Many, possibly most, people don’t realize that the King James Version was not the first translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into English. There were seven major translations published earlier, and all of them to a greater or lesser extent (almost always greater) were dependent on the one(s) that came before them. The first, greatest, and most influential was the translation by William Tyndale. It was also the riskiest. It cost Tyndale his life.

In 1408 a law had been passed in England making it illegal to translate or to read the Bible in English without official ecclesiastical approval; this was in response to the translation activities connected with (pre-Reformer) John Wycliffe and his followers, whose English rendering was not from the original Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin vulgate. By the time of Tyndale in the early 16th century, it was possible to learn Greek at Oxford, and just possible to pick up Hebrew, and he did so.

Tyndale was refused permission to publish a translation in England, so he went to Germany and did it there. His New Testament, from the Greek, was published in 1526; an improved second edition came out in 1534. He translated the Pentateuch and Jonah from the Hebrew before he was betrayed by an overly zealous countryman and handed over to authorities. He managed to continue his translation in prison, where he finished Joshua to 2 Chronicles. But that’s where his story ended. He was condemned to death and was strangled then burned at the stake in 1536.

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