We approach the new year with growing anticipation of an event which promises to be of unusual significance in the Christian world—the appearance, namely, of a new English translation of the New Testament, which will mark the completion of the first stage in the preparation of a new translation of the whole Bible. Before considering some of the implications of this event, let us cast a glance back over the story of the English Bible as it has developed through the centuries. It is now more than 1200 years since the shepherd-poet Caedmon was transposing the biblical narratives into the vernacular as he sang his spiritual songs. From him a line, somewhat tenuous in places, may be traced of those who were responsible for giving the British people at least some portions of the Scriptures in their own language. There was Caedmon’s contemporary Aldhelm, who is reputed to have rendered the Psalms into Anglo-Saxon; and, in the next century, there was the Venerable Bede, whose last work was the translation of St. John’s Gospel, completed as he lay dying; and, in the ninth century, King Alfred, who translated the Ten Commandments and prefaced them to the laws of his kingdom; and Aelfric at the end of the tenth century; and Aldred, Archbishop of York, the translator of the Lindisfarne Gospels, who crowned William the Conqueror king on Christmas Day, 1066; and Orm and Richard Rolle de Hampole in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively.
It is to John Wycliffe, “the morning star of the Reformation,” who was born about 1324, that (in collaboration with his friend Nicholas de Hereford) we owe the first English translation of the whole Bible—a translation, however, not made from the original Hebrew and Greek but from the Latin ...1
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