Where Was the English Bible Before …1611?
August 12, 2018
The easy answer to the question above is that the Bible in English was a work in
The final expression of God’s inerrant words in the English language is in the
Authorized Version 1st published in 1611.
Until that time, this final expression did not exist as a finished product. Rather, it existed
in component parts (i.e. words). Many of the words were from the previous English Bibles
that had been harvested since the year 1525 when William Tyndale published
the first printed edition of the New Testament in English.
Lest someone object to this observation, consider the fact that even the Scripture itself
didn’t come in one delivery. It came over a period of about 1,500 years with somewhere
in the vicinity of 40 authors.
The King James translators actually started construction with The Bishops Bible as a
base and incorporated other biblical building material.
Previous English Bibles Used in Its Construction
Other English Bibles that were delivered to the job site included Tyndale, Matthews,
Coverdale, The Great, Geneva, and Bishops.
Author Lawrence Vance says:
“In the ‘Rules to be Observed in the Translation of the ible.’ These general rules, fifteen in
number, were advanced for the guidance of the translators.
The first and fourteenth, because they directly relate to the subject at hand, are here given in full:
"1. The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed,
and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.’
14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible:
Tindoll's, Matthews, Coverdale's, Whitchurch's, [a.k.a. Great Bible] Geneva.’
These previous English Bibles are part of the form and substance that provided the
English building material (words) for The Authorized Version.
But they didn’t limit themselves to these. They also used Greek and Hebrew editions as
well as foreign language versions
Many foreign language Bibles and Testaments were examined. They had a multitude of
sources from which to draw from:
"Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew,
Syrian, Greek, or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch." The Greek editions of
Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza were all accessible, as were the Complutensian and Antwerp
Polyglots, and the Latin translations of Pagninus, Tremellius, and Beza.”
What this means is that all those previous English Bibles (although good) needed to be
improved upon. That’s why no one is using them today.
It was a translators intention not only to improve presentation of God’s words in English
but also to improve the presentation of God’s words that had previously appeared in
other Reformation era Bibles.
Here’s what they said:
"Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfited at the same time, and the later thoughts are
thought to be the wiser: so, if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being
holpen by their labours, doe endevour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we
are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade our selves, if they were alive, would thanke
Truly (good Christian Reader) wee never thought from the beginning, that we should neede to
make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, (for then the imputation of
Sixtus had bene true in some sort, that our people had bene fed with gall of Dragons in stead of
wine, with whey in stead of milke:) but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones,
one principall good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath bene our indeavour, that our
. . . we are so far off from condemning any of their labours that travelledbefore us in this kind,
EITHER IN THIS LAND OR BEYOND THE SEA, either in King Henry's time, or King
Edward's, (if there were any translation, or correction of a translation, in his time) or Queen
Elizabeth's of ever renowned memory, that WE ACKNOWLEDGE THEM TO HAVE BEEN
RAISED UP OF GOD FOR THE BUILDING AND FURNISHING OF HIS CHURCH, and that
they deserve to be had of us and of posterity in everlasting remembrance.
. . . we do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in
English set forth by men of our profession. . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of
God: as the King's speech which he uttered in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch,
Italian, and Latin, is still the King's speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with
the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, every where. . . .
. . . nothing is begun and perfected at the same time. . . so, if WE BUILDING UPON THEIR
FOUNDATION THAT WENT BEFORE US, AND BEING HOLPEN BY THEIR LABOURS,
do endeavour to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to
mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us. . . .
"we never thought from the beginning that we should need to makea new translation, nor yet to
make of a bad one a good one; (for then the imputation of Sixtus had been true in some sort, that
our people had been fed with gall of dragons instead of wine, with whey instead of milk;) but TO
MAKE A GOOD ONE BETTER, OR OUT OF MANY GOOD ONES ONE PRINCIPAL
GOOD ONE, NOT JUSTLY TO BE EXCEPTED AGAINST; THAT HATH BEEN OUR
ENDEAVOUR, THAT OUR MARK."
What About the Printed English Bibles Before 1611?
They don’t all say and mean the same thing although they come from the same basic
texts. The King James Bible itself is a revision of the Bishops Bible. Each translator was
provided with a copy of the 1604 Bishops.
Here’s my view:
The testimony of history shows that the compilation of Scripture in the various
languages of the world is a process and not a one-time event. In other words, the Lord
didn’t present his final version in any particular language on the first pass.
Using English as an example we see that the first New Testament translated from a
Greek text was produced in 1525. Coverdale’s complete first edition of the Bible in
English was published in 1535.
Where would you find “the Scripture” in English 1525?
If you could get a hold of a Tyndale New Testament you would have the New
Testament Scripture as God provided it at that time.
In 1535, you could you would have “the Scripture” as God provided it at that time in the
form of the Coverdale Bible and Tyndale’s NT.
In 1537 you could add Matthews Bible to the list. Likewise, the Great Bible in 1539 and
In 1560, you could get a better presentation of “the Scripture” that God provided in the
English language from the Geneva Bible.
Some people call this a process of purification and cite Psalm 12:7 and maybe that’s so
but the fact is that God did not produce a final version or presentation of his word in
English until 1611.
How do we know? The witness of its blessing in history.
It’s like a lot of things concerning the Scriptures. Sometimes you can’t tell what’s going
on until you look back. And we’re in a position to be able to do so.
My view is that the English Bibles previous to the Authorized Version were a work in
progress and can rightly be referred to as the Scriptures as given by God for that time.
He has moved on and if you’re looking for “the Scripture” now in English it’s found in the
King James Bible. In effect, the Lord moved the locus of “the Scripture” from
the previous English Bibles and finally was located on the pages of the King James Bible.
Eventually believers followed suit.
Like the translators said in the preface:
"Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning, that we should need to
make a new translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, ... but to
make a good one better."
IT’S BEEN THE BEST ONE FOR OVER 400 YEARS.
AND IT STILL IS.
Which Bible did Jesus use can be purchased on Amazon