Lesson #4 – Why All the Translations of the Bible?

Of course, most people know the Bible was not originally written in English. Most of the Old Testament books were written first in Hebrew, the mother tongue or language of the people of Israel. Toward the end of Old Testament history Aramaic became the common language of the Jewish people. So, certain books of the Bible, written after about 600 B.C.,were written in Aramaic. Among these, for example were the books of Daniel and Ezra.

Those Bible writers were impressed upon to write for God in a way that is not entirely clear to us today. Bible students refer to this idea as “Inspiration.” In numerous, if not most cases the original authors were probably not even aware that what they were writing was Scripture. These acts of God in giving the original Bible writers the words of Scripture made it important for the writings to be understandable in the regular languages of millions of people. So, the need to have the Bible in the language of one’s birth is easy to understand.

The country of Syria, north of Israel, was among the first to obtain the Bible in its own language of Syriac. This was in the second century, about 150 A.D. Latin versions of the Scriptures appeared around 383 A.D. The famous “Latin Vulgate” was available by 405 A.D. This was the Bible of Europe for hundreds of years.

The invention of the printing press in 1450 A.D. (instead of hand copying) quickly gave rise to the need of printed copies of the Scriptures. True to the need, the Bible soon became available in German and French. Other European language translations followed over the centuries.

English translations of the Bible had to await the development of the English language. English is just one of the Indo-European languages that developed through the middle ages. The first complete English translation of the Bible was known as the “Wycliffe Version” and was completed in 1382 A.D. It was done in “Middle English” and would not be understandable by English readers of today.

Through the centuries, other Bible translations in English were done leading up to the King James version of 1611. The King James was revised several times but still, as the language developed and changed, many saw the need for a Bible that spoke to the common people in more modern times.

Charles Thomson of Philadelphia, Secretary of the Continental Congress, published the first American translation in English in 1808. Since that time many translations of the Scriptures have been made leading up to our own day. Some have been the work of one man while others were what we call “committee translations.”

So long as there is the cry of the human heart to understand the Bible there will be those with a burden to fill that need. Obviously, some translations are better than others but the most important part for you and I to play is to pick a translation, get into it and learn God’s Word. An inquiring mind is reason enough to make the Bible clear to that needy heart.

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