Lecture 02: Early Beginnings (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 02: Early Beginnings (Part 2)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Early Beginnings (Part 2)

4.  Thomas Matthew (John Rogers)

Coverdale mostly revised the work of Tyndale in the New Testament. Another translator who was a coworker with Tyndale was a man by the name of John Rogers, who produced the Matthew Bible, published in 1537. Why did he call it the Matthew Bible? John Rogers knew what happened to Tyndale, and he said, “Let them burn at the stake any Thomas Matthew they can find, just leave John Rogers alone”. Unfortunately, we will find that they found who he was, and he too was martyred for the Faith. This was a revision of Tyndale for the most part. He used Coverdale for those areas that Tyndale did not translate. There is an irony here in that in 1537 both Matthew’s translation and Coverdale’s were licensed by Henry VIII. In other words, they could be printed and sold in England, and this is only one year after the martyrdom of Tyndale. In 1555 Rogers was burned at the stake by Mary Tudor.

5. Richard Taverner

Another translation, the Taverner. One comes out in 1539, a revision of Matthew’s Bible. All of these translations that we talk about will be revisions of Tyndale’s. They all come from that central root, that central stem, Tyndale’s work. Most of them always started out with the presupposition, “Unless it’s broke, let’s not try to fix it; is there any reason we should change Tyndale.” If they were working on say, Coverdale’s translation, they would say, “Is there any reason to change Coverdale?” which of course was Tyndale. So they keep on going back to the original parent, Tyndale.

6. The Great Bible

The Great Bible, named for its size. I have listed here, its size was 15 inches by 9 inches. I have seen elsewhere it was 16.5 inches by 11 inches, which may be whether you leave out the blank margin around, or not. Whatever it was, it was not your pocket New Testament for witnessing on street corners. This was a chained Bible in the pulpit. This is the first authorized version. It is not THE authorized version. It was the first one authorized. But when we talk about THE authorized version, we are talking about the King James authorized version of 1611. This was authorized before by Henry VIII. He had assistance, support from Thomas Cromwell and Coverdale. What they did was to revise the Matthew Bible. Published in 1539, it was the official Bible of Henry VIII and his reign.

To get authorized, they did some things that would make it more palatable to the clergy and to political leadership. One was by going back to the traditional order of the New Testament books at the end. So they reversed the order and instead of following Luther, they followed the other ones before. It was also required that there be no footnotes in this Bible. You say, what is wrong with footnotes? I’ll show you what is wrong with some footnotes shortly. These are not the kind of footnotes you think of. A 1-cubit footnote (a cubit is about 18 inches) or 1 talent (a talent weighed this much). That is not what we mean by footnotes. In the Geneva Bible, which comes later, here are some of the kind of footnotes you get: “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath wit count the number of the beast, which is the  number of a man, his number is 600, three-score and 6.” Footnote: “Such as may be understood by man’s reason, for about 660 years after this revelation, the Pope or antichrist began to be manifested in the world.” These are the kind of notes we’re talking about. You have another one: “There followed another angel saying, “It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon the great city”: “Signifying Rome, for as much as the vices which were in Babylon are found in Rome in greater abundance, as persecution of the Church, etc.” One or two more: “There are spirits of devils working miracles to go unto the kings of all the earth.” Footnote: “For all the kings’ courts, the Pope has had his ambassadors to hinder the work of the kingdom of Christ”. If you are a king, you didn’t come out too well in these things, either, princes and the like. So these were not what we mean by the normal notes of the Bible. And needless to say, if you were a king, you don’t want notes. So he did not allow any notes in the Bible.

I’ll add a little parenthesis here that Mary Tudor or “Bloody Mary” as she was called,  comes to the throne and begins a period of persecution. Let me just give a little history.  It might be nice to just note these dates.  Henry VIII died in 1545. At the end of his life he had made England an Anglican or Protestant nation. I wish we could say that he had very good motives, but the big issue was that the Pope would not let him divorce his wives. He probably should have because he killed some of them as a result of that. There became a clash between Papal authority and Henry VIII over moral issues,  in which somebody had better be right. He did make a break with the Papacy. Also, since the Bible is the strength of the reformers in the Reformation, he wants a great Bible, so that the people can read it. He dies in 1545 and he is succeeded by Edward VI, who dies in 1553. For eight years Edward VI reigns and he is also strongly Protestant in orientation. When he dies Mary Tudor becomes queen and she wants to undo the Reformation. She wants to make England Catholic once again. She begins persecuting the reformers there, some 300 of them are put to death. Bible translations are burned and destroyed, all but one, the Great Bible. Why didn’t she try to destroy the Great Bible? It was authorized by a king. If kings make mistakes,  queens make mistakes.  So, leave those things alone.  So, that was not touched.

Coverdale flees to Europe. He would have been martyred by Mary Tudor, except that the King of Denmark interceded on his behalf, and thus he escaped that. She marries Phillip II of Spain and in 1558 the people of England chop her head off. They did not want to go Catholic and above all, do you know how England and Spain got along? They were great rivals and 30 years later you have the Spanish Armada, which is not a cruise line, trying to invade England, so that was too much and she is put to death. In 1558 Queen Elizabeth takes the throne and she reigns until 1603, some 48 years, strongly affirming the Reformation and after Mary Tudor’s death, the fate of England as far as religion is concerned, Protestant or Catholic, is settled in the Protestant camp.

7. Geneva Bible

When Coverdale flees to England under the reign of Mary Tudor, he goes to Geneva and there he produces what is known as the Geneva Bible. This was the revision of the Great Bible and it is the first Bible in the English language that has verses, verse divisions. 1560 is the first time we have verses in our English Bible. The Geneva Bible was rather Calvinistic in its emphasis, but let me comment again. Up to 1560, no English Bible has verse divisions in it. If you look at some of Luther’s writings, he doesn’t say, “In Galatians 3:23 we find…”. He says, “Towards the end of Galatians chapter 3 we find…” Chapters are there, but not verses. The first person who begins this is a printer named Robert Stephanus (aka., Robert Estienne) in 1551. He produces a Greek New Testament in which he makes verse divisions. Chapters are there, now he versifies them. I remember a professor of mine, Bruce Metzger, saying that much of his work was done on horseback as he was riding through France and sometimes the horse went up and the pen went down at inopportune places. We are stuck with them. We will never change verses. How would you ever have a new versification and a commentary where the verses are different, etc. It would be absolute chaos.

Even if they are not perfect, it is much easier to try to find a verse in Psalm 119 if it is numbered.  So it became very helpful. This is the first one. It was a very popular translation in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It had over 70 different editions. The people chose this. They chose this over the Greek Bible that was the people’s Bible. Sometimes this is known as the “breeches Bible” because in Genesis 3 when the Lord saw that Adam and Eve were naked, they translated, “He made them breeches”, so it has been called “the breeches Bible”.

8. The Bishop’s Bible

The bishops in England were not happy with the Geneva Bible. First of all, it was too Calvinistic. This is Geneva, where Calvin was located. By osmosis, it would be Calvinistic there. They knew that there had to be some sort of a new translation because they hoped that instead of having two Bibles, the one in the church, the Great Bible, and the one of the people, the Geneva Bible, they could produce one that would be a compromise that everyone would accept. So they produced the Bishop’s Bible, named because most of the people were either already bishops when they were in the translation process, or later became them.

9. The King James Version

The greatest and most famous translation of the Bible in the English-speaking world that ever was or ever will be takes place beginning in 1604. The new king, King James I orders that a new translation be made, based on the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, that would take the place of all of the Bibles up to that time. It would be one without notes. Forty-seven of the very best scholars in the Nation of England were divided into six panels, three of them for the Old Testament, two for the New, one for the Apocrypha, and afterwards a panel of two from each of those panels would become the final committee that would go over the work and come out with a final product.

A lot of translation proceeds today along the same lines. Only today, after those 12 have finished with it, they send it off to English stylists, who then work it over; and then it goes back to that committee again because stylists don’t know Greek and they may have taken liberties with the language that cause them no longer to be faithful to the translation, where you have to proofread that again.

In King James’ day the literary men of their day were the scholars of the church. So you didn’t need stylists in this way. This was then to supersede all other English translations.  It is estimated that 90% of the New Testament is simply Tyndale.

Until 1881, when there was a revision of this, the only other change for the King James version took place in 1769. It was a major change in one sense, but it was insignificant in another. It was just a change in spellings. The spellings from the Old English. Remember how I showed you Wycliffe with the double “ffe” at the end, to the more modern English, which would simply have “if”. There were lots of spellings of that nature and they were all changed in 1769. All of these are from the same family. All of them have the same root, that of Tyndale.

10. The Douay-Rheims Version

If you are a Roman Catholic, you have a problem. If you want to read the Bible in the English language, what do you read? Do you read the Geneva Bible? I showed you some of the notes on that one. The Great Bible has no notes, but you can’t even carry the thing, it is so heavy. So eventually they decided to have their own Bible and this was produced in Douay, France, the Old Testament and that is how it got the name Douay Version. The New Testament was produced mostly in Rheims, France and sometimes they talk about the Rheims New Testament. The major difference here is that it is based not on Greek and Hebrew text, but on the Latin Vulgate. This is due to the fact that in the Council of Trent in 1546, a counter conference to oppose what the Reformers were doing, it was decided that it would not be the Greek and Hebrew text for the final authority, but the Latin Vulgate. So this was the authority for the text and it remained pretty much that way among Catholic translators until the 20th century, modern Roman Catholic scholars don’t follow that, although the Council of Trent did. Published in 1609, 1610. The present one that people would use in the Roman Catholic Church would be a revision in 1749. It became the authorized translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

Look for a minute at something of a chart as to the various translations:  The influence of Tyndale. From Tyndale you have Coverdale, the Matthew, the Greek Bible comes out of Matthew, which goes back to Tyndale. The Taverner uses both Tyndale and Matthew. The Geneva goes back to Matthew and Tyndale. The Great Bible. The Bishop’s Bible. The King James. The English Revised of 1881. The American Revised of 1901. The Revised Standard Version of 1952. The New Revised. The American Standard. The New American Standard Version; they wouldn’t use the word revised, they used the updated New American Standard Version. All of these ultimately come out of the seed of Tyndale, a wonderful translator, a great gift to the Church.

C. Modern Versions

Let me talk a little about some of the translations. In 1881 we had the first revision of the King James. It was the English Revised Version, or The Revised Version, for short. The English invited some American scholars to be part of that revision. But they had the promise that they would not come up with their own revision for at least 20 years. Twenty years, bingo! The American Standard Version. In 1952 a Revised Standard Version is completed,  The RSV in 1946 and the revision in 1962 of that and 1970, there have been several revisions of these.  One of the things about modern translation is that they are constantly being revised, so that every 10, 15 years there are small changes in them. Germans still use the Luther translation. What edition is it? 26th, 27th, 28th, somewhere up there. So, there have been 26, 28 times when changes were made and it is so gradual, you don’t have this traumatic experience, but after 340 years you have changes like the RSV make, and it is too earth-shattering.  This is being done regularly. The NIV has gone through three, four, five changes already. The Living Translation that came out 10 years ago, they are working on a revision of that again, an updating of it.

One of the things that is interesting is that when the King James Version came out, I read a letter of one of the Biblical scholars in England, castigating it, that it lost the beauty of the Geneva Bible. And I thought, everything in this letter sounds like the kind of thing that happened in 1952 when the RSV came out. All you could have done is just take this letter and just changed names and you wouldn’t have to change anything, it was the same kind of thing. We don’t like change and that is why I think you want to make translations and revise them regularly, so you don’t have these traumatic exchanges. The New American Standard Version came out in 1960. The Berkeley was an evangelical one that was an attempt to be an option to the Revised Standard Version. The New American Standard in 1963. The Jerusalem Bible, this came out in 1966, it was originally a French translation; but it was so successful that it was translated into English. The new English Bible, a completely new translation from scratch. The Roman Catholic New American Bible in 1971. The New International in 1978. The new King James, 1982. The New Revised Standard Version in 1989. The Revised English Bible, a revision of the new English Bible, etc.

There are so many different translations coming out, it is simply impossible to stay on top of them. It is incredible how much is coming out. I have had quite a few translations, but I will go broke if I try to keep up with every one. I have some real problems with all the translations that are coming out. The problem is simply this: It is not accidental that there are big bucks in English translations of the Bible, a lot of money to be made. In a world in which there are all sorts of languages that don’t have any part of the Bible in their language, do we need dozens and dozens of translations all of the time coming out? I don’t know. I have real questions on that.

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