- The Protestant Reformation believed that the Bible was the property of every believer. The successful effort to translate the Bible into the spoken language of Christians (using the best Hebrew and Greek texts for sources) was instrumental in the spread of the movement.In deciphering the Hebrew and Greek originals, Protestants benefited from the work of the humanist movement, which emphasized classical Hellenic studies, and from the revival of Hebrew learning, in part a product of the dispersion of the Jewish communities expelled from Spain and Portugal beginning in the 1490s. For Protestants, HUMANISM culminated in the publication of a Greek text of the New Testament by Erasmus in 1516 and Johannes Reuchlin's efforts to make the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) more available in Germany. The wider distribution of the Bible was also facilitated by the practical use of moveable type and parallel improvements in the printing and publishing industries.Using Erasmus's Greek text, commonly referred to as the Textus Receptus, Martin Luther began work on his German translation of the New Testament as the Reformation was beginning. it was published in 1522. The complete Bible appeared in 1534. As would be the case in a number of other languages, his translation had a marked effect on the evolution of the German language. Throughout the 16th century, translations followed the spread of the Reformation.The Textus Receptus, which went through various revisions (including Erasmus's own corrected edition of 1519) remained the basic source for translations for several hundred years. it underlay the various English editions beginning with that of William Tyndale (1525). French reformer Theodore de Beza (1519-1605) issued several editions of the Textus Receptus beginning in 1565; they were used by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) early in the 17th century. Like Luther's text, the King James Version helped shape the evolving English language.Native Americans were among the first non-Europeans for whom the Bible was translated. These peoples were preliterate; their languages usually had to be rendered in writing before the translations could be made. John Eliot's Bible for the "praying communities" of Massachusetts Natives, published in 1663 in Algonquin, was the first such translation and the first complete Bible published in North America. Eliot's work called attention to the convergence of Bible translation and missionary activity.Many pioneering 19th-century Protestant missionaries had to learn the language of the people among whom they had chosen to work, reduce that language to a written format, produce a lexicon, and then translate Scripture. Where a written language existed, translation of the New Testament became a primary goal. The first missionary to India, Bartholemew Ziegenbalg (1682-1719), published a New Testament in Tamil in 1714. The Old Testament was not published until 1796. William Carey (1761-1834) completed the first Bengali New Testament in 1801 and went on to build a team that initiated translation work in Sanskrit, Marathi, Khasi, Pashto (Afghanistan), and, interestingly, Chinese (Wenli).In China, Robert Morrison (1782-1834) saw his first translation (the book of Acts) published in Wenli in 1810. The first full Wenli New Testament appeared in 1814, followed by various dialect editions: Foochow (1856), Mandarin (1857), Nanking (1857), and Cantonese (1877).In Burma, Baptist Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), assisted by his wife, Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789-1826), worked for two decades to produce an English-Burmese dictionary and a Burmese Bible (finally published in 1834). Ann Judson also did the first translation of a book of the Bible into Thai. In Tahiti, the first of the South Sea Islands colonized by Protestant missionaries, the publication of a vernacular translation had to await the arrival of a printing press; progress began with the 1812 conversion of the king, and the Bible was finally published in 1838.All these efforts and others like them were assisted throughout the early 19th century by the new Bible societies, the first being the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. More than 100 associations for the printing and distribution of Bibles were founded in the United States, the first in 1809. Many of them united in 1816 in the American Bible Society. The first such society in the mission field itself was formed in Calcutta, india, in 1811. As the number of translations increased, the societies assumed the task of publishing them.The next significant step forward in Bible translation occurred in Central America when missionary William Cameron Townsend (1896-1982) offered a Bible in Spanish to a native Guatemalan who only spoke his people's language, Cakchiquel. Townsend and his wife spent the next 12 years mastering Cakchiquel, reducing it to writing, and translating the New Testament, which in 1929 became the first book published in the Cakchiquel language. Townsend subsequently founded the Wycliffe Bible Translators (1942) and its affiliated Summer institute of Linguistics, now one of the largest Protestant missionary organizations in the world. Wycliffe personnel began a systematic process of approaching the more than 6,000 peoples of the world who had as yet no Bible in their language. Once a group is selected, a Wycliffe team usually settles among them, learns the language, reduces it to writing, prepares a grammar, and translates the New Testament. The process usually takes more than a decade. At the beginning of the 21st century, Wycliffe Bible. Translators launched Vision 2025, whose goal is to have a New Testament translation at least in progress among every language group that needs it by the year 2025. The work of the Wycliffe Bible Translators has possibly the broadest support among the different segments of the Protestant and Free Church community of any ecumenical activity.By the start of the 21st century, complete Bibles existed in about 400 languages, New Testaments in an additional 1,000 languages, and portions of the New Testament in over 2,000 languages.In the meantime, the English Bible was undergoing revisions, spurred by the expanding knowledge of the biblical text. Numerous manuscript fragments of the New Testament had been found and dated. Linguists called attention to changes in modern speech that called for new translations into contemporary English. Finally, a century of biblical criticism had produced new understandings of the development of the biblical text. A consensus emerged among Protestant Bible scholars that there were numerous defects in the King James Version and it was time for a new translation.important contemporary translations appeared in Britain in 1885 (Revised Version) and the United States in 1901 (American Standard Version). The development of the Ecumenical movement in the early 20th century provided support for what became the most important of the new translations, the Revised Standard Version. It was published in two stages, the New Testament in 1946 and the entire Bible in 1951. The final publication was authorized (and copyrighted) by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. That fact alone became the spur to many new translations by segments of the Protestant community that rejected any cooperation with the National Council. The council's limited granting of publication rights also prompted some publishing houses to produce editions of their own.Not all new translations were products of committees. Individual scholars, such as Edgar J. Goodspeed (1871-1962) of the University of Chicago, produced translations that highlighted particular insights on the Bible. Popular individual translations have been made by Robert Moffat (1795-1883), J. B. Philips (1906-82), and Kenneth J. Taylor (The Living Bible, 1971).In addition, various churches have offered translations in line with their own sectarian understandings of the text. Thus, in the last two centuries Bibles have been published that appear to substantiate Baptist theology (baptism by immersion), Sacred Name Bibles (that transliterate the Hebrew names for God and Jesus), and the Jehovah's Witnesses's New World Translation (that emphasizes non-Trinitarian theology).Further reading:■ H. W. Hoare, The Evolution of the English Bible: An Historical Sketch of the Successive Versions from 1382 to 1885 (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1901)■ Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht, So Many Versions? Twentieth Century English Versions of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1975)■ Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991)■ Bruce Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001)■ H. W. Robinson, The Bible in Its Ancient and English Version (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)■ Ethel Emily Wallis and Mary Angela Bennett, Two Thousand Tongues to Go: The Story of the Wycliffe Bible Translators (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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