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Versions of the Bible

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The Septuagint

The Septuagint, or Alexandrine, Version, the first and foremost translation of the Hebrew Bible, was made in the third and second centuries B.C. An account of its origin, recensions, and its historical importance has been given above (see SEPTUAGINT VERSION). It is still the official text of the Greek Church. Among the Latins its authority was explicitly recognized by the Fathers of the Council of Trent, in compliance with whose wishes Sixtus V, in 1587, published an edition of the Vatican Codex. This, with three others, the Complutensian, Aldine, and Grabian, are the leading representative editions available.

Version of Aquila

In the second century, to meet the demands of both Jews and Christians, three other Greek versions of the Old Testament were produced, though they never took the place of the Septuagint. Only fragmentary remains of them are preserved, chiefly from Origen's "Hexapla". The first and the most original is that of Aquila, a native of Sinope in Pontus, a proselyte to Judaism, and according to St. Jerome, a pupil of Rabbi Akiba who taught in the Palestinian schools, 95-135. Aquila, taking the Hebrew as he found it, proves in his rendering to be "a slave to the letter". When his version appeared, about 130, its rabbinical character won approval from the Jews but distrust from the Christians. It was the favoured among the Greek-speaking Jews of the fourth and fifth centuries, and in the sixth was sanctioned by Justinian for public reading in the synagogues. Then it rapidly fell into disuse and disappeared. Origen and St. Jerome found it of value in the study of the original text and of the methods of Jewish interpretation in the early Christian years.

Version of Theodotion

Another Greek version practically contemporaneous with Aquila's was made by Theodotion, probably an Ephesian Jew or Ebionite. It held a middle place among the ancient Greek translations, preserving the character of a free revision of the Septuagint, the omissions and erroneous renderings of which it corrected. It also showed parts not appearing in the original, as the deuterocanonical fragments of Daniel, the postscript of Job, the Book of Baruch, but not the Book of Esther. It was not approved by the Jews but was favourably received by the Christians. Origin gave it a place in his "Hexapla" and from it supplied parts missing in the Septuagint. St. Irenæus used its text of Daniel, which was afterwards adopted in the Church.

Version of Symmachus

This appeared at the close of the second century. Its author was an Ebionite of Jewish or Samaritan origin. Giving the sense rather than the letter of the Hebrew, he turned its idioms into good Greek, used paraphrases, and translated independently of the earlier versions. His work, though finished and intelligible to readers ignorant of Hebrew, sometimes failed to give the real meaning of the original. It was but little used by the Jews. St. Jerome admired its literary qualities and was often guided by it in preparing the Vulgate.

Other Greek Versions

In limited portions of the Hexapla, Origen made use of other partial Greek versions which he designated as the Quinta, Sexta and Septima, from the numerical position of the columns assigned them in his work, but their authors are unknown and very little can be said of the merits of the versions.

Versions from the Septuagint

The "Vetus Itala" or Old Latin

The origin of the oldest Latin version or versions is involved in much uncertainty. Some contend that there was but one primitive version, others show with strong arguments that there were several. It is generally admitted that long before the end of the second century, Latin translations, though rude and defective, of Tobias, I and II Machabees, and Baruch were in use and that towards the close of the same period, there existed at least one version of the whole Bible, based on the Septuagint and on Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This was the Vetus Itala, or Old Latin. Its New Testament is possessed complete in some thirty-eight manuscripts, but its Old-Testament text has survived only in parts. As it contained both the protocanonical and the deuterocanonical books and parts of books of the Old Testament, it figured importantly in the history of the Biblical Canon. It exercised a vast influence on the Vulgate and through it on modern translations and the Church language. In the latter part of the fourth century, the text of the Itala was found to have variant readings in different parts of the Church. Pope Damasus therefore requested St. Jerome to undertake its revision. Guided by old Greek manuscripts, he corrected its mistakes and emended such translations as affected the true sense of the Gospels, and probably followed the same method in revising all the books of the New Testament, which he put forth at Rome about 383. In that year, working from the commonly received text of the Septuagint, he made a cursory revision of the Psalter, which was used in the Roman Church until the time of St. Pius V, and is still retained at St. Peter's, Rome, in the Ambrosian Rite at Milan, and in the Invitatory psalm of Matins in the modern Breviary. About 388, using the Hexaplar text as a basis, he revised the Psalter more carefully and this recension, called the Gallican Psalter from becoming current in Gaul, is now read in the Breviary and in the Vulgate. From the same sources he later corrected all the Old-Testament books that he judged canonical, but even in his own day all this revision, excepting the book of Job was lost. The unrevised text of the greater part of the Old Latin Version continued in use in the Western Church until it was supplanted by the Vulgate.

Egyptian, or Coptic, versions

The first Christians of Lower Egypt commonly used Greek, but the natives generally spoke Coptic (see EGYPT AND COPTIC LITERATURE), which is now recognized in four dialects, viz.: Bohairic, Sahidic, Akhmimic and Fayûmic (Middle Egyptian). As Christian communities formed and flourished, the Bible was translated into these dialects and it is generally admitted that some versions, if not all, date back to the second century. That they were independent translations from the Greek seems certain, and Biblical criticism has therefore profited by the light they have thrown on the Septuagint and the New-Testament manuscripts. Of these versions the most important are in Bohairic or Memphite, the language used at Memphis and Alexandria, and the Sahidic, the language of the upper Thebais. The former is entirely extant and since the eleventh or twelfth century has been the standard text of the Church in Egypt. The latter exists in large fragments, but little has so far been found of the others.

Fayûmic (Middle Egyptian) or as it has been termed Bashmuric (Bushmuric), one of the Coptic dialects according to the division of Athanasius, Bishop of Cos (eleventh cent.), is the name now applied to some fragmentary versions published as the "Codices Basmyrici" by Zoega ("Catalogus", Rome, 1810).

Ethiopic and Amharic versions

Early in the fourth century, St. Frumentius preached the Gospel in Abyssinia and there laid the foundation of the Ethiopic Church. Its version of the Scriptures probably dates from the close of the following century. It undoubtedly originated from the Septuagint and Greek manuscripts, but present texts do not certainly represent the original version and may possibly be a later translation from the Arabic or Coptic.

Falasha Version

This is an Old Testament in Geez, the sacred speech of Abyssinia, among the Falasha in North Abyssinia, who follow the Jewish religion and claim to be descended from the Jewish exiles of the time of Solomon.

Amharic Versions

As a language, the Amharic supplanted the Geez about 1300 and is still in use. Catholic missionaries have made it the medium of their translations of portions of the Scriptures, but the first Amharic Bible was completed in 1810-20 by Asselin de Cherville, French consul at Cairo. A Bible Society reprint appeared in 1842, and a new edition was prepared in 1875 by Krapf, aided by several Abyssinian scholars.

Galla Version

A Gospel of St. Matthew in the language of the South Abyssinian Galla was published by Krapf (Ankobar, 1842). A Galla New Testament in Amharic characters was edited by a Bible Society in 1876; Genesis and Psalms, 1873; Exodus, 1877.

Gothic version

The Goths embraced the faith in the third century but in the fourth they fell into Arianism. Their Bishop Ulfilas (318-388), after devising an alphabet, produced a version of the Scriptures from the Septuagint Old Testament and from the Greek of the New. Extant fragments, the oldest of which are of the fifth and sixth century, bear traces of the Septuagint recension of Lucian and of the Syriac versions of the New Testament.

Armenian version


In 406 the Armenian alphabet was invented by Mesrob, who five years later completed a translation of the Old and New Testament from the Syriac version into Armenian. This translation was recognized as imperfect, and a few years later Joseph of Baghim and Eznak, disciples of Mesrob, were sent to Edessa to make a new version from the Syriac. When they returned bringing some copies of the Greek version it was seen that their work would be greatly benefited by the use of this "authentic" copy. Consequently some of the translators, including Moses Chorenensis, were sent to study Greek at Alexandria, where the final revision was made, the Old Testament being translated from the Septuagint according to the "Hexapla" of Origen. This version was without delay officially adopted by the authorities in the Armenian Church. Comparatively little use has been made of the Armenian version by scholars engaged in critical work on the Bible, as few of them in the past knew Armenian, and the version moreover was believed to have been modified according to the Peschitto, and even revised under King Haitho II (1224-70), according to the Vulgate. The insertion in particular of the text concerning the three heavenly witnesses (1 John 5:7) was attributed to him, since it was found in Uscan's first printed edition of the Armenian Bible (Amsterdam, 1666). Modern investigation reveals no solid ground for believing in these revisions. As regards 1 John 5:7, it is not necessary to assume its insertion by anyone before Uscan, whose edition is lacking in critical value and embodies many emendations and additions taken from the Vulgate. The Armenian version follows quite closely the "received" Greek text. The variations in the manuscripts are probably due to divergencies in the Greek sources. The version is a witness to the general reading of certain Greek copies of the fifth century.

Principle Editions

The first part of the Armenian version to be printed was the Psalter, published at Venice in 1565 by Abgar. In 1666 Uscan (probably Bishop of Uschovank in Erivan) published at Amsterdam a complete Bible in 4to, and in 1668 a New Testament in 8vo. The former work leaves much to be desired from the standpoint of critical accuracy. Apart from the insertion of the verse I John, v, 7, Ecclesiasticus and IV Esdras were simply translations from the Vulgate made by Uscan himself and the Apocalypse was scarcely less so. The work begun by Uscan was continued and perfected by the Mechitarists and Zohrab published a New Testament (1789), and a critical edition of the whole Bible (1805). Another was issued in 1859. In both these editions the verse I John, v, 7, was omitted as it was not to be found in any of the older manuscripts. The Protestant Bible societies have brought out several editions of the Armenian version both in the classical and in the modern language. Among the former are: Complete Bible (St. Petersburg, 1814; Calcutta, 1817); Old and New Testament separately (St. Petersburg, 1817). Editions in the modern dialect are, among others: Complete Bible (Moscow, 1835); Psalter (Basle, 1844); New Testament (Constantinople, 1860).

Georgian, or Grusian, versions

Apparently kindred to the Armenian and probably derived from in the sixth century is the Gregorian version, showing the influence of the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament. It was revised after the Slav translation by Prince Wakuset (Moscow, 1743), and has appeared later with many changes (e.g., Moscow, 1816; St. Petersburg, 1818).

Syriac versions

In the earliest years of Christianity, a Syriac version of the Old Testament made directly from the Hebrew text was employed in the Syrian Church, but in the seventh century, Paul, Bishop of Tella, gave the Monophysites a translation (617) from the Septuagint. It followed literally Origen's Hexaplar text and was later revised by James of Edessa (died 907). In the sixth century there had appeared a version of the Psalter and New Testament from the Greek at the request of Philoxenus, by whose name it has been known. A century later it appeared at Alexandria in a recension of great critical value.

Slavic version

Saints Cyril and Methodius preached the Gospel to the Slavs in the second half of the ninth century, and St. Cyril, having formed an alphabet, made for them, in Old Ecclesiastical Slavic, or Bulgarian, a translation of the Bible from the Greek. Toward the close of the tenth century this version found its way into Russia with Christianity, and after the twelfth century it underwent many linguistic and textual changes. A complete Slav Bible after an ancient codex of the time of Waldimir (d. 1008) was published at Ostrog in 1581. When Empress Elizabeth ordered a new revision of St. Cyril's translation (1751), the translators used the Ostrog edition, correcting it according to the Septuagint and changing the Old Slavonic in great part to Modern Russian. This has remained the norm for later Russian Bibles.

The United Ruthenians have a version approved by their bishops and printed at Poczajow (1798) and Przemysl (1862).

The first complete Polish Bible was printed at Cracow in 1561, 1574, and 1577. As it was proved unsatisfactory for Catholics, Jacob Wujek, S.J., undertook a new translation from the Vulgate (Cracow, 1593), which was praised by Clement VIII, and reprinted frequently. Other Polish Bibles are a Socinian version (Cracow, 1563), and a Unitarian from the Hebrew by von Budey (Czaslaw, 1572).

In the Czech, or Bohemian, tongue, thirty-three manuscript versions of the entire Bible and twenty-eight of the New Testament are known to have existed in the fifteenth century. A New Testament was printed at Pilsen in 1475 and 1480. A complete Bible by John Pytlik and others appeared at Prague in 1488. In the sixteenth century there were six versions of the whole Bible and sixteen of the New Testament. In the seventeenth century the Jesuits edited the so-called St. Wenceslaus Bible at Prague (1677, 1715, and later). A new translation was made by Durych and Prochaska (Prague, 1778, 1786, 1807). Protestant versions appeared at Pressburg (1787, 1808), Berlin (1807, 1813), and Kisek (1842).

A Slovak version of the Bible for Catholics was made by Bernolak (Gran, 1829).

A Serbian, or Illyrian, version of the Bible was made by Kassich (1632). There are also two manuscript versions, by Stephen Rosy (1750) and Burgadelli (1800).

A Croatian version of the Bible was made by Stephen Istranin and Anton Dalmatin in the sixteenth century.

The Vulgate was translated into Bosnian by Peter Katanic. O.S.F. (Budapest, 1831).

A Dalmatian version with commentary by John Skaric appeared at Vienna (1857-61); a Bible Society edition, the Old Testament by George Danicic and the New Testament by Vuk Karadzic, was also published there (1868).

Arabic versions

There exist six or seven Arabic translations of portions of the Old Testament according to the Septuagint, some of them belonging to the tenth century.

Versions directly from the Hebrew

Chaldaic versions or Targums

After the Babylonian Captivity, the Jews developed a large use of the Chaldaic, or Aramaic, tongue. To meet their needs the Sacred Books were translated into this dialect, and used in the public services of the synagogues not later than the second century B.C. At first the translations were oral, being largely paraphrastic interpretations with comments. In time rules of exegesis were determined, the translations were fixed in writing, and were thus widely circulated even before the time of Christ. Of these Chaldaic versions, called Targums (Paraphrases), there is none extant containing the entire Hebrew Bible.

Syriac versions

The Peschitto

As early as the second century, portions of the Hebrew Bible, as the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Psalms, had been translated into Syriac and were in use in the Syrian Church. Gradually the remaining books were given out with versions from the Greek of all the deuterocanonical books except Ecclesiasticus, which was rendered from the Hebrew. The fourth century found the Syrian Christians possessed of a complete translation of the Old Testament, which is known since the ninth century as the Peschitto or "Simple". This name denotes its literal fidelity, or, as others think, a meaning like Vulgate, or Communis, or again indicates its distinction from the version of Paul of Tella, its source, which contains the critical additions of the Hexaplar text. It is the first version of the Hebrew Scriptures made for and by Christians. In antiquity and importance, it ranks next to the Septuagint, according to which it was revised later. A recent edition of the Peschitto was issued from the Dominican printing-press at Mossul (1887-91).

Arabic versions

An Arabic version of the Hebrew Bible was made in the tenth century by Saadia ha Gaon. Only its Pentateuch, Minor Prophets, Isaias, Psalms, and Job have been preserved. In 1671 an Arabic Bible was published at Rome under the direction of Sergius Risi, Archbishop of Damascus. It appeared in numerous later editions. A mutilated reprint of it (London, 1822) was circulated by the Bible Society. To offset this Protestant influence, complete Arabic versions were issued both by the Dominicans at Mossul (1875-8) and the Jesuits at Beirut (1876-8).

Carshuni (Karshuni) Version

This is an Arabic version made in Syriac characters for Syrian Christians chiefly of Mesopotamia, Aleppo, and adjacent parts. A New Testament in Carshuni characters containing in two columns the Syriac Peschitto and the Arabic of the Codex of Erpenius was published at Rome (1703) for the Maronites of Lebanon. A Bible Society edition appeared at Paris (1827).

Persian version

In the first half of the sixteenth century Rabbi Jacob Tawus translated literally the Massoretic text of the Pentateuch.

Samaritan version of the Pentateuch

From at least the fourth century B.C. the Samaritans used a copy of Hebrew Law. It was written in archaic Hebrew characters and differed in some respects from the original. Many of its readings have found favour with not a few Biblical scholars. It was translated with a literal fidelity into Samaritan in the second century B.C. This version was printed in the Polyglots of 1645 and 1647.

The Vulgate

While revising the text of the Old Latin Version, St. Jerome became convinced of the need in the Western Church of a new translation directly from the Hebrew. His Latin scholarship, his acquaintance with Biblical places and customs obtained by residence in Palestine, and his remarkable knowledge of Hebrew and of Jewish exegetical traditions, especially fitted him for a work of this kind. He set himself to the task A.D. 390 and in A.D. 405 completed the protocanonical books of the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and the deuterocanonical Books of Tobias and Judith from the Aramaic. To these were added his revision of the Old Latin, or Gallican, Psalter, the New Testament, revised from the Old Latin with the aid of the original Greek, and the remaining deuterocanonical books, and portions of Esther, and Daniel, just as they existed in the Itala. Thus was formed that version of the Bible which has had no less influence in the Western Church than the Septuagint has had in the Eastern, which has enriched the thought and language of Europe and has been the source of nearly all modern translations of the Scriptures. The Hebrew text used by St. Jerome was comparatively late, being practically that of the Massoretes. For this reason his version, for textual criticism, has less value than the Peschitto and the Septuagint. As a translation it holds a place between these two. It is elegant in style, clear in expression, and on the whole, notwithstanding some freedoms in the way of restricted or amplified readings, it is faithful to the sense of the original. At first it met with little favour. It was looked upon by some as a perversion suggested and encouraged by the Jews. Others held it to be inferior to the Septuagint, and those who recognized its merits feared it would cause dissensions. But it gradually supplanted the Old Latin Version. Adopted by several writers in the fifth century, it came into more general use in the sixth. At least the Spanish churches employed it in the seventh century, and in the ninth it was found in practically the whole Roman Church. Its title "Vulgate", indicating its common use, and belonging to the Old Latin until the seventh century, was firmly established in the thirteenth. In the sixteenth the Council of Trent declared it the authentic version of the Church.

From an early day the text of the Vulgate began to suffer corruptions, mostly through the copyists who introduced familiar readings of the Old Latin or inserted the marginal glosses of the manuscripts which they were transcribing. In the eighth century Alcuin undertook and completed (A.D. 801) a revision with the aid of the best manuscripts then current. Another was made about the same time by Theodulph, Bishop of Orléans. The best known of other and subsequent recensions are those of Lanfranc (d. 1089), of St. Stephen, Abbot of Cîteaux (d. 1134), and of Cardinal Nicolas (d. 1150). Then the universities and religious orders began to publish their "Correctoria biblica", or critical commentaries on the various readings found in the manuscripts and writings of the Fathers. After the first printing of the Vulgate by Gutenberg in 1456, other editions came out rapidly. Their circulation with other Latin versions led to increasing uncertainties as to a standard text and caused the Fathers of the Council of Trent to declare that the Vulgate alone was to be held as "authentic in public readings, discourses, and disputes, and that nobody might dare or presume to reject it on any pretence" (Sess. IV, decr. de editione et usu sacrorum librorum). By this declaration the Council, without depreciating the Hebrew or the Septuagint or any other version then in circulation and without forbidding the original texts, approved the Vulgate and enjoined its public and official use as a text free from error in doctrine and morals. It was left to the Holy See itself to provide for a corrected revision of the Vulgate, but the work went on but slowly. Contributing towards the desired end, John Henten, O.P., published at Louvain, 1547, an amended text with variants, which was favourably received. The same was republished at Antwerp, 1583, with a larger number of variants, by the Louvain theologians under the direction of Lucas of Bruges. In 1590 a Roman edition was prepared by a commission of scholars. After revising it, Sixtus V ordered it to be taken as the standard text. After his death a further revision was carried out under the direction of Franciscus Toletus, S.J., and finally the work was printed in 1598, with its title unchanged: "Biblia Sacra Vulgatæ editionis, Sixti V Pontificis Maximi jussu recognita et edita". This was under the pontificate of Clement VIII, and his name has appeared in the title since 1641. This revision is now the officially recognized version of the Latin Rite and contains the only authorized text of the Vulgate. That it has numerous defects has never been denied, yet it ranks high in the evidence it affords of the competent scholarship that produced it. To bring it into closer touch with the latter developments of textual criticism is the purpose that induced Pius X to entrust to the Benedictines the work of further revision. The importance of this enterprise consists in this that it will reproduce, as correctly as possible, the original translation of St. Jerome, and will thereby furnish biblicists with a reliable clue to an ancient Hebrew text, differing in many details from the Septuagint, or the Massoretic Text ("../cathen/15515b.htm">REVISION OF VULGATE).=BELLARMINE;

Other Latin Versions

After St. Jerome the first to translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Latin appears to have been Cardinal Carton (d. 1307), Bishop of London, whose work has been lost. Of numerous versions, many of which have perished or are preserved only in manuscripts, noteworthy are the Psalms from the Hebrew by Felix Pratensis, O.S.A. (Venice, 1515). Another Psalter with a version of Job was made by Aug. Justinian, O.P. (Paris, 1516). Kantes Pagninus, O.P. (d. 1514), made an interlinear version of both the Old and New Testaments from the original languages, which by its literal fidelity pleased Christians and Jews and was much used by the Reformers. A revision of this translation resulting in a text even more literal was made by Arias Montano. His work appeared in the Antwerp Polyglot (1572). Another literal version was undertaken by Thomas Malvenda, O.P. (d. 1628), as the basis of an extensive commentary but death ended his labours at the fifteenth chapter of Ezechiel. His work was published at Lyons (1650). In 1763 the Oratorian F. Houbigant edited his "Biblia Veteris Testamenti", rendered from the Hebrew. In the "Biblia Maxima" (Paris, 1660), J. de la Haye, O.Min., collected a great number of variant readings of older Latin versions. A revision of the Vulgate (Venice, 1542, 1557) by Isadore Clarius gave offence on account of many arbitrary changes in the text and was put on the Index.

Among the Reformers, Latin Scriptural labours were largely confined to commentaries and the translation of single books, e.g. Melanchthon, Proverbs (1524); Luther, Deuteronomy (1525); Brentius, Job (1527); Drach, Psalms (1540), Daniel (1544), and Joel (1565). A complete Hebrew-Latin Old Testament was given out by Sebastian Münster (Basle, 1534-46). Another Latin version of the Old Testament (Zurich, 1543, and Paris, 1545), bearing the name of Leo Juda, was partly the work of Bibliander, who translated Ezechiel, Daniel, Job, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, and the last forty-eight psalms. Its Apocrypha were translated from the Greek by P. Cholin. A version whose author, Castalion, affected a style of classic elegance, was printed at Basle in 1551. Other versions were put forth by Tremellius and Junius or du Jon (Frankfurt, 1575-9), and by Luc and Andrew Osiander, who sought to correct the Vulgate after the Hebrew.

Hebrew versions of the New Testament

In 1537 Sebastian Münster published an old translation of the Gospel of St. Matthew, in a rabbinical Hebrew by Schemtob Isaac. Improved editions were made by Tillet (1555), and by Herbst (Göttingen, 1879). The four Gospels were done into classic Hebrew by a converted Jew, Giona, at Rome (1668). The first complete New Testament in Hebrew was made by Elias Hutter and was published in the Nuremberg Polyglot (1600), revised by Robertson (London, 1666). A corrected New Testament in Hebrew was given out by Caddock (London, 1798). A number of Bible Society versions have appeared since 1818, and in 1866 Reichhardt and Biesenthal edited a text with accents and vowels. This was revised by Delitzsch in 1877.

Mixed sources

Italian versions

Evidences of early versions of at least portions of the Scriptures for liturgical purposes, public readings, and private devotion are not wanting in the history of the Church among any of the peoples to whom her missionaries carried the Gospel. Leaving them and even many later recensions unnoticed, this article will touch on only the more important versions which have had some part and influence in national religious life. In Italy popular knowledge of the Bible in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was spread chiefly by the Franciscan and Dominican Friars. A complete version in the vernacular, a manuscript preserved in the National Library at Paris, was made by Nicholas de Nardò, O.P., in 1472. The first printed Bible (Venice, 1471) was due to Nicholas Malermi, O. Camald. A revision of this, with notes, rubrics, and résumés largely after the Biblical commentaries of Nicholas of Lyra, was made by Marine de Veneto, O.P. (Venice, 1477). Santes Marmochini, O.P. (d. 1545), corrected the heretical version of Bruccioli according to the Vulgate (Venice, 1538, 1547, etc.). Two noteworthy translations of the New Testament were made by Zaccaria Florentini, O.P. (Venice, 1542), and Domenico Gigli (Venice, 1551). The most widely used complete version was produced by Antonio Martini, Archbishop of Florence (Turin, 1776-81). It was approved by Pius VI and has been widely circulated.

The first complete Protestant Bible in Italian was printed at Geneva (1562). It was made up of the slightly revised heretical text of Bruccioli's Old Testament (1532), which was a perversion of the Latin of Kantes Pagninus, and not, as pretended, a translation from original sources, and of the apostate Massimo Teofilo's New Testament, first published at Lyons (1551), and revised by Gallars and Beza. This was adopted by the Bible societies. Martini's translation was also taken and shaped to Protestant purposes by the British and Foreign Bible Society (New Testament, 1813, and Bible, 1821).

Spanish versions

Several manuscripts of early Spanish versions, e.g. the Biblia Alfonsina, and some made from the Hebrew, are preserved at the Escurial, Madrid. A later work (sixteenth century) is called the Bible of Quiroga, a convert from Judaism, who rose to be cardinal inquisitor. The first printed Bible (Valencia, 1478), following an Old-Testament version from the French and Latin by Romeu de Sabruguera, O.P., was in the Catalonian dialect and was the work of the General of the Carthusians, Boniface Ferrer (d. 1417), a brother of St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P. His manuscript was revised and extensively corrected by Jaime Borrell, O.P. A later translation, of classic elegance and with copious notes, by Philip Scio de S. Miguel, was published at Madrid (1794). Another with a paraphrastic commentary in the text was given out at Madrid (1823) by Amat, but the work is said to have been taken from a manuscript of Father Petisco, S.J. A New Testament by Francisco do Enzinas (Antwerp, 1543) was later much used by the British and Foreign Bible Society. It also adopted a complete version from the Vulgate by the apostate Cassiodore Reyna (Basle, 1596), and a revision of this by the apostate Cypriano de Valera (Amsterdam, 1602). A Lutheran version, the so-called Biblia del Oso, was published by Juan de Valdes (Basle, 1567-69). The Bible of Ferrara, or the Bible of the Jews, was a Spanish version from the Hebrew by Abraham Usque, a Portuguese Jew. Under a pseudonym he issued an edition of the same for Christians. It gained considerable authority and was many times reprinted. A revision by Jos. Athias appeared at Amsterdam in 1661.

Portuguese versions

A Portuguese Bible for Catholics was issued by Ant. Pereira de Figueiredo at Lisbon (1784). A New Testament (Amsterdam, 1712), and the Pentateuch and historical books (1719) by J. Ferreira a Almeida, a "convert from Rome", supplied the Bible societies with a version for Portuguese Protestants.

Basque versions

A New Testament by Jean Licarrague (Rochelle, 1571) is probably the earliest Biblical work in the Basque tongue. The first Catholic New Testament, translated by Jean Haraneder and later revised by two priests, was published at Bayonne (1855). A complete Bible after the Vulgate was edited at London (1859-65), under the patronage of Prince Lucien Bonaparte. Various portions of the Scriptures and revisions have appeared since.

French versions

Versions of the Psalms and the Apocalypse, and a metrical rendering of the Book of Kings, appeared as early as the seventh century. Up to the fourteenth century, many Bible histories were produced. A complete version of the Bible was made in the thirteenth century; the translation of the various parts is of unequal merit. The fourteenth century manuscript Anglo-Norman Bible follows it closely. Independent of either in the manuscript Bible of King John the Good, which though unfinished is described as a "work of science and good taste". Done in the second half of the fourteenth century, it is largely the work of the Dominicans Jean de Sy, Jehan Nicolas, William Vivien, and Jehan de Chambly. Another incomplete version based on the thirteenth-century Bible was the work of Raoul de Presles and is known as the Bible of Charles V. About 1478, appearing at Lyons among the incunabula of France, is a New Testament by Julian Macho and Pierre Farget, and the books of the Old Testament history, published six times. A complete version done literally from the Vulgate and the Greek New Testament was given out by Lefèvre d'Etaples (Antwerp, 1530, 1534, 1541). After revisions by Nicolas de Leuze (Antwerp, 1548), and by Louvain theologians (1550), it remained a standard for over a century. Only verbal improvements were the versions of Pierre de Besse (1608), Pierre Frizon (1621), and Béron (1647). By order of Louis XIII, Jacques Corbin edited his version of the Vulgate (Paris, 1643-61), A translation by René Benoist (Paris, 1566) savoured of Calvinism and aroused much controversy. Well known and widely read were the Latin-French editions of Calmet (Paris, 1770-16) and de Carrières (Paris, 1709-17); the latter gave out the French alone (1741), but it was not without errors. A version from original sources (Cologne, 1739; Paris, 1753, 1777, 1819) was the work of Le Gros. Another popular French-Latin Bible was put forth by de Vence (Paris, 1748, 1750). It was revised and furnished with Carrières's translation and a commentary after Calmet by Rondet (Paris, 1767-73; Nîmes, 1779). A translation which went through some six editions despite inaccuracies was published at Paris (1821-2) by de Genoude. Bourassé and Janvier gave out a complete version at Tours in 1865. Arnaud published his translations at Paris (1881), but perhaps the most popular of the French versions is that of J.-B. Glaire (Paris, 1871-3, later edited with notes by M. Vigouroux. These complete versions but partially represent the extensive Biblical work of the French Catholics.

The first and nearest approach to a national Protestant version for France was made (Serrières, 1535) by Pierre-Robert Olivetan, Calvin's cousin. He was supposed on his own statement to have translated independently, but it is clear that he used almost wholly the New Testament with the interlinear version of Pagninus. Corrected by Calvin, it was republished at Geneva in 1545, and later in other editions, the principal one being the revision (1588) of the pastors of Geneva. This was supplanted by the recension of Osterwald (1744), an improvement in style, but a work replete with errors. Others differing but little from the Olivetan-Genevan versions were edited by Castalio (Basle, 1555) and Martin (Amsterdam, 1707). A version from original sources, and accepted by the Oxford University Press for national official use, was given out by Segond (Geneva, 1874; Nancy, 1877; and Geneva, 1879).

The Jansenists are represented in a New Testament translation (Amsterdam, 1667) by Isaac Le Maistre de Sacy and Antoine* Arnauld. The work contained many errors and the writers' bias appeared in frequent alterations. A version of the whole Bible was undertaken by de Sacy in 1666, but death intervened; it was completed by du Fossé and Huré (Paris, 1682-1706; Brussels, 1705-30; Nîmes, 1781). Whilst the work was never censured as a whole, several of its New-Testament books were condemned by individual bishops. A Jewish Bible by S. Cahen, presenting both the Hebrew and the French with notes philological, etc., was issued at Paris (1831-51), but its text has been found incorrect and its notes often contradictory. A Rationalist Bible after the Hebrew and Greek by Ledrain appeared at Paris (1886-96).

German versions

The history of Biblical research in Germany shows that of the numerous partial versions in the vernacular some go back to the seventh and eighth centuries. It also establishes the certainty of such versions on a considerable scale in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and points to a complete Bible of the fifteenth in general use before the invention of printing. Of special interest are the five complete folio editions printed before 1477, nine from 1477 to 1522, and four in Low German, all prior to Luther's New Testament in 1522. They were made from the Vulgate, differing only in dialect and presenting variant readings. Their worth even to this day has been attested by many scholars. Deserving notice as belonging to the same period are some fourteen editions of the Psalter and no less than ninety editions of the Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and Holy Days. On the authority of a Nuremberg manuscript, Jostes (Histor. Jahrbuch, 1894, XV, 771, and 1897, XVIII, 133) establishes the fact of a complete translation of the Bible by John Rellach, O.P., of Constance (before 1450), and thinks it was the first German version printed. A New Testament by Beringer (Speyer, 1526) was in part a correction of Luther's version. In 1527 another New Testament was put forth by Emser who worked from the Vulgate and an older version, likewise correcting Luther.

In 1534 John Dietenberger, O.P., gave out a complete version at Mainz based on a primitive translation with aid from Emser's New Testament and from the deuterocanonical books by Leo Juda. His agreement in places with Luther is due to the use by both of a common source. The Dietenberger Bible underwent frequent revision, and up to 1776 had fifty-eight complete editions. It was revised (1) by Caspar Ulenberg (Mainz, 1549, 1617; Cologne, 1630); (2) by the theologians of Mainz, i.e. Jesuits (1661, 1662, etc.), from whom it received the title of the Catholic Bible; (3) by Th. Erhard, O.S.B. (Augsburg, 1722, 6th ed., 1748); (4) by G. Cartier, O.S.B. (Constance, 1751); (5) by Ignatius Weitenauer (Augsburg, 1783-89), whose version with notes was valued even by Protestants for its fidelity and literary excellence. An important new translation of the Vulgate was published at Augsburg (1788-97) by H. Braun, O.S.B. This was revised by Feder (Nürnberg, 1803) and by Allioli (Landshut, 1830, 1832). In successive editions the last named has almost wholly changed the original so that it is now known only by his name. It is much esteemed as a literary rendering and is widely read. An excellent version made from the Vulgate and compared with original sources was put forth by Loch and Reischl (Ratisbon, 1851-66). From original sources D. Brentano began and Th. A. Dereser finished a version (Frankfurt, 1799-1828), with notes savouring of Rationalism. A second edition was emended by J.M. Scholz. This account includes only the most representative versions made by German Catholics.

Luther's Biblical translations, begun in 1522, when he issued his New Testament, and carried on to 1545, when he finished the deuterocanonical books and the first complete edition of his Bible, have retained a strong hold on German and other Protestants and by many are esteemed as little less than inspired. He saw to many corrections and revisions himself, and his work went through some ten editions in his own lifetime. Though supposed to translate from the originals, he made use of the Latin version of Lyra, the Hebrew-Latin interlinear of Pagninus, and an older German translation of the Vulgate whose order he retained. His renderings were often excessively free and at times he arbitrarily changed the sense of the original. The Swiss Zwinglians adopted such portions of Luther's work as had appeared before 1529. That year they added their own version of the Prophets and the deuterocanonical books by Leo Juda, the whole being called the Zurich Bible. In 1860-8 this work was revised and is still in use. An Anabaptist version was made by Hetzer (Worms, 1529), and Calvinist versions by Parens (1579) and by Piscator (Herborn, 1602-4). A Socinian Bible was given out by Crellius (Racovia, 1630). In the eighteenth century versions reflecting different beliefs and doctrinal attitudes were put forth by Michaelis (1709), Moldenhauer (1774), Grynæus (1776), and Vögelin (1781). Of several nineteenth-century versions the most important is that of de Wette and Augusti (Heidelberg, 1809-14). A complete revision by Wette was published in 1831-3 and later. It is considered a good translation but excessively literal.

A Jewish-German Bible (Old Testament) by Athias appeared in 1666. It was reproduced in the Biblia Pentapla (Hamburg, 1711). Another Jewish version (Berlin, 1838) was the work of Arnheim, Füchs, and Sachs.

Dutch and Flemish versions

The first Bible for Catholics in Holland was printed at Delft in 1475. Among several issued from the press of Jacob van Leisveldt at Antwerp, one (1540) with the text of the Vulgate is called the Biblia Belgica. The first authoritative version for Catholics was translated from Henten's Vulgate by Nicholas van Wingh, Peter de Cort, and Godevaert Stryode, O.P. (Louvain, 1545). After seventeen complete editions it was revised according to the Clementine Vulgate and became the celebrated Bible of Moerentorf or Moretus (1599). This revision reached more than a hundred editions, and is still used. Among several unfinished versions, one by Th. Beelen was carried out by a group of ecclesiastics, viz. Old Testament (Bruges, 1894-6). Beelen's New Testament had previously appeared at Louvain (1859-69).

A complete Bible based largely on Luther's version was given out by Jacob Van Liesveldt at Antwerp in 1526. In 1556 it was superseded by Van Utenhove's version after Luther and Olivetan. The Calvinists of Holland completed in 1637 a so-called state Bible, a version said to be from original sources, but greatly influenced by the English Authorized Version, reproducing in a great measure its remarkable felicity of style.

Scandinavian versions

In the fourteenth century, versions of the Sunday Epistles and Gospels were made for popular use in Denmark. Large portions of the Bible, if not an entire version, were published about 1470. The historical books of the Old Testament and the Apocalypse in Swedish are all that are preserved of a complete version made in the fifteenth century and derived from earlier translations in use in the time of St. Bridget (d. 1373). In the beginning of the fourteenth century, King Hakon V provided for a Norwegian translation of the historical books of the Old Testament, with glossary. (Cf. Danish Heptateuch edited by Molbech, Havnian, 1828.) Scandinavian Protestant Bibles for the most part are translated from Luther's version. A complete Danish Bible was published 1550 under the direction of Christian Pedersen (revised in 1824). Two independent versions were given out by Lindberg and Kalkar. In 1541 the first Swedish version appeared; it has been frequently revised. An Icelandic version was published at Holum in 1584.

Finnish version

A translation of the New Testament by Michael Agricola, a Lutheran, was made for the Finns and published at Stockholm (1548), and a complete Bible from original sources by several scholars was put forth in 1642, 1758, 1776, etc. A less successful version of the Bible was issued by Henry Florin at Abo (1685). Numerous Bible Society editions of both Testaments appeared later. In the Esthonian dialect, a New Testament by John Fisher (1686), and the Old Testament by Fisher and Gosekenius (1689), are noteworthy. Other complete Bibles from partial versions of an earlier date were made in the Esthonian dialect of Reval (Berlin, 1876) and in the Esthonian of Dorpot (1850). A Laplandish version of the whole Bible was published it Hernösand (1811).

Hungarian versions

A fourteenth-fifteenth-century manuscript in Vienna gives parts of the Old Testament from the Vulgate by the Friars Minor, Thomas and Valentine. A fifteenth-century manuscript of the whole Bible at Gran, the Codex Jordanszky, is believed to contain at least in part a version that was made by Ladislaus Bathory, Hermit of the Order of St. Paul (d. 1456). John Sylvester, or Serestely, O.P., is credited with a translation of the New Testament which was published at Novæ Insulæ (1541) and Vienna (1574). A complete version was made towards the end of the sixteenth century by Stephen Szántó (Latin, Arator). In 1626 a translation after the Vulgate was put forth at Vienna by George Káldi, S.J. Having ecclesiastical approbation, it gained a wide circulation and is still in use after having been printed in many editions. A version after the Protestant Genevan Bible was made by Caspar Károly in 1590. It was revised by Albert Molnar (Hanau, 1608). Other translations appeared by Caspar Heltai (Klausenberg, 1551-64) and by George Csipkés (Leyden, 1717). Andrew Torkos (Wittenberg, 1736) and G. Bárány (Lauban, 1754) gave out Lutheran versions.

Celtic versions


Ancient Gaelic versions of the Psalms, of a Gospel of St. Matthew, and other sacred writings with glosses and commentaries are found as early as the seventh century, Most of the literature through subsequent centuries abounds in Scriptural quotations. A fourteenth-century manuscript, the "Leabhar Braec" (Speckled Book), published at Dublin (1872-5), contains a history of Israel and a compendious history of the New Testament. It has also the Passion of Jesus Christ, a translation from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. Another fourteenth-century manuscript, the "Leabhar Buide Lecain", also gives the Passion and a brief Old-Testament history. Some scholars see in these writings indications of an early Gaelic version of the Scriptures previous to the time of St. Jerome. A modern Protestant Gaelic New Testament, begun from the original Greek by John Kearney, 1574, Nicholas Walsh (later Bishop of Ossory), and Nehemias Donellan (later Archbishop of Tuam), and finished by William O'Donnell and Mortogh O'Cionga (King), was printed in 1602. An Old-Testament version from original sources by Dr. Bedell was published at London (1686). A second edition in Roman characters was published (1790) for the Scottish Highlanders. A version of Genesis and Exodus was made by Connellan (London, 1820), and also by John MacHale, later Archbishop of Tuam (1840).


In Scotland the Synod of Argyll gave out a Gaelic version of fifty psalms (Glasgow, 1659), and all the psalms in 1715. A Psalter was also made by Robert Kick (Edinburg, 1684). A complete Bible, based on earlier versions of the Testaments, was published for the London Bible Society (London, 1807), and a revision of it was ordered by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Edinburgh (1826). A New Testament from the Latin for Catholics by P. MacEachain appeared at Aberdeen in 1875.

Breton, or Armoric, Versions

A New Testament was in existence at the end of the fifteenth century, but the first complete Bible was published by Le Gonidec at St. Brieuc (1866), and a Protestant version by M. Le Coat appeared at London in 1890. These versions differ in dialect.

Welsh, or Cymric, Versions

Partial versions were made before the fifteenth century, but a translation by Celydd Sfan was known to be in existence about 1470. A New Testament, decreed by Parliament in 1526, was edited by several scholars in 1557. A revision of this and an Old Testament version by William Morgan appeared at London in 1588. This was got out in a revision which was practically a new translation by Richard Parry and John Davies (London, 1620). It was the standard for later reprints. A more convenient edition, including the Book of Common Prayer, etc., was published by Pryce (London, 1630). A version made at Oxford (1690) was called the Bishop Lloyd's Bible and was the first to be printed in Roman characters. The Moses Williams' Bible (London, 1718) was put forth by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. The British and Foreign Bible Society grew out of the efforts of Thomas Charles to provide Bibles for the people of Wales. Its first Welsh Bible following an edition of 1752 was printed in 1806.

Miscellaneous versions


An Aleutian version of St. Matthew was made by the Russian priest, Ivan Veniaminoff, in 1840 for the Aleutian Islanders.


The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke were translated into the dialect of the Island of Aniwa by Paton (Melbourne, 1877).

Aneitumese versions

For the inhabitants of the Island of Aneiteum, New Hebrides Islands, a New Testament was made by Geddie and Inglis (1863), and an Old Testament version by Inglis (1878).

Battak versions

A New Testament for the Battaks of Sumatra was made in the Toba dialect by Nommensen (Elberfeld, 1878); another by Schreiber, revised by Leipoldt, was made in the Mandeling dialect (1878).

Benga versions

A version of St. Matthew in 1858, and of the other Gospels and the Acts later, revised by Nassau in 1874, was provided for the people south of the Congo River, who use the Benga dialect.

Bengali versions

This was a New Testament by Carey (Serampur, 1801; 8th ed., 1832), and an Old-Testament version (1802-09). The Old Testament also appeared at Calcutta (1833-44). Revisions of both Testaments were made by Wenger (1873) and by others.

Chinese versions

Among earlier translations is a version of St. Matthew by Anger, a Japanese Christian (Goa, 1548). The Jesuit Father de Mailla wrote an explanation of the Gospels for Sundays and feasts in 1740, and it is still used. The four Gospels with notes were edited by J. Dejean, Apostolic missionary (Hong-Kong, 1892). Other partial versions were made by missionaries, but the first Bible for Protestant use was the work of Lassar and Marshman (Serampur, 1815-22). Another version is credited to Dr. Morrison. Aided by Milne he translated the Old Testament, to which he added the New Testament of Hodgson; the whole was published at Malacca (1823; new edition, 1834). A company of Protestant missionaries gave out a new translation of the New Testament in 1850 and of the whole Bible in 1855 at Shanghai and Hong-Kong. This, which was the generally adopted version, came out in a new edition at Shanghai (1873). An Old Testament in the Mandarin colloquial dialect was made by Schereschewsky and published at Pekin (1875). These translations in general are unsatisfactory.

Gypsy or Romany version

A Gospel of St. Luke by G. Borrow was published at Madrid (1837). It is said to have been the first book ever printed in this tongue. It was revised and reissued in 1872.

Hindi version

A New Testament was published by Carey (Serampur, 1811); and the whole Bible, after the Hindustani, by Bowley (1866-69).

Hindustani versions

A translation of the Psalms and the New Testament was made by Schulze, a Danish missionary, and published at Halle (1746-58). another New Testament by Henry Martyn appeared at Serampur (1814). There was also a Bible Society edition at Calcutta (1817) and one at London (1819); the Pentateuch (1823), and the Old Testament (1844). Other editions have followed.

Japanese versions

A version of St. John's Gospel and of the Acts was edited in katakana (square type) at Singapore (1836) by Charles Gutzlaff. The four Gospels and the Acts were put forth in a very imperfect hiragana (round type) version at Vienna (1872) by Bettleheim, who was aided by an American student of Japanese origin. A company of revisers and translators gave out the Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark, and John and the Acts at Yokohama in 1871 and a New Testament in 1879. A later and better version was provided by the Baptists, and the Old Testament (except the deuterocanonical books) was published in 1888. A version of Saints Matthew and Mark (1895) and of Saints Luke and John (1897), edited at Tokio, was made by Fathers Péri and Steichen, aided by a native littérateur, M. Takahashigorô.

Javanese version

Gottlob Brücker published a New Testament at Serampur in 1831. This was made a Bible Society revision in 1848, and under the same auspices an Old-Testament version appeared in 1857 and later.

Mexican versions

The first known Biblical undertaking in Mexico was a version of the Gospels and Epistles in 1579 by Didacus de S. Maria, O.P., and the Book of Proverbs by Louis Rodríguez, O.S.F. A Bible Society version of the New Testament was made in 1829, but only the Gospel of St. Luke was printed.

Modern Greek version

A New Testament for Catholics was made by Colletus (Venice, 1708). A Protestant edition by Maximus of Kallipoli was published at Geneva or Leyden in 1638. It appeared in later revisions. A Bible Society version of the Old Testament was published in England (1840); a New Testament at Athens (1848).

English versions

What prevented the earliest English missionaries from translating the Scriptures into the vernacular, or what caused the loss of such immediate translations, if any were made, is hard to determine at this late date. Though Christianity had been established among the Anglo-Saxons in England about the middle of the sixth century, the first known attempt to translate or paraphrase parts of the Bible is Cædmons's song, "De creatione mundi, et origine humani generis, et tota Genesis historia etc." (St. Bede, "Hist. eccl.", IV, xxiv). Some authors even doubt the authenticity of the poetry ascribed to Cædmon. The English work in Bible study of the following nine centuries will be conveniently divided into three periods comprising three centuries each.

Eighth to tenth century

In the first period extending from the eighth to the tenth century we meet: (1) St. Bede's translation of John 1:1-6:9; (2) interlinear glosses on the Psalms; (3) the Paris Psalter; (4) the so-called Lindisfarne Gospels; (5) the Rushworth version; (6) the West-Saxon Gospels; (7) Ælfric's version of a number of Old-Testament books.

(1) The proof for the existence of St. Bede's work rests on the authority of his pupil Guthberht who wrote about this fact to his fellow-student Cuthwine (see Mayor and Lumby, "Bedæ hist. eccl.", 178).

(2) The "Glossed Psalters" have come down to us in twelve manuscripts, six of which represent the Roman Psalter, and six the Gallican. The oldest and most important of these manuscripts is the so called Vespesian Psalter, written in Mercia in the first half of the ninth century.

(3) The Paris Psalter advances beyond the glosses in as far as it is a real translation of Psalm 1:1-50:10, ascribed by some scholars to King Alfred (d. 901), though others deny this view. Cf. William of Malmesbury. "Gesta regum Anglorum", II, 123.

(4) The Lindisfarne Gospels, called also the Durham Book, the Book of St. Cuthbert, present the Latin text of the Gospels dating from Redfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721), with the so-called Northumbrian Gloss on the Gospels, added about 950 by Aldred. Cf. Dr. Charles O'Conor, "Bibl. stowensis", II (1818-19), 180.

(5) The Rushworth version of the first Gospel, with glosses on the second, third, and fourth Gospels, based on the Lindisfarne glosses. Faerman, a priest of Harewood (Harwood), made the translation of St. Matthew and furnished the glosses on Mark 1:1-2:15 and John 18:1-3; the rest of the work is taken from Owun's glosses.

(6) The West-Saxon Gospels are a rendering of the Gospels originating in the south of England about the year 1000; seven manuscripts of this version have come down to us. Cf. W.W. Skeat, "The Gospels in Anglo-Saxon etc." (Cambridge, 1871-87).

(7) Ælfric himself states in his work "De vetere testamento", written about 1010, that he had translated the Pentateuch, Josue, Judges, Kings, Job, Esther, Judith, and the Books of the Machabees. The translator frequently abridges, slightly in Genesis, more notably in the Book of Judges and the following books; he adopts a metrical form in Judith. Cf. Nieder in "Zeitschrift für historische Theologie" (1855-56).

Eleventh to fourteenth century

The second period coincides with the Anglo-Norman time, extending from the tenth to the thirteenth or fourteenth century. During this time, French or the Anglo-Norman dialect reigned supreme among the upper classes, and in academic and official circles, while English was confined to the lower classes and the country-districts. The Bible renderings during the twelfth, thirteenth, and early fourteenth centuries were in French, whether they were made in England or brought over from France. Before the middle of the fourteenth century the entire Old Testament and a great part of the New Testament had been translated into the Anglo-Norman dialect of the period (cf. Berger, "La Bible française au moyen âge", Paris, 1884, 78 sqq.). As to English work, we may note two transcripts of the West-Saxon Gospels during the course of the eleventh century and some copies of the same Gospels into the Kentish dialect made in the twelfth century. The thirteenth century is an absolute blank as far as our knowledge of its English Bible study is concerned. The English which emerged about the middle and during the second half of the fourteenth century was practically a new language, so that both the Old English versions which might have remained, and the French versions hitherto in use, failed to fulfil their purpose.

Fourteenth century and after

The third period extends from the late fourteenth to the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, and has furnished us with the pre-Wyclifite, the Wyclif, and the printed versions of the Bible.

(1) Pre-Wyclifite Translations

Among the pre-Wyclifite translations we may note:

(2) Wyclifite Versions

The Wyclifite versions embrace the earlier and the later version of this name.

The Early Version was probably completed in 1382, the Later Version about 1388 (cf. Madden and Forshall, "The Holy Bible . . . made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe and his Followers", Oxford, 1850; Gasquet, "The Old English Bible and other Essays", London, 1897, pp. 102 sqq.). It is quite uncertain what part Wyclif himself took in the work that bears his name. As far as the New Testament is concerned, Wyclif's authorship of the Early Version is based on his authorship of the "Commentary on the Gospels", the text of which is said to have been used in the Early Edition; the style of this text is claimed to resemble the style of the translation of the Book of Acts, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse. But the style of the text of the "Commentary" resembles that of the Later Version rather than that of the Early Version; besides, passages from both the Old and the New Testament of the Early Version are quoted in the "Commentary on the Gospels". It would be folly, therefore, not to assign the authorship of the "Commentary" to a time posterior to the Early Edition. As to the Old Testament, the translator's original copy and a coeval transcript are still extant, but both break off at Baruch 3:19, with the words: "explicit translacionem Nicholay de Herford". It is claimed that the similarity of style and mode of translating shows that Nicholas of Herford translated the Old Testament up to Baruch 3:19. It is claimed, furthermore, that the remaining portion of the Old Testament was translated by one hand, the one who made the version of the New Testament. But both these claims rest on very slender evidence. The extant translator's copy is written in not less than five hands, differing in orthography and dialect. Nicholas, therefore, translated at most only the portion ending with Baruch 3:19. Besides, the magnitude of the work renders it most probable that other translators beside Wyclif and Nicholas took part in the work, and that already existing versions were incorporated or utilized by the translators.

The Early Edition was complete indeed, as far as the translators considered the books canonical, but it was soon found lacking in the necessary qualities of style and English idiom. It is at times unintelligible and even nonsensical from a too close adherence to the Latin text. A revision was, therefore, found necessary and taken in hand shortly after the completion of the Early Version. The principles of the work are laid down in the prologue of the so-called Later Version. We do not know either the revisers or the exact date of the revision. John Purvey, the leader of the Lollard party, is generally assumed to have taken a large part in the work. The style and idiom of the Later Version are far superior to those of the Early, and there can be little doubt as to its popularity among the Wyclifites. But the Lollards soon introduced interpolations of a virulent character into their sacred texts; violence and anarchy set in, and the party came to be regarded as enemies of order and disturbers of society. It is small wonder that the ecclesiastical authorities soon convened in the Synod of Oxford (1408) and forbade the publication and reading of unauthorized vernacular versions of the Scriptures, restricting the permission to read the Bible in the vernacular to versions approved by the ordinary of the place, or, if the case so require, by the provincial council.

(3) Printed English Bibles

We are now entering the period of printed English Scriptures. France, Spain, Italy, Bohemia, and Holland possessed the Bible in the vernacular before the accession of Henry VIII; in Germany the Scriptures were printed in 1466, and seventeen editions had left the press before the apostasy of Luther. No part of the English Bible was printed before 1525, no complete Bible before 1535, and none in England before 1538.

(a) William Tyndale was the first to avail himself of the new opportunities furnished by the press and the new learning. Tyndale went early to Oxford, thence to Cambridge; he was ordained priest, and professed among the Franciscan Fathers at Greenwich. In 1524 he went to Hamburg and from there to Wittenberg to visit Luther. Assisted by William Roye, like himself an apostate Franciscan from the monastery at Greenwich, he translated the New Testament, and began to have it printed in Cologne in 1525. Driven from Cologne, he went to Worms where he printed 3000 copies, and sent them to England in the early summer of 1526. The fourth edition was printed at Antwerp (1534). In 1530 Tyndale's Pentateuch was printed, in 1531 his book of Jonas. Between the date of Tyndale's execution, 6 Oct., 1536, and the year 1550 numerous editions of the New Testament were reprinted, twenty-one of which Francis Fry (Biographical Descriptions of the Editions of the New Testament, 1878) enumerates and describes (see Westcott, "Hist. of the English Bible", London, 1905).

(b) Miles Coverdale, born about 1488, educated at the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, was ordained priest in that order about 1514. After 1528 we find him on the Continent in Tyndale's society. He was favoured by Edward VI, but was imprisoned under Queen Mary in 1553; after obtaining his freedom, he remained on the Continent till the death of Mary, after which he returned to England, and died in February, 1569. He prepared a complete English Bible, the printing of which was finished 4 Oct., 1535. He was the first to omit the deuterocanonical books in the body of the Old Testament, adding them at the end as "apocrypha". His work is a second-hand eclectic translation, based on the Latin and the German versions.

(c) The London booksellers now became alive to the ready sale of the Bible in English; Grafton and Whitchurch were the first to avail themselves of this business opportunity, bringing out in 1537 the so-called Matthew's Bible. Thomas Matthew is an alias for John Rogers, a friend and fellow-worker of Tyndale. The Matthew's Bible is only a compilation of the renderings of Tyndale and Coverdale.

(d) In 1539 the Matthew's Bible was followed by Taverner's edition of the Bible, a work which in our day would be considered a literary "piracy", being nothing more than a revision of the Matthew text. Though Taverner was an accomplished Greek scholar and somewhat of an English purist, his edition had no influence on the subsequent translations.

(e) About 1536 Cromwell had placed Coverdale at the head of the enterprise for bringing out an approved version of the English Bible. The new version was based on the Matthew's Bible. Coverdale consulted in his revision of the Latin Version of the Old Testament with the Hebrew text by Sebastian Münster, the Vulgate, and Erasmus's edition of the Greek for the New Testament. The work was ready for the press in 1538, and the printing was begun at Paris, but had to be transferred to London on 17 December of the same year. In April of the following year the edition was finished, and owing to its size the version was called the Great Bible. Before 1541 six other editions issued from the press.

(f) During the reign of Mary a number of English reformers withdrew to Geneva, the town of Calvin and Beza, and here they issued in 1557 a New Testament with an introduction by Calvin. It was probably the work of William Whittingham, and it was the first English Bible which had its text divided into "verses and sections according to the best editions in other languages".

(g) Whittingham's work was soon superseded by an issue of the whole Bible, which appeared in 1560, the so-called Geneva Bible, also known as the Breeches Bible from its rendering of Genesis 3:7, "they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches". The Old Testament represented the text of the Great Bible thoroughly revised with the help of the Hebrew original and other sources, while the New Testament consisted of Tyndale's latest text revised in accordance with Beza's translation and commentary. The handy form and other attractive features of the work rendered it so popular that between 1560 and 1644 at least 140 editions were published.

(h) After the accession of Elizabeth an attempt was made to improve the authorized Great Bible and thus to counteract the growing popularity of the Calvinistic Geneva Bible. Bishop Parker divided the whole Bible into parcels, and distributed them among bishops and other learned men for revision. The resultant version was ready for publication on 5 October, 1568, and became generally known as the Bishops' Bible. Several editions were afterwards published, and the Great Bible ceased to be reprinted in 1569, excepting its Psalter which was introduced into the Bishops' Bible in 1572, and admitted exclusively in 1585. The Bishops' Bible is noted for its inequality in style and general merit; it could not replace the Geneva Bible in the English home.

(i) In October, 1578, Gregory Martin, assisted chiefly by William (later Cardinal) Allen, Richard Bristow, Thomas Worthington, and William Reynolds began the work of preparing an English translation of the Bible for Catholic readers. Dr. Martin rendered into English one or two chapters every day; the others then revised, criticised, and corrected the translation. Thus the New Testament was published at Reims in 1582 with a preface and explanatory notes. The notes were written chiefly by Bristow, Allen, and Worthington. The Old Testament was published at Douai (1609-10) through the efforts of Dr. Worthington, then superior of the seminary. The translation had been prepared before the appearance of the New Testament, but the publication was delayed "for lack of good means" and "our poor estate in banishment". The religious adherence to the Latin text is the reason of the less elegant and idiomatic words and phrases found in the translation. The original Douai Version has undergone so many revisions that "scarcely any verse remains as it was originally published". Dr. Challoner probably merits the credit of being the principal reviser of the Douai Version (1749-50); among the many other revisers we may mention Archbishop Kenrick, Dr. Lingard, Dr. John Gilmary Shea.

(j) The Reims Version had its influence on the Authorized Version, which was begun in 1604 and published in 1611 (see Carleton, "The Part of the Reims in the Making of the English Bible", Oxford, 1902). The work was distributed among six committees of scholars, the Bishops' Bible being taken as the basis to work on. A body of rules was drawn up which contained both a scheme of revision and general directions for the execution of their work. The actual work of revision occupied about two years and nine months, and an additional nine months were required for the final preparation of the press. But even after its publication in 1611 deliberate changes were introduced silently and without authority by men whose very names are often unknown.

(k) In February, 1870, the Convocation of Canterbury appointed a committee to consider the subject of an authorized revision of the Authorized Version. After the report of the committee had been presented in May and had been adopted, two companies were formed for the revision of the Old and the New Testaments respectively. The members of each company were partly appointed, partly invited. The revision of the New Testament was completed in 407 meetings, distributed over more than ten years, and was finally presented to Convocation on 17 May, 1881; the revision of the Old Testament occupied 792 days, and was finished on 20 June, 1884. The revised Apocrypha did not appear until 1895. At first the work of the revisers satisfied neither the advanced nor the conservative party, but in course of time it has grown steadily in popularity.


LEWIS, Complete Hist. of the several Translations of the Holy Bible into English (London, 1739); NEWCOME, Hist. View of Engl. Bible Translations (Dublin, 1792); BAGSTER, English Hexapla (London, 1841); COTTON, List of Editions of the Bible (Oxford, 1851-2); ANDERSON, Annals of the Engl. Bible (London, 1845); EDGAR, The Bibles of England (London, 1889); WESTCOTT, Hist. of the Engl. Bible (London, 1868); HOARE, Evolution of the Engl. Bible (London, 1902); EADIE, Hist. of the Engl. Bible (London, 1876); WESTCOTT AND HORT, New Testament (Cambridge, 1882), introduction; GRAHAM, Where we got the Bible. Our debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis, 1911); POPE, Origin of the Douay Bible in Dublin Rev., CXLVII, 97; IDEM, The Origin of the Clementine Vulgate in Amer. Eccl. Rev. (Oct. 1911); MAAS, The English Protestant Version of the Bible after 300 years in Eccles. Rev.(Nov., 1911); IDEM, The Revision of the Vulgate in Amer. Eccl. Rev.

ENGLISH VERSIONS: VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible (Paris, 1895); CORNELY, Historica et crit. introd. in libros sacros (Paris, 1885); GIGOT, Gen. Introd. to the Study of Holy Script. (New York, 1901); BRIGGS, Gen. Introd. to the Study of Holy Script. (New York, 1899); DAVIDSON, Treatise on Bibl. Criticism (Boston, 1853); SAUL, Das Bibelstudium im Prediger Orden in Der Katholik, XXVII (Mainz, Oct. and Nov., 1902); NESTLE, Urtext und Uebersetzungen der Bibel (Leipzig, 1897); MARSH, Hist. of the Translations ... of the Scriptures from the earliest to the present age (London, 1912) SCHRÖDER, Thesaurus ling. armenicæ (Amsterdam, 1711); HYVERNAT, Etude sur les versions coptes de la Bible in Revue biblique, III, IV, 6, 1; WHITTAKER, Hist. and Crit. Inquiry into the Interpretations of the Hebrew Script. (London, 1819-20); SWETE, Introd. to the Old Testament in Greek (Cambridge, 1900); HODY, De bibliorum textibus originalibus, versionibus græcis, et latina Vulgata (Oxford, 1705); ZIEGLER, Die lateinische Bibelübersetzungen vor Hieronymus (Munich, 1879); SABATIER, Bibliorum sacr. latinæ vers. antiq. seu Vetus Itala (Reims, 1739-49); WISEMAN, Two Letters on I John, v, 7, in Essays, I (London, 1853); RÖNSCH, Itala und Vulgata (Marburg, 1869); BURKITT, The Old Latin and Itala in Texts and Studies (Cambridge, 1896); KAULEN, Gesch. der Vulgata (Mainz, 1868); BERGER, Hist. de la Vulgate (Paris, 1893); Revue biblique (1893), 307, 544; (1903), 633; (1908), 159, treats of the Vulgate; LAGARDE, Probe einer neuen Ausgabe der latein. Uebersetzungen des Alten Testaments (1870); BATIFFOL, Chrysostome et la version gothique in Rev. biblique, VI (1899), 566-72; WESTCOTT AND HORT, New Test. (Cambridge, 1882), introduction; KEHREIN, Gesch. der deutschen Bibelübersetzungen vor Luther (Stuttgart, 1851); WALTHER, Die Bibelübersetzung im Mittelalter (Brunswick, 1889-92); HINLAPEN, Hist. van der Nederl. Overzettinge des Bybels (Leyden, 1777); REID, Bibliotheca scoto-celtica (Glasgow, 1833); The Bible in Every Land (London, 1860). (See also MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE.)

About this page

APA citation. Maas, A. (1912). Versions of the Bible. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Maas, Anthony. "Versions of the Bible." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Dennis McCarthy. For my wife, Allyson Turco McCarthy.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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