Part I Biblical Scroll links to Bible 1. Part II Electronic Bible links to Part 2.
The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia

Early English Biblical Translations

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The first English translations of the Bible were oral rather than written. Before the sixteenth century, these were made from the Latin Vulgate rather than the original Hebrew and Greek languages.

According to Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731) by the Venerable Bede, Caedmon (ca. 650- ca. 680) wrote alliterative poetry on biblical themes. We know of Caedmon only through Bede's history. A portion of Caedmon's "The Hymn of Creation." is paraphrased in it.

The Venerable Bede

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"The Venerable Bede Translates John" by J. D. Penrose
(detail, click for larger picture)

Bede was not only the first historian of England but he was also a theologian and made a saint. He prepared the earliest known written English translation of any part of the Bible (ca. 673-735). Just before he died, it has been reported, he translated the Gospel of John, or a portion of it, into Anglo-Saxon. No copies have survived.

Other early translations include the Book of Psalms by Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne (640-709); the Ten Commandments and other parts of Exodus 21-23 by Alfred the Great (849-899), king of the West Saxons; and an interlinear English translation in the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Lindisfarne Gospels were created by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (d. 687) on the island by the same name in north-east England just off the coast of Northumberland. This illuminated manuscript is a version of Jerome's Latin Vulgate. In the 10th century, Aldred added an interlinear English translation to the book, the earliest one in English of all the gospels.

John Wycliffe "Morningstar of the Reformation"

Between 1380 and 1397, John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384) and his followers, the Lollards (a derisive terms meaning "mumblers"), produced the first English version of the complete Bible, using the Vulgate as their beginning point. The original was almost a word-for-word translation. Wycliffe’s colleagues, John Purvey (1354-1428) and Nicholas of Hereford produced later editions which were more readable.

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" Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Translation of the Bible" (detail, click for complete picture)

Wycliffe considered the Bible to be the only authentic rule of faith. He believed that the church could be reformed only if people knew God's law; therefore they needed to have a Bible translated into their own language. In 1415, Wycliffe's translation was condemned and burned.

Whereas Bede was made a saint, Wycliffe was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church, primarily because he challenged the doctrine of transubstantiation and the papacy. From the Protestant perspective, however, he has been called "The Morningstar of the Reformation"

During the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413), the English statute for burning of heretics, De Heretico Comburendo (1401), was adopted. A number of Lollards were burned. The next king, Henry V ( 1413-1422), executed the sect's most well-known leader, Sir John Oldcastle in 1417, a event which ended Lollardy in England, except for some underground rural groups. In 1428, after Wycliffe was declared a heretic, his body was exhumed from consecrated ground, burned, and thrown into the River Swift.

Take the Highway

Journey Through Time

The Bible Today: Our Journey. We hear the Bible; we read the Bible; we sing the Bible; we pray the Bible; we preach the Bible; we study the Bible; and all of this shapes our understanding.

Choose a Byway

1. Read Caedmon, The Gift of Writing Verses, a modern English version of the Venerable Bede's story about him in Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.

2.Three Early Biblical Translations. Learn about Greek Septuagint, were Syriac Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate and how they are still in use today.

3.Read more about the Medieval Period: 476-1453. The first millenium, Charlemagne, the Crusades.

The Bible Today: Our Journey


   "The Venerable Bede Translates John"is a detail from painting by J. D. Penrose in An Outline of Christianity: The Story of Our Civilization, Vol. II (New York: Bethlehem Publishers, Inc., 1926), p. 204.

   " Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Translation of the Bible" is a detail from painting by W. F. Yeames, R. A. in An Outline of Christianity: The Story of Our Civilization, Vol. III (New York: Bethlehem Publishers, Inc., 1926), p. 88.

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