The Old Testament
The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew on scrolls between 1500 and 400 BC. The oldest surviving manuscripts were copied about 100 BC.
In about 300 BC the Old Testament was translated into Greek in Alexandria. This translation is called the “Septuagint”.
The New Testament
The New Testament was written in Greek in the middle of the first century AD. The earliest surviving fragment (shown opposite) dates from the early second century and was written on papyrus.
The New Testament was continuously copied. The wealth of surviving manuscripts means that it is relatively easy to establish the correct text. The New Testament is the best documented of all ancient books.
A Latin translation of both Old and New Testaments was produced in 380 AD by Jerome and was known as the “Vulgate” Bible. This became the standard Bible for the Roman Catholic Church.
Several translations of parts of the Bible were made from Latin into Anglo-Saxon. These were intended to be used only by the clergy. Examples of these translations are:
- Bede (735 AD)
- Aelfric of Bath (950 AD)
- Lindisfarne Gospels (1000 AD)
The picture shows the first page of the Lindisfarne Gospel of Matthew.
John Wyclyffe translated the Bible into English in about 1385. The Bibles were hand written and carried all over Britain by his followers. About 170 copies still survive.
The picture shows the beginning of the Gospel of John from a 14th century copy of Wycliffe's translation.
Before printing was invented all copies of the Bible had to be made by hand. It could take two years to make a complete Bible.
The invention of movable type printing in 1454 allowed many copies of a book to be made. This cut the cost of books dramatically and allowed many people to have their own Bible.
Tyndale produced the first printed English New Testament in 1525 in Germany. Copies were smuggled into Britain. Tyndale was put to death before he could finish his translation of the Old Testament.
In 1535 Myles Coverdale produced the first complete Bible to be printed in English. His translation was based on the Latin, but also used Tyndale’s incomplete translation.
Bibles In Churches
After he broke with Rome, Henry VIII had an English Bible produced by Coverdale placed in every church. Copies were chained to the lectern.
King James Translation (Authorised)
To unite his people, King James in 1611 commissioned one Bible to be acceptable to all. The King James Version (later called the Authorised Version) was successful in this and has remained popular up to the present day.