ENGLISH VERSIONS . 1. The history of the English Bible begins early in the history of the English people, though not quite at the beginning of it, and only slowly attains to any magnitude. The Bible which was brought into the country by the first missionaries, by Aidan in the north and Augustine in the south, was the Latin Bible; and for some considerable time after the first preaching of Christianity to the English no vernacular version would be required. Nor is there any trace of a vernacular Bible in the Celtic Church, which still existed in Wales and Ireland. The literary language of the educated minority was Latin; and the instruction of the newly converted English tribes was carried on by oral teaching and preaching. As time went on, however, and monasteries were founded, many of whose inmates were imperfectly acquainted either with English or with Latin, a demand arose for English translations of the Scriptures. This took two forms. On the one hand, there was a call for word-for-word translations of the Latin, which might assist readers to a comprehension of the Latin Bible; and, on the other, for continuous versions or paraphrases, which might be read to, or by, those whose skill in reading Latin was small.
2. The earliest form, so far as is known, in which this demand was met was the poem of Caedmon , the work of a monk of Whitby in the third quarter of the 7th cent., which gives a metrical paraphrase of parts of both Testaments. The only extant MS of the poem (in the Bodleian) belongs to the end of the 10th cent., and it is doubtful how much of it really goes back to the time of Caedmon. In any case, the poem as it appears here does not appear to be later than the 8th century. A tradition, originating with Bale, attributed an English version of the Psalms to Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne ( d. 707), but it appears to be quite baseless (see A. S. Cook, Bibl. Quot. in Old Eng. Prose Writers , 1878, pp. xiv xviii). An Anglo-Saxon Psalter in an 11th cent. MS at Paris (partly in prose and partly in verse) has been identified, without any evidence, with this imaginary work. The well-known story of the death of Bede (in 735) shows him engaged on an English translation of St. John’s Gospel
, but of this all traces have disappeared. The scholarship of the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, which had an important influence on the textual history of the Latin Vulgate, did not concern itself with vernacular translations; and no further trace of an English Bible appears until the 9th century. To that period is assigned a word-for-word translation of the Psalter, written between the lines of a Latin MS (Cotton MS Vespasian A.I., in the British Museum), which was the progenitor of several similar glosses between that date and the 12th cent.; and to it certainly belongs the attempt of Alfred to educate his people by English translations of the works which he thought most needful to them. He is said to have undertaken a version of the Psalms, of which no portion survives, unless the prose portion ( Psalms 1:1-6
; Psalms 2:1-12
; Psalms 3:1-8
; Psalms 4:1-8
; Psalms 5:1-12
; Psalms 6:1-10
; Psalms 7:1-17
; Psalms 8:1-9
; Psalms 9:1-20
; Psalms 10:1-18
; Psalms 11:1-7
; Psalms 12:1-8
; Psalms 13:1-6
; Psalms 14:1-7
; Psalms 15:1-5
; Psalms 16:1-11
; Psalms 17:1-15
; Psalms 18:1-50
; Psalms 19:1-14
; Psalms 20:1-9
; Psalms 21:1-13
; Psalms 22:1-31
; Psalms 23:1-6
; Psalms 24:1-10
; Psalms 25:1-22
; Psalms 26:1-12
; Psalms 27:1-14
; Psalms 28:1-9
; Psalms 29:1-11
; Psalms 30:1-12
; Psalms 31:1-24
; Psalms 32:1-11
; Psalms 33:1-22
; Psalms 34:1-22
; Psalms 35:1-28
; Psalms 36:1-12
; Psalms 37:1-40
; Psalms 38:1-22
; Psalms 39:1-13
; Psalms 40:1-17
; Psalms 41:1-13
; Psalms 42:1-11
; Psalms 43:1-5
; Psalms 44:1-26
; Psalms 45:1-17
; Psalms 46:1-11
; Psalms 47:1-9
; Psalms 48:1-14
; Psalms 49:1-20
; Psalms 50:1-23
) of the above-mentioned Paris MS is a relic of it; but we still have the translation of the Decalogue, the summary of the Mosaic law, and the letter of the Council of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:23-29
), which he prefixed to his code of laws. To the 10th cent. belongs probably the verse portion of the Paris MS, and the interlinear translation of the Gospels in Northumbrian dialect inserted by the priest Aldred in the Lindisfarne Gospels (British Museum), which is repeated in the Rushworth Gospels (Bodleian) of the same century, with the difference that the version of Mt. is there in the Mercian dialect. This is the earliest extant translation of the Gospels into English.
3. The earliest independent version of any of the books of the Bible has likewise generally been assigned to the 10th cent., but if this claim can be made good at all, it can apply only to the last years of that century. The version in question is a translation of the Gospels in the dialect of Wessex, of which six MSS (with a fragment of a seventh) are now extant. It was edited by W. Skeat, The Holy Gospels in Anglo-Saxon (1871 1877); two MSS are in the British Museum, two at Cambridge, and two (with a fragment of another) at Oxford. From the number of copies which still survive, it must be presumed to have had a certain circulation, at any rate in Wessex, and it continued to be copied for at least a century. The earliest MSS are assigned to the beginning of the 11th cent.; but it is observable that Ælfric the Grammarian, abbot of Eynsham, writing about 990, says that the English at that time ‘had not the evangelical doctrines among their writings, … those books excepted which King Alfred wisely turned from Latin into English’
. In a subsequent treatise ( Treatise concerning the Old and New Testament , ed. W. Lisle, London, 1623) also (the date of which is said to be about 1010, see Dietrich, Zeitsch. f. hist. Theol . 1856, quoted by Cook, op. cit. , p. lxiv.) he speaks as if no English version of the Gospels were in existence, and refers his readers to his own homilies on the Gospels. Since Ælfric had been a monk at Winchester and abbot of Cerne, in Dorset, it is difficult to understand how he could have failed to know of the Wessex version of the Gospels, if it had been produced and circulated much before 1000; and it seems probable that it only came into existence early in the 11th century. In this case it was contemporaneous with another work of translation, due to Ælfric himself. Ælfric, at the request of Æthelweard. son of his patron Æthelmær, ealdorman of Devonshire and founder of Eynsham Abbey, produced a paraphrase of the Heptateuch, homilies containing epitomes of the Books of Kings and Job, and brief versions of Esther, Judith, and Maccabees. These have the interest of being the earliest extant English version of the narrative books of the OT.
. Thwaites (Oxford, 1698). For the rest, see Cook, op. cit. ]
4. The Norman Conquest checked for a time all the vernacular literature of England, including the translations of the Bible. One of the first signs of its revival was the production of the Ormulum , a poem which embodies metrical versions of the Gospels and Acts, written about the end of the 12th century. The main Biblical literature of this period, however, was French. For the benefit of the Norman settlers in England, translations of the greater part of both OT and NT were produced during the 12th and 13th centuries. Especially notable among these was the version of the Apocalypse, because it was frequently accompanied by a series of illustrations, the best examples of which are the finest (and also the most quaint) artistic productions of the period in the sphere of book-illustration. Nearly 90 MSS of this version are known, ranging from the first half of the 12th cent. to the first half of the 15th
, some having been produced in England, and others in France; and in the 14th cent. it reappears in an English dress, having been translated apparently about that time. This English version (which at one time was attributed to Wyclif) is known in no less than 16 MSS, which fall into at least two classes
; and it is noteworthy that from the second of these was derived the version which appears in the revised Wyclifite Bible, to be mentioned presently.
5. The 14th cent., which saw the practical extinction of the general use of the French language in England, and the rise of a real native literature, saw also a great revival of vernacular Biblical literature, beginning apparently with the Book of Psalms. Two English versions of the Psalter were produced at this period, one of which enjoyed great popularity. This was the work of Richard Rolle , hermit of Hampole, in Yorkshire ( d. 1349). It contains the Latin text of the Psalter, followed verse by verse by an English translation and commentary. Originally written in the northern dialect, it soon spread over all England, and many MSS of it still exist in which the dialect has been altered to suit southern tastes. Towards the end of the century Rolle’s work suffered further change, the commentary being re-written from a strongly Lollard point of view, and in this shape it continued to circulate far into the 16th century. Another version of the Psalter was produced contemporaneously with Rolle’s, somewhere in the West Midlands. The authorship of it was formerly attributed to William of Shoreham, vicar of Chart Sutton, in Kent, but for no other reason than that in one of the two MSS in which it is preserved (Brit. Mus. Add. MS 17376, the other being at Trinity College, Dublin) it is now bound up with his religious poems. The dialect, however, proves that this authorship is impossible, and the version must be put down as anonymous. As in the case of Rolle’s translation, the Latin and English texts are intermixed, verse by verse; but there is no commentary.
6. The Psalter was not the only part of the Bible of which versions came into existence in the course of the 14th century. At Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepys MS 2498), is an English narrative of the Life of Christ, compiled out of a re-arrangement of the Gospels for Sundays and holy days throughout the year. Quite recently, too, a group of MSS, which (so far as they were known at all) had been regarded as belonging to the Wyclifite Bible, has been shown by Miss Anna C. Paues
to contain an independent translation of the NT. It is not complete, the Gospels being represented only by Matthew 1:1
to Matthew 6:8
, and the Apocalypse being altogether omitted. The original nucleus seems, indeed, to have consisted of the four larger Catholic Epistles and the Epistles of St. Paul, to which were subsequently added 2 and 3 John, Jude, Acts, and Matthew 1:1
to Matthew 6:8
. Four MSS of this version are at present known, the oldest being one at Selwyn College, Cambridge, which was written about 1400. The prologue narrates that the translation was made at the request of a monk and a nun by their superior, who defers to their earnest desire, although, as he says, it is at the risk of his life. This phrase seems to show that the work was produced after the rise of the great party controversy which is associated with the name of Wyclif.
7. With Wyclif (1320 1384), we reach a land mark in the history of the English Bible, in the production of the first complete version of both OT and NT. It belongs to the last period of Wyclif’s life, that in which he was engaged in open war with the Papacy and with most of the official chiefs of the English Church. It was connected with his institution of ‘poor priests,’ or mission preachers, and formed part of his scheme of appealing to the populace in general against the doctrines and supremacy of Rome. The NT seems to have been completed about 1380, the OT between 1382 and 1384. Exactly how much of it was done by Wyclif’s own hand is uncertain. The greater part of the OT (as far as Bar 3:20
) is assigned in an Oxford MS to Nicholas Hereford, one of Wyclif’s principal supporters at that university; and it is certain that this part of the translation is in a different style (more stiff and pedantic) from the rest. The NT is generally attributed to Wyclif himself, and he may also have completed the OT, which Hereford apparently had to abandon abruptly, perhaps when he was summoned to London and excommunicated in 1382. This part of the work is free and vigorous in style, though its interpretation of the original is often strange, and many sentences in it can have conveyed very little idea of their meaning to its readers. Such as it was however, it was a complete English Bible, addressed to the whole English people, high and low, rich and poor. That this is the case is proved by the character of the copies which have survived (about 30 in number). Some are large folio volumes, handsomely written and illuminated in the best, or nearly the best, style of the period; such is the fine copy, in two volumes (now Brit. Mus. Egerton MSS 617, 618), which once belonged to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, uncle of Richard II. Others are plain copies of ordinary size, intended for private persons or monastic libraries; for it is clear that, in spite of official disfavour and eventual prohibition, there were many places in England where Wyclif and his Bible were welcomed. Wyclif, indeed, enjoyed advantages from personal repute and influential support such as had been enjoyed by no English translator since Alfred. An Oxford scholar, at one time Master of Balliol, holder of livings successively from his college and the Crown, employed officially on behalf of his country in controversy with the Pope, the friend and protégé of John of Gaunt and other prominent nobles, and enjoying as a rule the strenuous support of the University of Oxford, Wyclif was in all respects a person of weight and influence in the realm, who could not be silenced or isolated by the opposition of bishops such as Arundel. The work that he had done had struck its roots too deep to be destroyed, and though it was identified with Lollardism by its adversaries, its range was much wider than that of any one sect or party.
8. Wyclif’s translation, however, though too strong to be overthrown by its opponents, was capable of improvement by its friends. The difference of style between Hereford and his continuator or continuators, the stiff and unpopular character of the work of the former, and the imperfections inevitable in a first attempt on so large a scale, called aloud for revision; and a second Wyclifite Bible, the result of a very complete revision of its predecessor, saw the light not many years after the Reformer’s death. The authorship of the second version is doubtful. It was assigned by Forshall and Madden, the editors of the Wyclifite Bible, to John Purvey , one of Wyclif’s most intimate followers; but the evidence is purely circumstantial, and rests mainly on verbal resemblances between the translator’s preface and known works of Purvey, together with the fact that a copy of this preface is found attached to a copy of the earlier version which was once Purvey’s property. What is certain is that the second version is based upon the first, and that the translator’s preface is permeated with Wyclifite opinions. This version speedily superseded the other, and in spite of a decree passed, at Arundel’s instigation, by the Council of Blackfriars in 1408, it must have circulated in large numbers. Over 140 copies are still in existence, many of them small pocket volumes such as must have been the personal property of private individuals for their own study. Others belonged to the greatest personages in the land, and copies are still in existence which formerly had for owners Henry VI., Henry VII., Edward VI., and Elizabeth.
9. At this point it seems necessary to say something of the theory which has been propounded by the well-known Roman Catholic historian, Abbot Gasquet, to the effect that the versions which pass under the name of ‘Wyclifite’ were not produced by Wyclif or his followers at all, but were translations authorized and circulated by the heads of the Church of England, Wyclif’s particular enemies.
The strongest argument adduced in support of this view is the possession of copies of the versions in question both by kings and princes of England, and by religious houses and persons of unquestioned orthodoxy. This does, indeed, prove that the persecution of the English Bible and its possessors by the authorities of the Catholic Church was not so universal or continuous as it is sometimes represented to have been, but it does not go far towards disproving the Wyclifite authorship of versions which can be demonstratively connected, as these are, with the names of leading supporters of Wyclif, such as Hereford and Purvey; the more so since the evidence of orthodox ownership of many of the copies in question dates from times long after the cessation of the Lollard persecution. Dr. Gasquet also denies that there is any real evidence connecting Wyclif with the production of an English Bible at all; but m order to make good this assertion he has to ignore several passages in Wyclif’s own writings in which he refers to the importance of a vernacular version (to the existence of his own version he could not refer, since that was produced only at the end of his life), and to do violence alike to the proper translation and to the natural interpretation of passages written by Wyclif’s opponents (Arundel, Knyghton, and the Council of Oxford in 1408) in which Wyclif’s work is mentioned and condemned. Further, Dr. Gasquet denies that the Lollards made a special point of the circulation of the Scriptures in the vernacular, or were charged with so doing by the ecclesiastical authorities who prosecuted them; and in particular he draws a distinction between the versions now extant and the Bible on account of the heretical nature of which (among other charges) one Richard Hun was condemned by the Bishop of London in 1514. It has, however, been shown conclusively that the depositions of the witnesses against the Lollards (which cannot be regarded as wholly irrelevant to the charges brought against them) constantly make mention of the possession of vernacular Bibles; and that the changes against Richard Hun, based upon the prologue to the Bible in his possession, are taken verbatim from the prologue to the version which we now know as Purvey’s. It is true that Dr. Gasquet makes the explicit statement that ‘we shall look in vain in the edition of Wyclifite Scriptures published by Forshall and Madden for any trace of these errors’ ( i.e. the errors found by Hun’s prosecutors in the prologue to his Bible); but a writer in the Church Quarterly Review (Jan. 1901, p. 292 ff.) has printed in parallel columns the charges against Hun and the corresponding passages in Purvey’s prologue, which leave no possibility of doubt that Hun was condemned for possessing a copy of the version which is commonly known as Purvey’s, or as the later Wyclifite version. The article in the Church Quarterly Review must be read by everyone who wishes to investigate Dr. Gasquet’s theory fully; the evidence there adduced is decisive as to the unsoundness of Dr. Gasquet’s historical position. It is impossible to attribute to the official heads of the English Church a translation the prologue to which (to quote but two phrases) speaks of ‘the pardouns of the bisschopis of Rome, that ben opin leesingis,’ and declares that ‘to eschewe pride and speke onour of God and of his lawe, and repreue synne bi weie of charite, is matir and cause now whi prelatis and summe lordis sclaundren men, and clepen hem lollardis, eretikis, and riseris of debate and of treson agens the king.’ In the face of this evidence it will be impossible in future to deny that the Wyclifite Bible is identical with that which we now possess, and that it was at times the cause of the persecution of its owners by the authorities of the Church. That this persecution was partial and temporary is likely enough. Much of it was due to the activity of individual bishops, such as Arundel; but not all the bishops shared Arundel’s views. Wyclif had powerful supporters, notably John of Gaunt and the University of Oxford, and under their protection copies of the vernacular Bible could be produced and circulated. It is, moreover, likely, not to say certain, that as time went on the Wyclifite origin of the version would often be forgotten. Apart from the preface to Purvey’s edition, which appears only rarely in the extant MSS, there is nothing in the translation itself which would betray its Lollard origin; and it is quite probable that many persons in the 15th and early 16th cent. used it without any suspicion of its connexion with Wyclif. Sir Thomas More, whose good faith there is no reason to question, appears to have done so; otherwise it can only be supposed that the orthodox English Bibles of which he speaks, and which he expressly distinguishes from the Bible which caused the condemnation of Richard Hun, have wholly disappeared, which is hardly likely. If this be admitted, the rest of More’s evidence falls to the ground. The history of the Wyclifite Bible, and of its reception in England, would in some points bear restatement; but the ingenious, and at first sight plausible, theory of Abbot Gasquet has failed to stand examination, and it is to be hoped that it may be allowed to lapse.
10. With the production of the second Wyclifite version the history of the manuscript English Bible comes to an end. Purvey’s work was on the level of the best scholarship and textual knowledge of the age, and it satisfied the requirements of those who needed a vernacular Bible. That it did not reach modern standards in these respects goes without saying. In the first place, it was translated from the Latin Vulgate, not from the original Hebrew and Greek, with which there is no reason to suppose that Wyclif or his assistants were familiar. Secondly, its exegesis is often deficient, and some passages in it must have been wholly unintelligible to its readers. This, however, may be said even of some parts of the AV
, so that it is small reproach to Wyclif and Purvey; and on the whole it is a straightforward and intelligible version of the Scriptures. A few examples of this, the first complete English Bible, and the first version in which the English approaches sufficiently near to its modern form to be generally intelligible, may be given here.
. Be not youre herte affraied, ne drede it. Ye bileuen in god, and bileue ye in me. In the hous of my fadir ben many dwellyogis: if ony thing lasse I hadde seid to you, for I go to make redi to you a place. And if I go and make redi to you a place, eftsone I come and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be. And whidir I go ye witen: and ye witen the wey. Thomas seith to him, Lord, we witen not whidir thou goist, and hou moun we wite the weie. Ihesus seith to him, I am weye truthe and liif: no man cometh to the fadir, but bi me. If ye hadden knowe me, sothli ye hadden knowe also my fadir: and aftirwarde ye schuln knowe him, and ye han seen hym.
2 Corinthians 1:17-20
. But whanne I wolde this thing, whether I uside unstidfastnesse? ether tho thingis that I thenke, I thenke aftir the fleische, that at me be it is and it is not. But god is trewe, for oure word that was at you, is and is not, is not thereinne, but is in it. Forwhi ihesus crist the sone of god, which is prechid among you bi us, bi me and siluan and tymothe, ther was not in hym is and is not, but is was in hym. Forwhi hou many euer ben biheestis of god, in thilke is ben fulfillid. And therfor and bi him we seien Amen to god, to oure glorie.
. For grace of this thing I bowe my knees to the fadir of oure lord ihesus crist, of whom eche fadirheed in heuenes and in erthe is named, that he geue to you aftir the richessis of his glorie, vertu to be strengthid bi his spirit in the yoner man; that criste dwelle bi feitn in youre hertis; that ye rootid and groundid in charite, moun comprehende with alle seyntis wniche is the breede and the lengthe and the highist and the depnesse; also to wite the charite of crist more excellent thanne science, that ye he fillid in all the plente of god. And to hym that is myghti to do alle thingis more pleuteuousli thanne we axen, or undirstande bi ths vertu that worchith in us, to hym be glorie in the chirche and in crist ihesus in to alle the generaciouns of the worldis. Amen.
11. The English manuscript Bible was now complete, and no further translation was issued in this form. The Lollard controversy died down amid the strain of the French wars and the passions of the wars of the Roses; and when, in the 16th century, religious questions once more came to the front, the situation had been fundamentally changed through the invention of printing. The first book that issued from the press was the Latin Bible (popularly known as the Mazarin Bible), published by Fust and Gutenberg in 1456. For the Latin Bible (the form in which the Scriptures had hitherto been mainly known in Western Europe) there was indeed so great a demand, that no less than 124 editions of it are said to have been issued before the end of the 15th century; but it was only slowly that scholars realized the importance of utilizing the printing press for the circulation of the Scriptures, either in their original tongues, or in the vernaculars of Europe. The Hebrew Psalter was printed in 1477, the complete OT in 1488. The Greek Bible, both OT and NT, was included in the great Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes, printed in 1514 17, but not published till 1522. The Greek NT (edited by Erasmus) was first published by Froben in 1516, the OT by the Aldine press in 1518. In the way of vernacular versions, a French Bible was printed at Lyons about 1478, and another about 1487; a Spanish Pentateuch was printed (by Jews) in 1497; a German Bible was printed at Strassburg by Mentelin in 1466, and was followed by eighteen others (besides many Psalters and other separate books) between that date and 1522, when the first portion of Luther’s translation appeared. In England, Caxton inserted the main part of the OT narrative in his translation of the Golden Legend (which in its original form already contained the Gospel story), published in 1483; but no regular English version of the Bible was printed until 1525, with which date a new chapter in the history of the English Bible begins.
12. It was not the fault of the translator that it did not appear at least as early as Luther’s. William Tindale ( c
. 1490 1536) devoted himself early to Scripture studies, and by the time he had reached the age of about 30 he had taken for the work of his life the translation of the Bible into English. He was born in Gloucestershire, where his family seems to have used the name of Hutchins or Hychins, as well as that of Tindale, so that he is himself sometimes described by both names); and he became a member of Magdalen Hall (a dependency of Magdalen College) at Oxford, where he definitely associated himself with the Protestant party and became known as one of their leaders. He took his degree as B.A. in 1512, as M.A. in 1515, and at some uncertain date he is said (by Foxe) to have gone to Cambridge. If this was between 1511 and 1515, he would have found Erasmus there; but in that case it could have been only an interlude in the middle of his Oxford course, and perhaps it is more probable that his