from Greek, Syriac, or Armenian. In any event, the Georgian exhibits close relationships to the Armenian, and shares with this VS affinities to the Caesarean type of text.

The Georgian VS underwent several revisions in the course of time, the principal rev. occurring in the 10th or 11th cent. and based on Gr. MSS of the later or Byzantine text-type.

MSS of the Georgian VS are numerous. Three of the most important are dated between 897 and 995, and are believed to preserve significant elements of the Old Georgian.


Widely divergent views of the date of the origin of the Ethiopic NT have been put forward, ranging all the way from the 2nd to the 14th cent. There is difference of opinion, too, as to whether the VS was made from Gr. or Syr. Although none of the more than 100 MSS is earlier than the 13th cent., and most are even later, the NT in Ethiopic must have originated by the 6th cent., or possibly earlier. Relatively little attention has been given to this VS, although careful investigation of it might prove rewarding.


(see Metzger, Chapters in the History of N. T. Text. Crit., ch. 3, pp. 73-96). The Slavonic VS of the NT owes its origin to two brothers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who died in 869 and 885 respectively. They were sons of a wealthy official in Salonica, and were thus presumably acquainted with the Slavic dialect spoken in Macedonia. Cyril was christened Constantine, taking the name Cyril only when he entered a monastery in Rome shortly before his death.

There are two Slavonic alphabets, the Glagolitic and the Cyrillic. The latter is named in honor of St. Cyril, who is credited with having invented it; but it is actually unclear whether he, possibly aided by his brother, constructed one or both forms of the alphabet or revised an alphabet already in existence. On the other hand, the Glagolitic may be the work of the brothers and the Cyrillic an adaptation to Gr. by one of Cyril’s disciples.

Cyril is said to have begun tr. the gospels about 862. The description of the work given in the biographies of the brothers suggests that this earliest tr. was in the form of a lectionary. Having begun his task of tr. in Constantinople, Cyril completed it on the mission field, with the assistance of his brother in the epistles and the OT.

Extant MSS in Old Slavonic, which include an appreciable amount of gospel lectionary material, date from the 11th cent. and later.


From the 7th cent. and onward, if not earlier, numerous trs. of the NT into Arab. were made. Indeed, one modern scholar has suggested that there are more VSS of the gospels in Arab. than can be welcome to scholars. Arabic VSS were made from Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and various mixed sources. Some MSS exhibit a text in the form of rhymed prose which is found in the Koran. The form of the text in use today, at least in the gospels, is based on a 13th-cent. rev. which is primarily a tr. from the Bohairic NT with some Gr. and Syr. influence.


The gospels in Pers. survive in a 14th-cent. MS, which is derived from a VS tr. from Syr. and a later VS based on Gr. Metzger states that two VSS of the Old Pers. gospels were published in the 17th and 18th centuries.


Fragments of Matthew in Frankish, a Germanic language of west-central Europe, survive in one 8th-cent. MS, with Latin and Frankish on facing pages, in the library of the Benedictine monastery at Monsee.


Sogdian was the trade language of Eastern Turkestan and regions to the E between the 6th and 10th centuries. In addition to a small amount of other literary remains in Sogdian, a lectionary of the gospels and fragments of 1 Corinthians and Galatains are extant, written in a consonantal script and tr. from Syr.


Two Christian kingdoms seem to have existed in Nubia, between Ethiopia and Egypt, during the early Middle Ages. The northern kingdom received the Christian message in the 6th cent.; little is known of the southern kingdom. A fragment of an Old Nubian lectionary is extant, dating from about the 10th cent. and containing small portions from the gospels and epistles.


The Venerable Bede, according to a letter written by one of his disciples, made a tr. of John into Anglo-Saxon, but nothing survives of this 8th-cent. work. A 10th-cent. VS, however, tr. from the Lat. is known from seven MSS of the 11th through the 13th centuries. In addition, the two 7th-cent. Lat. MSS known as the Lindisfarne and the Rushworth Gospels contain Anglo-Saxon interlinear glosses which were added in the 10th cent.

Later developments

With the decline of missionary and evangelical spirit in the Christian Church, the making of trs. of the Bible likewise declined. By 1450, only thirty-three languages had any part of the Bible—twenty-two European, seven Asian, and four African. Not even with the invention of printing was there a notable increase in trs., and even by 1800 some part of the Scriptures was known in only seventy-one languages, two-thirds of which were languages of Europe. Only since the beginning of the 19th cent. has the modern missionary movement given a renewed emphasis to tr. of the Scriptures, such that by the middle of 1966 the American Bible Society reported that some part of the Bible had been tr. into 1,250 languages and dialects, with the complete NT in more than 500. Outstanding among those engaged in the tr. of the Bible into the various tribal languages and dialects of the world is the Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc.


F. G. Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (1912), 145-241; E. M. North, ed., The Book of a Thousand Tongues (1938); M. M. Parvis and A. P. Wikgren, edd., New Testament Manuscript Studies (1950), 25-68; A. Vööbus, Early Versions of the New Testament (1954); I. M. Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, 3rd rev. ed. by W. A. Irwin and A. P. Wikgren (1956), 83-100, 109-122, 177-201; B. M. Metzger, Chapters in the History of New Testament Textual Criticism. New Testament Tools and Studies IV, ed. by B. M. Metzger (1963), 73-120; J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (1964), 45-54; B. M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (1964), 67-86; K. Aland, M. Black, B. M. Metzger, and A. Wikgren, edd., The Greek New Testament (1966), xxvi-xxx.