Page images

year 721, made a Saxon version of the four Gospels; and not long after, Bede translated the whole Bible into that language. There were other Saxon versions of the whole or parts of the Bible of a later date (c): and it appears indeed, that new translations were made, from time to time, as the language of the country varied; but when the popes of Rome had established their spiritual tyranny in this as well as in other countries of Europe, they forbad the reading of these translations; and in the fourteenth century the common people had been so long deprived of the use of the Scriptures, that the latest of the translations were become unintelligible. Wickliff (d) therefore, who was a strenuous opposer of the corruptions and usurpations of the church of Rome, and from whom we are to date the dawn of the Reformation in this kingdom, published a translation of the whole Bible in the English language

(c) King Alfred, who died A. D. 900, translated the Psalms. This translation was published by Spelman, A. D. 1640, with the Latin interlineary text.

(d) He was born in 1324, and died in 1384. "Some writers have conceived that an English translation was made before the time of Wickliff; and there are some copies of an English translation at Oxford, Cambridge, and at Lambeth, which Usher assigns to an earlier period; but it is probable that these may be genuine, or corrected copies of Wickliff's translation."-Gray.

[ocr errors]

language then spoken; but not being sufficiently acquainted with the Hebrew and Greek languages to translate from the originals, he made his translation from the Latin Bibles, which were at that time read in the churches. "So offensive was this translation of the Bible to those who were for taking away the key of knowledge, and means of better information, that a bill, we are told, was brought into the house of lords, 13 Richard the Second, A. D. 1390, for the purpose of suppressing it; on which the Duke of Lancaster, the king's uncle, is reported to have - spoken to this effect: We will not be the dregs of all, seeing other nations have the law of God, which is the law of our faith, written in their own language.' At the same time he declared in a very solemn manner, That he would maintain our having this law in our own tongue against those, whoever they should be, who brought in this bill' (e)." The bill, through the influence of the Duke, was rejected; and this success gave encouragement to some of Wickliff's followers to publish another, and more correct, translation of the Bible. But in the year 1408, in a convocation held at Oxford by archbishop Arundel, it was decreed by a constitution, "That no one should thereafter translate any text of

[ocr errors]


(e) Lewis's History of the Translations of the Bible.

holy Scripture into English, by way of a book, or little book, or tract; and that no book of this kind should be read, that was composed lately in the time of John Wickliff, or since his death." This constitution led the way to great persecution, and many persons were punished severely, and some even with death, for reading the Scriptures in English.

In the reign of Henry the Eighth, William Tyndal (ƒ), a favourer of the reformed doctrines, which were then making a rapid progress, was compelled by the Romish priests to leave England. After travelling for some time in Germany, where he became acquainted with Luther and other learned men, he settled at Antwerp; and with the assistance of John Fry or Fryth (g) and William Roye (h), he translated the New Testament from the original Greek, and printed it, with some short glosses, or comments, without a name, at Hamburgh, or Antwerp, about the year 1526. This was the first printed edition of any part of the Holy Scriptures in the English language. The impression was sent over to England;

(ƒ) He was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and became Canon of Christ Church, soon after it was founded.

(g) He was educated at Cambridge. He was burnt in Smithfield as a heretic, in July 1552.

(h) He suffered death in Portugal as a heretic.

England; and the eagerness which was generally shown by the people, to read the Gospel in the vulgar tongue, quickly excited alarm among those who were devoted to the Romish Church. Sir Thomas More, lord chancellor, and Tonstall, bishop of London, caused all the copies they could purchase or procure, to be burnt (i) at St. Paul's Cross; and the selling or dispersion of them was prohibited under heavy penalties. In the mean time Tyndal, with the assistance of Miles Coverdale (k), undertook the translation of the Old Testament, and published the Pentateuch at Hamburgh, in the year 1530, with prefaces reflecting upon the English bishops and clergy; and in the same year he published a more correct translation of the New Testament. In 1531, he published an English version of the prophet Jonah, with a preface full of invective against the church of Rome, proving himself, as Lord Herbert calls him, a witty, but violent, and sometimes railing


(i) "A Copy of this translation, supposed to be the only one remaining, was purchased for Lord Oxford, who settled 20 l. a year on the person who procured it. Out of Lord Oxford's collection it was purchased by Mr. Ames for 15l. at whose sale (1760) it was purchased for 147. 14s. 6d."-Gilpin's Cranmer.

(k) He was made bishop of Exeter by Edward the Sixth; but going to Geneva in queen Mary's reign, he imbibed the principles of Calvin, and refused to return to his bishopric in queen Elizabeth's reign.

railing disputant (1)." He was proceeding in the translation of the other books, when he was seized and imprisoned by the emperor, through the influence of King Henry the Eighth and his ministers; and in the year 1536, he was put to death at Villefont near Brussels, in consequence of a decree made in an assembly at Augsbourg.

In the year 1531, George Joye, an English refugee, published at Strasburg a translation of Isaiah; and in the year 1534, he published at Antwerp a translation of the Prophecies of Jeremiah, and of the Psalms, and of the Song of Moses.

In the year 1535, Miles Coverdale published in folio, the first English translation of the whole Bible, and dedicated it to King Henry the Eighth. It was probably printed at Zurich; and though it passed under the name of Coverdale only, it is generally supposed that great part of the work was performed by Tyndal, before he was imprisoned (m), and that his name was not mentioned because he was then under confinement.

Those who were adverse to any translation of the Scriptures, not daring openly to avow their principles,

(1) Life of Henry the Eighth, page 406. (m) It is said that he had advanced as far as Nehemiah inclusive, when he was apprehended. The rest of the books were probably translated by Coverdale himself.

« PreviousContinue »