Bible Translation: Introduction and Early Translations

Translation of the Bible into the mother tongue of a group of people is second only to the proclamation and application (see Nehemiah 8 for the earliest recorded Bible reading marathon and application of what was read) of the Bible itself.

It has been rightly said that every church is one generation away from extinction because each generation must make the Faith its own. It has also been shown that a group where the Bible is first preached to is one generation from extinction unless the group receives the Bible in an understandable translation of the Bible in its mother tongue.

Do you know what the first known Bible translation took place? It was of the Old Testament but not in the original Hebrew. Instead it was in Greek! In the sovereignty of God, Alexander the Great had conquered south and east of Greece/Macedonia including Egypt.

In the city that bears his name (Alexandria) in what is now Egypt during the third century before Christ 70 or 72 (six for each of the twelve tribes of Israel–Wikipedia) scholars gathered in the middle of the third century before Christ to translate the Bible from Hebrew into Greek. The story goes that each came back with a translation that perfectly matched the others. It came to be called the LXX, the Roman numerals for 70.

(Incidentally the earliest existing full Old Testament or Hebrew Bible hails from the 7th century AD [Wikipedia]. It was provided by a Jewish group called the Masoretes, which led to its being called “The Masoretic Text.”)

The New Testament is in the Koine or market place (what people spoke every day throughout the Roman empire). But before the end of the 4th century AD, most people spoke the language of the Empire, namely Latin. So around that time, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin. It came to be called “The Vulgate,” which simply means “the common tongue,” or what people commonly spoke to each other.

But by the Middle Ages, very few people spoke Latin. There was a great need once again for groups to have the Bible in their mother tongue. What happened next is the subject (Lord willing!) of the next post.