This entry deals with translations, or “versions,” of the Bible from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and consists of ten articles:

The first article deals with general theories and problems of translation. The second article discusses all ancient versions, except for the Targums, which are the subject of the third article. the remaining articles survey medieval versions and translations into other languages, first English, then groups of languages ordered by continent. Related discussion is found in Circulation of the Bible; Paraphrases; Polyglot Bibles; Septuagint; Vulgate; and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Theory and Practice

The theory and practice of scripture translation represent three different traditions with distinctive but largely complementary sets of principles. These three primary approaches to translating may be designated as philological, linguistic, and communicative.

The Philological Approach focuses on such features as the author's background, distinctive features of style, literary genres, the history of text transmission, literary criticism, and the manner in which a text has been interpreted through the years. The first Bible translator to deal overtly with these issues was Jerome, who in accordance with the best classical tradition realized that the sense must have priority over the words. This represented a radical departure from the Old Latin practice.

Luther's translation of the Bible into German also broke with tradition and the dominance of the Vulgate by translating directly from Greek and Hebrew and by using the ordinary words of common people. In the English language, Tyndale likewise insisted that the message of the scriptures should be understood by everyone, and with this intent he produced what later proved to be a major contribution to the King James Version.

The committee that produced the King James Version was especially concerned for the stylistic quality of a text for public reading, and they were surprisingly successful in producing a translation that not only dominated the use of scriptures in English for almost two centuries but greatly influenced the production of early translations by missionaries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

The latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century were marked by intense interest in archaeological finds and the discovery of many ancient manuscripts, which inevitably led to new insights in interpretation of many biblical passages. The English Revised Version (1885) and the corresponding American Standard Version (1901) represented the best in nineteenth‐century biblical scholarship, but the many awkward literalisms in these translations greatly limited their acceptability for English‐speaking people.

During this same period certain individual translators produced versions that were stylistically more in line with present‐day usage in English, such as Weymouth's New Testament in Modern Speech (1902), Moffatt's The Bible: A New Translation (1928), and Goodspeed's The New Testament: An American Translation (1923). Such translations inevitably influenced the demand for more standard texts that would have a wider range of acceptance, including the Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952), the New English Bible (1970), and the New American Bible (1970). Similar developments occurred in a number of other major languages, for example, La Bible de Jérusalem (1956), Die Einheitsübersetzung (1974), and Nueva Biblia Española (1975).

The Linguistic Approach became an important factor after 1945, when there was a rapid expansion of missionary work in hundreds of minor languages without any written literary tradition or even system of writing. Most missionary translators had little to guide them in formulating alphabets, analyzing complex grammars, determining the meanings of words in quite different cultures, and learning to appreciate some of the remarkable stylistic features of oral literatures.

To determine what could and should be done, the Netherlands Bible Society organized for the United Bible Societies the first international conference of Bible translators held in Woudschoten, Netherlands, in 1946. The journal The Bible Translator began publication the next year, and this was followed by a number of books: Bible Translating (1947), Toward a Science of Translating (1964), The Theory and Practice of Translation (1969), and From One Language to Another (1986), as well as a series of Translators' Handbooks providing detailed information on exegetical and cultural problems. The Summer Institute of Linguistics, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators, has also published a number of helps for Bible translators.

A major problem in producing revisions or new translations in languages having a long biblical tradition is the change of meaning that has often taken place in words and idioms. For example, most English speakers understand the terms “justify” and “justification” as meaning “using questionable means for making something seem right or correct, even when it is not.” Accordingly, some English translations now use expressions such as “to be put right with” or “to make acceptable to.” Some of the most creative attempts to express the meaning of the scriptures in present‐day language are The New Testament in Modern English (J. B. Phillips, 1960), La Version Popular in Spanish (1979), Today's English Version (1976), Gute Nachricht in German (1982), La Bonne Nouvelle d'Aujourd'hui in French (1982), and The Contemporary English Version (New Testament, 1991).

The linguistic approach to translating may be viewed as a four‐phase process: analysis (determining the meaning of the biblical text on the most explicit level), transfer (shifting from the source to the target language on this explicit level), restructuring (reproducing the message on the appropriate language level for the intended audience), and testing (to determine the accuracy and degree of natural equivalence based on readers' responses).

The Communicative Approach

to translating (based in large measure on communication theory) has been a natural outgrowth of the linguistic orientation. The key factors in communication are source (for the Bible, both divine and human), message (form and content), receptors (addressees and the wider audience), noise (anything altering the text in the process of transmission, e.g., copyist errors), feedback (how people have reacted to the message), and setting (the original, as well as present‐day circumstances of communication). Such an approach to Bible translation depends heavily on insights from cultural anthropology.

The concept of closest natural equivalence has sometimes been discussed in terms of “dynamic equivalence,” but unfortunately some have assumed that any dynamic expression can be an equivalence. Accordingly, it is better to speak of “functional equivalence” in order to specify more clearly the relation between an original text and its translation into another language. Interlingual equivalence can never be an absolute or mathematical equivalence. There can, however, be a communicative equivalence, something that is effective in obtaining an appropriate response.

A definition of translation on a maximal level of communicative equivalence may be stated as follows: “The readers of a translation should understand and appreciate the text in essentially the same way as the original audience understood and appreciated it.” But since no two cultures or languages are ever identical, a maximal level is unattainable, even though it can be a helpful theoretical goal. The more practical minimal definition of equivalence would be the following: “The readers or hearers of a translation should be able to comprehend how the original readers or hearers of a text must have understood and appreciated it.” Bible translating should fall somewhere between these maximal and minimal levels.

The practical implications of these complementary philological, linguistic, and communicative approaches to scripture translation can be readily seen on the three levels of language: words, grammar, and discourse. Translation problems are more conspicuous on the lexical level, because the boundaries of meaning of words and idioms are almost always uncertain and fuzzy. For most speakers of English the term “grace” represents pleasing form or movement, the name of a girl, or a period of time before a bill must be paid. Accordingly, some translations of the Bible employ “kindness” or “goodness” in order to more accurately represent the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek terms traditionally rendered by “grace.”

In some languages relative clauses always precede rather than follow, and many languages have two forms of “we,” inclusive and exclusive of the audience, while a number of languages do not specify a subject when it is evident from the context. All such grammatical features require extensive formal adjustments in translating, as is also evident in most present‐day renderings of Ephesians 1.3–14, which in Greek is one sentence but in an English translation must normally be broken up into six to ten different sentences.

On the level of discourse some languages require the order of clauses and sentences to follow the historical sequence. This requires considerable restructuring of Mark 6.16–18. A literal rendering of Hebrew poetic parallelism is regarded in some languages as an insult to hearers because it suggests that the people are not intelligent enough to understand the first expression, but in other languages the lack of parallelism is regarded as a serious mistake. Some languages require rhetorical questions to be changed into emphatic statements and indirect discourse to be altered into direct discourse.

Because Bible translations serve quite distinct purposes for different audiences under varying circumstances, most major languages with marked social‐class dialects require at least three different kinds of scripture texts: a traditional type of translation to meet the needs of those whose religious experience has been deeply influenced by a particular kind of “holy language”; a common‐language translation (a modern koine) representing a relatively narrow overlapping of literary and colloquial usage; and a translation that fully exploits the total resources of a language and in this way does justice to the literary diversities of the Greek and Hebrew texts.

See also Circulation of the Bible


Eugene A. Nida

Ancient Languages

The Hebrew Bible.

In antiquity, the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (Septuagint [= LXX), Syriac, Jewish Aramaic (the Targums), and Latin (Vulgate). The earliest of these was into Greek, where no precedent existed for any large‐scale translation of a Near Eastern religious text. These ancient versions were to exert an enormous and enduring cultural and linguistic influence, above all in Christianity (though two, and perhaps three, of them began as Jewish undertakings). From them a large number of daughter versions were produced. Since the Septuagint in particular dates from a time prior to the stabilization of the Hebrew text (late first century CE), it serves as an important witness, alongside the biblical manuscripts from Qumran (See Dead Sea Scrolls), to early textual forms of the Hebrew Bible (See Manuscripts, article on Hebrew Bible).

After an initial period of experimentation, “word for word” translation soon came to be regarded as the ideal for biblical texts (whereas literary translations from Greek into Latin were “sense for sense”). This norm, formulated by Jerome, influenced all subsequent translation until the end of the Middle Ages; a different approach only came in during the Reformation, partly as a result of the invention of printing (See Printing and Publishing, article on The Printed Bible).

Greek: The *Septuagint.

According to tradition, recorded first in the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates (late second century BCE) the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek was commissioned by Ptolemy II (282–246); for this purpose an accurate Hebrew manuscript was sent from Jerusalem to Alexandria where the work was undertaken by seventy‐two elders from the twelve tribes (rounded off to seventy, whence the term LXX, later extended to cover the entire Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). Though a direct connection with Ptolemy II is implausible, it is likely that the first group of books to be translated was the Pentateuch, and that this took place in the early third century BCE in Egypt, probably as a result of the liturgical and educational needs of the large Jewish community there. The translation of other books was carried out piecemeal over the next two centuries and included books of the Apocrypha whose Hebrew original has been either lost, or recovered in part only in modern times (e.g., Sirach). The style of translation varies from book to book, and some books (notably 1 Samuel and Jeremiah) were translated from editions of the Hebrew text that differ from those surviving in the Masoretic text.

Two attitudes developed among Hellenistic Jews with regard to the Greek translation once it had come into existence. Some (probably mainly in Palestine), considering the original translations to be too free, undertook to correct and revise them, bringing them into closer line with the current Hebrew text (itself developing); the culmination of this approach was the ultraliteral version by Aquila (early second century CE). Others (notably Philo) held that the Greek translators were themselves inspired, and so for them the LXX shared equal authority with the Hebrew (thus obviating any need for correction).

Early Christianity inherited from Hellenistic Judaism both the LXX and Philo's attitude to it; Greek‐speaking Jews as a result abandoned the LXX in favor of various revised versions, above all that of Aquila. The resulting differences between Jewish and Christian texts of the Greek Old Testament led Origen to undertake a massive revision of the LXX, bringing it into line with the Hebrew and the Jewish Greek versions, and producing the Hexapla. Although Origen probably intended his revised LXX only for scholarly use, it came to exercise an extensive influence, thanks to its propagation by Eusebius and Pamphilus. Other Christian recensions of the fourth century, attributed to Lucian and Hesychius, were primarily stylistic in character.

The LXX remains to this day the authoritative biblical text of the Greek Orthodox church (See Eastern Orthodoxy and the Bible).

As regards manuscripts of the Septuagint, the earliest fragments, on papyrus, date from the second century BCE. Manuscripts normally contain groups of books, rather than the whole Bible; notable exceptions are three fourth‐ and fifth‐century CE codices, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and Sinaiticus (Old Testament and New Testament, all nearly complete, each with slightly different contents). The order of books differs from that of the Hebrew Bible (See Canon).

Syriac: The Peshitta.

The origins of the Syriac version are shrouded in uncertainty. As was the case with the LXX, different books were translated at different times (probably first and second centuries CE), and perhaps at different places (Edessa, Nisibis, and Adiabene have been suggested). At least some books were translated by Jews, and there are links with the Targum tradition especially in the Pentateuch; the Targum of Proverbs actually derives from the Peshitta. Although the translators worked basically from the Hebrew, in some books they evidently occasionally consulted the LXX. Apart from some stylistic improvement, there appear to have been no subsequent revisions of the Peshitta text, which is remarkably stable (unlike the LXX where there are many variations between manuscripts). With the exception of Sirach, based on Hebrew, the books of the Apocrypha were translated from Greek.

The Peshitta remains the authoritative biblical text of the Syriac churches (Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East, Maronite). The oldest manuscripts are of fifth and sixth centuries CE; these normally contain groups of books, and only five complete Bibles earlier than the seventeenth century are known, the earliest being Codex Ambrosianus of the sixth/seventh century. The term “Peshitta,” meaning “simple,” distinguishes this version (made from Hebrew) from the Syrohexapla (made from Greek; see below).

Latin: The *Vulgate.

Jerome's earliest biblical translations were made from Origen's revision of the LXX (a few books, notably the Gallican Psalter, survive), but in ca. 393 he boldly turned to the Hebrew original as a better source, and in the course of a dozen years he produced a Latin version that quickly became the standard version of the Western church (hence the term Vulgata), replacing the Old Latin, translated from the LXX. Jerome's undertaking was both remarkable and revolutionary: remarkable in that he achieved a knowledge of Hebrew unique for a Christian at that period (it went well beyond Origen's), revolutionary in that he successfully overthrew the authority of the LXX within the Latin church. Of the many Vulgate manuscripts, the Codex Amiatinus, a complete Bible of the early eighth century, is one of the most important.

Daughter translations.

Since LXX, Peshitta, and Vulgate became the official Old Testament texts for the Greek‐, Syriac‐, and Latin‐speaking churches, they became the bases for subsequent translations into many other languages for the use of daughter churches. The most important are:

1. From the Septuagint (in approximate chronological order): Old Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Christian Palestinian Aramaic, Syriac (the Syrohexapla, translated ca. 616 from Origen's revised LXX text), Arabic, and Slavonic. Not all of these are preserved complete.

2. From the Peshitta: Persian and Sogdian (mostly lost), Arabic.

3. From the Vulgate: the medieval western vernacular translations and some of the earlier Reformation translations (see article below on Medieval Versions).

The New Testament.

The most important translations of the Greek New Testament are the Latin and the Syriac, both of which go back to the second century CE.

Old Latin.

The earliest translations that constitute the Old Latin were probably made in the second half of the second century CE, and perhaps in North Africa rather than Rome. They are of considerable textual interest. The extant manuscripts (mostly fragmentary and some going back to the fourth century) exhibit many variations among themselves, and the version was subject to constant sporadic revision from the Greek. Jerome's revision of the Old Latin New Testament, known as the Vulgate, was completed ca. 384; the gospel text was the most revised. The oldest Vulgate gospel manuscript may belong to the fifth century.


The oldest Syriac version is probably the Diatessaron (Gospel Harmony), made by Tatian ca. 160. In Syriac (which may even be its original language), the Diatessaron at first enjoyed wide popularity, but as a result of its suppression in the early fifth century only quotations survive. The subsequent translation of the four Gospels (late second–early third centuries), known as the Old Syriac, survives in two early manuscripts, the Curetonianus and Sinaiticus; the translation was made from an early Greek text form with many “western” features (See Manuscripts, article on New Testament; Textual Criticism). In due course, the rather free translation of the Old Syriac was revised on the basis of an early form of the Koine, or Byzantine, Greek text; this revision, eventually called the Peshitta (to distinguish it from the Harclean), emerged ca. 400 to become the standard New Testament text of the Syriac churches. The Peshitta covers the whole New Testament, apart from 2–3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation (none of which formed part of the early Syriac canon). It is preserved in many manuscripts (some of the fifth century), and the text is very stable.

A further revision of the Syriac New Testament was sponsored by Philoxenus of Mabbug in 507/8, but of this only quotations survive (a sixth‐century translation of the minor Catholic Epistles and Revelation may also belong). The Philoxenian was itself revised in 616 by Thomas of Harkel, who produced a mirror version of the Greek. Surprisingly, this version, known as the Harclean, was often used for lectionary purposes. The oldest manuscripts of the Harclean Gospels date to the eighth or even the seventh century.

Other versions.

Other ancient versions of the New Testament include translations into Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and Arabic.


The translations into various Coptic dialects were first made in the third or fourth century CE and subsequently revised. Several gospel manuscripts of the fourth century survive.


This was made by Ulfilas (fourth century), and the earliest manuscripts date from the sixth century.


The version probably goes back to the fifth century, but the earliest manuscripts date to about the fourteenth century.


The translation is traditionally associated with the patriarchs Mesrop and Sahak (early fifth century); though it was made from Greek, some use may have been made of an earlier translation from Syriac, now lost. The oldest dated manuscripts are of the ninth century.


It is not certain whether the original translation, which may go back to the fifth century, was made from Greek, Armenian, or Syriac; subsequently, it was thoroughly revised on the basis of the Greek. The oldest dated manuscripts are of the ninth and tenth centuries, though earlier fragments exist.


The earliest translations probably date from the eighth century (some were made from Syriac or Coptic, rather than Greek). The oldest manuscripts are of the ninth century.


The translation goes back to Cyril and Methodius (ninth century). The oldest manuscripts (written in Glagolitic rather than Cyrillic script) are of late tenth/eleventh century.

Several of these translations continue in liturgical use.

S. P. Brock


The Targums are interpretive renderings of the books of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic; the Aramaic word targûm means “translation” or “interpretation.” The origin of Targum as institution is to be traced to the Second Temple period, when Jews living in Palestine and elsewhere in the Near East were no longer familiar with their ancestral tongue, having adopted Aramaic, the official language of the Persian administration. The Targums cover the whole of the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel. In general, their place of origin is Palestine, though in the form in which we have them, Targums Onqelos to the Pentateuch and Jonathan to the Prophets bear signs of substantial revision in Babylonia, where by the second or third century CE they were recognized as “official” Targums. During the same period, the Targum tradition continued to flourish in Palestine, so that there are extant two complete Palestinian Targums to the Pentateuch (Neofiti and Pseudo‐Jonathan) and a substantial number of fragments representing other Palestinian Pentateuchal Targums (or, as some would have it, other versions of the one Palestinian Targum). In addition to the “Babylonianized” Targum to the Prophets, there are in later writings many references to and quotations from a “Jerusalem” Targum to the Prophets, but whether these point to the existence at one time of a complete Palestinian version is debatable. The Dead Sea Scrolls include substantial fragments of a Targum to the book of Job, in a version significantly different from that already known. There are also small fragments of a Targum to Leviticus.

Talmudic tradition traces the institution of Targum to the occasion described in Nehemiah 8.8 when the law of Moses was read “with interpretation” so that the assembled congregation might understand. Whether or not translation into Aramaic was involved, the need for such a provision in synagogues will have become apparent at an early stage. The Mishnah (ca. 200 CE) lays down rules in connection with the reading and translation of scripture in the synagogue; these include a ban on written Targum texts, evidently lest the authority of the original be compromised. Thus, the developing Targum corpus owed much to synagogal traditions of interpretation, but depended for its literary crystallization and transmission upon other means of support. Some evidence points to the Jewish schools, which often shared buildings and personnel with the synagogue, as the preservers of this written Targum tradition.

All translations of the Bible are necessarily interpretive to a degree, but the Targums differ in that they are interpretive as a matter of policy, and often to an extent that far exceeds the bounds of “translation” or even “paraphrase.” Even the “Babylonian” Targums, which over long stretches give the appearance of being fairly literal, often compress in a word or short phrase an allusion to a tradition of interpretation represented elsewhere in rabbinic (usually Talmudic or Midrashic) literature. At those points in the Pentateuch and the historical books where prose gives way to poetry (e.g., Gen. 49; Deut. 32; 33; Judg. 5; 1 Sam. 2) the Targums tend to be more expansive and more pronouncedly “targumic” in the doctrines and views they superimpose upon the biblical text. Basically, the Targums set themselves to inculcate reverence for God (witness the frequent introduction of the mêmrā [“Word” of God to avoid any derogation of the truth of divine transcendence); to resolve discrepancies in the sacred text; to contemporize in matters of geography, law, or theology; and to promote teachings beloved of rabbinic authorities but not necessarily present in the biblical text or not as prominent as was wished (e.g., prayer, meritorious deeds, messianism, resurrection). The tone is often moralistic and the intention obviously pedagogical, as would befit either a synagogal or school constituency. Another feature characteristic of the Targums perhaps more than of any other Bible translation ancient or modern is their reliance upon a number of stock words and expressions that are especially likely to occur where the underlying Hebrew text is obscure. Words like “strong,” “strength,” “destroy,” and “plunder” are very common and often have been the basis of reconstructed readings of the Hebrew text where no such variant readings actually existed. Recurrent expressions like “the rich in possessions” or “cause the Shekinah to dwell” may likewise be translational ciphers, as well as having sociological or theological significance in inner Targumic terms.

There is an extensive literature on the contribution of the Targums to the understanding of the New Testament. The extent of such influence can easily be exaggerated, and the theory has depended to a considerable extent upon the assumption of an early (not later than the first century CE) date of origin for the Palestinian Targum(s) to the Pentateuch in particular. It is not possible, however, to date the Targums with any such degree of precision; the extant texts are probably best viewed as the product of several centuries of development. Thus the grounds for distinguishing between the Targums and other types of rabbinic literature as potential sources of light on the New Testament are questionable. There are nevertheless occasional points of contact, such as Mark 4.12 where “and be forgiven” interprets the reference to healing in Isaiah 6.10 exactly as does the Targum. Similarly, the exposition of Psalm 68.18 in Ephesians 4.8 reflects an interpretation that is represented in Targum but is scarcely deducible from the standard Hebrew text.

See also Interpretation, History of, article on Jewish Interpretation


Robert P. Gordon

Medieval Versions

Latin was the universal language of learning in the West during the Middle Ages, and the principal version of the Bible was the Latin Vulgate. Yet the common people of the period were not limited to the art and drama of the church, or to homilies and mystery plays, for a knowledge of the Bible in their vernaculars. Educational and devotional needs both of monastic schools and of the laity were served by the glossing of Latin texts. The first books to be glossed or translated were usually the Psalter, the Gospels, and some Old Testament narratives. Before the fourteenth century, complete Testaments were rare, but by the middle of the fifteenth century, when the art of printing from movable type was developed, vernacular versions of the Bible were no longer uncommon. These were generally not translations of the Bible in the modern critical sense, but were either extremely literal or free renderings, frequently paraphrased or expanded with explanations for the reader. The stages of this development in several major European languages are reviewed in the following paragraphs in alphabetical order.


The earliest surviving fragment of the scriptures in a Dutch vernacular version is of a paraphrase of the Psalms that dates from the early part of the tenth century. In the twelfth century, the religious revival of the Beguines and the Beghards in the Netherlands and Belgium, which subsequently spread to Germany and France, led to other biblical translations. The Liège Diatessaron, a vernacular translation of Tatian's harmony, was one of the earliest biblical translations in Dutch. It has been compared with Luther's German version for its vigorous idiomatic quality. Other Dutch translations include the book of Revelation in West Flemish (ca. 1280), a Southern Dutch Psalter, and by 1300 the New Testament Gospels and Epistles. In 1271 the poet Jacob van Maerlant published his Rijmbijbel, a free translation that was based on Comestor's Historia scholastica and enjoyed considerable popularity. While paraphrases and adaptations continued to appear, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries showed an increasing demand for more precise biblical versions, with comments and additions clearly distinguished from the biblical text.


The earliest surviving examples of Old English literature are the poetic paraphrases attributed by tradition to Caedmon, the seventh‐century cowherd, who sang of the creation of the world, the wanderings of the Israelites, and of the gospel stories he learned from the monks of Whitby. This school of poetry survived to the tenth century. King Alfred's (849–899) educational policies and monastic reforms undoubtedly did much to promote the status of the vernacular as well as the level of learning among the clergy. The ninth‐century Vespasian Psalter, the earliest known English gloss on a biblical text, was followed by the continuous gloss by Aldred in the Lindisfarne Gospels (ca. 950). The Rushworth Gloss (ca. 975), based in part on the Lindisfarne gloss, is in a continuous prose form and is probably the earliest surviving example of English biblical translation. Although Aelfric (955–1020), the most important English biblical writer before Wycliffe, wrote homilies, Lives of the Saints, and a free rendering of the Heptateuch, he remained a biblical expositor and not a translator. An anonymous contemporary produced the West‐Saxon Gospels, a literal but readable translation of the four Gospels.

With the Norman conquest, a new Anglo‐Norman vernacular developed with a more sophisticated literature. From the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, several versions of the Psalter and a number of passion narratives are known. The medieval Latin Psalter had three forms: the Vulgate, or Old Latin text based on the Greek Septuagint, the Roman revision of it by Jerome, and Jerome's fresh translation made from the Hebrew. The Eadwine Psalter (ca. 1160) contained all three, accompanying the Vulgate with the glossa ordinaria, the Roman with an interlinear Old English gloss, and the Hebrew with an interlinear Old French gloss. But the homily cycles and biblical versifications of the period (especially the Cursor mundi) reflect a general withdrawal from direct biblical study and an increased dependence on scholastic theology, especially the Glossa ordinaria and the theological schemes of Peter Comestor's Historia scholastica, a digest of biblical history.

In the fourteenth century, when the Franciscan emphasis on spiritual activity gave rise to a demand among lay contemplatives for vernacular scriptures as a guide and ground for private mystical experience, the English Psalter of Richard Rolle (1300–1349) proved the vernacular an adequate medium of religious expression. Several decades later (about 1382), the Lollard John Wycliffe (1329–1384) and his colleagues at Oxford began work on the first complete translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. The first form of the translation was a quite literal rendering of the Latin Vulgate, and it was soon revised to conform more nearly to idiomatic English usage. In 1407, Archbishop Arundel issued a “constitution” against Lollardy, condemning the private translation of scripture “into English or any other language,” and specifically forbidding the use of any translation associated with Wycliffe under pain of excommunication. The popularity of the version, however, may be gauged from the fact that nearly two hundred copies of it have survived.


In the twelfth century, the Psalter was widely known in a very literal French vernacular gloss; it is found in a continuous form in the Montebourg Psalter and the Arundel Psalter, among others. Not until the Metz Psalter (ca. 1300) and the Psalter of Raoul de Presles (ca. 1380) does the gloss become more idiomatic in its syntax and vocabulary. In contrast, there was a late‐twelfth‐century prose version of Samuel and Kings in an excellent style, though quite free and with considerable commentary added to the biblical text. In Provence, the followers of Peter Waldo (d. 1217), who claimed the scriptures as their sole rule of life and faith, translated the Psalms and other books of the Old Testament and the complete New Testament into Provençal by the early thirteenth century. Pope Innocent III attempted to suppress the movement, but their influence was felt not only in France but also in the Netherlands and Germany and in Italy. Vernacular translations of Judges and other books were being made, and by the mid‐thirteenth century, compilations of these were assembled and illuminated for wealthy patrons and royalty—examples are the Acre Bible of Saint Louis (1250–1254), which contained over a dozen Old Testament books (including the earliest vernacular version of Job in a European language), and the De Thou Bible (ca. 1280), with a different selection of Old Testament books and parts of the New Testament (Gospels, Acts, and Catholic Epistles). The complete thirteenth‐century French vernacular of the whole Bible survives in very few copies (British Library, Pierpont Morgan Library, Chantilly). It was a compilation, uneven in its glossing, its style, and its quality; but the translation movement it inaugurated climaxed in the Biblia historiale (1291–1295) of Guyart des Moulins. This expanded translation of Comestor's Historia scholastica incorporated versions of many biblical books and developed into a veritable medieval biblical encyclopedia. It appeared in many editions, and was both abridged and revised. The Renaissance scholar Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, who published the first printed French Bible in 1530, made use of the text of the Biblia historiale, revising it literally and eliminating its medieval glosses.


Apart from fragments of a Gothic version of the scriptures, translated by Ulfilas in the second half of the fourth century and probably revised under Latin influences during the next two centuries, Germanic theological literature dates from the Carolingian Renaissance. Fragments of the gospel of Matthew written in the Bavarian dialect and surviving in an eighth‐century manuscript written at the monastery of Monsee, near Salzburg, have been associated with Charlemagne's reputed concern that Latin works be translated into the German vernacular. In the reign of his successor, Louis the Pious, an East Frankish dialect version of Tatian's Diatessaron was made at Fulda about 830, written together with its Latin base in parallel columns, but it was so literal a translation as to be nearly interlinear in character. The contemporary versified Old Saxon epic Heliand (Savior) of about six thousand alliterative lines was also based on the Diatessaron, freely combined with material from commentaries, apocrypha, and legend. The Liber evangeliorum of Otfrid of Weissenberg in Alsace was based on gospel lessons from a lectionary and written in South Rhine Frankish; it expanded the lectionary lessons liberally, adding whole chapters of commentary to them. Notker Labeo (950–1022), one of the founders of German vernacular literature, translated the Psalter, adding the Latin text, a German translation, and a German commentary in sequential rather than interlinear arrangement. The paraphrase of the Vulgate Song of Songs by Williram of Ebersburg (ca. 1060), arranged in parallel columns of Latin hexameters and a German prose rendering mixed with Latin, was remarkably popular and was copied and emulated through the fifteenth century.

By the end of the fourteenth century, German possessed a complete vernacular New Testament (1350, Augsburg Bible) and Old Testament (ca. 1389–1400, Wenzel Bible). The Codex Teplensis (ca. 1400), a New Testament written in Bohemia, may reflect Waldensian associations. Opposition to the vernacular scriptures was not altogether lacking. In 1369, Charles IV issued an edict prohibiting the translation of religious books, and a papal rescript in 1375 forbade vernacular scriptures in Germany. Although the tide of scripture circulation could not be stemmed, creative efforts were discouraged, and the first printed German Bible, published by Mentel in 1466, still reflected the language and translation techniques of the early fourteenth century.


In Italy, vernacular translations of the Gospels and the Psalter may have existed by the mid‐thirteenth century if not earlier, and of the entire Bible in the fourteenth century, though the earliest biblical manuscripts are from the fourteenth century, and the earliest surviving complete Bible is from the fifteenth century. Almost invariably these versions were in the Tuscan dialect, made from Latin, usually from the Vulgate text. The Gospels were mostly harmonies based on the Latin translation of Tatian's Diatessaron found in the Codex Fuldensis, but a freely glossed Venetian version of the Gospels has survived based on an earlier form of the Latin Diatessaron. A Venetian version of the Psalter is also known. There is evidence of a thirteenth‐century Jewish‐Italian version of substantial parts of the Hebrew Bible preserved in manuscripts of the fifteenth or sixteenth century written in Hebrew characters. Vernacular biblical translations otherwise show dependence on the Latin Vulgate text current in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and traces of contact with French and Provençal translations. Although they may originally have been the work of Waldensians, they were adopted by the Dominicans and Franciscans and freely glossed for doctrinal instruction. It is interesting that Dante (1265–1321), when referring to the scripture versions, never mentions any in Italian, and that when he cites the scriptures he makes his own translation from the Vulgate. The first printed Italian Bible, attributed to the Venetian monk Nicolo Malermi, was essentially a compilation of fourteenth‐century Tuscan texts adapted to Venetian usage.


The existence of Spanish vernacular texts in the early thirteenth century need not be inferred from the edict issued by Juan I of Aragon at the Council of Tarragona in 1233 forbidding the possession of a vernacular Bible by anyone, cleric or lay: this edict simply repeats a similar decree of the Council of Toulouse in 1229 directed against the Albigensians. Alfonso X of Castille (1221–1284) is said to have authorized a vernacular translation of the Bible in the 1270s as part of a Grande e general estoria, designed as an expanded and monumental Bible historiale. In its execution some portions were literal translations of the Vulgate while others were freely paraphrased, with commentary drawn from both Christian and non‐Christian sources. The fourteen extant biblical manuscripts, mostly from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, reflect a varied and complex tradition of translation. The Osuna Bible is patterned after the French Bibles moralisées illustrées. Many translations of the Hebrew Bible were based not on the Latin Vulgate but on the Hebrew Masoretic Text, observing the Hebrew canonical arrangement of the Law, followed by the Former and Latter Prophets, yet preserving reminiscences of the Vulgate. The Alba Bible, commissioned in 1422 by Luis de Guzman and completed in 1433, included a fresh version of the Hebrew Bible made from the Hebrew by Rabbi Moses Arragel, and is remarkable for combining Jewish and Christian exegetical lore in its commentary. Scripture versions in Catalan are known from references in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but the earliest surviving copies are from the fifteenth century.

Erroll F. Rhodes

English Language


As was the case with other languages, the translation of the scriptures into English was at first an oral process. The Venerable Bede tells how Caedmon (seventh century CE) retold Bible stories in alliterative verses in Anglo‐Saxon: “He sang of the world's creation, the origin of the human race, and all the story of Genesis; he sang of Israel's Exodus from Egypt and entry into the promised land, of very many other stories from Holy Writ, of our Lord's incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the apostles' teaching.”

Bede himself (d. 735) is said to have translated the gospel of John into Anglo‐Saxon, which may be the earliest written translation in English of any portion of the Bible. Alfred the Great (reigned 871–901) is credited with having translated part of the Ten Commandments and other passages from Exodus 21–23. The Lindisfarne Gospels are interlinear glosses written in the Northumbrian dialect around 950 on a seventh‐century Latin manuscript. The Wessex Gospels, a tenth‐century translation into West Saxon, is the earliest extant Old English version of the Gospels.

The first complete translation of the Bible into English (1382; New Testament 1380) is credited to John Wycliffe (Wyclif) (ca. 1330–84). His translation work was part of his larger task of reforming the church, for which he earned the title “Morning Star of the Reformation.” It was his contention that the church could be reformed only if everyone knew God's law, and this required that the Bible be translated into the language of the people. Said Wycliffe: “No man was so rude a scholar but that he might learn the Gospel according to its simplicity.” There are two Wycliffite versions, the second of which appeared after Wycliffe's death. It is uncertain how much of either version is the work of Wycliffe himself and how much is the work of his colleagues, John Purvey and Nicholas of Hereford. Although the later version is more idiomatic than the earlier one, the Wycliffe Bible is almost a word‐for‐word equivalent of the Vulgate. For 150 years this was the only Bible in English, and some 107 manuscript copies have survived. In 1415 the Wycliffe Bible was condemned and burned. Purvey and Nicholas were jailed and forced to recant their Lollard principles; and in 1428 Wycliffe's body was exhumed and burned. The earliest printed edition of Wycliffe's New Testament was published in 160 copies at London in 1731; the first printed edition of the complete Wycliffite version was issued at Oxford in 1850.

Tyndale and His Successors.

William Tyndale, “the Father of the English Bible,” was born (1494?) in Gloucestershire and educated at Oxford (B.A. 1512, M.A. 1515), and at Cambridge, where he may have studied Greek. As chaplain and tutor in the household of Sir John Walsh, he got into debates with various clergy and other “learned men,” and was soon accused of espousing heretical ideas. His opponent in one dispute argued that Christians were better off without God's law (the scriptures) than without the Pope's laws (Canon Law), to which Tyndale replied, “If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boye that dryveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou doest!”

Unable to get authorization in England to produce his translation, Tyndale went to the Continent (April or May 1524), staying in Wittenberg for almost a year, after which he moved to Hamburg and finally to Cologne (August 1525). There he gave his translation to Peter Quentel, a printer, but the city senate forbade the printing. Tyndale got the printed sheets, went up the Rhine to Worms, and toward the end of February 1526 the complete New Testament was published. About a month later copies began to appear in England.

Tyndale's translation was the first printed New Testament in English and was also the first English New Testament translated from the original Greek. About eighteen thousand copies of the original 1526 edition and the revisions of 1534 and 1535 were printed, of which only two are known to survive. Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London, bought copies in great numbers and burned them publicly, and Sir Thomas More, the Lord High Chancellor, published a Dialogue in which he denounced Tyndale's translation as “not worthy to be called Christ's testament, but either Tyndale's own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist.”

Tyndale next began the work of translating the Hebrew Bible: the Pentateuch was published in 1530, and Jonah in 1531. During this time he was living in Antwerp, and many attempts were made to lure him back to England. He was betrayed on 21 May 1535, arrested by agents of Emperor Charles V, and taken to Vilvorde, six miles north of Brussels, where he was imprisoned in a fortress. In August 1536 he was tried, found guilty of heresy, and turned over to the secular power for execution. On 6 October 1536, he was strangled and burned at the stake. According to John Foxe his last words were, “Lord, open the King of England's eyes!”

Before Tyndale's death a complete English Bible, dedicated to Henry VIII, was edited by Miles Coverdale and published on the continent in 1535. The New Testament was essentially a revision of Tyndale's New Testament, and his translation of portions of the Old Testament was used. The first authorized Bible was published in 1537, the so‐called Thomas Matthew Bible, edited by John Rogers, a friend of Tyndale. The New Testament and Pentateuch were Tyndale's, and his manuscripts of Joshua through 2 Chronicles were used. In 1539 Richard Taverner, a lawyer, published a revision of the Matthew Bible, the first to be completely printed in England. Coverdale's revision of the Matthew Bible, known as the Great Bible (its pages measured 23 × 38 cm [9 × 15 in]), was printed in Paris in 1539 and was enthusiastically received by Tunstall, now bishop of Durham.

In the reign of Queen Mary (1553–1558) all printing of English Bibles in England was stopped, and the English Bible could not be used in church services. Many Protestant leaders sought refuge on the Continent. William Whittingham, pastor of the English Church in Geneva, translated the New Testament (published 1557) and served as editor of the Old Testament translation; the Geneva Bible of 1560 was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth (whose reign began in 1558). It was printed in roman type, bound in small octavo size, and was the first English Bible to have verse numbers. It became immensely popular: it was the Bible of Shakespeare and Bunyan, of the pilgrims to the New World and the Mayflower Compact, of Oliver Cromwell and his army. It was the first Bible published in Scotland (1579) and was dedicated to James VI, King of Scotland. Over 150 editions were published, and it remained popular for nearly a hundred years. Its extremely Protestant notes were offensive to the bishops, and in 1568 a revision of the Great Bible was published, which became known as the Bishops' Bible, owing to the great number of bishops on the committee. In 1570 the Convocation of Canterbury ordered it to be placed in all cathedrals, and so it became the second Authorized Version. It ran through twenty editions before 1606, but did not replace the Geneva Bible in popular esteem.

The King James Version (KJV) and Its Revisions.

When James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne of England in 1603 as James I, there were two competing Bibles: the Bishops' Bible, preferred by the church authorities, and the Geneva Bible, the favorite of the people.

At a conference of theologians and churchmen at Hampton Court in January 1604, called by King James “for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the Church,” the Puritan leader John Reynolds proposed that a new translation be made, which would replace the two Bibles. The king approved of the plan and on 10 February he ordered that “a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek, and this is to be set out and printed without any marginal notes and only to be used in all Churches of England in time of Divine Service.” Fifty‐four “learned men” were divided into six panels: three for the Old Testament, two for the New Testament, and one for the Apocrypha. They began their work in 1606, meeting at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster Abbey. A list of fifteen rules to guide the translation was drawn up, the first of which was, “The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.” Rule fourteen listed the translations that could be followed “when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops' Bible”: Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, Whitchurch [that is, the Great Bible], and Geneva.

The translation was published in 1611 and rapidly went through several editions, nearly all of which had changes in the text. The edition of 1614, for example, differs from the original in over four hundred places. The most careful and comprehensive revision was made in 1769 by Dr. Benjamin Blayney of Oxford, who worked for nearly four years on the task. Although never formally authorized by King or Parliament, it became known as “the Authorized Version.”

It took some forty years before the 1611 Bible replaced the Geneva Bible in the affection of the people. But once established it became the Bible of the English‐speaking people. In its various forms and editions it continues to be one of the most widely read Bibles in English.

In 1870, the Church of England authorized a revision of the King James Bible. The work was entrusted to fifty scholars, most of whom were Anglicans, but it included Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and one Unitarian. They were divided into two companies for the revision of the two Testaments. Of the eight rules drawn up to guide their work, the first specified that changes were to be made only if required by the need to be faithful to the original text. American scholars were invited to participate, by correspondence, with the proviso that an American edition not be published until fourteen years after the publication of the British edition.

The work was done carefully, and in the New Testament alone about thirty thousand changes were made, over five thousand of them on the basis of a better Greek text. The New Testament was published in May 1881 and was enthusiastically received. In the first year three million copies of the New Testament were sold in Great Britain and the United States. In 1885 the complete Revised Version appeared, with an appendix that listed the changes preferred by the American scholars. The Apocrypha appeared in 1895. In 1901 the Americans published their edition, the American Standard Edition of the Revised Version, popularly known as the American Standard Version. It removed many archaisms, replaced a large number of obsolescent words, and substituted American English terminology for words and expressions peculiarly British.

Rheims‐Douai Bible.

While not conceding the right of the laity to read the Bible in the vernacular without ecclesiastical sanction, Roman Catholic authorities felt the need for an officially approved English version for Catholics. In 1565, William Allen, a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, like many other Roman Catholics, was forced to leave England. In Douai, Flanders, he founded a college for the purpose of training priests who would eventually go to England, and it was there that the translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate was begun. In 1578, the college moved to Rheims, where the New Testament was completed in 1582; eventually the college returned to Douai, and the Old Testament was published there in 1609–10. In 1738 Bishop Challoner of London assisted in a thorough revision of the New Testament and made extensive revisions of the whole Bible in his 1749–52 editions. The Challoner revision of the Rheims‐Douai Bible was authorized for use in the United States in 1810.

Translations Independent of the KJV.

Many Bibles and more than 250 translations of the New Testament in English have appeared since 1611. Robert Young, an Edinburgh bookseller who is famous for his Analytical Concordance to the Bible, in 1862 published a literal translation of the Bible, which is practically a word‐for‐word equivalent of the original. In the United States Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, translated the Greek Septuagint and the New Testament after retiring at the age of sixty from politics and business. After almost twenty years' work his translation was published in 1808. Thomson holds the distinction of having made the first English translation of the Septuagint and of having produced the first English New Testament to be translated and published in America. Ferrar Fenton, an English businessman, published his translation of the Bible in 1903 (New Testament 1895). He claimed it was the most accurate translation ever made, “not only in words, but in editing, spirit, and sense.” It enjoyed considerable success, and as late as 1944 a new edition was published. In 1876 Julia E. Smith, an American, produced a translation of the whole Bible, in which she attempted to use one and the same English word or phrase for every Hebrew and Greek word. One odd principle she followed was that of rendering the imperfect tense of the Hebrew verbs by the future tense in English, even in the account of creation. Genesis 1.3 reads: “And God will say there shall be light, and there will be light.” In 1885 Helen Spurrel, of London, translated the Hebrew Bible. She began her study of Hebrew after turning fifty, and in her translation she kept to the unpointed consonantal text, disregarding the vowel points of the Masoretic text.

Modern Translations.

The modern era of Bible translation into English began with the Twentieth Century New Testament, which was first issued as a tentative edition in separate parts in 1898–1901 and appeared in its definitive form in 1904. The translators, mostly laywomen and laymen, included Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. The project was begun through the efforts of Mary K. Higgs, the wife of a Congregational minister, and Mr. Ernest Malan, a signal and telegraph engineer, both of whom were troubled by the fact that the language of the KJV was so difficult for young people to understand. One of their advisors was Richard Francis Weymouth, a classical scholar, fellow of University College, London; his New Testament in Modern Speech was published posthumously in 1902. His purpose was to produce a translation that lay people could understand. “Alas, the great majority of even ‘new translations,’ so called, are in reality only Tyndale's immortal work a little—and often very little—modernized!” He intended his translation to be used for private reading, not for public worship.

The translation that made the greatest impact upon the Bible‐reading public, though, was that of the Scottish scholar James Moffatt. He began with a rendering included in his textbook, The Historical New Testament (1901), and in 1913 published The New Testament: A New Translation. His translation of the Old Testament appeared in 1924 and the whole Bible was revised in 1935. He spent the last years of his life as Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, New York, and at the time of his death (1944) he was working on a translation of the Apocrypha.

Edgar J. Goodspeed, of the University of Chicago, answered the long‐felt need for a New Testament in American English. “For American readers … who have had to depend so long upon versions made in Great Britain,” he wrote, “there is room for a New Testament free from expressions which … are strange to American ears.” His New Testament, An American Translation appeared in 1923. In 1927 a group of scholars headed by J. M. Powis Smith produced a translation of the Old Testament, which in 1935 was published with Goodspeed's New Testament as The Bible, An American Translation. In 1938 Goodspeed translated the Apocrypha, and The Complete Bible: An American Translation appeared in 1939.

Two important translations of the New Testament in the twentieth century are those of J. B. Phillips and William Barclay. As rector of a church in London, Phillips first translated Paul's epistles into modern English under the title Letters to Young Churches (1947). Eventually, his complete New Testament appeared, The New Testament in Modern English (1958). In 1972, Phillips brought out a thoroughly revised second edition. All translators of the Bible into modern English owe an incalculable debt to Phillips. For clarity of thought, vividness of language, and imaginative use of figures, he is rarely equaled and never surpassed. Professor Barclay's The New Testament: A New Translation (two vols., 1968, 1969) is more traditional in language, but embodies a wealth of scholarship from which all readers can profit. Mention should also be made of Hugh J. Schonfield's Authentic New Testament (1955), which was reissued, with very few changes in the text, in 1985 under the title Original New Testament. Schonfield's translation claims to be the first one made into English by a Jew. The footnotes, with a wealth of information for the careful reader, are the best feature of his work.

In 1961, the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society) published a translation of the Bible under the title New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which reflects the unitarian bias of the Witnesses, most vividly displayed in John 1.1, “and the Word was a god.” In 1972, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society posthumously published a translation by Steven T. Byington, mainly, it appears, because Byington used Jehovah as the proper name of God.

An attempt to make the English text accessible to all who speak or read English was made in The New Testament in Basic English (1941). The term “basic” is an acronym for “British American Scientific International Commercial” (English), which consists of a vocabulary of 850 words compiled by the linguist C. K. Ogden as an international auxiliary language and as an aid in learning English. A committee chaired by S. H. Hooke, of the University of London, used this vocabulary with the addition of another hundred words, plus fifty special Bible words. The complete Bible appeared in 1949.

The latest Bible in the Tyndale–King James tradition is the Revised Standard Version. In 1937, the International Council of Religious Education authorized a revision of the American Standard Version, stating that it should “embody the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of the scriptures, and express this meaning in English diction which is designed for use in public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King James Version a supreme place in English literature.” The work was done by thirty scholars, headed by Luther A. Weigle. The New Testament appeared in 1946, the Old Testament in 1952, and the Apocrypha in 1957. In 1977 an “Expanded Edition” appeared, which included not only the Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, but also 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151, thus making it acceptable to Eastern Orthodox churches. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), published in 1990, is a model of what a revision of an existing translation should be. In matters of text, exegesis, and language it goes a long way toward becoming the Bible of English‐speaking readers for generations to come. It has dropped archaic terms and obsolete language, including the pronouns and verb forms used in addressing God. With notable success it has tackled the difficult task of making the English text inclusive where the original is not exclusive. The revisers did their work remarkably well; at times, however, one wishes that in the application of their guiding maxim “as literal as possible, as free as necessary,” they had more often favored freedom over literalism.

The New King James Bible (1982), falsely claiming to be “the first major revision of the KJV since 1867,” aims to maintain the supremacy of the KJV as the Bible of conservative Protestants.

What may justly be called a landmark in Bible translation was achieved with the publication, in 1970, of the New English Bible (NEB; New Testament 1961). Representing nearly all major Christian denominations in Great Britain and Ireland, this translation broke away completely from the Tyndale–King James tradition. As explained by the Chairman, Prof. C. H. Dodd, in the introduction to the New Testament: “We have conceived our task to be that of understanding the original as precisely as we could (using all available aids), and then saying again in our own native idiom what we believed the author to be saying in his.” Using all resources of the English language, the translators produced an English Bible whose language is fresh and natural, but not slangy or undignified. Passage after passage may be read with pleasure and profit. At times the vocabulary is a bit too British for Americans, and many of its textual decisions, especially in the Hebrew Bible, have been criticized as idiosyncratic. The Revised English Bible (REB) was published in 1989 with the aim of providing a translation that would be even more faithful and understandable. In textual matters the revision is considerably more conservative than the original NEB, especially in the Old Testament. The same conservative restraint is detectable in exegetical and linguistic decisions. The NEB rendering of Genesis 1.1 was fresh and vivid; the REB rendering is hardly distinguishable from that of the King James version. The delicate and frustrating task of trying to make the English text inclusive seems not to have ranked as high with the revisers as it did with the revisers of the NRSV. In comparison with the stunning achievement of the NEB in 1970, the 1989 revision is a disappointment.

In 1966 Good News for Modern Man (the New Testament in Today's English) was published by the American Bible Society. Its main features were the use of “common language,” easily accessible to all who read English, whether as their own tongue or as an acquired language, and the systematic application of the principles of “dynamic equivalence” translation (as opposed to “formal equivalence”). The translator, Robert G. Bratcher, was assisted in his task by a panel of specialists. One novel feature of this translation was the imaginative line‐drawings by the Swiss artist, Annie Vallotton. A committee of seven translated the Hebrew Bible, and the Good News Bible was published in 1976. The deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) were added in 1979.

When the Revised Standard Version was published in 1952, it was received not only with appreciation and gratitude but also with bitter criticism and condemnation, especially from conservative Protestants. Because of its sponsorship by the National Council of Churches, this Bible was seen by some as tainted by liberal, if not heretical, beliefs. It was even said that the translation committee included Communist sympathizers. Conservatives felt a strong need for a modern translation that they could trust. Several appeared, among them The Amplified Bible (1965) and The Modern Language Bible (The New Berkeley Version) in 1969 (New Testament 1945). In 1971 the New American Standard Bible was offered (New Testament 1963), intending to preserve and perpetuate the American Standard Version as the most faithful Bible translation in English. All were well received, but none achieved the status of the Bible acceptable to a majority of conservative Protestants, most of whom were still using the KJV. (For The Living Bible, See Paraphrases.) Finally in 1978 the New International Version was published (New Testament 1973), the culmination of a process that had begun in 1956–1957. The intense advertisement campaign focused on the trustworthiness of the translators, all of whom, it was claimed, had “a high view of Scripture,” believing that the Bible, in its entirety, “is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” In its various editions this Bible is now widely used, and bids fair to become the Bible for those who still view the RSV (and other modern translations) with suspicion.

Roman Catholic Translations.

Roman Catholics have produced their share of modern translations. In 1955 Monsignor Ronald Knox, of Great Britain, published a translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate, “in the light of the Hebrew and Greek originals.” It was a remarkable tour de force and may possibly be the last translation of the Bible into English made by one individual. In 1966, the English version of La Bible de Jérusalem (one‐volume edition) was published under the title The Jerusalem Bible; a revised edition, The New Jerusalem Bible, based on the 1973 revised French edition, appeared in 1985. American Roman Catholics began a fresh translation of the Vulgate in 1937, and in 1941 the New Testament was printed. Work was being done on the Old Testament, but with the publication in 1942 of the encyclical Divino afflante spiritu, authorizing vernacular translations made directly from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts, the translation was begun anew, and in 1970 The New American Bible was published, the first English Bible translated directly from the original texts by American Catholic scholars. The first step for producing a revision of this translation was taken in 1989 with the publication of the revised edition of the New Testament. One of its main purposes was to eliminate exclusive language in passages that are not exclusive in the original text. Somewhat ingenuously, however, the revisers claim that “brother,” which is retained, still has its inclusive sense. Of greater significance is the deliberate return to the principle of formal equivalence in translation, in place of dynamic equivalence. So now Jesus says “Amen, amen, I say to you” (John 3.3) and the obsolete “behold” is found. After the bold step forward in 1970, this revision represents a timorous step backward.

Jewish Translations.

One of the earliest Jewish translations of the Pentateuch into English (1785) was the work of Alexander Alexander, of Great Britain. In 1861, Abraham Benisch published a translation of the Hebrew Bible that was called Jewish School and Family Bible, and in 1881 the translation by Michael Friedlander, also of England, was published. In the United States the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible was done by Isaac Leeser (1854), which became the accepted version in all synagogues in the United States; a revised edition was published in London in 1865. Under the sponsorship of the Jewish Publication Society of America, a group of Jewish scholars headed by Marcus Jastrow produced a new translation, which became known as the Jewish Publication Society Bible (1917). This translation became the standard Bible of the American Jewish community until the appearance of what is known as the New Jewish Version, which was published in stages. A committee headed by Harry M. Orlinsky translated the Torah (1962); the final volume, The Writings, appeared in 1981. The complete translation, under the title Tanakh, was published in one volume in 1985.

At no other time in history have English‐speaking people had such a variety of good translations of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and those who care to read them will be able clearly to see “the process, order, and meaning of the text,” in fulfillment of Tyndale's fervent desire.

See also Paraphrases


Robert G. Bratcher

Modern European Languages

Modern versions of the Bible date from the Renaissance and the Reformation, when humanistic studies brought a fresh appreciation of the Greek and Hebrew languages to biblical scholarship. By 1500, the Bible had been printed in four languages besides Latin and Hebrew: German, Italian, Catalan, and Czech. As national languages developed, Bibles were translated and revised. From the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, discoveries of biblical manuscripts led to new critical editions of the biblical texts with new generations of translations and revisions. In the twentieth century, rapid cultural change has prompted “common language” translations, using a range of vocabulary and style common to all speakers of a language, regardless of their social class or formal education, while the pace of linguistic change now requires that standard versions be reviewed every thirty‐five years. Interconfessional versions also witness to growing ecumenical cooperation in Bible translating.

Today the complete Bible is read in more than forty European languages other than English, as listed in the table below in the chronological order of their first published Bibles. The following paragraphs sketch this history by the major language groups represented, though limitation of space precludes consideration of all the languages individually.

Germanic. German.

The first fourteen editions of the German Bible (1466–1518) printed a version based on the Latin Vulgate that had circulated in manuscripts since the fourteenth century. Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament in September 1522 marked the beginning of a new era characterized by a commitment to translating from the original languages of the scriptures. Relying on the Greek New Testament edited by Desiderius Erasmus (second edition, 1519), the Soncino edition of the Hebrew Bible (Brescia, 1495), and the linguistic counsel of his scholarly colleagues Philipp Melanchthon and Matthäus Aurogallus, in twelve years Luther translated the entire Bible into a vigorous popular German. Revised eleven times during his lifetime, Luther's Bible established the Reformation, created literary German, and became the model for translations in many other languages. With significant revisions in 1581, 1695, 1883, 1912, 1956, and 1984, it remains the standard Bible of German Protestant churches.

Independent Protestant versions were few. The Zwingli Bible (Zürich, 1524–29) adapted Luther's version to Swiss usage, supplementing it with an independent version of the Prophets; in successive revisions it deviated increasingly from Luther. Johann Piscator's Bible (1602–06) was based on the Latin Vulgate and was replete with Latinisms. J. Friedrich Haug's pietistic eight‐volume Bible (Berlenberg, 1726–48) drew on Luther, but included New Testament apocrypha and other postapostolic books. Twentieth‐century Protestant Bibles include versions by Franz Eugen Schlachter (1905), Hermann Menge (1926), Hans Bruns (1962), and the common language translation Die gute Nachricht (1967).

1466 German
1584 Slovenian
1739 Estonian
1875 Russian
1471 Italian
1588 Welsh
1751 Portuguese
1889 Tréguier Breton
1478 Catalan
1590 Hungarian
1796 Lower Sorbian
1895 Norwegian Saami
1488 Czech
1642 Finnish
1801 Gaelic
1903 Ukrainian
1526 Dutch
1679 Ladin Sut Romansch
1804 Serbo‐Croatian
1921 Nynorsk
1530 French
1685 Irish
1811 Swedish Saami
1943 Frisian
1541 Swedish
1688 Romanian
1832 Slovak
1948 Faroese
1550 Danish
1689 Latvian
1834 Norwegian
1958 Guipuzcoan Basque
1553 Spanish
1718 Sursilvan Romansch
1840 Modern Greek
1973 Byelorussian
1561 Polish
1728 Upper Sorbian
1865 Labourdin Basque
1990 Macedonian
1581 Slavonic
1733 Manx
1866 Léon Breton
1584 Icelandic
1735 Lithuanian
1871 Bulgarian

Roman Catholic versions have been numerous. Hieronymus Emser's New Testament (1527) altered Luther's text only slightly. Johann Dietenberger (1534) relied heavily on Emser's New Testament and Luther's Old Testament, modifying them according to the Vulgate. Johann Eck (1537) used Emser's New Testament and the pre‐Luther Old Testament, with unfortunate results. Caspar Ulenberg's revision of Dietenberger (1630), further revised in Mainz (1662), became known as the Catholic Bible of Mainz. A version begun by Heinrich Braun (1788–1807) and revised by J. F. Allioli (1830–37) became the standard Catholic version, and was further revised by B. Weinhart (1865) and S. Weber (1911). This and a New Testament by J. H. Kistemacher (1825) were widely circulated by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Twentieth‐century Catholic versions include Bibles by Konstantin Rösch and Eugen Henne (1934), Pius Parsch Klosterneuberg, (1934), the Herder Bible (1966), and the Bishops’ Bible Einheitsübersetzung (1980).

The first Jewish biblical translation into German was Moses Mendelssonhn's Pentateuch (1783). This was opposed at first by Orthodox Jews, but Mendelssohn's colleagues completed the Hebrew Bible in Moses Israel Landau's edition of 1833–37. Further versions were produced by Leopold Zunz (1837) and Ludwig Philippson (1854). Significant twentieth‐century versions include those of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig (1925–29) and Harry Torczyner (Tur‐Sinai; 1935–58).

Dutch and Frisian.

The first printed Dutch New Testament (1522) was based on the Latin Vulgate. Anonymous translations of Luther's German New Testament appeared the following year, and in 1526 the first complete Dutch Bible was published by J. van Liesveldt, based on what had been published of Luther's German version, supplementing it at first with a translation of the Prophets from the Vulgate. Revised in 1558 (“Biestkins Bible”), in 1648 (by Adolf Visscher), in 1750 (by Nicholas Haas), and in 1823 (by J. T. Plüschke), it remained the Bible of Dutch Lutherans until the Netherlands Bible Society version of 1951.

The Bible edited by J. Gheylliaert in 1556, based on the German Zürich version, was popular in the Dutch Reformed Church, but Govaert van Wingen's version of 1561–62 (Deux Aes Bible) became the Bible of the Reformed Church until 1637. The States‐General version of 1637 commissioned by the Synod of Dort (1618–19) is still in use today, most recently revised in 1977 by a committee under the direction of W. L. Tukker and P. den Butter.

Nicholas van Winghe and his colleagues at Louvain found M. Vorsterman's (1528) adaptation of the Liesveldt Bible inadequate, and prepared a revision of the 1477 Delft Bible for the use of Roman Catholics. Revised in 1599 to accord with the 1592 Clementine Vulgate text, the Louvain Bible served Dutch Catholics for centuries. The Peter Canisius Society version by B. Alfrink, R. Jansen, J. Cook, and others (1929–39) enjoyed several printings; the 1939 Bible by Laetus Himmelreich and Crispinus Smits was less successful. The present standard text for Dutch Catholics is a fresh translation in modern Dutch published at Boxtel in 1961–73, with notes patterned after the French Jerusalem Bible. A joint Catholic–Protestant publication of the complete Bible in a common language version (1982), edited by A. W. G. Jaakke and a committee, should also be noted.

The earliest modern scripture portion in Frisian was a metrical Psalter begun by Gijsbert Japiks (1668) and completed by Simon and Jan Althuysen (1755). In the twentieth century, a Protestant translation of the New Testament by G. A. Wumkes and E. B. Folkertsma was published in 1933, followed by the complete Bible in 1943. In 1978, a common language version of the entire Frisian Bible was prepared and published jointly by Catholics and Protestants.

Scandinavian: Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic.

The first Swedish Bible (“Gustavus Vasa's”), translated by Laurentius Petri, archbishop of Uppsala, assisted by his brother Olaus and others (1541), was based primarily on Luther's German Bible. Official revisions commissioned by Gustavus Adolphus (1618) and Charles XII (1703) achieved only minor changes in format and orthography, with few other alterations. The Charles XII Bible remained the standard text until 1917 when the Royal Commission of Gustavus V, working from critical editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts, produced a completely new version that was approved as the Swedish Church Bible. A new official version of the New Testament was translated by David Hedegard in 1965, and work on a new revision of the Old Testament is under way.

The earliest Danish New Testament (1524), commissioned by King Christian II, was translated by Hans Mikkelsen and Christiern Vinter from the Vulgate and Luther's German in a mixture of Danish and Swedish. Christiern Pedersen, the “Father of Danish literature,” produced the first truly Danish New Testament (1529), based on the Latin Vulgate, and also a draft of the entire Bible (1543). Pedersen's work probably underlay the Reformation Bible (1550), which was commissioned by Christian III with instructions to follow Luther's text as closely as possible. Revised in 1589 (Frederick II Bible), and in 1633 (Christian IV Bible), with further editions into the nineteenth century, this remained the standard Bible of the Danish church. Meanwhile Hans Poulsen Resen, bishop of Zealand, prepared a Danish version of the Bible (1607) based on Hebrew and Greek texts; revised by Hans Svane (later archbishop) in 1647, the Svaning‐Resen Bible was a “scholarly” Bible, with further revisions in 1712 and 1732 (Orphan House “Mission Bible”), 1824, and 1829. The 1907 Danish Bible Society revision of the Svaning‐Resen New Testament served as the standard church text until 1948, when a new revision was issued with the Old Testament revision of 1931. This remained the official Bible of the National Danish Church until February 1992, when Queen Margarethe II gave official authorization to a new version of the complete Bible prepared by the Danish Bible Society under the direction of Neils Jørgen Cappelørn. The religious revival of the nineteenth century produced a number of individual translations, such as the Bible by J. C. Lindberg (1837–56), and the annotated New Testament by Bishop Skat Rørdam (1885). Roman Catholic New Testaments include versions by J. V. L. Hansen (1893) and Peter Schindler (1953).

When Norway became independent of Denmark in 1814, there were two Norwegian languages: the Riksmål or Bokmål of the majority, a kind of “Danish‐Norwegian” spoken in urban areas and the southeast, and the Landsmål or Nynorsk (New Norwegian) or the rural regions in central and western Norway. The first Riksmål Bible was a revision of the Danish Svaning‐Resen version by W. A. Wexels (1834), which the Norwegian Bible Society issued in further revised editions (Old Testament 1869, 1887, 1891; New Testament 1873, 1904). A new revision of the Bible was issued in 1930. A Roman Catholic version of the Bible in Riksmål was published in 1902 (revised 1938 from the original texts).

The first New Testament in New Norwegian (1889) was translated by J. Belsheim, E. Blix, and M. Skard; the complete Bible followed in 1921. In 1938 the Bible was revised, corrected by R. Indrebø to the 1930 Riksmål revision. The present standard Bibles in both Riksmål and New Norwegian were both prepared for the Norwegian Bible Society by committees headed by Magne Saebø and Sverre Aalen, and were published simultaneously (New Testament 1975, Old Testament 1978).

The first scripture publication in Faroese was a diglot gospel of Matthew with Danish (Randers, 1823), prepared by J. H. Schroeter, a Faroese pastor. Jacob Dahl undertook a translation of the Bible from the original languages, but completed only the New Testament (1937) and several books of the Old Testament. His work was completed by a group of pastors and published by the Danish Bible Society in 1961. Meanwhile, Victor Danielsen aided by a committee prepared a Faroese Bible based on a number of modern European versions (New Testament 1937, Bible 1948).

The first Icelandic New Testament (1540) was translated by Oddur Gottskalksson from the Vulgate and Luther's German. Parts of the Old Testament were translated by Gissur Einarsson (1580). These were revised and the Old Testament completed by Gudbrandur Thorlaksson to produce the Reformation Bible (1584), an outstanding example of Icelandic literary and book production. The Gudbrand Bible was replaced by Thorlakur Skulason's revision (1644), based on the Danish Svaning‐Resen version, which became popular through the eighteenth century. The Icelandic Bible Society revision of 1841 was further revised in 1866 by Petur Petursson, and further again in 1912 by Haraldur Nielsson and others from the original languages. The present Church Bible of Iceland was published in 1981, prepared by Thorir Thordarsson, Jon Sveinnjørnsson, and others.

Romance. Italian.

The first printed Italian Bible (Venice 1471) was translated from the Latin Vulgate by Nicolo Malermi (or Malerbi). Antonio Brucioli, a Catholic layman with Protestant tendencies, published a Bible (Venice 1532) based on the original languages which was widely influential and often reprinted. In Geneva in 1562, Filippo Rustici revised the Brucioli Old Testament and the Massimo Teofilo 1551 New Testament (translated from Greek) for the first Italian Protestant Bible. In 1564 Pope Pius IV prohibited the use of vernacular scriptures, effectively discouraging further translations until 1757, when Pope Benedict XIV gave them a qualified approval and prompted Antonio Martini to prepare a vernacular translation (1769–81). The Martini version became the standard Catholic Bible, an Italian classic. Meanwhile in Geneva, the scholar Giovanni Diodati published a Bible (1607, revised 1641) that gained immediate popularity and through many revisions (d'Erberg 1711, G. Muller 1744, G. Rolandi 1819, T.P. Rosetti 1850) has remained the standard Italian Protestant Bible.

Twentieth‐century Catholic versions have been issued by the Cardinal Ferrari Society (1929), the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Old Testament 1958, New Testament 1965), and the Italian Episcopal Conference (1971), and there are individual translations by Marco Sales (1931) and Eusebio Tintori (1931); Protestant versions include a revision of Diodati by the Waldensian scholar Giovanni Luzzi and others (1924; Luzzi published his own version independently in 1930); ecumenical versions include the Italian Bible Society's Bibbia Concordata (1968), translated by a committee of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish scholars, and a common language Bible (1985) produced by Catholic and Protestant scholars.


The first scripture publication in Romansch was a New Testament translated by J. Bifrum from the Latin Vulgate (1560) in Ladin Sura of the Upper Engadine Valley. Later translations were made from the Greek text by J. L. Griti (1640) and J. Menni (1861). The first complete Romansch Bible, translated into Ladin Sut of the Lower Engladine Valley by Jacob Dorta and J. A. Vulpius (1679), was later revised by J. Andreer and N. Vital (1867–70). A new version of the Bible by J. U. Gaudenz and R. Filli appeared in 1953. The Sursilvan Romansch Bible comprising the New Testament by L. Gabriel (1648, revised 1856) and the Old Testament of P. Saluz, was revised by J. M. Darms and L. Candrian for the British Bible Society in 1869–70.


The first printed French Bible (Antwerp, 1530), a literalistic version by Jacques Lefèvre d’étaples based on the Biblia historiale, was printed abroad because of suspicions of a Protestant bias aroused by his earlier New Testament (Paris, 1523). The first Protestant French Bible (Geneva, 1535) was translated by Pierre Robert Olivétan. The 1553 edition was the first modern version to incorporate chapter and verse numbers throughout. Constantly revised by the Geneva pastors, the definitive Geneva Bible was edited by Theodore Beza (1588). Revisions were made in the seventeenth century by Jean Diodati (1644) and Samuel de Marets (1669), more significantly in the eighteenth by David Martin (Amsterdam, 1707) and J.‐F. Ostervald (Amsterdam, 1744). The Synodal version (Paris, 1910) of the Synod of Reformed Churches is a revision of Ostervald, while the widely popular version of Louis Segond (Geneva, 1874 Old Testament, 1880 New Testament) was based on Martin and Ostervald, and was further revised in 1975 and 1978.

The first French Catholic Bible (Louvain, 1550), which was edited by Nicholas de Leuze and François de Larben and which reproduced the text of Lefèvre slightly revised with some borrowings from Olivétan, was often revised and reprinted. The Port‐Royal version (1667–95), prepared by Antoine and his brother Louis Isaac Lemaistre (de Sacy, pseudonym), was a masterpiece of French literary classicism, achieving popularity among both Catholics and Protestants. Richard Simon's translation of the New Testament (Trévoux, 1702) from the Vulgate deserves mention for its nonsectarian scholarship. Among twentieth‐century Catholic Bibles should be noted those of Abbé Crampon (Tournai, 1894–1904), revised by J. Touzard and E. Levesque in 1939, by J. Bonsirven and A. Tricot in 1952; the Pieuse Société Saint Paul (1932); Paul George Passelecq and the monks of Maredsous (1950, revised 1968); A. Liénart (Ligue Catholique de l’évangile, 1951); and especially that by the école Biblique of Jerusalem (Paris, 1954, revised 1973; the Bible de Jérusalem [Jerusalem Bible]), whose concise scholarly and exegetical notes have inspired similar editions in many other languages. Other versions of interest include the scholarly Pléiade version (Paris, 1959 Old Testament, 1971 New Testament), the Traduction oecuménique (Paris, 1975) of A. Bea and M. Boegner, and the common language Français Courant (Paris, 1982) by Jean‐Claude Margot.

A Jewish version of the Hebrew scriptures was produced by Samuel Cahen (1831–51), which was superseded by La Bible du rabbinat français (1899–1906, revised 1966). An independent version of both Testaments was published by André Chouraqui (Paris, 1975–77).

Spanish; Catalan.

Although the Spanish Inquisition allowed biblical themes in the classical Spanish theater of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it acted as an effective check on the spread of vernacular Bibles in Spain. Yet the influence of the Reformation was felt. The first Spanish New Testament (1543), translated in Wittenberg by Francisco Enzinas from Erasmus's Greek text, was published in Antwerp; the second (1556) by Juan Perez de Pineda, a refugee monk from Seville, was published in Geneva. Meanwhile, in 1553 a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible into Spanish, which Protestant and Catholic translators found useful, was printed by a Jewish press at Ferrara, translated by Abraham Usque and published by Yomtob Atias under ducal patronage.

The first complete Spanish Bible (Basel, 1569, the “Bear Bible”) was translated by Cassiodoro de Reina. Revised by Cipriano de Valera (Amsterdam, 1602), this text has been frequently revised (in 1960 by the Bible Societies) and is still a standard Protestant Bible today. The first complete Bible printed in Spain was translated from the Latin Vulgate by Felipe Scio de San Miguel (Valencia, 1793). Another Catholic version (Madrid, 1825) was translated by Felix Torres Amat, who probably revised an unpublished translation by the Jesuit J. M. Petisco. Twentieth‐century Catholic versions of the complete Bible include revisions of the Amat text (by Severiano del Paramo in 1928, by Serafin de Ausejo in 1965), and new versions by E. Nacar Fusta and A. Colunga (Madrid, 1944), José Maria Bover and F. Cantera Burgos (Madrid, 1947, revised 1966), Juan Straubinger (Buenos Aires, 1951), E. Martin Nieto (Madrid, 1961), Pedro Franquesa and Jose M. Sole (Barcelona, 1966), Jose Angel Ubieta on the basis of the French Jerusalem Bible (Brussels, 1967), Ramon Ricciardi (Madrid, 1971), and Luís Alonso Schökel and others (1975, revised 1982).

Mention is also due an ecumenical version (Barcelona, 1975) prepared by S. de Ausejo and F. de Fuenterrabia and revised by Catholic and Protestant scholars, and, Dios habla hoy (1979), a Bible Society common language version.

The first printed Bible in Catalan, the dialect of northeastern Spain and the official language of Andorra, was translated by Bonifacio Ferrer from the Latin Vulgate (Valencia, 1478); it was so thoroughly destroyed by the Spanish Inquisition that only the last page of one copy has survived. The next scripture publication was the New Testament (London, 1832) translated by J. Prat, which enjoyed several reprints. In the twentieth century three complete Bibles have appeared: two by Benedictines of Montserrat (Barcelona, 1926–66, with commentary; and Andorra, 1970), and one by the Catalan Biblical Foundation (Barcelona, 1968).


The first printed Portuguese New Testament (1681) was translated by João Ferreira d'Almeida in the East Indies and published in Amsterdam; his translation of the Old Testament remained unpublished until it was revised by Danish missionaries at Tranquebar (1751). It was repeatedly revised (1753–73 by J. M. Mohr, 1847 by G. Bush, 1875 by Manoel Soares), and remains a popular Protestant version today, especially in Brazil, where it was revised first in 1917 (based on the 1901 American Standard Version) and again in 1958. The earliest Portuguese Bible published in Portugal (Lisbon, 1781), translated by Anton Pereira de Figueiredo from the Latin Vulgate, has also been frequently revised and widely circulated. In the twentieth century, the Bible Society of Brazil published a common language Bible in 1988, and Roman Catholic versions of the complete Bible have been produced by Matos Soares (Porto, 1930–34) based on the Latin Vulgate, the Catholic Biblical Center of São Paolo (1959) based on the French Maredsous version, and L. Garmus (Petropolis, 1983) based on the New American Bible.


The first printed book in Romania was a catechism (1541?) containing scripture selections; the second was the Gospels (1561), translated by Coresi, a Wallachian deacon. The first New Testament (1648) was begun by the monk Silvestru and completed by others. The complete Bible (1688) by Nicolae Milescu is considered the supreme achievement of seventeenth‐century Romanian literature. Revised by Samuil Micu Clain (1795), it was reprinted even into the nineteenth century. Further translations of the complete Bible, sponsored by the British and Foreign Bible Society, were made by Ion Eliade Radulescu (1858), N. Balasescu and others (1867–73), and D. Cornilescu (1921). A new version by Vasile Radu and Grigorie Pisculescu (Gala Galaction) was published by the Romanian Orthodox church in 1938, and further revised in 1968 and 1975. Romanian was written in the Cyrillic alphabet until 1860, when the Roman alphabet was adopted. In 1984, however, the Cornilescu version was printed also in Cyrillic for use in Moldavia.


The first printed (Old Church) Slavonic Bible (Ostrog, 1581) was prepared for Prince Konstantin of Ostrog from a manuscript Bible dated 1499 and attributed to Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod. Revised successively in 1633, in 1712 for Peter the Great, and in 1751 for the Tsarina Elizabeth, this remains the standard Slavonic Bible of the Russian Orthodox church.

East Slavic: Byelorussian, Ukrainian, Russian.

The earliest scripture printed in East Slavic was an incomplete Bible in Byelorussian (Prague, 1517–25) translated from Slavonic, Latin, and Czech sources by Franciscus Skoryna to supply the laity with a vernacular version. The next Byelorussian scripture publications to appear were the New Testament and Psalms of L. Dziekuć‐Malej and A. M. Luckiewič (Helsinki, 1931), and the complete Bible by Moses Gitlin and J. Stankievič (New York, 1970–73).

Ukrainian versions of the Bible were first based on the Russian Synodal text of 1751 (Pochayev, 1798; Peremyshl, 1859). Modern versions have been translated from the original languages by Ivan Ohienko (London, 1962), and Ivan Khomenko (Rome, 1963).

The earliest scripture portion in modern Russian was Archbishop Mefodiy's translation of Romans (Moscow, 1792). The New Testament was published in 1821 and the Old Testament through Ruth in 1825 by the Russian Bible Society (founded 1814, dissolved 1826), translated by a committee appointed by the Holy Synod at the request of Tsar Alexander I. The complete Bible was published by the Holy Synod in 1875, translated by E. I. Lovyagin, D. A. Khvolson, and others; this remains the standard Bible of the church in Russia. Jewish versions of the Pentateuch were published by Leon I. Mandelstamm (Berlin, 1862), J. Herstein and J. L. Gordon (1875), and J. Steinberg (Vilna, 1899), and the complete Hebrew Bible by D. Yosippon (Jerusalem, 1978).

West Slavic: Czech, Slovak, Polish.

The first printed Czech New Testament (Plzeň, 1475) was based on a Hussite revision of the Church Slavonic text by the Latin Vulgate, as was also the first complete Bible (Prague, 1488; revised in Venice 1506). The Moravian bishop Jan Blahoslav translated the New Testament (Ivanćice, 1564) from Greek with concern for both scholarly accuracy and practical clarity; the complete Bible produced by his successors (Kralice, 1579–94) became the standard Protestant Bible, and a definitive influence in the history of the Czech language. Through successive revision it has remained the standard Czech Bible. The Wenceslaus Bible (1677–1715) of the Counter‐Reformation, prepared by Jesuits J. Barner, J. Constantius, and M. V. Steyer, was based on the 1506 Venice revision and the Latin Vulgate but influenced also by the Kralice text. Modern versions which should be noted include a Catholic Bible (1917–25) translated by Jan Hejč and Jan Sýkora from the Vulgate (New Testament revised by R. Col, 1947, 1970), a Catholic Old Testament (1955–58) based on the Hebrew by J. Heger, a Catholic New Testament (1948) based on the Greek by Pavel Škrábal; an ecumenical Bible (1979) prepared by M. Bič and J. B. Souček of the Czech Brethren Evangelical church, and a literary Jewish trnaslation of the Hebrew Bible (1947–51) by Vladimír Šrámek.

The earliest Bible printed in Slovak (1829–32) was translated by Jiři Palkovič, Catholic canon of Gran, from the Latin Vulgate. This was superseded by a new translation from the Vulgate made by Jan Donoval (Trnava, 1926). Modern Protestant versions of the complete Bible include a translation from the original languages by Josef Rohaček (1936) and the Tranoscius version (1978), based on the Czech Kralice text.

The first printed New Testament in Polish (Königsberg, 1553) was translated from Greek by Jan Seklucjan, a Lutheran pastor, but the first complete Bible (Krakow, 1561) was attributed to the Roman Catholic theologian Jan Leopolita (of Lwów) and ostensibly based on the Latin Vulgate. A scholarly Protestant Bible (Brest, 1563) translated from Hebrew and Greek by Jan Laski, F. Stankarus, and others under the patronage of Nicolas Radziwill was criticized for Socinianism in its notes, but revised by Daniel Mikolajewski and Jan Turnowski (Danzig, 1632) it became the standard Bible of Polish Protestants. Meanwhile, a Bible translated by Jakub Wujek from the Vulgate (Krakow, 1599) was accepted by the Synod of Piotrkow in 1607 as the official Polish Catholic version. Modern editions include revisions of the Wujek version (1935 by S. Styś and J. Rostworowski; 1962 by S. Styś and W. Lohn), two new Catholic versions (1965 “Millennium Bible,” revised 1971, now the official Catholic text; and 1975, by M. Peter and M. Molniewicz); and an ecumenical “Millennium Bible” (1975) prepared by scholars of the Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Protestant Free churches.

South Slavic: Bulgarian, Serbo‐Croatian, Slovenian.

The first biblical portion in modern Bulgarian was the Russian Bible Society edition of Matthew (St. Petersburg, 1823) from the New Testament translated by Archimandrite Theodosius from Church Slavonic; the project was discontinued when the Russian Bible Society was suppressed. The first printed New Testament based on the Slavonic (Smyrna, 1840) by Neophyt Rilski and revised from the Greek (1849), as well as the first complete Bible (Istanbul, 1871), were sponsored by the British and Foreign Bible Society, with revisions prepared by Robert Thomson (1914, 1923), and Gavrail Tsetanov (1940). The Bulgarian Synod version begun in 1891 was issued in 1925, the work of five successive translation committees. The first New Testament in Macedonian was published in 1967 in the Bulgarian usage, prepared by a committee of the Macedonian Orthodox Church including Georgi Milošev. Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars participated in its revision in 1976, and in 1980 the Bible was completed with a translation of the Old Testament prepared under the supervision of Archbishop Gavril.

Although Serbo‐Croatian is linguistically homogeneous, the Serbs are mainly Eastern Orthodox and use the Cyrillic script, while the majority of the Croats are Roman Catholic and use the Roman alphabet. However, the first New Testament in Serbo‐Croatian (1563), translated by Antun Dalmatin and Stipan K. Istrianin from Erasmus's Latin version and Luther's German, was printed in Glagolitic characters. A second printing (1563) was in Cyrillic, and the Prophets (1564) was printed in Roman letters. The translator of the first complete Bible in Serbian (Budapest, 1804) is unknown; the first Bible in Croatian (Budapest, 1831) was a literal translation made from the Latin Vulgate by M. P. Katančić. The linguistic reformer Vuk S. Karadžić sought to promote a common literary language with his Serbian translation of the New Testament (1847); although not approved by the Serbian church, it was later issued together with an Old Testament prepared by his colleague G. Daničić (1868) simultaneously in both Serbian and Croatian. The Vuk‐Daničić Bible remains popular in both scripts. Other significant Bibles were issued by Lujo Bakotić (Belgrade, 1933), I. E. šarić (Sarajevo, 1942, New Testament revised by an ecumenical committee in 1969), and the Stvarnost edition (Zagreb, 1968) based on the French Jerusalem Bible.

The first Slovenian Bible (Wittenberg, 1584) combined the New Testament of the Reformed preacher Primus Truber (Tübingen, 1582) with the Old Testament of the Lutheran Juri Dalmatin, both translated from the original languages with close reference to Luther's German version. The first Roman Catholic Bible (Ljubljana, 1784–1802), was translated from the Vulgate by Juri Japel, Blaz Kumerdey, and others; a second Catholic version (1859) was based on the German Allioli version. Renewed interest in the Slovenian language in the early twentieth century led to a revision of the Truber‐Dalmatin version by Anton Chraska (Bible, 1914; New Testament, 1946), and a new Catholic version of the Bible (New Testament, 1929; Old Testament, 1961), which was revised by Lutheran and Roman Catholic scholars and issued as an ecumenical Bible in 1974.



The first modern Greek New Testament (Geneva, 1638) was translated by a monk from Gallipoli, edited by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, and published at the expense of the Dutch States General. It has often been revised and reprinted: by Seraphim of Mitylene (London, 1703), Anastasius Michael (Halle, 1710), Demetrius Schinas (1827), and others. The Bible translated by N. Bambas (London, 1840 Old Testament, 1844 New Testament) has become the standard Protestant Modern Greek Bible. A vernacular version of the Gospels by Alexander Pallis from the fourth century Codex Vaticanus (Liverpool, 1902) provoked legislation prohibiting all modern versions (repealed in 1924). Modern editions include a Bible translated by Athanasios Chastoupis and Nikolaos Louvaris (Athens 1955, a paraphrase), and New Testaments by B. Vellas (Athens, 1967) and S. Agourides, J. Karavidopoulos, and others (Athens, 1985; an interconfessional version).

Uralic: Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, Saami.

The first printed Hungarian New Testament (új Sziget, 1541) was translated by Janos Erdösi (Sylvester), a pupil of Melanchthon. The first complete Bible (Vizsoly, 1590), translated by Caspar Karoli, Reformed pastor at Göncz, played a decisive role in the national life and literature of Hungary comparable to that of Luther's Bible in Germany. Through successive revisions, most recently by Kalman Kallay and Jozsef Pongracz for the Joint Bible Commission of Lutheran and Reformed Churches (Budapest, 1975), it has remained the standard Protestant Bible of Hungary. The first Catholic Bible (Vienna, 1626) was an excellent rendering of the Vulgate by György Csipkes (revised by Bela Jozsef Tarkanyi, 1865). Modern Hungarian translations of the complete Bible were made by the Reformed scholar Sandor Czgledy (Gyor, 1938), and the Roman Catholic scholars A. Szöreny, Ferenc Gal, and Istvan Kosztolanyi (Budapest, 1976), translated from the original languages and based on the Jerusalem Bible.

The first Estonian New Testament (Riga, 1686) was in the southern dialect of Tartu (Dorpat), begun by Johann Gutsleff and completed by N. von Hardungen, Adrian Virginius, and Marco Schütz. Revisions were made by Ferdinand Meyer (Mitau, 1836) and Uku Masing (Dorpat, 1896). The first Estonian Bible (Tallinn, 1739) was in the northern dialect of Tallinn (Reval), translated by Anton Thor Helle, Heinrich Gutsleff, and others; it was later revised by C. Malm (Berlin, 1878), then by Uku Masing and John V. Veski (Tallinn, 1938). After World War II, a new version of the Old Testament and a further revision of the New Testament (London, 1968) was sponsored by the Swedish church, prepared by Endel Köpp and Toomas Pöld for Estonian refugees in Sweden.

The first Finnish New Testament (Stockholm, 1548) was translated by Michael Agricola on the basis of Luther's German text. The complete Bible (Stockholm, 1642) was published under the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden, translated from the original languages by M. Martin Stodius, Gregory Matthaei, and Heinrich J. Hoffman. Frequently revised (Turku, 1685, the “War Bible,” by Henrik Florinus; 1776, by Anders Lizelius; Helsinki, 1932–38, by E. Stenij, J. Schwartzberg, and others), this version remains the standard Finnish Bible. The Finnish Bible Society has published a common language translation of the New Testament (Turku, 1972), translated by Esko Rintala, R. Huikuri, and H. Räisänen.

The earliest scripture portion in Saami (Stockholm, 1648) was an edition of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), translated in Swedish Saami by J. J. Tornaeus. The first New Testament (Stockholm, 1755) was translated by Pehr Fjellström, and the first complete Bible (Hernösand, 1811) by S. Öhrling, E. J. Grönlund, E. Öhrling, and N. Fjellström. The first New Testament in Norwegian Saami (Christiania, 1840) was the work of N. J. C. V. Stockfleth, which was revised for the first complete Bible (Christiania, 1895), prepared by L. J. Haetta, J. A. Friis, and J. K. Qvigstad.

Baltic: Latvian, Lithuanian.

The first Latvian Bible (Riga, 1689) was translated by the Lutheran scholars Ernst Glück and C. B. Witten. Revised often (Königsberg, 1739; Mitau, 1877 and 1898; Riga, 1960 New Testament; London, 1965), it remains the standard Bible of the Latvian church. In 1937, a New Testament was published in Latgalian, the Eastern dialect of Latvian, translated from the Latin Vulgate by Aloizijs Broks.

The earliest biblical publication in Lithuanian was a Psalter (Königsberg, 1625), revised by J. Rhesa from an unpublished 1590 version of the Bible by J. Bretken which was based on Luther's German. Samuel B. Chyliński's version of Genesis to Job (London, 1662) was based on the Polish Danzig version; his translation of the New Testament was discovered in 1934 and published by C. Kudzinowski in 1958. The first complete Bible (Königsberg, 1735) was translated by J. J. Quandt and P. Ruhig; a revision by L. J. Rhesa in 1816 was often reprinted. A Roman Catholic version of the New Testament was published in 1816, and a new version of the complete Bible (Kaunas, 1936) was translated from the original languages by Juozapas Skvireckas.

Celtic: Breton.

The first Breton New Testament (Angoulême, 1827) was translated from the Latin Vulgate in the Léon dialect by Jean François Le Gonidec, who later completed the Bible (St. Brieuc, 1866). A revision of this New Testament (Brest, 1847) by J. Jenkins, who corrected it from the Greek, was often revised and reprinted (1866, 1870, 1885, 1897). More recently, a new Catholic New Testament (Guingamp, 1971) was translated by Maodez Glanndour. Meanwhile a New Testament (Guingamp, 1853) appeared in the Tréguier dialect under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of St. Brieuc, and a Bible (Tremel, 1889) was translated by G. Le Coat, the Protestant pastor at Tremel.


One of the earliest publications in Basque was the New Testament in Labourdin Basque (La Rochelle, 1571), translated by Jean Leiçarraga under the patronage of Jeanne d'Albret, the Protestant Queen of Navarre (reprinted by the Trinitarian Bible Society, 1908). A Roman Catholic New Testament was translated from the Vulgate by Jean Haraneder, but only the Gospels were published (Bayonne, 1855), edited by Abbé Maurice Harriet of Halsou. The complete Bible (London, 1865) was translated by Captain Duvoisin for Louis‐Lucien Bonaparte. In Guipuzcoan Basque, the gospel of Luke (Madrid, 1838) was translated by Oteiza, a physician, and edited by George Barrow; the first New Testament (Bilbao, 1931) and Bible (Bilbao, 1958) were translated by Raimondo Olabide and José F. Echeverria.

Erroll F. Rhodes

African Languages

African translations of the Bible are used in the most complex ethnic, linguistic, and culturally diverse human mosaic on earth. About two thousand languages are spoken in fifty‐nine different countries by five hundred million people. Scripture versions (of which over a hundred are complete Bibles) in five hundred languages are available to the seven thousand denominations on the African continent. Arabic scriptures are available in some five different script forms. The Tuareq people of Niger Republic speak the language they themselves call Tayrt, but it is part of the Tamahaq language of nomads in the Sahara; several portions of scriptures in at least three alphabetic systems are available in this complex language. In about eight hundred places on the continent, linguistic groups are separated by political boundaries. This creates special challenges for translators; for example, portions of the scriptures for the Borana people living in Kenya are written in Roman characters while the same version for the Boranas living in Ethiopia requires Amharic characters.

By the end of the eighteenth century the complete Bible was available in two African languages, namely Geʿez (Ethiopic) and Arabic, while a New Testament was available in Coptic. During the nineteenth century, growing Christian missionary activity generated a steady stream of versions of the Bible, or parts thereof, in the indigenous languages of Africa. Pioneering missionaries used available European versions to reach unevangelized Africans. For example, a Dutch New Testament (printed in the Netherlands in 1692) provided the foundation for the work of the Lutheran church in Southern Africa. Georg Schmidt left this Testament in the early eighteenth century with five converts in a valley some eighty miles from the Cape of Good Hope. The Khoisan speaking community used it for nearly fifty years without any missionaries present, because Schmidt had to go back to Europe. The only complete Bible available in a Khoisan language, namely Nama—still the living language of some fifty thousand people in Namibia—was published in 1966. It took more than 140 years to complete this translation.

In the 1980s the complete Bible (sixty‐six books) became available in 121 indigenous versions in Africa, amounting to 38 percent of complete Bible versions available around the globe. Many of these versions also contain the expanded canon used by the Roman Catholic and other churches. The first Bible in Africa published by Bible Societies that was accepted in unaltered form and sanctioned for use by Roman Catholics was the Afrikaans version, in 1965, with the chiChewa version approved shortly afterward.

Some eighteen indigenous languages in Africa (and offshore islands) are spoken by five million people or more. These languages (in alphabetical order) are: Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, chiShona, Fulfulde, Hausa, isiXhosa, isiZulu, kinyaRwanda, kiRundi, kiSwahili (Central), kiSwahili (Zaire), liNgala, Malagasy, Oromo (Western), Somali, Yoruba. Complete Bibles are available in all these languages. Because of language development and refinement of translation techniques, retranslations continue to be made in most of these languages, mostly by indigenous speakers.

A noteworthy trend in linguistic development in Africa has been the merging of languages used in Bible versions into the “Union Versions.” For example, in the Xhosa version elements of some seven dialects are merged. By the middle of the twentieth century, there were at least fourteen union language versions available, namely in chiChewa, chiShona, chiTonga, ichiMambwe, Igbo, Kalenjin, kiSwahili (Ngwana—Zaire), loMongo, Nuer, oluLuyia, Omyene, runyaNkore, isiXhosa, seTswana. In kiSwahili—the lingua franca of East Africa—a complete Bible was published in 1914.

The first complete Bible version translated and printed by movable type on the continent of Africa itself was the seTswana Bible, published in 1857 at Kuruman, Southern Africa. Space allows more extended discussion of only a few versions.


Although various complete Bible versions in this language already existed, the translation by Eli Smith and Cornelius van Dyck attained the status of a standard edition after its publication in 1865. The complex dialectal, orthographical, and denominational needs within Arabic‐speaking communities provide an ongoing challenge for the various geographical areas. The spread of Islam south of the Sahara, especially in the twentieth century, with its emphasis on its scripture, the Qurʾān, has stimulated the program for Bible versions in Arabic.


The Hausa Bible is available in both Arabic and roman script. This version had a complex translation history from 1857 to 1932, when the complete Bible was published. Missionaries of Sudan Interior Mission, with the help of Hausa‐speaking Christians under the guidance of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), produced a version that has maintained record levels of distribution over the years.


The Malagasy Bible, published by the BFBS in 1835, was the first version of the Bible for an African country that was printed by movable type—although in England.


Although the Tiv people (of Northern Nigeria) numbered only about two million, the publication of the New Testament in this language in 1936 provided a stimulus for this language group to convert from Islam to Christianity; in 1940, less than 1 percent of the people were Christian, but by 1972, 95 percent were Christian.


Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia and has been in existence as a literary language since the fourteenth century. Parts of the Bible have been published since 1824 in a diglot version together with the ancient language of Ethiopia, Geʿez. An official version of the Bible was published in 1961 through the work of a joint committee appointed by Emperor Haile Selassie and the BFBS.


In 1830 the gospel of Luke in seTswana was published. Through the perseverance of Robert Moffat and his Batswana helpers during the early part of the nineteenth century, the translation was completed and ten thousand copies of the Old Testament printed on a hand press at Kuruman in 1857. These copies of the Old Testament were attached to available printed New Testament sections. The press used by Moffat was carted by ox wagon over more than eight hundred miles of the most difficult terrain from the Cape of Good Hope into the interior.


The complete Bible was published in 1883 by the American Bible Society. The people speaking the related Nguni languages of siSwati and Ndebele (both Southern and Northern) have used this version for many years. Translation into these related languages of various individual books of the Bible has been in progress during the twentieth century. The complete Bible in Ndebele (Northern) was published in 1978, while versions of the New Testament and Psalms in siSwati and in Ndebele (Southern) were published in 1986. The complete Bible in isiZulu was retranslated and published in 1959. In 1986, a new version of the New Testament and Psalms in isiZulu was published. This edition is unique because the type was set in such a way that hyphenation was eliminated and lines were carefully segmented into meaningful sentences and word clusters.


This Indo‐Germanic language came into being on the African continent over the last three centuries and has generated an extensive literature. The complete Bible was published in 1933, and some six million copies were distributed in fifty years. It is the only African version in which the translation directly from the original Hebrew and Greek was done exclusively by native speakers. In 1983, a new translation was published, of which one million copies were distributed within a period of three years.

Gerrit E. van der Merwe

Asiatic Languages

In addition to the Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, and Arabic versions (see the article on Ancient Languages at the beginning of this entry) there are also other, less well known, early versions of the Bible in Asia, some still extant. For example, in China a version of the Gospels, prepared by Nestorian missionaries for Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, is known to have existed as early as 640 CE. When the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549, he reportedly brought with him a translation of Matthew prepared by a Japanese convert in India. The Dutch traders were instrumental in translating several early versions: examples include the gospel of Matthew in High Malay (1629), which was the first translation in a non‐European language made expressly for the purpose of evangelism; the gospels of Matthew and John (1661) in the now extinct Sinkang dialect of Taiwan; and the Gospels in Sinhalese (1739). Ziegenbalg, the first missionary sent to India by the Danish‐Halle Mission, published the Tamil New Testament in 1715, and, assisted by B. Schultz, the Bible in 1727.

A flurry of Bible translation followed on the heels of the great missionary movement inspired by Pietism and the Great Awakening. Starting from the Middle East, the Arabic “Smith–Van Dyck Version” (New Testament 1860, Bible 1865), which has gone through successive revisions, is still in use today. Franz Delitzsch's New Testament in Hebrew (1877) has appeared in several revised editions. The first complete Turkish Bible (New Testament 1819, Bible 1827), known as the “Ali Bey Version,” was originally translated in the mid‐seventeenth century. Ali Bey, a Pole sold at Constantinople as a slave, was requested by the Dutch ambassador to Constantinople to translate the Bible because of his exceptional linguistic skills. Henry Martyn translated the most influential Persian version; his New Testament (1815), translated in Calcutta, has remained the basis of subsequent revisions. The common‐language Persian New Testament appeared in 1973. Martyn also translated the first New Testament into Urdu (1814), the state language of Pakistan. The first Urdu Bible, translated by the Benares Committee, appeared in 1843. Pashto, one of the official languages of Afghanistan, had its first New Testament in 1818, and a full Bible in 1895. Dari, the other official language of Afghanistan, had its first New Testament published in 1982.

India has the Bible or a portion of it in 142 of its languages and dialects. William Carey is reported to have translated the Bible into six languages, and parts of it into twenty‐nine more. The Serampore Press, which he established, has published scriptures in no fewer than forty‐five languages, of which thirty‐five are languages of India. The first Bengali New Testament, which he translated, appeared in 1801, and the complete Bible in 1809. It was due largely to his work and influence that most of the major languages in India got their first Bible in the early nineteenth century—for example, Oriya (1815), Marathi (1821), Sanskrit (1822), Gujarati (1823), Kannada (1831), Assamese (1833), Hindi (1835), Malayalam (1841), Urdu (1843), Telugu (1854). Although Panjabi had the first New Testament in 1815, the Bible did not appear until 1959. Common‐language Bibles include Hindi (1978), Panjabi (1985), Sema Haga (1985), Marathi (1987), Rongmei Naga (1989), Boro (1991), and Gangte (1991). Nepali, a language used both in Nepal and India, had its first New Testament in 1821 and Old Testament in 1914. The common‐language New Testament was published in 1981, and the complete Bible is expected in 1992. A notable version from Bangladesh is the common language New Testament (1980) in Musalmani Bengali, a form of language spoken by its Muslim population.

Adoniram Judson translated the first Burmese New Testament in 1832 and the Bible in 1835. Due to Burmese hostility to Europeans, he spent twenty‐one months in prison while translating the New Testament. The first Hwa Lisu New Testament (1938), by J. O. Fraser in the syllabic script that he developed, is an example of the Bible translator as an inaugurator of vernacular literature. The new common‐language Lisu Bible appeared in 1987. In Thailand, the gospel of Luke (1834), translated by Karl Gutzlaff, was the first scripture published in Thai. The first New Testament appeared in 1843, the Bible in one volume 1891–96, and an interconfessional common‐language Bible in 1981. In Laos, the first Lao New Testament was released in 1926, the Bible in 1932, and the common‐language New Testament in 1975 and Shorter Old Testament in 1980. In Kampuchea, the first Khmer scripture was the gospel of Luke (1899), translated by a king's interpreter, and the next publication, Luke‐Acts (1900), by a Buddhist monk. The first New Testament appeared in 1929, and the Bible in 1954. The first Vietnamese Bible (1913–16) was translated from the Latin Vulgate by a Catholic priest. A Protestant version followed, the New Testament in 1923, and the Old Testament in 1925; the New Testament, revised in 1954, is still in circulation. In Malaysia, the first complete Malay Bible (1733), translated by Melchior Leidekker, was the basis for several subsequent revisions. Another version, consisting of the 1879 Old Testament and 1938 New Testament, is still in use today. The common‐language New Testament was published in 1976, and the Bible in 1987.

In Indonesia, the Bible or a portion of it has been translated into seventy‐two languages and dialects. The first language of Indonesia to have the complete Bible was Javanese (1854). Another version by P. Jansz (New Testament 1890, Old Testament 1893) has undergone several revisions and appeared in Javanese, Arabic, and Roman scripts. Indonesian, the national language, had its first New Testament only in 1968, and the Bible in 1974; the common‐language New Testament followed in 1977, and the Bible in 1985. Other major language versions include Bugis and Makassar (New Testament 1888, Old Testament 1891–1901), Sundanese (New Testament 1877, Bible 1891), and Toba (New Testament 1878, Old Testament 1894). In addition to Indonesian, other common‐language Bibles published include Batak Koro (1987), Batak Toba (1989), Bali (1990), Batak Angkola (1991), and Sunda (1991).

In the Philippines, the Bible or a portion of it has been translated into eighty‐three languages and dialects. The Pangasinan Luke (1887) was the first portion to appear. Pilipino, or Tagalog, the national language, had its first New Testament in 1902 and Old Testament in 1905. Most of the major languages had their first Bible in the first half of the twentieth century: Bikol (1914), Cebuano (1917), Hiligaynon (1912), Ilokano (1909), Pampango (1917), Pangasinan (1915), and Samarenyo (1937). Being a dominantly Roman Catholic country, it is very active in interconfessional translations. Thus far, interconfessional Bibles in common language have appeared in Tagalog, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Pangasinan, and Samarenyo.

In China, the Bible or a portion of it has been translated into fifty‐eight languages and dialects. Marshman and Lassar produced the first Chinese literary Wenli Bible in 1822; however, the 1823 Bible by Morrison and Milne made a greater impact. W. H. Medhurst, Karl Guszlaff, and Elijah Bridgman also exerted considerable influence when they produced the 1838 Bible; they left their mark on several subsequent versions, some of which bear their names. The 1855 Delegates’ Version is still in circulation. Among the Easy Wenli versions, the 1902 Bible by Joseph Schereschewsky deserves special mention. Stricken with paralysis in 1881 and unable to hold a pen, he continued to work on the translation of the entire Bible, typing with one finger of each hand. Hence this Bible is known as the “Two‐finger Edition.” Important Mandarin versions include the 1878 Bible (Old Testament by Schereschewsky and New Testament by Peking Committee) and the 1919 Union Version, which continues to be the standard Bible today. The Today's Chinese Version in common language, translated entirely by Chinese scholars, appeared in 1985. The Bible (Old Testament 1946–52, New Testament 1957–59), translated by Franciscan Fathers, is widely used by Roman Catholics. Schereschewsky was also involved in producing the first Bible portion (Matthew, 1872) in Khalka Mongolian (the official language of the People's Republic of Mongolia), based on the literary Mongolian New Testament published in 1846. The common‐language New Testament, in Cyrillic script, appeared in 1990. In Taiwan, the Amoy Bible (1882–84), revised by Thomas Barclay in 1933, remains the standard Bible for Taiwanese speakers in Taiwan. Common‐language translation is in progress in Taiwanese and Hakka. For the tribal people, the common‐language Old Testament with a shorter New Testament has appeared in Amis (1981) and Taroko (1988), and the New Testament in Bunun (1973), Paiwan (1973), and Tayal (1974).

In Korea, the first portion (Luke and John) appeared in 1882, the New Testament in 1887. This translation, in Hankul characters, was done by John Ross in Manchuria. The 1911 Bible, revised in 1938 and 1956, is still in use today. Korea is also the first country in the world to have published the common‐language and interconfessional Bible (1977). In Japan, Karl Gutzlaff, an influential figure in the history of Chinese and Thai Bible translation, in 1837 translated the first ever portions (John and 1–3 John). J. C. Hepburn, the originator of the Hepburnian system of romanization, translated the first New Testament (1880), which formed the basis of the Standard Version Bible (1887). In 1917 a revised New Testament was released. The Colloquial Version Bible (1955), translated entirely by Japanese scholars, is still the standard Bible. However, the circulation of the New Interconfessional Translation Bible (1987) has passed one million copies.

In Micronesia, Hildegard Thiem and Harold Hanlin made an outstanding contribution. The former translated the Palauan New Testament (1964), Shorter Old Testament (1985), and the Yapese Shorter Bible (1981); the latter, the Trukese New Testament (1957) as well as the Ponapean New Testament (1972) and Shorter Old Testament (1977). Hanlin also helped in the preparation of the Marshallese Shorter Bible (1983). In Papua New Guinea, the Bible or a portion of it has been translated into 198 languages and dialects. The first Bible in the national language (Tok Pisin) was published in 1989. Translation in Pijin, the lingua franca of the Solomon Islands, is in progress. In the rest of the Pacific Islands, most of the major areas had their first Bible by the mid‐nineteenth century—for example, Tahitian (1838), Hawaiian (1839), Rarotongan (1851), Samoan (1855), and Maori (1858). Bislama, the national language of the new Republic of Vanuatu, had its first New Testament in 1980, and is expected to have the Bible in 1993. Because of their expertise, the translators were called upon to help translate the Constitution of the new republic.

According to a report compiled by the United Bible Societies, as of the end of 1991, complete Bibles, New Testaments, and portions of the Bible have been published in 811 different languages and dialects from Asia and the Pacific Islands, comprising 125 Bibles, 304 New Testaments, and 382 portions.

I‐Jin Loh

Australian Aboriginal Languages

At the time of the arrival of the Europeans in Australia at the end of the eighteenth century, there were at least three hundred thousand aborigines speaking more than five hundred languages and dialects; the present aboriginal population (tribal and other, including many with European blood) is about half that, or one percent of the total population of Australia. Portions of the Bible have been translated over the last century into approximately thirty Australian languages. Most translations cover only small parts of scripture; no full Bible has been published as yet and only a few full New Testaments. This selective approach is because the number of speakers of most aboriginal languages is lower than one thousand, often far less.

One reason for the activity of Bible translators is, of course, their desire to evangelize. Among churches and missionary organizations, however, a much greater appreciation of aboriginal culture has replaced earlier attitudes that were intent on eradicating tribal customs and traditions. The aborigines themselves are aware of their non‐European position in relation to scripture. Although most tribal aborigines have received a traditional Christian education from white ministers and teachers at aboriginal mission stations, as aboriginal people become more assertive they discover the similarity between their own position and that of the people of God in the Bible. The stories of creation, of the ancestors, of the oppression under Pharaoh, of the Exodus, the conquest, the exile, and the return have a special appeal. In their struggle for land rights they discover that the biblical concept of land as a gift from God and as something with which humanity is inseparably united is much more closely related to their own aboriginal understanding than to the European understanding of land as a commodity to be bought and sold. Similarly, the concept of covenant, with its strong emphasis on community and on corporate life, appeals to them much more than the individualistic thinking of Europeans.

Djiniyini Gondarra, a prominent aboriginal United Church Minister, the first aboriginal theologian and vice president of the United and Islander Christian Congress, provides a good illustration of the new assertiveness of aboriginal Christians. Two important addresses given by him in 1983 and 1985 were entitled, respectively, “Let my people go” and “Overcoming the captivities of the western church context” (the latter being based on Galatians 5.1). Djiniyini, as a black theologian, sees God as black, and he is most conscious of the European wrapping in which the aborigines have received Christianity and the Bible. He is therefore a strong supporter of the movement to translate the biblical message to aboriginal cultural forms.

It would be incorrect to assume that all aboriginal Christians are critical of the Western wrapping in which the biblical message is received. Many aborigines still receive the biblical message as it was presented fifty and even a hundred years ago. Until very recently, the destruction of all aboriginal culture was propagated, and in some cases this may still occur. Nevertheless, the new developments may be the sign of a new era in biblical interpretation: they will influence not only aborigines, as they try to understand Christianity in their own cultural setting, but also European traditional understandings. The latter may be noted in two particular points.

First, the biblical and theological interpretation of land has stimulated aboriginal Christians to new understandings. Is it valid, some ask, to use the Hebrew Bible in the current debate on land rights? Does this not impose the life and thought of an ancient culture upon modern times? Should the Old Testament not be interpreted in the light of the New Testament, and if this cannot be done (because the New Testament does not offer any thought on the matter in discussion), should we then not abandon all attempts to make connections between the Old Testament and our present world? Others argue that the Old Testament is not subservient to the New Testament, that the difference in culture does not necessarily mean a difference in ethos, and that it is this ethos with which the church has to wrestle when it interprets the biblical message.

Second, a significant outcome of the new developments in aboriginal biblical understandings for the Europeans is that they are forced to reconsider some of their own assumptions. The thought that there is only one way of understanding scripture is challenged, and the question is raised whether Western biblical interpretations are not more influenced by prejudices related to Western civilization and culture than has often been thought. The newer aboriginal understandings challenge and stimulate those whose prerogative it has been for many centuries to interpret scripture.

Hendrik C. Spykerboer

Native American Languages

At the end of 1990, 399 native American languages (Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut) had at least one book of the scriptures in published form. One hundred ninety‐seven of these languages have complete New Testaments, and fifteen have complete Bibles. Out of a total population of approximately twenty million, some ninety‐eight percent have at least something of the Bible in a form meaningful to them, provided they can read. In addition to these strictly native American languages, there are publications in seven creole languages, including an entire Bible in Haitian Creole, based on French and spoken by more than six million people, a New Testament in Sranan, an English‐based creole spoken by some 300,000 people in Surinam, and a New Testament in Papiamento, a Portuguese‐based creole with heavy Spanish borrowings spoken in the Netherlands West Indies by more than 250,000 people.

Evaluating this important development in the translation of the scriptures is extremely difficult in view of a number of crucial factors: (1) in many instances lack of adequate field surveys for determining the degrees of mutual intelligibility between languages and dialects; (2) extreme differences in population sizes (e.g., in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia six million Quechuas are divided into some twenty different dialects, while in Brazil 77 languages out of 136 have less than 200 speakers); (3) extent of literacy (e.g., 600,000 literate Aymaras out of a total population of 1.7 million in contrast with ninety percent illiteracy in some other language areas); (4) ninety‐two percent bilingualism in the Mexican Indian population and less than forty percent in a number of the Quechua dialects of Peru; and (5) significant differences in the quality of translations depending on the linguistic training of missionaries and the theological training of indigenous translators.

The majority of translations published in the languages of North America took place prior to 1900, while in Latin America and the Caribbean only thirteen out of 337 translations were published by that date, and most of the translations have appeared in print since World War II.

The first Bible to be translated and published in the Western Hemisphere was in the Massachusetts Indian language, spoken by a tribe of Indians settled along the Atlantic Coast north of Boston. John Eliot, a Roxbury minister originally from England, spent fifteen years learning the Indian language before beginning to translate. Genesis and Matthew were published in 1655 and the entire Bible in 1663. Eliot's decision to translate the Bible for the Indians living nearby was without precedent in modern times. Not since the eighth century CE had anyone undertaken to translate the entire Bible primarily for missionary purposes. Unfortunately, there are no Indians who still speak this language. But in Mohawk, an Iroquoian language, the gospel of Mark was first published in 1787, and later in the nineteenth century the rest of the New Testament appeared. These scriptures continue to be used by Mohawk Indians, many of whom live in New York City.

A fascinating story of biblical translation in North America concerns the Cherokee language and an orthography designed to represent the many distinctive sounds. Although an Indian named Sequoya could not read or write in English, he was deeply impressed by the power of written words. “If I could make things fast on paper, it would be like catching a wild animal and taming it,” he said. Finally, he devised a remarkably accurate syllabary, completed in 1821 and subsequently used by missionaries to translate the New Testament in a version still widely used and cherished by Cherokees, who constitute the second‐largest tribe in the United States.

In Latin America and the Caribbean the translation of the scriptures has been carried out by Christian missionaries representing a number of denominations as well as several so‐called Faith Missions, such as the South American Indian Mission, New Tribes Mission, and the Wycliffe Bible Translators, also known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics. The Wycliffe Bible Translators have been responsible for the production of New Testaments in 180 languages and have plans to undertake translations of the New Testament in twenty more languages and to complete work in thirty‐five other languages in which work was begun but not completed.

Because of the limited educational opportunities for most native people in the Americas, Bible translating has generally been carried out by missionaries, but in some cases translation committees consist entirely of indigenous people. An example is the manuscript of the New Testament in the Inuktitut dialect of Eskimo (Eastern Arctic), which went to the printers in 1992; almost forty percent of the Old Testament is in first draft for some 20,000 Inuktitut speakers, of whom ninety percent are members of the Anglican church.

The languages of the Americas are remarkably diverse and in many instances are structurally very complex. Linguists have classified these languages into more than thirty families, each with distinctive structural features and different vocabularies. A number of languages in southern Mexico have even more tones than Cantonese Chinese and must employ a complex system of tone marks to indicate crucial differences of meaning. Some languages, like Eskimo and Quechua, have exceptionally long words, consisting of as many as a dozen syllables. Verbs in Quechua begin with a root and may be followed by a number of different suffixes and clitics in as many as eight positions in some dialects, with the result that many verbs have more than ten thousand forms.

Because of the linguistic problems faced by translators working in languages not previously reduced to writing, missionary translators have generally invested a great deal of time and effort in the development of scientific alphabets, the analysis of unusual grammatical constructions, and the study of oral literature. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has been particularly active and creative in this area of research.

Because of the linguistic and cultural differences between the biblical text and the indigenous ways of life, some people have seriously doubted the possibility of effective functional equivalence in translating, but the resources of language and culture are generally adequate. In fact, in one language there are two expressions for the ambiguous English expression “love of God.” God's love for people is expressed as “God hides them in his heart” and people's love for God is “their hearts go away with God.”

But for a full understanding of the biblical message there are serious cultural differences. Many Indians in South America see no reason “to fear God.” He is generally regarded as being too far away to be of any real concern for people. What they fear are the malicious spirits of the forests, streams, and caves, which must be placated with gifts.

A traditional syncretistic Christopaganism also poses real problems for communication. In many areas a name such as Tata Dios, literally, “Father God,” is really a name for the sun, and Mama Dios, literally “Mother God,” is in some places a triple reference to the moon, the earth, and the Virgin Mary.

For a variety of reasons the publication of the scriptures in some Indian languages has not been a success, but where there have been missionaries or leaders of national churches who have encouraged literacy, instructed people in the meaning and relevance of the Bible message, and trained local leadership, the response has been remarkable.

The production of the scriptures in indigenous languages of the Americas has produced three important byproducts: literacy by believers anxious to learn to read the scriptures; concern for further education in their own language as well as in the dominant language of the area (Spanish, Portuguese, English, or French); and a sense of ethnic pride, so important for socially and economically exploited people. As one Totonac Indian said when he first purchased a New Testament in his own language, “Now we are a people because we have a book.”

Eugene A. Nida