The Background to the English Bible

Pre-Reformation, most Bibles were in Latin and with Greek, were the scholarly languages. Ecclesiastically, Latin was the language of use, which precluded ordinary people’s understanding and their reliance on priests to interpret the scriptures for them, otherwise through religious plays and oral traditions, to hear the Bible rather than to read it for themselves.

There were some attempts to bring the Bible into the language of ordinary people but were limited in scope and given the cost and the times, were rare. Examples would be the Anglo-Saxon gospels, the Anglo-Saxon script written between the lines of Latin text in the Lindisfarne Gospels, and some more vernacular texts probably translated for private use or for preaching aids. Wycliffe’s Middle Ages “Middle English” version (c1300s) was a translation of the Latin Bible (itself written in the 4th Century AD) – that’s probably the equivalent of using a book from his own time as the up to date version today!

Beyond this there were several key events that could be said to lead to the KJV:

  • A revival of learning and education in the Renaissance period, allowing increased knowledge and understanding of Hebrew and Greek scriptural texts. This came about partly from additional original manuscripts becoming available to western scholars so that existing western texts could be compared with others; the circulation of printed material – papers, pamphlets and books on a scale never seen before, resulting in greater access to Bible documents. This was allied to a great explosion of literary work across the arts and sciences in papers, prose, plays, literature of all types made available to ordinary people.

  • An entirely new translation of the New Testament into Greek in the early 1500s by an eminent Greek scholar named Erasmus, who spent some time in England with English scholars as well as King Henry VIII

  • This was used and followed by the work of William Tyndale, translating the New Testament into English

  • Following the English Reformation and the split from Rome, a new Bible – the Great Bible – was ordered to be placed in every English church; and the language of Christian worship became English rather than Latin to reinforce this separation from the Catholic church and within, it showed Henry as the great leader, dispensing God’s wisdom, by the gift of this work! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves....!