Significant Timeline of Bible Translation & the Judeo-Christian Church History
Introduction to the Holy Bible
The Bible is not a single work but a collection of writings. It is God’s words passed through oral tradition and written by scribes through the centuries. The New Testament came from an apostolic “divine inspiration” from the Holy Spirit and letters to believers.
Bible traditions came from nomads who were mostly farmers. Some were urban dwellers; kings, slaves, poets, musicians, priests, and of course, prophets. [edX]
It also contains literature, drawing on traditions that date as far back as the second millennium B.C.
It was first compiled and adopted into Latin in late-4th-century by Saint Jerome (the Catholic Bible). However, some passages were inaccurate. The church also forbade ordinary people from reading or owning a Bible.
1875 to 2100 BC – The calling of Abraham
The Abraham story is not related to a specific time period. These dates are mere estimates. There is also no evidence or archeological evidence for the historical Abraham, except in various religious scriptures.
In the Bible, Terah is the ninth in descent from Noah. Terah had three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran, whose entire clan lived in the land of Ur of the Chaldees.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12). Hence, the story begins.
1450 to 1400 BC – The Exodus
The exodus or mass departure of emigrants was when the children of Israel (Jacob’s descendants) who were enslaved from Egypt, is delivered by God and led by Moses to be brought to the promised land. Moses leads God’s chosen people to the land of ‘milk and honey’.
During this time, God gave Moses the ’10 commandments’ and his instructions for the people to follow, thus the traditional date for Moses’ writing of Genesis to Deuteronomy written in their Hebrew language.
1010 BC – David becomes king of Israel
970 BC – Solomon becomes king of Israel
King Solomon is the son of King David whose riches is said to be unparalleled by any other ruler in history. His significant contribution is the construction of the first temple in Jerusalem to honor God.
→ Update on the rebuilding of the Third Temple of Jerusalem.
930 BC – The Kingdom of Israel is divided
Following Solomon’s death, the Kingdom is divided into two sections: Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah).
753 BC – Founding of Rome
Rome played an important part in spreading Christianity to the rest of the world. Christianity was banned and Christians were punished for many years in the empire. Christians were fed to the lions as entertainment in ancient Rome. Six centuries later, Christianity will become an accepted religion through the Edict of Milan.
722 BC – The Kingdom of Israel falls
The ruling city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, was finally taken by Sargon II after a three-year siege started by Shalmaneser V known as the Assyrian captivity. ( Chronicles 5:26)
586 BC – Jerusalem is destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar
The Babylonians invaded Israel and the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. They remained in Babylon under the Medo-Persian Empire and there began to speak in Aramaic. Eventually, the Hebrew language no longer became the daily spoken language but was used only in a sacred text. The language was lost though not dead.
The Hebrew language lost?
The revival of the Hebrew language after 2,000 years took place in Europe and Palestine toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, through which the language’s usage changed from the sacred language of Judaism to a spoken and written language used for daily life in Israel.
The Hebrew language is the only known language that was considered dead yet survived from being used only in sacred text, to a common and daily language of an entire people. This phenomenon is a fulfillment of very important end time Bible prophecies in the Bible.
The revival of the Hebrew language took place in Europe and Palestine toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, through which the language’s usage changed from the sacred language of Judaism to a spoken and written language used for daily life in Israel. The process began as Jews started arriving in Palestine in the first half of the nineteenth century and used Hebrew as a lingua franca.* (Revival of the Hebrew language)
* Lingua franca is the common language between people who speak different native languages.
400 BC – The Aramaic Targums
The Old Testament Bible began to be translated into Aramaic, called Aramaic Targums. This translation helped the Jewish people, who began to speak Aramaic from the time of their captivity in Babylon, to understand the Old Testament in the language that they commonly spoke. In the first century Palestine of Jesus’ day, Aramaic was still the commonly spoken language.
425 BC – Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament written in Hebrew.
The Hebrew language plays an important role in the coming together of the Bible. There have been so many Bible translations through the century and those that were translated using the Hebrew text (for the Old Testament) are naturally the best translations.
330 BC – Rise of Hellenism (Greek culture).
250 BC – The Old Testament in Greek (Septuagint or LXX)
The Septuagint is the oldest known manuscript that exists today. It is the oldest known Greek translation of the Old Testament that was translated around 247 BC by seventy scholars (LXX) in Alexandria, Egypt for an expanding community of Greek-speaking Jews. It was completed no later than 117 BC.
During diaspora, most of the original copy of the Old Testament text in Hebrew were lost. For the Jews of Alexandria, Greek was the first language, thus the most practical translation of the Old Testament should be in Greek.
63 BC – Roman rule of Israel begins
4 BC – Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
6 to 10 AD – The Old Testament in Hebrew (Masoretic text)
The Masoretic text comes from the Hebrew word ‘masoret’ which means ‘tradition’. Traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible was meticulously assembled and supplied with diacritical marks to enable correct pronunciation. This monumental work was begun around the 6th-century in Babylonia and Palestine, in an effort to reproduce, as far as possible, the original text of the Hebrew Old Testament. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
30 AD – Death of Jesus Christ and Resurrection
33 AD – Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit
48 AD – Council of Jerusalem is established
60 AD – First New Testament Gospel published
The gospel or a historical and narrative account on the life and teachings of Jesus is traditionally known as the gospel of Mark in the New Testament account.
Although there are no original sources, the New Testament that we have today was translated from autographs* or copies of the original. From 45- 95 AD, the New Testament was written in Greek. The Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts are all dated from 45 – 63 AD. The Gospel of John and the Revelation may have been written as late as 95 A.D. (Detailed timeline on the translation)
New Testament Manuscripts
There are over 5,600 early Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence. The oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus and the later manuscripts were written on leather called parchment.
* Autographs is a document transcribed or written entirely in the handwriting of the author. An autograph may contain the original text, but the original text can exist without them.
70 AD – Christianity established in Antioch, Alexandria and Rome
The traditional birthplace of Christianity is said to be in the cenacle also known as the ‘Upper Room’ in Jerusalem where the Pentecost happened. The Great Commission of Jesus before he ascended to heaven compelled the Apostles to separate and begin missionary work of spreading the gospel outside Jerusalem.
Christianity moves out of Jerusalem and begins to expand elsewhere. The urban Antioch (Turkey) during the Roman period was a strategic place for Christianity to progress.
To convince intellects and influential people is to influence the rest of its society. Antioch is considered “the cradle of Christianity” as a result of its longevity and the pivotal role that it played in the emergence of both Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity. (More on Antioch)
Antioch is considered as “the cradle of Christianity”
Likewise, Alexandria was a large city and a major economic center in Egypt. It was the second most powerful city ancient Rome and center of Hellenic scholarship and science. Alexandria is also a principal seaport where people from other countries trade. It is best known for ‘The Royal Library of Alexandria’ and the place where the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament began.
313 AD – Edict of Milan issued by Constantine
The Roman Emperor Constantine I issues the Edict of Milan making Christianity a legal religion within the Roman empire. Rome played an important part in the spread of Christianity.
The message of Christianity was spread around the Roman Empire by the Apostle Paul who founded Christian churches in Asia Minor and Greece. Eventually, he took his teachings to Rome itself. Paul being a Roman citizen himself had privileges that equipped and aided his influence.
325 AD – First Council at Nicea
Constantine I, the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity calls the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (Nicea). The Arian heresy which declared Christ was a created being is refuted. Nicene Creed is drawn up, declaring Christ to be “… Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father…”
367 AD – Athanasius recognizes 27 New Testament books
Saint Athanasius or Athanasius the Great, was an Egyptian who became the twentieth bishop of Alexandria. He is the first to list all 27 New Testament books in his festal letter.
Athanasius had plenty of enemies and was tagged as the ‘Black Dwarf’. He was exiled five times by four Roman emperors, spending 17 of the 45 years he served as bishop of Alexandria in exile. Athanasius’s writings shaped the future of the church.
He sent his annual letter to the churches in his diocese, called a festal letter. Such letters were used to fix the dates of festivals such as Lent and Easter, and to discuss matters of general interest. Athanasius listed the books he believed should constitute the New Testament.
Athanasius listed the books he believed should constitute the New Testament.
Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter in 367AD
The Thirty-Ninth letter contains a list of the books of the Old and New Testaments, which Athanasius describes as being canonical (list of sacred books officially accepted as genuine). The New Testament list is identical with the twenty-seven writings we still accept as canonical, and thus Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter has been regarded as the first authoritative statement on the canon of the New Testament. (More on Athanasius)
The letter was reconstructed by scholars from Greek, Syriac, and Coptic fragments. Syriac was an important dialect of Aramaic in which many important early Christian texts are preserved.
382 AD – Latin translation
Greek remains the language of the small Christian community, but with the spread of Christianity through the Roman empire, the Greek Bible needed a Latin translation. Saint Jerome begins a translation of the Bible into Latin.
405 – St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (Catholic Bible)
The pope commissioned the Biblical scholar Jerome to write a definitive Latin version known as the Latin Vulgate. It was the established Bible used by the whole western churches. However, it some passages was mistranslated.
For example, Jerome translated the New Testament word “repentance” to mean “penance” in order to justify indulgences.
From the original Greek word “metanoia,” repentance means a change of mind, a decision to turn away from sin.
A more accurate translation was established after the Reformation. Sources included the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts commissioned by King James in 1611.
A restricted Bible from 8th – 14th century
The intention of Saint Jerome in translating the bible to Latin was so that ordinary Christians should be able to read the word of God. He wrote that ‘Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’
After the collapse of the western empire, the people of Christian Europe spoke German, French, Anglo-Saxon, Italian and Spanish.
The translation into vulgar tongues was then discouraged. Eventually, the laity was prohibited from possessing the bible or translating it (Decree of the Council of Toulouse 1229; Ruling of the Council of Tarragona of 1234). Interpretation of the bible was reserved for the Catholic authorities.
Because the Latin Vulgate was exclusively read and interpreted by the priests, the church took advantage of it by keeping the faithful ignorant of God’s words. Doing this kept them in a “system of penance and indulgence.”
The Catholic Canon (14): “We also prohibit that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from the motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid any translation of these books.“
431 AD – Ecumenical council refutes Nestorianism
The Ecumenical council held at Ephesus refute Nestorianism, which is a doctrine that makes Christ two persons (one human, the other divine in one body). Mary is declared Theotokos i.e. ‘God-bearer’ or more commonly, ‘Mother of God’.
449 AD – Pope Leo I asserts Papal supremacy
Pope Leo I delivers his ‘Tome’ in Ephesus, defending orthodox Christian belief. However, he also asserts Papal supremacy, paving the way for the infallibility of the Pope in years to come.
451 AD – Hypostatic Union
Ecumenical council at Chalcedon affirms Christ as having two distinct natures united in one person known as the ‘Hypostatic Union’. This affirms the deity of Jesus and His authority and importance in the Christian faith is strengthen.
The First Council of Ephesus in 431 AD recognized this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the humanity and divinity of Christ are made one according to nature and hypostasis in the ‘logos’ (title of Jesus Christ, seen as the pre-existent second person of the Trinity)
597 AD – St. Augustine
Following a mission authorized by Pope Gregory I, St. Augustine becomes the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
636–37 AD – Siege of Jerusalem
Caliph Umar the Great conquers Jerusalem and at the request of Jerusalem’s Christian Patriarch, enters the city on foot, following the decisive defeat of the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Yarmouk a few months earlier. The Patriarch Sophronius and Umar are said to have agreed on the Covenant of Umar I, which guaranteed non-Muslims freedom of religion, and under Islamic rule, for the first time since the Roman period, Jews were once again allowed to live and worship freely in Jerusalem.
687–691 AD – The Dome of the Rock is built
The Dome of the Rock is built by Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan during the Second Fitna, becoming the world’s first great work of Islamic architecture. It is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
1054 – Great Schism
Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches separate. Also known as the ‘Western Schism’ or Papal Schism was a split within the Roman Catholic Church which lasted from 1378 to 1417.
Three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418). For a time these rival claims to the papal throne damaged the reputation of the office.
The affair is sometimes referred to as the Great Schism, although this term is typically reserved for the East–West Schism (1054) between the Western Churches answering to the ‘See of Rome’ and the ‘Orthodox Churches of the East’. (Western schism)
1099 – Crusaders conquer Jerusalem
The Crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church between the 11th and 16th centuries, especially the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean with the aim of capturing Jerusalem from Islamic rule. Crusades were also fought for many other reasons such as to recapture Christian territory or defend Christians in non-Christian lands, resolve the conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, gain the political or territorial advantage, or to combat paganism and heresy.
1187 – The Siege of Jerusalem
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, weakened by internal disputes, was defeated at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. Balian of Ibelin (a crusader noble of the Kingdom of Jerusalem) surrendered the city to Saladin (first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty).
The defeat of Jerusalem signaled the end of the first Kingdom of Jerusalem. Europe responded in 1189 by launching the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus, and Frederick Barbarossa separately. (Siege of Jerusalem)
The local Christians were allowed to pray freely in their churches and the control of Christian affairs was handed over to the Byzantine patriarchate.
In 1189, the third Crusade to recapture Jerusalem was led by Richard the Lionheart of England and in 1204 the fourth crusade.
1204 – Fourth Crusade
The Western European armed expedition called by Pope Innocent III originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, a sequence of events culminated in the Crusaders sacking the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Christian-controlled Byzantine Empire.
The Fourth Crusade is considered to be one of the final acts in the split within the Roman Catholic church (Great Schism) between the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, and a key turning point in the decline of the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire) and Christianity in the Near East.
The Fourth Crusade is considered to be one of the final acts in the split within the Roman Catholic church.
1266-73 – Summa Theologiae is written
Thomas Aquinas writes his great work of systematic Theology: Summa Theologiae. Although unfinished, the Summa is “one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature.”
His work will have great influence in modern Catholic teachings in contrast to Protestants who rejected a few of his teachings. St. Thomas Aquinas holds on to the doctrine of predestination much like the Protestants.
1453 – Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks.
1517 – Martin Luther posts his 95 Theses in Wittenburg, Germany; beginning the Protestant reformation.
1380 – John Wycliffe (Wycliffe Version)
John Wycliffe was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, Biblical translator, reformer, and seminary professor at Oxford. He was an influential dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood during the 14th century.
Earlier in 1376, Wycliffe writes ‘Civil Dominion’, arguing a need to reform the Roman Catholic church. His plea is ignored and instead focused on a need to translate the Bible into English.
Wycliffe was an advocate for translation of the Bible into the vernacular. He completed a translation directly from the Vulgate into Middle English in the year 1382, now known as Wycliffe’s Bible.
His followers were known as Lollards who adhered to his advocacy in Predestination, Iconoclasm (destruction of religious images), and Caesaropapism, while attacking the veneration of Saints, the Sacraments, Requiem Masses, Transubstantiation, monasticism, and the very existence of the Papacy.
One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire.
In last words of John Hus, he said, “In 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed”. Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) into the church door at Wittenberg. His prophecy came true.
1516 – Erasmus (Greek-Latin Parallel NT)
The great scholar Erasmus was so moved to correct the corrupt Latin Vulgate (Catholic Bible of St. Jerome), that in 1516 he published a Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament.
Erasmus was able to get fresh sources from the more accurate and reliable Greek Bible version. He had managed to collate from a half-dozen partial old Greek New Testament manuscripts he had acquired.
The 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus further focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate (Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version) had become. It was important to return to the original Greek (New Testament) and original Hebrew (Old Testament) languages and maintain an accuracy of God’s word.
It was important to return to the original Greek and original Hebrew languages and maintain accuracy of God’s word.
1526 – William Tyndale (Tyndale Bible)
Tyndale’s Bible is credited with being the first English translation to work directly from Hebrew and Greek texts.
Tyndale wanted to use the same 1516 Erasmus text as a source to translate and print the New Testament in English for the first time in history. He translated the New Testament from Greek into English and was printed at Worms in 1526 with 3,000 copies. When they reached England, the bishop of London seizes every copy of what they see as heretic translation.
They were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, but copies trickled through and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII. The more the King and Bishop resisted its distribution, the more fascinated the public became. The translation from the original source illuminated God’s word to the laity.
The Roman Catholic church declared that it contained thousands of errors and intended to burn all copies. Anyone possessing it risked death by burning at the stake. Today, there are only two known copies left of Tyndale’s 1525-26 First Edition Bible. William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating the Bible into English.
William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating the Bible into English.
Perhaps the greatest impact of this bible is its influence to the modern Christian bible today. It has been suggested that around 90% of the King James Version is from Tyndale’s works.
1522 – Martin Luther (German Bible)
Martin Luther is the head figure of the Protestant Reformation of Europe. He contributed by writing the 95-page theses that exposed the Scriptural errors of the Roman Catholic Church. He also translated the New Testament using the Greek-Latin Bible of Erasmus into the German language.
The first German bible was published in September 1522. Luther also published a German Pentateuch in 1523, and another edition of the German New Testament in 1529. In the 1530’s he would go on to publish the entire Bible in German.
Martin Luther argued that the Pope has no authority to bestow forgiveness and that the indulgences are a highly corrupt practice. He argued that forgiveness and justification for sins can only be given by God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Luther had a strong and often abrasive personality. He spoke out against clerical celibacy, papal abuses, the denying of the scriptures and the communion wine to non-clergy, the cult of the saints, salvation by works, and other Catholic doctrines. Yet Martin Luther retained many traditional and liturgical elements of the church that other reformers rejected. (Religion Facts)
It is fair to say that Martin Luther never intended to split the Roman Catholic Church. He called for reform, the end to corruption and the teaching of factual statements that are in the Bible. (Caleb Samuels)
Martin Luther never intended to split the Roman Catholic Church.
1534 – Founding of the Jesuit
St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was a Spanish soldier, founded the order of religious men noted for its educational, missionary, and charitable works. Considered as the principal agent of the Counter-Reformation (anti-Protestant), and later a leading force in modernizing the Roman Catholic church.
The vigorous and aggressive Catholic Church which developed during the Sixteenth Century was largely because of the discipline and works of Jesuits or Jesuits priest.
1545-63 – The Council of Trent
The council was held in Bologna, northern Italy. It is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most important ecumenical councils, prompted by the growing Protestant Reformation.
The church’s liturgy and practices were strengthened. During its deliberations, the Council made the Vulgate the official example of the Biblical canon and commissioned the creation of a standard version.
However, for Protestant Christians, the Vulgate is seen with so many errors and fails behind the original Hebrew and Greek translation of the Bible.
Vulgate is seen with so many errors and fails behind the original Hebrew and Greek translation of the Bible.
1560 – The Geneva Bible
In 1553 Mary Tudor became Queen of England. She was committed to eliminating Protestant influences in England and restoring Roman Catholicism as the official religion. England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church during the time of her father, King Henry VIII. Queen Mary was greatly influenced by her mother Catherine of Aragon, who was a devout Catholic.
There was intense persecution of Protestants known as the ‘Marian Persecutions’, which earned her the nickname Bloody Mary. Queen Mary had over 300 Protestant believers burned at the stake, and many others fled to other countries rather than face certain death for not supporting Roman Catholicism.
Protestant leaders fled to Geneva, Switzerland to avoid the persecution in England. Among them were Miles Coverdale, John Foxe, Thomas Sampson, and William Whittingham. With the support of John Calvin and the Scottish Reformer John Knox, these English Reformers decided to publish an English Bible.
Building upon earlier translations of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale, the Geneva Bible was the first English translation in which all of the Old Testament was translated directly from Hebrew manuscripts. Much of the translation work was done by William Whittingham, the brother-in-law of John Calvin.
The Geneva Bible was the first English translation in which all of the Old Testament was translated directly from Hebrew manuscripts.
The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters so that referencing specific passages would be easier. It is also considered the first English “Study Bible”. William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible.
The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. The 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retain over 90% of William Tyndale’s original English translation.
1611 – King James Version
Queen Mary was succeeded by her sister Queen Elizabeth I who strengthened the Protestant Church or Church of England. When she died, the Protestant clergy in 1604 asked the new King, James I for a new translation. They knew that the Geneva Version had won the hearts of the people because of its excellent scholarship, accuracy, and exhaustive commentary. However, they did not want the controversial marginal notes (proclaiming the Pope an anti-Christ among others).
Essentially, the leaders of the church desired a Bible for the people, with scriptural references only for word clarification or cross-references and not as exhaustive as the Geneva translation. The desire was to have a “translation to end all translations” where about fifty bible scholars took reference of all translations that included The Tyndale New Testament, The Coverdale Bible, The Matthews Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible, and even the Rheims New Testament.
In 1611 the first of the huge (16 inches tall) pulpit folios known today as “The 1611 King James Bible” came off the printing press. A year later, a shorter version was printed so individuals could have their own personal copy of the Bible.
1618-48 – Thirty Years War
Protestant and Catholics conflict in Germany.
1730-60 – The Great Awakening
A revival movement among Protestants wherein 1738, John and Charles Wesley converted from Roman Catholicism to lead an Evangelical revival in England and from the Methodist church.