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Bible Versions.

A. Septuagint.

1. The earliest attempt to tr. the Scriptures is represented by the Gk. version of the OT commonly known as the Septuagint (LXX). It owes its name to the story (now discredited) that it is the work of 72 translators, 6 from each tribe of Israel, who at the request of Ptolemy* Philadelphus II were sent to Egypt by the high priest Eleazar to prepare a version of the Jewish Law for the royal library at Alexandria. While there is doubtless a kernel of truth in this story and the bare fact of a tr. of the Law in the days of Ptolemy need not be questioned, the LXX as a whole exhibits such varying degrees of skill and accuracy that it can be neither the product of a single body of translators acting in unison nor even the product of a single age. The tr. of the Pentateuch, for example, is pretty well done; that of Daniel is exceedingly poor (the early Christian ch. from ca. AD 200 on used the Gk. version of Theodotion in its stead); while the rendering of Ecclesiastes is so slavishly literal that it is little more than Grecized Hebrew. The most that can be said as to the origin of the LXX is that it was begun ca. 285 BC and completed before 132 BC (Cf. the Prolog of Ecclesiasticus.) The LXX differs strongly from the Hebrew in content and arrangement (Job. for instance, is ca. 400 lines shorter in the Gk.; the Gk. Jeremiah differs from the Heb. by addition, omission, and transposition) and presents also in its renderings innumerable divergences from our present Masoretic text. This is due in part, no doubt, to the arbitrary procedure of the translators, but also in some cases to the fact that the Heb. original differed from the text we possess today. This fact makes the LXX an invaluable aid, though to be used with caution, in the textual criticism of the OT.

2. The LXX was adopted by the Greek-speaking Jews, was used, as a rule, by the writers of the NT in citing the OT, and was regarded as authoritative, even inspired, by the early Christian Fathers. The constant appeal to it on the part of the leaders of the ch. to prove the Messiahship of Jesus aroused the antagonism of the Jews and gave rise, in the 2d c., to 3 rival translations: the strictly literal version of Aquila; the revision of the LXX by Theodotion; and the elegantly periphrastic version of Symmachus. These versions have been preserved only in isolated fragments.

B. Targums.

The Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases, arose from the oral interpretation of the OT Scriptures that had become necessary since the days of the Exile, when Aramaic became the language of common intercourse in Palestine. These oral paraphrases were, in course of time, reduced to writing. The most important Targums are the Targum of Onkelos (1st or 2d c.) on the Pentateuch, which received its present form about the 3d c. after Christ, and the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Prophets: Jonathan, a pupil of Hillel* I, lived in the 1st c. after Christ, but the Targum associated with his name did not receive its final form until about the 5th c. The Targums are of value to the scholar in helping to determine the Heb. text used in the early Synagog as well as in determining what interpretation the Jews gave to difficult passages.

C. Syriac.

1. For the OT, the oldest and most important version is the Peshitta. Whether this tr. is of Jewish or of Christian origin remains uncertain; at any rate, it was used early by the Syriac-speaking ch. and has remained the chief version of the Syriac OT It is by various hands, though in fairly uniform style, and was made directly from the Heb. But there are traces of LXX influence.

2. Two later versions of the LXX OT, that by Philoxenus* of Hierapolis (AD 508) and that by Paul, bp. of Tella, (AD 616), were based on the LXX. Neither succeeded in displacing the Peshitta in common use.

3. Of the oldest Syriac tr. of the NT, dating from the 2d c., only the Gospels have been preserved. This old Syriac version is of the highest importance for the textual criticism of the Gospels, representing as it does a textual tradition indep. of the 2 great branches of the textual tradition represented by MSS B and D.

4. However, the version destined to become the standard version of the NT for the Syriac-speaking ch. was the Peshitta, a complete revision of the NT ascribed to Rabbula,* bp. of Edessa. “It's style is beautifully smooth and clear, and it can claim to be one of the great literary achievements of the Eastern Church.” (T. H. Robinson.)

5. Two later versions, or better, revisions, deserve notice because they contain those portions of the NT originally omitted from the Syriac Canon (2 Ptr, 2 and 3 Jn, Jude, Rv). That of Philoxenus of Hierapolis (AD 508) first included the 5 disputed books; it has hardly survived except for the 4 catholic Epistles, which are usually printed from this version. Similarly, the version by Thomas of Heraclea (or Harkel; bp. of Hierapolis), the NT counterpart to the OT version by Paul of Tella and of about the same date (AD 616), is used in Syriac Bibles only for Rv, though it is extant in its entirety.

D. Egyptian.

There were 3 Egyptian, or Coptic (derived from Gk. Aigyptios) versions: Sahidic, dialect of Upper (southern) Egypt; Bohairic, of the W delta; and Fayumic of Cen. Egypt (of the NT only). Very little is known of the Fayumic at present. The Sahidic is the earlier of the 2 complete versions, having originated in the 2d or 3d c. after Christ. The Bohairic, now in ecclesiastical use among all Egyptian Christians, is considerably later, dated about AD 600. Both the Sahidic and the Bohairic are important for the textual criticism of the NT; the earlier Sahidic shows both “Neutral” and “Western” affinities, while the later Bohairic is more pronouncedly “Neutral.” The OT portion of both these versions is based on the LXX, not on the original Heb.

E. Eihiopic.

The Ethiopic version, still used by the Abyssinians, though Ethiopic has long ceased to be spoken, possibly dates from the 4th c. In the OT the tr. was made from the LXX, though it contains many variations from the Gk., the text in some MSS having been corrected from the Heb.

F. Arabic.

Among the Arabic versi ons of the OT that of Saadia* ben Joseph was made directly from the Heb. text. It won great popularity among the Jews and was publicly read in the synagogs besides the Heb. text. Yet only the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Canticles, Proverbs, and Job have been printed. The complete text of the OT in Arabic appeared in the Paris and London polyglots of the 17th c.; but it is of composite origin. The Pentateuch is the tr. of Saadia. Joshua, though also derived from the Heb., is by another hand. Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Job are based on the Peshitta; the Prophets, Psalms, and Proverbs are based on the LXX As to the NT, Arabic versions have been made from the Gk., from the Peshitta, and from the Lat. The current Arabic NT is a translation, in the main, from the Bohairic dialect, with corrections and additions from the Gk. and Syriac.

G. Armenian.

The Armenian version is ascribed by a 5th-c. Armenian writer, Moses* of Chorene, to the patriarch Sahak (patriarch AD 390–428); his version was made from a Syriac text. Koriun, (fl. 5th c.; pupil and biographer of Mesrob*) says that Mesrob had by 411 translated the entire Bible from the Gk. He is said to have begun with Proverbs; this may indicate that the earlier books had been translated previously by unknown hands. After 431 Sahak and Mesrop later revised the Armenian Bible on the basis of a Gk. Bible brought from Constantinople.

H. Slavonic.

The Old Slavonic version, dating from the middle of the 9th c., is generally attributed to Cyril* and Methodius. The OT tr. is based on the LXX, that of the NT on the Gk. Except for fragments that survive in the official Slavonic Bible of 1751 (the St. Petersburg revision, known as the Bible of Elizabeth, after Elizabeth Petrovna, empress of Russia 1741–62), the old version has been lost. See also Bohemian Brethren, 3; Czechoslovakia, 7.

I. Gothic.

The Gothic version is the work of Ulfilas.* Of the OT, based on the LXX, only the most meager fragments remain. Most of the NT, a literally faithful version, is preserved in various MSS, preeminent among which is the superb Codex Argenteus. The story that Ulfilas omitted from the tr. of the OT the Books of Kings for fear of exciting the warlike passions of the Goths is unworthy of credence, since such considerations would have barred Joshua and Judges as well. The probability is that Ulfilas did not live to finish the tr. See also Goths, Conversion of.

J. Latin.

1. Latin versions antedating the work of Jerome* are now commonly designated as the Old Lat. (Vetus Latina). The term Itala, formerly used and applied by Augustine to one of these versions, is rightly avoided. The term Old Lat. designates a number of versions rather than a version, for if there was a single early version at all (and some evidence points in that direction), it was probably not the work of one man, but rather the result of a process of accretion and revision, book being added to book and the resulting whole subjected to constant revision in various localities to meet local standards and needs. The Old Lat. versions probably originated in Afr., since Tertullian* is the first to mention a Lat. version and his younger contemporary Cyprian* of Carthage cites Scripture in a form identical with the oldest type of Old Lat. text in existing MSS The version, or versions, date from the 2d c. onward and are valuable in textual criticism, since they enable one to tap the stream of textual tradition at a point several centuries earlier than that of most extant Gk. MSS

2. By the 4th c. there was such a welter of Lat. versions that Damasus* I called on Jerome to revise the Old Lat. Bible. He began by tr. the OT from the LXX; the Gallican Psalter (so called because it became very popular in Gaul), the version included in the modern Vulgate, represents this rendering from the Gk. But Jerome became convinced that a satisfactory version could be made only from the Heb. directly, and the rest of the OT books in the Vulgate are a direct rendering of the original. Jerome's revisions of the Gospels appeared ca. 383, and perhaps the rest of the NT was also revised at this time. There is some doubt as to the extent of Jerome's revision of the NT outside the Gospels. He does not cite the Epistles, e.g., in the present Vulgate form—and Augustine* of Hippo, though he shows knowledge of the Vulgate Gospels and OT, seems not to have known the Epistles in their revised form. Jerome's new tr. encountered stubborn opposition; it did not win gen. acceptance in the ch. until the 6th or 7th c. From the 13th c. on it is known as the Vulgata, a name that had formerly been applied to the LXX. In 1546 the Council of Trent* (4th Sess.) authorized the Scriptures “as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition,” but failed to distinguish unequivocally bet. the old Lat. tr. and the work of Jerome (regarding the scope of which there was disagreement). A fully authorized ed. of the Vulgate was not completed till ca. mid-20th c. See also Amiatinus, Codex; Apocrypha, B 2; Clement VIII; Popes, 22.


Of the hundreds of modern versions only a few of the most important can be mentioned here. Since the Reformation the Bible has been tr. into all the languages and many of the dialects of Eur. Among the French versions that of J. Lefevre* d'Etaples (first printed completely in Antwerp. 1530), of P. R. Olivétan* (Neuchatel, 1535), and esp. the Geneva Bible, a revision of Olivetan's work made by pastors of Geneva with the assistance of T. Beza* and others, deserve particular notice. The latter version, having undergone numerous revisions, still holds its place, though there are more recent translations. The principal Dutch version is the so-called States Bible (because authorized by the States General in 1594), pub. 1637 with sanction of the 1618–19 Syn. of Dordrecht.* A Lithuanian version +. was completed 1988 by Alfred Velius, made to replace the 1900 version.

L. English.

1. Although portions of the Bible had been tr. into the vernacular in Anglo-Saxon times, and also after the Norman Conquest, the tr. known as Wycliffe's was the first complete Eng. version. It was based on the Vulgate and appeared 1382–84. It is uncertain how much of the work is that of J. Wycliffe.* The greater part of the OT is probably the work of Nicholas* of Hereford. The NT is attributed to Wycliffe himself, but even this is not beyond doubt. A revision of Wycliffe's Bible, probably made by J. Purvey,* appeared not long after Wycliffe's death. This 2d version remained in common use until the beginning of the 16th c., when it was displaced by the work of W. Tyndale.*

2. The first Englishman to tr. the NT from the original Gk. was W. Tyndale. His tr. appeared on the Continent in 2 editions (3,000 copies each) before 1526. In 1530 Tyndale pub. his version of the Pentateuch and in the following yr. the Book of Jonah. In the OT, too, Tyndale worked from the original, using Luther and the Vulgate as aids.

3. In 1535 M. Coverdale* pub. at Zurich his tr. of the whole Bible “out of the Douche and Latin” (i. e., the Ger. of Luther and the Zurich Bible, and the Vulgate). This was the first complete printed Bible in Eng. and the first complete tr. by a single hand.

4. The so-called Matthew's Bible, essentially a compilation from Tyndale and Coverdale prepared by John Rogers,* appeared 1537. dedicated to “The most noble and gracyous Prynce Kyng Henry the Eyght and Queen Jane.” Since it bore on its title page the inscription “Set forth with the Kinges most gracyous lycence,” it may be considered the first Eng. authorized version.

5. Because of the deficiencies of both the Coverdale and the Matthew version, Coverdale, at the instance of T. Cromwell,* undertook a fresh revision, which appeared 1539; because of the large proportions of the book (it measured 10 by 15 in.), it was known as the Great Bible. Its 2d ed., issued 1540, is called Cranmer's Bible because of his preface. (See also Cranmer, Thomas; Pagninus, Santes).

6. Richard Taverner's* version, a revision of Matthew's Bible, appeared 1539, but did not become popular.

7. During the persecution under Mary* I some Eng. reformers found refuge in Geneva. Here W. Whittingham* and his associates undertook a revision of Tyndale, collated with the Great Bible. Their work resulted in what is known as the Geneva Bible, completed 1560), most scholarly of the early Eng. versions. It won immediate popularity (Shakespeare used it extensively), no fewer than 120 editions appearing up to 1611. It did not, however, at once displace the Great Bible, but was used side by side with it until the appearance of the Bishops' Bible 1568 displaced the Great Bible.

8. The Bishops' Bible, revision of the Great Bible. owes its name to the fact that most of the revisers were bps. The revision was an attempt to counteract the popularity of the Geneva Bible, with its “pestilent glosses” or comments, often caustic. The Bishops' Bible, though never quite popular, passed through 20 editions, the last appearing 1606. This version is important historically, since the improved and revised ed. of 1572 is the basis of the revision that led to the KJV 1611. See also Parker, Matthew.

9. The RC version pub. in Fr. at Reims (NT 1582) and Douai (OT 1609–10) was based on the Vulgate and was very literal.

10. The King James Version of 1611 (also called Authorized Version) resulted from a suggestion by John Rainolds* at the Hampton* Court Conference* James* I, interested in theol., ordered that a tr. be made of the whole Bible consonant to the original Hebrew and Greek, to be used in all chs. of Eng. To insure accuracy, the translators (54 were appointed, but only ca. 50 can be identified) were bound to observe no fewer than 15 specific rules. In particular, it was provided that the entire body of translators, divided into 6 companies, should approve the work of every member. The version is essentially a revision of the Bishops' Bible of 1572. See also Abbot, George; Andrewes, Lancelot; Apocrypha, B 2; Textus receptus.

11. The new version, appearing under royal authority and commended by the best scholarship of the age, though bitterly criticized in some quarters, soon won gen. favor. For 350 yrs. it held its place as the Bible of the English-speaking world. The rare beauty and purity of its diction, its dignified and elegant simplicity, its reverent spirit and attitude endeared it to millions of hearts and made it the most popular book in the Eng. tongue.

12. The Revised Version. The discovery and collation of numerous Biblical MSS in the first half of the 19th c., as well as the advances made in Gk. and Heb. scholarship, revealed some of the inaccuracies of the KJV and started the movement for revision about 1855. In 1870 a com. representing nearly all the churches in Eng. (no RCs were included) was entrusted with the work of preparing a revised version. The NT company began its work on June 22, 1870, and the OT company on June 30. In response to an invitation on the part of the Brit. revisers to participate in the task, an Am. revision committee was organized toward the close of the following year. The details of the plan of cooperation were, however, not fully arranged until 1875. The Eng. com. promised to give due consideration to all the Am. suggestions and renderings before the conclusion of its own labors and to permit the pub., in an appendix, of all important differences of rendering and reading that the Brit. reviewers should decline to accept. On the other hand, the Am. com. was to give its moral support to the Brit. editions “with a view to their freest circulation within the United States, and not to issue an edition of its own for a term of fourteen years.” On May 17, 1881, the Eng. revised NT appeared in Eng. and a few days later in the US. In both countries the demand was enormous, about 3 million copies being sold within a yr. of pub. The OT revision was completed 1884; the entire RV, bound in 1 vol., appeared 1885. The ASV, which embodied not only the readings which had appeared in the appendix to the Eng. RV, but also others which had been adopted by the Am. revisers later, appeared 1901. Neither the Brit. RV nor the ASV achieved the widespread acceptance that had been anticipated for them.

13. Private versions that have appeared since 1901 include those of F. Fenton* (1903), R. F. Weymouth* (NT 1903), J. Moffatt* (NT 1913, OT 1924 E. J. Goodspeed* (NT 1923), E. J. Goodspeed and J. M. P. Smith,* with others (OT and NT 1935, Apocrypha 1938), J. B. Phillips* (NT 1958), Hugh Joseph Schonfield (1901–88: b. London, Eng.; educ. U. of Glasgow and U. of London. The Authenti## New Testament, 1955; The Song of Songs, 1959), Jay Patrick Green Sr. (b. 1918 Ennis, Ky.; educ. La Salle U., Philadelphi Pa. Modern King James Version the Holy Bible, 1962; A Literal Translation of the Bible, 1977), and W. F. Beck* (NT 1963, OT 1976).

14. Other 20th-c. versions include The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text (Jewish; 1917, 1955, 1965), the Revised Standard Version (NT 1946, OT 1952), the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Jeh. Wit.; 1950–61), the New American Standard Bible (1960), The New English Bible (NT 1961, OT and Apocrypha 1970), The Jerusalem Bible (1966), the Good News Bible (NT 1966, OT 1976), the New American Bible (RC; 1970), The Living Bible Paraphrased (1971), the New International Version (1973), the New King James Version (1982), God's Word to the Nations (a rev. of the Beck Bible; NT 1988), The Revised English Bible (a rev. of The New English Bible; 1989).

M. German.

The Bible was tr. into Ger. as early as the 14th c. This tr. follows the Vulgate. After the invention of printing it appeared (1466–1521) in no fewer than 18 ed., 14 in the High and 4-according to some, 5-in the Low Ger. dialect. The origin of the pre-Lutheran Ger. Bible is still uncertain. That Luther was acquainted with it and made use of it has been est. Luther's version was made from the Heb. and Gk. and everywhere bears the stamp of originality. Its merits are well known. Schaft calls it “a wonderful monument of genius, learning, and piety,” Its homely simplicity and rugged vigor, its idiomatic diction and rhythmic flow of language, its happily alliterative phrases (Stecken und Stab, Dornen trod Disteln, matt und müde, etc.), and its freedom from all pedantic restraint have assured it a permanent place in the hearts of the Ger. people. Luther began his work on the NT in November or early December 1521 and completed it in the following March before he left the Wartburg. The tr. was pub. September 1522. In the greater and more difficult task of tr. the OT, begun 1522, Luther had the assistance of Melanchthon. Bugenhagen, C. Cruciger the Elder, and others. The work was completed 1534, but Luther continued to improve his tr. with every new ed., esp. on the linguistic side. Luther's version not only formed the basis of several other versions (Dan., Swed., Icelandic, Dutch), but naturally gave rise to counter versions by the Catholics (H. Emser* 1527; J. Dietenberger* 1534; J. Eck* 1537). The tr. of Dietenberger, rev. by K. Ulenberg* (pub. 1630) and by the clergy of Mainz 1662, became known as the “Catholic Bible.” A revision of Luther's version known as the “Revidierte Bibel” appeared 1892 but has not met with gen. favor. Finally, several more recent scholarly translations deserve mention, notably those of E. F. Kautzsch* (OT) and K. H. v. Weizsácker* (NT), which have also been pub. together in 1 vol., and those of W. M. L. DeWette,* J. F. Meier. F. E. Schlachter, and H. Menge.* A. v. Schlatter,* W. Michaelis, and others tried to tr. the Bible into contemporary idiom. See also Apocrypha. B 2.


As of 1993, 329 languages had entire Bibles; 770 had the whole NT Some parts of the Bible had been pub. in 2,009 languages and dialects.

John Eliot's* Mohican tr. was the first Bible pub. in Am. (NT 1661; OT 1663). MHF

See also Polychrome Bible; Theology.

English Bible in America: A Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and the New Testament Published in America 1777–1957, ed. M. T. Hills (New York. 1961); The Translated Bible 1534–1934, ed. O. M. Norlie (Philadelphia, 1934); O. M. Norlie, The Bible in a Thousand Tongues (Minneapolis, 1935).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

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