The Bible in English

The earliest efforts to translate the Bible into English occurred in Anglo-Saxon England. The idea of an English Bible did not, however, immediately find fertile soil.  

The Renaissance of the 15th century, which involved the rediscovery of much ancient knowledge, led scholars to question the accuracy of St Jerome’s traditional Latin version. This movement of textual criticism was taken up in the early 16th century by men such as the German monk Martin Luther. Luther believed that an inaccurate translation of the Bible and ill-conceived medieval theology had led key Christian ideas to be misinterpreted.

One of Luther's views was that the Bible should be made available to an increasingly literate society in their everyday language. The idea of such a Bible in English was endorsed enthusiastically by Luther’s contemporaries William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale who set about producing an English version of the text. The value of an English Bible was greeted with rather more scepticism by the English king, Henry VIII, but the second half of the 16th century saw several versions of the Bible appear in English, each tailored to meet the needs of a specific religious community.

Henry VIII & The Reformation

The 16th c. movement known as the 'Reformation' brought considerable change to the religious and political landscape of Europe. Although he eventually broke with the pope in the mid-1530s, King Henry VIII was once the papacy's staunchest supporter. The king even earned the title 'Defender of the Faith' for his rebuttal of Lutheran ideas. Yet his reign also witnessed the emergence of a new phenomenon, one very much in keeping with the ideas of reformers: an officially sanctioned English Bible.

Worship in English

The Reformation produced more than just a new Bible in English. England's government oscillated between a wide variety of religious preferences before settling, under Elizabeth I, on a form of Protestantism that preserved many medieval practices. During this period calls were made for church services to be conducted in the common language, rather than in Latin, which had been used throughout the Middle Ages. One key result of this was The Book of Common Prayer.

English Bibles before the KJB

By the close of the 16th century the English reader was confronted with a series of translations tailored to suit his or her religious tastes. Some of these, such as the Geneva Bible (1560), reflected the concerns of those committed to the Reformation. Others, such as the Douai-Reims New Testament (1582), represented the response of the Roman Church to the growing success of Protestantism.