John Wyclif was one of the first to project the publication and distribution of the Bible in the vernacular among the English people, and two translations go by his name. In the 15th cent. the Lollards did much to extend the use of the Wyclifite translation. The next name in the history of the English Bible is that of William Tyndale, whose translation was not from the Latin Vulgate, like Wyclif's, but from the Hebrew and Greek. Its quality is attested by its use as a basis of the Authorized Version. Tyndale's New Testament (1525–26) was the first English translation to be printed. Contemporary with Tyndale was Miles Coverdale. The second version of Coverdale and the translation of Thomas Matthew closely followed Tyndale. In 1539 the English crown issued its first official version, in the name of Henry VIII. This, the Great Bible, was done principally by Coverdale. The Geneva Bible, or Breeches Bible, was a revision of the Great Bible, financed and annotated by the Calvinists of Geneva. The Bishops' Bible (1568) was a recasting of Tyndale.
The greatest of all English translations was the Authorized Version (AV), or King James Version (KJV), of 1611, made by a committee of churchmen led by Lancelot Andrewes and composed of many of the finest scholars in England. The beautiful English of this version has had great influence and is generally ranked in English literature with the work of Shakespeare. The phraseology of much of it is that of Tyndale. The Douay, or Rheims-Douay, Version was published by Roman Catholic scholars at Reims (New Testament, 1582) and Douai, France (Old Testament, 1610); it was extensively revised by Richard Challoner. In the 19th cent. the project of revising the Authorized Version from the original tongues was undertaken by the Church of England with the cooperation of nonconformist churches. The results of this revision were the English Revised Version and the American Revised Version (pub. 1880–90).
Many scholars, either cooperatively or independently, have translated the Bible into English. In other literatures, also, the translation of the Bible has had a formative effect on the literary language, notably in the case of Martin Luther's German translation. Occasionally translation of the Bible has been the first or the only notable work in a language, e.g., the translation by Ulfilas into Gothic.
In the 20th cent., American biblical scholars combined to produce the Revised Standard Version (RSV), published in 1952 and immediately adopted by many churches. A completely new translation, the work of a joint committee of representatives of all Protestant denominations in Great Britain, aided by Roman Catholic consultants, was begun in 1946. The New Testament was first published in 1961, and the entire Bible, called The New English Bible, appeared in 1970. New Roman Catholic translations were also undertaken, the Westminster Version in England, and a complete revision of the Rheims-Douay edition sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in the United States. The latter, after undergoing several major revisions and retranslations, was finally published as the New American Bible (1970). In addition, an English translation of the French Catholic Bible de Jerusalem (1961) appeared as the Jerusalem Bible (1966). A revision of the RSV was published in 1989 as the New Revised Standard Version.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.