The first translation into any language of England is still supposed to be that of Bede (who is usually known by the title "the Venerable Bede") in the VIII century. Bede's translation was attested to by others; it is known that he translated at least portions of John. After this, there appeared in the next two centuries a few more incomplete translations into the language of the people, including the so-called Alfred version (reputed to be by King Alfred) of some of the Psalms. During the Norman centuries which followed, the language of English was developing--changing rapidly--and no major translations are known to survive, although two "transcripts" of the gospels into West-Saxon were produced.
After several incomplete Bible translations were made into English in the 14th century, John Wycliffe (or Wyclif) "and his followers" produced a complete translation from the Latin Vulgate into English--the first of its kind. Naturally, since the printing press had not yet been invented, it was quite an achievement to translate the entire Bible by hand into a new language.
Tyndale made good use of the printing press, translating the New Testament from the Greek into English for the first time, releasing his first edition in 1526. By 1531, he had translated and printed some of the Old Testament, too, but he was executed in 1536, leaving work undone. Tyndale's translation would have a profound effect on those who followed.
Coverdale is the first to have the entire Bible translated into English and printed. His printed edition was released in 1535. Several versions based on his and on Tyndale's version would quickly emerge.
English Protestant reformers favored translations like Tyndale's over the Vulgate preferred in the Catholic Church. They determined to produce their own translation, and in 1557 a NT translation was published in Geneva. By 1560 the OT was complete, and this became the first edition of the so-called "Geneva Bible," which was so popular that over 140 editions of the GB were produced in the next century. The OT was a revision of an earlier translation "The Great Bible," with comparisons made to the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Geneva Bible was popular among protestants but not among the leadership of the Catholic Church.
The translation called the Geneva Bible had been deemed too Calvinistic, and so the authorized Great Bible of 1538 stood up for an authorized revision. The Bible passages were divided among various bishops (and others), and the translation they produced (1568) was generally called the Bishops' Bible. It suffered, though, from a lack of literary quality. People kept the Geneva Bible, preferring its language to the Bishops', which was also inconsistant in translation.
The Church of England was content to keep the Bishops' Bible until they could prepare a new approved translation of their own, but the Catholic Church quickly went to work on one. Several of the most learned Catholic scholars produced a New Testament, published at Rheims in 1582, and later a full Bible (containing the Rheims NT), published at Douay in 1609. The translation generally follows the Latin Vulgate closely, although the original languages were used in translation. This was the first translation prepared expressly for Catholics. From this point on, the Catholic Church has prepared their own translations.
The Bishops' Bible was in drastic need of revision. King James appointed a commission to revise the Bishops' Bible, which was to contain 54 members and be a comprehensive revision, comparing the Greek text of Erasmus and the Hebrew Masoretic text--along with earlier translations. As it turned out, 47 translators began the work in 1607 that was completed in 1611. Originally, the deuterocanonical works were translated and included in printed copies, but as the KJV became the translation of choice for English Protestants, the deuterocanonical books were dropped from subsequent printings. The KJV was a fine and literary work, unlike the Bishops' Bible or earlier Great Bible, and as a result it gained widespread popularity. In fact, the KJV was not surpassed in popularity by any other English translation until 1987!
The Greek text used in translating the KJV New Testament had been based on just a few late miniscule manuscripts: 1eap, 1r, 2ap, 2r, 4ap, and 7p. The recently written miniscule 61 was also used in preparing Erasmus' last Greek edition, which was the basis for the later editions of Stephanus and Beza that were used as the source for the NT of the KJV. In fact, the text of Revelation had been incomplete; Erasmus had gone to the Latin Vulgate and translated the Latin back into Greek!
There had been revisions of the KJV before 1881, but by the middle of the 19th century, enough manuscripts of the other text types had been discovered that a thorough revision was deemed necessary. In fact, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex B had been discovered by this time, both Alexandrian-type manuscripts of the IV century...the oldest manuscripts in the world at the time. Revisers Westcott and Hort created a thoroughly updated Greek New Testament, based on the newly-discovered textual information gained from the recently found manuscripts, which were more than 500 years OLDER than the oldest manuscripts used in the earlier form of the Greek text. The Bible was completed in translation in 1885 and is usually called the Revised Version.
Conservatives who wished to retain the King James Version went into an uproar. They had opposed earlier attempts at revision, but the new version, based on a new (presumed wrong) Greek text was an outrage. Men like Dean John Burgon championed the KJV cause, proclaiming the KJV to be God's Word for the English speaking people. An Americanized version of the RV, known as the American Standard Version was completed in 1901. Both the RV and ASV are literal translations.
Following the publication of quite a few new English translation, both Catholic and Protestant came a revision of the ASV. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) made use of a more modern form of English and of greater knowledge regarding the Greek and Hebrew texts. The NT was released in 1946, with the whole Bible to follow in 1952--in both Catholic and Protestant editions. The RSV, still quite literal, proved to be popular--but never as popular as the KJV.
The Jehovah's Witnesses, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, produced their own version, called the NWT, in 1960. This version uses "Jehovah" as the name of God where earlier translations had written "the LORD."
A revision of straight from the old ASV, the NASB sought to modernize and make use of new manuscript discoveries, while retaining the literalness of the earlier translation. It succeeded, but as a translation it never arose to the prominence of the KJV or RSV.
This was a thoroughly-redone Catholic translation, highly noted for its scholarship and leaning away from literal renderings more than any of their earlier translations had done. 1970.
Following other less literal translations, the Living Bible (of 1971) is very loose. As such, it reads very well, but scholars immediately attacked its deviation from the Hebrew and Greek texts.
Another committee translation, but this committee (largely of evangelicals) produced an entirely new translation. Not as paraphrased as the Living Bible but not as literal as, say, the KJV or RSV, the NIV began slowly to win acceptance. By 1987, the NIV had become the most popular of all English translations. This is the translation of choice for the majority of Protestants today. The NIV NT was translated from the 21st edition of the Nestle Greek text, the most up-to-date available. A few minor revisions of the NIV have been made since the first edition in 1973.
In an effort to make a modern translation that reminded people of the KJV and to answer the critics of the post-1881 translations, a revision of the KJV was made. However, this translation did not win approval from the general public, nor has it replaced the KJV among KJV supporters. The translation appeared in 1979.
This most recent revision of the RSV modernizes it considerably and uses "inclusive" language where the translators deemed it sensical to do so. The NRSV is replacing the RSV these days, but it has not risen to the popularity of the NIV and suffers from what conservatives label an appeal to liberalism.
Didn't find your favorite translation above? This page doesn't claim to list them all, but the most popular or influential translations are listed. Even today, quite a number of new translations are emerging. Drowning as we are in an alphabet soup of translations, we may wish to proclaim as Jerome: "There are as many translations as there are Bibles!"
Yet there are so many Bibles not only because English is a changing language but because the many people, groups, and denominations in the English-speaking church view the same Bible in many different ways. Rather than there being a plot to corrupt the Bible's true meaning, every translator (or group of translators) can only translate the Bible as it is understood. One translates according to one's paradigm. On this next page, we will compare a few translations of several passages, and we'll see that they're not all the same.