Category Archives: Translation

A Chronology of the English Bible

I am grabbing the list below from this site (a great site for lots of information on Bible translations, etc). Some of the information in this list is a little strange, such as when so-and-so became President of the U.S., but it’s still interesting to anyone who loves history. I am thinking it should be titled “An Historical Chronology of Christendom and Post-Christendom with the Inclusion of Significant English Bible Translations.”

Listing the events in the history of the English versions
of Scripture, and of the place of Scripture
in the church and in society.

  • 440. Roman legions withdraw from Britain.
  • 450. Anglo-Saxon invasions and settlement of Britain displace the native Celts in the south.
  • 597. Pope Gregory sends missionaries to Ethelbert of Kent, in the southeast of Britain.
  • 629. Mohammed becomes ruler of Mecca in Arabia, publishes the Koran.
  • 633. Christian churches in Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem are seized by Mohammedans and turned into mosques.
  • 669. Theodore of Tarsus becomes archbishop of Canterbury, promotes episcopal hierarchy and Roman culture in the south of Britain.
  • 670. The herdsman Caedmon in northern Britain composes poems based on Biblical narratives in Old English.
  • 700. Beowulf, Nordic epic poem, written about this time.
  • 768. Charlemagne begins rule in France.
  • 825. Vespasian Psalter gives interlinear Old English translation.
  • 856. Danes begin large scale invasion of eastern Britain. Destruction of monasteries there.
  • 878. King Alfred halts Danish invasion, divides Britain by treaty. Danes inhabit northeast half of Britain.
  • 900. Paris Psalter gives Old English version of the first fifty Psalms.
  • 924. Ethelstan becomes King and pursues conciliation and fushion with the Danes. Oda (a full-blooded Dane) appointed archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 950. Aldred (Bishop of Durham) writes Old English between the lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
  • 970. Faerman (Priest in Yorkshire) makes the first Old English version of the Gospel of Matthew in the Rushworth Gospels, based upon Aldred’s gloss.
  • 1000. England overwhelmed by new invasion of Danes. King Ethelred flees to allies in Normandy. Aelfric (Abbot in Oxfordshire) translates abridged Pentateuch and several other portions of Scripture into Old English. Wessex Gospels give first Old English version of all four gospels.
  • 1042. King Edward, brought up in Normandy, attempts to Normanize the English Court, appoints a Norman archbishop. Godwin (Earl of Wessex) opposes him and causes the deposition of the archbishop.
  • 1066. Norman conquest of Britain, sponsored by Pope Alexander II, destroys Old English literature, makes Norman French the language of the nobility.
  • 1150. Old English yields to Middle English as the common language of Britain.
  • 1200. Orm composes poetical paraphrase of Gospels and Acts in Middle English.
  • 1300. Midland Psalter gives metrical version of the Psalms in Middle English.
  • 1309. Pope Clement V moves the headquarters of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon under domination of the French King.
  • 1320. Richard Rolle’s Middle English Psalter.
  • 1330. Birth of John Wyclif.
  • 1340. Birth of Chaucer.
  • 1348. English replaces Latin as the medium of instruction in schools (except at Oxford and Cambridge).
  • 1360. Various gospel narratives translated into Middle English.
  • 1362. English replaces French as the language of law in England. English used for the first time in Parliament.
  • 1377. Pope Gregory XI moves the Papacy back to Rome.
  • 1378. French Cardinals create schism in the Roman Catholic Church by electing a rival Pope and returning to Avignon. Rival popes excommunicate one another.
  • 1380. Oxford professor John Wyclif publicly rejects Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, begins translating Latin Vulgate into English.
  • 1381. Peasants revolt in England. They seize London, but are soon overcome.
  • 1382. Wyclif expelled from his teaching post at Oxford for heresy. Completes translation of Bible with help of his students.
  • 1384. Death of Wyclif. His disciples continue to preach against the clergy, copy and sell manuscripts (mostly the Gospels).
  • 1388. Wyclif Bible revised by his student John Purvey.
  • 1400. Death of Chaucer.
  • 1401. English parliament decrees the burning of heretics. Statute is aimed against the followers of Wyclif, called Lollards
  • 1408. Arundelian Constitutions enacted by Convocation of bishops at Oxford forbids unauthorized translation, distribution, or public reading of the Scripture.
  • 1411. Bonfire of Wyclif’s writings at Oxford.
  • 1415. John Hus, the radical Bohemian reformer and advocate of Wyclif’s anti-clerical teachings, is burned at the stake.
  • 1417. Concil of Constance elects Martin V as Pope, and ends Roman Catholic schism.
  • 1450. Middle English yields to Early Modern English as the common language of Britain about now.
  • 1453. Moslems take Constantinople. Great exodus of Greek scholars from there to Western Europe, bringing with them Greek manuscripts of the Bible.
  • 1456. First printed book: Gutenberg Bible, containing the Latin text.
  • 1466. Birth of Erasmus.
  • 1476. First English book printed by William Caxton (The Recital of the Histories of Troy, translated from French).
  • 1478. Caxton prints Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
  • 1483. Birth of Martin Luther.
  • 1484. Birth of William Tyndale.
  • 1485. Henry Tudor becomes king Henry VII of England.
  • 1488. Birth of Miles Coverdale. • Hebrew Old Testament first printed by Jews at Soncino, Italy.
  • 1489. Birth of Thomas Cranmer.
  • 1491. Greek first taught at Oxford University.
  • 1496. John Colet gives lectures on Romans at Oxford.
  • 1499. Erasmus at Oxford.
  • 1500. Birth of John Rogers.
  • 1504. Birth of Matthew Parker.
  • 1505. Birth of Richard Taverner. • Birth of John Knox. • Luther enters the Augustinian Order.
  • 1506. New Cathedral of St. Peter begun in Rome (completed in 1590).
  • 1509. Henry VIII becomes king of England. • Birth of John Calvin. • Erasmus professor of Greek at Cambridge University.
  • 1510. William Tyndale at Cambridge.
  • 1514. Coverdale ordained.
  • 1515. Luther begins lectures on Romans at Wittenberg University. • Tyndale gets M.A. degree at Oxford.
  • 1516. Erasmus’ first Greek New Testament (First printed Greek New Testament).
  • 1517. Pope Leo X decrees preaching and sale of indulgences for the benefit of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. • Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31. Reformation era begins.
  • 1518. Septuagint printed by Aldus in Italy. • Zwingli begins Reformation in Switzerland.
  • 1519. Erasmus’ 2nd Greek New Testament • Birth of Theodore Beza.
  • 1520. Luther excommunicated. • Tyndale goes home to Gloucester, begins translating.
  • 1522. First edition of Luther’s German New Testament • Parker at Cambridge. • Complutensian Polyglot (including Septuagint, Vulgate, Hebrew Old Testament) published. • Erasmus’ 3rd Greek New Testament • Tyndale goes to London in search of financial help.
  • 1524. Tyndale leaves England for Germany. • Peasants revolt in Germany. • William Whittingham born.
  • 1525. Tyndale’s English New Testament (first printed English text) published in Germany. • Rogers gets B.A. degree at Cambridge.
  • 1526. Copies of Tyndale’s New Testament enter England, many burned.
  • 1527. Erasmus’ 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1528. Coverdale preaches against the mass, is compelled to leave England.
  • 1529. Tyndale and Coverdale work together at Hamburg. • Luther’s Small Catechism. • Cranmer commissioned by king Henry to write a treatise justifying his divorce from Catherine.
  • 1530. Augsburg Confession.
  • 1531. Tyndale’s Pentateuch is published. • Zwingli killed in battle.
  • 1533. Cranmer made Archbishop of Canterbury, approves Henry’s divorce.
  • 1534. Tyndale’s New Testament and Pentateuch revised. • Henry VIII excommunicated by the Pope, severs English churches from Rome, becomes head of the Church of England without any intention of reforming it. • Cranmer petitions Henry for creation of an authorized English version. • Luther’s first complete German Bible. • Anabaptists establish short-lived socialist community at Münster. • Geneva becomes independent Protestant commonwealth.
  • 1535. Tyndale’s last revised New Testament • Tyndale betrayed to Roman Catholic authorities, charged with heresy and imprisoned. He continues to translate the historical books of the Old Testament • Coverdale’s Bible published in England. (first printed English Bible). • Erasmus’ 5th edition of the Greek.
  • 1536. Tyndale’s New Testament reprinted in England. • Tyndale condemned. He commits his manuscript to his friend John Rogers, and is burned at the stake. • Calvin publishes his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  • 1537. “Matthew’s Bible” published by John Rogers in Germany, giving Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, Pentateuch, and historical books of the Old Testament • John Calvin preaches in Geneva. • Matthew’s and Coverdale’s Bibles licensed for unhindered sale in England.
  • 1538. Coverdale in Paris editing Great Bible. • English bishops instructed to display largest English Bible in parish churches.
  • 1539. Coverdale returns to England. • Great Bible (dedicated to Henry VIII) published and authorized in England. • Taverner’s Bible (a revision of Matthew’s Bible) published. • English parliament adopts the Act of Six Articles, reaffirming various Roman Catholic teachings. “Lutherans” subjected to persecution.
  • 1540. 2nd edition of Great Bible with preface of Cranmer, called Cranmer’s Bible. • Coverdale, under pressure as a “Lutheran,” leaves England again.
  • 1543. English Parliament bans Tyndale’s version and all public reading of Bible by laymen.
  • 1545. Council of Trent convened.
  • 1546. Death of Luther. • Council of Trent decrees that the Latin Vulgate (with Apocryphal books) is authoritative version of Scripture. • Henry VIII bans Coverdale version. • Stephens publishes his first Greek New Testament
  • 1547. Death of Henry VIII. • Edward VI becomes king of England. • Parliament repeals the anti-Protestant Act of Six Articles, and removes restrictions on printing and reading of English versions. Cranmer begins Protestant reformation of the Church of England. • Coverdale, Rogers return to England. • John Knox preaches Reformation in Scotland.
  • 1549. English Book of Common Prayer compiled by Cranmer. • Stephens’ 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1550. Stephens’ 3rd Greek New Testament
  • 1551. Last edition of Matthew’s Bible. • Coverdale appointed bishop of Exeter. • Stephens’ 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1552. John Knox refuses offer to become an English bishop.
  • 1553. “Bloody” Mary Tudor becomes queen of England. • Last edition of Coverdale Bible.
  • 1554. Mary reverses the reforms of Edward and enforces Romanism in England. • Knox leaves England for Geneva.
  • 1555. John Rogers burned at the stake. • Cranmer burned at the stake. • Coverdale and other leading Protestants flee England for Geneva. • Peace of Augsburg ends wars between Lutherans and Romanists in Germany, legitimizes Lutheranism.
  • 1556. Beza’s Latin New Testament
  • 1557. William Whittingham’s English New Testament published in Geneva. English exiles there begin work on English Old Testament
  • 1558. Elizabeth becomes queen of England.
  • 1559. Elizabeth repudiates Romanism. Act of Supremacy makes her head of Church of England. Romanist bishops expelled. Coverdale and other leading Protestants return to England. Matthew Parker made Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 1560. Geneva Bible with revised New Testament published by Whittingham in Geneva. • Whittingham returns to England. • Knox’s Scots Confession ratified by the Scottish parliament.
  • 1563. Whittingham made Dean of Durham. • Archbishop Parker and eight of his bishops begin work on the “Bishops’ Bible.” • Thirty-nine Articles of Religion adopted as doctrinal standard for Church of England. • Heidelberg Catechism published. • Apostolic Constitutions (ancient book of church order and dogma, purporting to be from the apostles) published by the Jesuit Turrianus.
  • 1564. Death of John Calvin. • Birth of Shakespeare.
  • 1565. Beza’s Greek-Latin New Testament
  • 1566. Last edition of Tyndale’s New Testament
  • 1567. Mary Stuart abdicates throne of Scotland, is succeeded by her son James under Protestant regency.
  • 1568. Bishops’ Bible (dedicated to Elizabeth) published by Archbishop Parker, and authorized for church use.
  • 1569. Last edition of Cranmer’s Great Bible. • Death of Coverdale.
  • 1571. Every bishop and cathedral in England ordered to have Bishops’ Bible.
  • 1572. Bishops’ Bible revised and published with the old Great Bible Psalter. • Antwerp Polyglot published. • Death of John Knox.
  • 1575. Death of Taverner and Parker. Parker succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by the strongly Calvinistic Edmund Grindal, who actively promotes the Geneva Bible during the next eight years.
  • 1578. Martin begins Rheims version of the New Testament (authorized Roman Catholic version, translated from the Vulgate).
  • 1579. Geneva Bible reprinted and authorized in Scotland. Every Scotch household of sufficient means is required by law to buy a copy. • Death of Whittingham.
  • 1580. Lutheran Formula of Concord.
  • 1582. Rheims New Testament (translated from the Latin) published by English Roman Catholics living in France. • Beza’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1583. Grindal succeeded by John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • 1587. Death of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.
  • 1588. Destruction of Spanish Armada.
  • 1589. Beza’s 3rd Greek New Testament
  • 1592. Sixtine-Clementine Latin Bible.
  • 1598. Beza’s 4th Greek New Testament
  • 1602. Last edition of Bishops’ Bible.
  • 1603. James I made king of England.
  • 1604. English bishops and Puritan leaders meet with King James in the Hampton Court Conference. Revision of Bishops’ Bible proposed. King James nominates revision committee of 54 scholars. • First English dictionary published by Robert Cawdry.
  • 1605. English Romanists attempt to blow up Parliament in the “Gunpowder plot,” arousing great and lasting public indignation against Rome. • Death of Theodore Beza.
  • 1607. Work on King James Bible begun.
  • 1608. Pilgrim Fathers leave England for Holland.
  • 1609. Douay Old Testament (translated from the Latin) published by English Roman Catholics living in France.
  • 1611. King James Bible (dedicated to James) published and authorized in England.
  • 1615. Archbishop Abbot forbids printing of the Bible without Apocrypha.
  • 1616. Birth of John Owen. • Death of Shakespeare.
  • 1618. Beginning of Thirty Years War on Continent.
  • 1619. Synod of Dort condemns Arminianism as heresy, propounds five points of orthodox Calvinism.
  • 1620. Pilgrims land at Plymouth.
  • 1624. Elzevir’s first Greek New Testament • Louis Cappel publishes his opinion that the vowel points of the Hebrew text were added by rabbis in the fifth century.
  • 1625. Charles I (Romanist) made king of England.
  • 1627. William Ames’ Marrow of Theology spreads knowledge of Dutch Covenant Theology in England.
  • 1633. Elzevir’s 2nd Greek New Testament • William Laud (Romanist) is made Archbishop of Canterbury, begins to persecute Puritans. Forbids importation of the Geneva Bible.
  • 1643. Puritan Solemn League and Covenant for Reformation and Defense of Religion sworn throughout Scotland and England.
  • 1642. Parliament raises an army and makes war against the despotic king Charles and his Romanizing bishops. • Brian Walton (Romanist) deprived of office. • Parliament closes theaters of England.
  • 1643. Westminster Assembly convened.
  • 1645. Archbishop Laud put to death.
  • 1647. Westminster Confession published.
  • 1648. Parliament adopts the Westminster Confession of Faith, establishing Calvinistic doctrine and presbyterianism in England. • Buxtorf assails Cappel’s view of the Hebrew vowel points. • Peace of Westphalia ends the Thirty Years War on the continent, legitimizes Calvinism.
  • 1649. King Charles I put to death. Cromwell rules as “Protector of the Commonwealth.” • John Owen (Puritan) preferred to offices. • George Fox disrupts church service in Nottingham, begins preaching Quakerism.
  • 1650. Louis Cappel’s book advocating critical reconstruction of the Hebrew text is published in Paris by his son Jean, after turning Roman Catholic. Publication of the work had been prevented by Cappel’s opponents in Protestant lands.
  • 1651. Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathon.
  • 1657. Brian Walton publishes the London Polyglot with revision of Hebrew vowel points, several ancient versions, and appendix of various readings of the Greek manuscripts.
  • 1658. Death of Cromwell. • John Owen deprived of office.
  • 1659. Walton’s Polyglot assailed by John Owen.
  • 1660. Monarchy restored with king Charles II. • Walton made a bishop.
  • 1662. New England churches begin to admit unconverted members under the “Half-Way Covenant.”
  • 1665. Great Plague of London kills over 68,000.
  • 1666. Great Fire of London.
  • 1667. Milton writes Paradise Lost.
  • 1675. John Fell’s Greek New Testament with critical annotations. • Helvetic Consensus Formula maintains verbal inerrancy of Scripture, extending to vowel points in the traditional Hebrew text (against Cappel and Walton).
  • 1678. Bunyan writes Pilgrim’s Progress.
  • 1679. Publication of the first volume of Francis Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae.
  • 1683. Death of John Owen.
  • 1685. Death of Charles II. He is succeeded by a Roman Catholic king, James II.
  • 1688. James II deposed by Parliament, and replaced by William of Orange, with regulation for Protestant succession and greatly enlarged powers of Parliament. Threat of Romanism forever ended in England.
  • 1689. Toleration Act of parliament grants freedom of worship to all Protestants except Unitarians. • Richard Simon (French Roman Catholic) publishes first treatise on textual criticism in Paris.
  • 1690. John Locke publishes his Essay concerning Human Understanding.
  • 1695. Abolition of censorship in England. • John Locke publishes The Reasonableness of Christianity as Delivered by the Scriptures.
  • 1697. Blasphemy Act of Parliament bars Unitarians, Deists and atheists from public office.
  • 1702. Publication in London of the first regular daily newspaper in English.
  • 1704. Publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Optics marks the point at which significant scholarly work begins to appear in English instead of Latin.
  • 1705. Humphrey Hody’s De Bibliorum textis originalibus (“On the Original Text of the Bible”) thoroughly examines the text of the ancient versions and the ancient canon of Scripture.
  • 1707. John Mill’s annotated Greek New Testament displays 30,000 various readings of the Greek manuscripts. • England and Scotland are united under the name of United Kingdom of Great Britain.
  • 1711. William Whiston’s Primitive Christianity Revived.
  • 1714. Death of Matthew Henry.
  • 1720. Richard Bentley publishes his Proposals for critical revision of the Greek New Testament
  • 1725. Johann Albrecht Bengel publishes his prospectus for a critical revision of the Greek New Testament
  • 1726. Jeremiah Jones publishes first English translation of several “apocryphal New Testament” books in his New and Full Method of Settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament.
  • 1729. American Presbyterians constitute first Synod in Philadelphia, requiring subscription of ministers to “essential and necessary” doctrines of the Westminster Standards.
  • 1730. Wettstein’s treatise on textual criticism.
  • 1734. Bengel’s revised Greek New Testament with notes. • Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.
  • 1739. John Wesley organizes the first Methodist Society, begins widespread preaching.
  • 1740. Frederick the Great becomes king of Prussia. German culture flourishes under his patronage. • George Whitefield draws large crowds in revivalistic preaching tour of American colonies.
  • 1741. Jonathan Edwards preaches Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. • George Frideric Handel composes The Messiah.
  • 1742. Bengel’s Greek textual commentary. • Height of “Great Awakening” revivalism in America.
  • 1743. First Bible printed in America at Germantown, Penn. (Luther Bible). • Revivalist James Davenport instigates public bonfire of Puritan books. End of “Great Awakening.”
  • 1745. William Whiston’s Primitive New Testament
  • 1750. Jonathan Edwards forced from his pastoral office for withholding Communion from the unsaved. • Death of Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • 1755. John Wesley’s New Testament revises the KJV with use of Bengel’s Greek New Testament • Samuel Johnson publishes his comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language.
  • 1769. “Oxford Standard Edition” of King James version published.
  • 1771. Francis Asbury arrives in America.
  • 1774. Griesbach’s critically revised Greek Testament.
  • 1775. J.S. Semler (the German “father of rationalism”) advocates re-examination of the Biblical canon in his Treatise on the Free Investigation of the Canon. • American Revolutionary War begins.
  • 1776. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
  • 1783. American Revolutionary War ends. • First daily newspaper in America begins in Philadelphia.
  • 1784. Ethan Allen’s Reason the Only Oracle of Man rejects the authority of the Bible. • John Wesley organizes Methodists as a separate denomination in the American colonies, prepares his Twenty-Five Articles of Religion for their constitution. Francis Asbury appointed as general superintendent.
  • 1785. New York’s first daily newspaper begins.
  • 1786. Woide publishes facsimile of Codex Alexandrinus.
  • 1788. Birch’s collation of Codex Vaticanus in the Gospels published.
  • 1789. Federal Constitution ratified by American states. • French Revolution begins.
  • 1790. America has eight daily newspapers.
  • 1791. Death of John Wesley.
  • 1793. Reign of Terror in France. • Eli Whitney invents the Cotton Gin.
  • 1795. Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason bitterly attacks the Bible and Christianity.
  • 1796. Griesbach’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1797. First Sunday newspaper in America begins in Baltimore.
  • 1798. Birch publishes collation of Codex Vaticanus for entire New Testament • Napoleon wages war in Egypt and Palestine.
  • 1800. Birth of John Nelson Darby, first theologian of modern Dispensationalism.
  • 1801. “Plan of Union” adopted by American Presbyterians and Congregationalists for cooperative ministry in frontier districts. • Barton Stone directs giant camp meeting revival at Cane Ridge in Kentucky, sparking “Second Great Awakening” in America.
  • 1802. Marsh publishes English translation of Michaelis’ Introduction (basic source of text-critical information for English scholars).
  • 1803. U.S. purchases Louisiana territory (Great Plains) from France, doubles in size.
  • 1804. Napoleon declared Emperor in France.
  • 1805. Griesbach’s last Greek New Testament • Unitarian control of Harvard College becomes evident with the appointment of Henry Ware to Chair of Divinity.
  • 1807. Slave trade abolished in England.
  • 1808. “Improved” Version of the New Testament published by Unitarians in England.
  • 1812. London has 18 Sunday newspapers.
  • 1813. English Parliament extends Toleration Act (cf. 1689) to cover Unitarians.
  • 1814. Richard Laurence (English Archbishop) publishes defense of the traditional Greek text against Griesbach.
  • 1815. Nolan publishes defense of traditional Greek text against Griesbach. • Napoleon defeated by British and German armies at Waterloo.
  • 1816. Death of Francis Asbury.
  • 1819. Political agitation leads to labor riots in Manchester, put down by troops. • Revivalist movement known as the Second Great Awakening underway in America. • William Channing publicly espouses Unitarianism in his “Baltimore Sermon.” • U.S. purchases Florida from Spain.
  • 1820. William Hone publishes in popular and inexpensive form a collection of early Christian writings under the title Apocryphal New Testament. • America has forty-two daily newspapers.
  • 1821. Richard Lawrence publishes English translation of The Book of Enoch. • Death of Thomas Scott.
  • 1824. Premiere of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in Vienna. • First steam-powered cylinder newpaper press in America.
  • 1825. American Unitarian Association formed at Boston.
  • 1826. Alexander Campbell publishes his edition of the New Testament. • British and Foreign Bible Society stops printing Apocrypha.
  • 1827. Charles Finney emerges as leading American revivalist.
  • 1828. Noah Webster publishes his American Dictionary of the English Language. • Liberal English journalists called “a fourth estate of the realm” by essayist Thomas Macaulay.
  • 1829. Catholic Emancipation Act removes legal disabilities of Romanists.
  • 1830. Scholz’s Greek New Testament published. • Revivalist movement known as the Second Great Awakening reaches its high point in America. • John Nelson Darby leads the Plymouth Brethren movement in Dublin. • Alexander Campbell breaks with American Baptists to found the independent “Restoration Movement” in America. • Joseph Smith publishes The Book of Mormon in New York.
  • 1831. Karl Lachmann publishes first thoroughly revised critical Greek New Testament
  • 1832. English Parliament adopts Reform Bill, extending voting rights to the middle class.
  • 1833. Abolition of slavery in the British Empire. • Revivalist Charles Finney conducts abolitionist rallies in America • American Antislavery Society formed by Christian abolitionists. • First “penney” newspaper begins in New York.
  • 1835. David Strauss, Leben Jesu (Atheistic critical treatment of the life of Jesus) published in Germany. • Charles Finney becomes professor of theology at newly-formed Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin becomes center of perfectionist teaching, feminism, and abolitionist movement.
  • 1836. Union Theological Seminary founded by liberal-Arminian “New School” Presbyterians.
  • 1837. Calvinist majority in General Assembly of PCUSA abrogates 1801 Plan of Union; New School Presbyteries organize separate church. • Victoria made Queen of England.
  • 1838. Romish “Oxford Movement” party in the Church of England is at its peak of influence about now. • Ralph Waldo Emerson espouses mystical transcendentalism in an address at Harvard Divinity School.
  • 1840. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit.
  • 1841. Tischendorf’s first Greek New Testament • Bagster’s English Hexapla. • Emerson’s Essays.
  • 1842. Lachmann’s 2nd Greek New Testament
  • 1843. Greek text of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus published by Tischendorf. • Phoebe Palmer’s The Way of Holiness.
  • 1844. Year of Christ’s return as predicted by William Miller, founder of the Adventist movement. • Methodists split over the slavery controversy in America.
  • 1845. Baptists split over the slavery controversy in America. Sothern Baptist Convention is formed. • Texas annexed by the U.S.
  • 1846. Potato famine in Ireland leads to emigration of nearly a million Irish Catholics to American cities. • Strauss’ atheistic Life of Jesus translated into English. • U.S. claim to Oregon country recognized by Great Britain.
  • 1848. Karl Marx publishes his Communist Manifesto in England. Revolutions break out in several nations of Europe. • Perfectionistic Oneida commune established by John Noyes. • Kate and Margaret Fox of New York cause public sensation with claims of ability to communicate with the dead: beginning of Spiritualist séance craze in America. • Southwestern territory ceded to the U.S. by Mexico.
  • 1849. Tischendorf’s 2nd Greek New Testament • Alford’s annotated Greek New Testament • Cholera epidemic kills 14,000 in London.
  • 1850. Antoinette Brown becomes first woman to complete theological course at Oberlin. • Ellen White begins to publicize “visions” fundamental to Seventh-Day Adventism.
  • 1851. Great Exhibition of science and industry held in London.
  • 1852. Greek text of Codex Claromontanus published by Tischendorf. • Publication of Roget’s Thesaurus.
  • 1853. Antoinette Brown becomes first woman formally ordained as a minister in the U.S. (in an independent Congregational church in New York).
  • 1854. Tregelles’ Account of the Printed Text. • Dogma of Immaculate Conception promulgated by the Roman Pope. • Cholera epidemic kills 11,000 in London.
  • 1855. Charles Spurgeon preaches to thousands in public halls of London. • Abolition of Stamp Tax in England removes financial burden from newspaper publishers; cheap and vulgar daily newspapers begin to flourish.
  • 1856. Tregelles’ Introduction to Textual Criticism. • Tischendorf’s 3rd Greek New Testament • Wordsworth’s Greek New Testament • Western Union Telegraph Co. formed • Slavery controversy rages in America. Southern scholar Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s Essay on Liberty and Slavery presents a Scriptural defense of slavery.
  • 1857. Tregelles’ Greek text of Gospels.
  • 1858. Brief “Prayer Meeting Revival” sweeps America. • Act for the admission of the Jews to the Parliament adopted in England.
  • 1859. Vercellone’s edition of Codex Vaticanus. • John Nelson Darby’s New Translation of New Testament with critical notes. • Darwin’s Origin of Species. • John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.
  • 1860. Liberal scholars in the Church of England “come out of the closet” in Essays and Reviews.
  • 1861. Scrivener’s Plain Introduction to Textual Criticism. • American Civil War begins. • President Lincoln attends Spiritualist séances in Georgetown, receives advice from the famous medium Nettie Colburn Maynard in the White House.
  • 1862. Greek text of Codex Sinaiticus published by Tischendorf. • Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible.
  • 1863. President Lincoln proclaims Thanksgiving Day holiday.
  • 1864. John Nelson Darby visits America for the first time, promotes fully developed Dispensationalism among Presbyterians in lecture tour. • “In God We Trust” first put on U.S. coins.
  • 1865. American Civil War ends. • President Lincoln assassinated.
  • 1866. Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable connects England and America. • Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution greatly increases Federal power.
  • 1867. Tischendorf’s edition of Codex Vaticanus. • Parliament adopts Second Reform Act, giving vote to the working class.
  • 1868. Vercellone’s facsimile edition of Codex Vaticanus.
  • 1869. Tischendorf’s 4th Greek New Testament • New and Old School American Presbyterians reunite. • American transcontinental railroad line completed • Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton organize the National Woman Suffrage Association.
  • 1870. English parliament asks bishops of the Church of England to form a committee for the revision of the King James version. Revision committee is formed, and work begins on the English Revised Version. • Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church sets forth dogma of Infallibility of the Pope. • German principalities unified under imperial crown of Prussia by Bismarck. • Manufacture of new wood-pulp paper greatly reduces cost of newspaper publishing.
  • 1871. J.N. Darby’s 2nd edition of the New Testament • Darwin’s Descent of Man.
  • 1872. Last portion of Tregelles’ Greek New Testament published. • Alford’s New Testament for English Readers.
  • 1875. Premillennialist evangelist Dwight Moody begins sensational preaching tour of American cities. • Foundation of annual Niagara Bible Conference. • Mary Baker’s Science and Health publicizes principles of Christian Science.
  • 1876. Charles Taze Russell begins publication of Zion’s Watchtower.
  • 1878. Rotherham’s English translation of Tregelles’ text. • Julius Wellhausen, History of Israel. • William Blackstone’s Jesus is Coming. • Ninth edition of theEncyclopaedia Britannica makes critical arguments and essays on the Bible generally available in English. • First commercial telephone exchange set up in Boston.
  • 1879. Robert Ingersoll attacks the Bible in popular lecture tours, publishes his Some Mistakes of Moses.
  • 1881. English Revised Version of the New Testament is published, immediately followed by the innovative Greek New Testament of Westcott and Hort.
  • 1882. Death of John Nelson Darby. • Charles Darwin buried in Westminster Abbey with full Christian rites.
  • 1883. Dean Burgon leads strong conservative attack on the English Revised Version and against all critical Greek texts. The new version is eventually refused by the British churches.
  • 1884. Parliament adopts Third Reform Act, granting vote to agricultural laborers. • Telephone service between New York and Boston.
  • 1885. English Revised Version of the Old Testament
  • 1886. Benjamin Warfield appointed Professor of Theology at Princeton.
  • 1888. British Baptist Union censures Charles Spurgeon for his campaign against liberal Baptists.
  • 1890. J.N. Darby’s English Old Testament • Great labor strikes throughout England. • National American Woman Suffrage Association formed.
  • 1893. Ecumenical and inter-faith “World’s Parliament of Religions” held in Chicago. • Dwight Moody preaches to huge crowds at Chicago World’s Fair.
  • 1895. American Anti-Saloon League founded in Washington, D.C. • Elizabeth Stanton’s Woman’s Bible repudiates Biblical teaching on woman’s place.
  • 1898. Eberhard Nestle’s Greek New Testament • Spanish-American War.
  • 1899. Death of Dwight Moody, foundation of Moody Bible Institute.
  • 1900. Final meeting of the Niagara Bible Conference.
  • 1901. American Standard Version.
  • 1903. First edition of Weymouth’s New Testament (modern English version).
  • 1904. Twentieth Century New Testament (modern English version). • Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
  • 1906. Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles inaugurates modern Pentecostal movement.
  • 1907. The foundation of Hollywood as a film-making center. • Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis articulates the “Social Gospel.”
  • 1908. Delegates from 33 denominations meeting in Philadelphia establish the Federal Council of Churches to promote Social Gospel. • Ford Motor Company introduces the “Model T.”
  • 1909. First edition of Scofield Reference Bible.
  • 1910. First volume of The Fundamentals is published to counter liberal theology in America. • General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopts “Five Point” doctrinal test (Biblical inerrancy, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and reality of miracles).
  • 1913. Von Soden’s Greek New Testament • Moffat New Testament (popular paraphrase).
  • 1914. British declare war on Germany. • Ford Motor Co. installs chain-driven assembly lines.
  • 1915. Telephone service between New York and San Francisco.
  • 1917. Improved edition of Scofield Reference Bible. • U.S. declares war on Germany. • Communist revolutionaries gain control of Russian Empire.
  • 1918. English Parliament adopts the “Representation of the People Act,” giving women the right to vote. • Treaty of Versailles humiliates Germany, ends First World War. League of Nations established.
  • 1919. Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits manufacture and sale of alcohol.
  • 1920. Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires all states to give voting rights to women. • First commercial radio station in U.S. (KDKA Pittsburgh) begins broadcasting.
  • 1922. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as deacons. • Harry Emerson Fosdick preaches against Second Coming of Christ, Biblical inerrancy, Virgin Birth. • Lincoln Memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C.
  • 1923. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. • Time magazine founded. • Radio becomes popular craze in America.
  • 1924. Methodist Episcopal Church approves ordination of women as local preachers.
  • 1925. Major newspapers ridicule conservative opposition to theory of evolution in coverage of Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. • Liberals of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. overturn the “Five Point” test adopted in 1910. • Canadian Mehodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists merge to form the United Church of Canada.
  • 1928. Moffat Bible published with Old Testament
  • 1929. Exodus of conservatives from Princeton; Westminster Theological Seminary founded in Philadelphia.
  • 1930. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as elders • First television program with sound broadcast by the BBC.
  • 1932. General Association of Regular Baptist Churches formed by fundamentalists leaving the Northern Baptist Convention.
  • 1933. Eighteenth Amendment (prohibiting alcohol) repealed.
  • 1935. Moffat Bible revised.
  • 1936. Orthodox Presbyterian Church founded by conservatives leaving the PCUSA. • United Church of Canada (uniting Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists) approves ordination of women.
  • 1937. Charles Fuller begins weekly nation-wide radio broadcasts of “Old Fashioned Gospel Hour.”
  • 1939. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism. • Britain declares war on Germany.
  • 1940. Lamsa translation of Peshitta New Testament
  • 1941. U.S. declares war on Japan after attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • 1942. National Association of Evangelicals formed by anti-fundamentalist “neo-evangelicals” in St. Louis, to promote conservative Christian involvement in public affairs.
  • 1943. Pope Pius XII issues encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, giving Roman Catholic Bible translators permission to base their translations on the Greek and Hebrew texts instead of the Latin Vulgate.
  • 1944. U.S. Army lands at Normandy. • Youth for Christ founded by neo-evangelicals in Chicago.
  • 1945. U.S. Air Force destroys 2 Japanese cities with atomic bombs. End of 2nd World War.
  • 1946. Revised Standard version of the New Testament published with great fanfare.
  • 1947. Dead Sea Scrolls (dated c. 150 B.C. to A.D. 75) discovered in Qumran. • Conservative Baptist Association founded by conservatives leaving the Northern Baptist Convention. • Fuller Theological Seminary founded by neo-evangelicals in Pasadena.
  • 1948. Communist agents discovered in U.S. State Department. “Red Scare” begins. • World Council of Churches constituted in Amsterdam.
  • 1949. Billy Graham’s evangelistic campaign in Los Angeles attracts national attention.
  • 1950. National Council of Churches constituted in Cleveland. • Billy Graham begins television broadcasts.
  • 1952. Revised Standard version of the Old Testament published by National Council of Churches. The version is severely denounced by conservatives. • One third of all American homes have television. • Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.
  • 1954. Methodist Episcopal Church approves full denominational ordination of women. • U.S. Supreme Court mandates racial integration of public schools. Beginning of “Civil Rights Movement.”
  • 1955. United Bible Societies constituted by union of Bible societies of England, Scotland, America, Germany and the Netherlands. Committee appointed to produce a Greek New Testament • Robert Schuller opens drive-in theater church in Orange County, California.
  • 1956. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. approves ordination of women as ministers. • Christianity Today founded by neo-evangelical writers.
  • 1957. Bertrand Russel’s Why I am not a Christian. • United Church of Christ formed by association of various Reformed churches.
  • 1958. Phillips New Testament (paraphrase) • Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology.
  • 1959. Revised Standard version New Testament slightly revised.
  • 1960. Revised Standard Version adopted by most “mainline” congregations. • 80% of American homes have television.
  • 1961. New English Bible New Testament (British)
  • 1962. New American Standard Bible New Testament
  • 1963. Blacks riot in Birmingham, Alabama. • President Kennedy assassinated.
  • 1964. Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (southern) approves ordination of women as ministers. • Fuller Thelogical Seminary opens its Graduate School of Psychology. • Civil Rights Act passed by U.S. Congress.
  • 1965. Catholic edition of Revised Standard Version.
  • 1966. United Bible Societies’ first Greek New Testament • Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic). • “Good News for Modern Man” New Testament published by the American Bible Society.
  • 1967. New American Standard Bible Old Testament • Living Bible New Testament (paraphrase). • Blacks riot in Detroit.
  • 1968. United Bible Societies’ 2nd Greek New Testament • Blacks and college students riot in several U.S. cities. • Martin Luther King assassinated.
  • 1969. Homosexuals in New York City riot against enforcement of sodomy laws. • American astronauts land on the Moon.
  • 1970. New American Bible (Roman Catholic). • New English Bible Old Testament (British) • Lutheran Church in America approves ordination of women. • Robert Schuller begins weekly “Hour of Power” television broadcast.
  • 1971. 2nd ed. of Revised Standard Version.
  • 1972. Neo-evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary officially renounces doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. • U.S. Supreme Court rules that all existing death penalty statutes are unconstitutional.
  • 1973. Neo-evangelical scholars publish the New International Version New Testament • Chicago Declaration of Social Concern expresses neo-evangelical support for liberal political agenda. • U.S. Supreme Court legalizes abortion nationwide. • Presbyterian Church in America founded by conservatives leaving the PCUS. • Executive Council of the United Church of Christ recommends ordination of homosexuals.
  • 1975. United Bible Societies’ 3rd Greek New Testament • Bill Hybels organizes Willow Creek Community Church in a suburban movie theater near Chicago.
  • 1976. Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) published by the American Bible Society. • Episcopal Church approves ordination of women as priests. • Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible exposes widespead liberalism among neo-evangelicals. • Jimmy Carter elected U.S. President.
  • 1978. Neo-evangelical scholars publish the New International Version Old Testament. • Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
  • 1979. New King James Version New Testament • American Lutheran Church approves ordination of women. • Jerry Falwell founds “Moral Majority” political lobby to promote Reagan election campaign.
  • 1980. Ronald Reagan elected U.S. President.
  • 1982. Hodges and Farstad “Majority Text” Greek New Testament • New King James Version Old Testament • Robert Schuller’s Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.
  • 1983. General Synod of the United Church of Christ recommends ordination of homosexuals. • AIDS epidemic begins.
  • 1985. New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic).
  • 1987. Pentecostal television preacher Oral Roberts says that God had threatened to kill him if supporters did not send him 8 million dollars immediately. • Pentecostal television preacher Jim Bakker disgraced in revelations of vice and fraud. • Pentecostal television preacher Pat Robertson enters race for U.S. Presidency.
  • 1988. Pentecostal television preacher Jimmy Swaggart disgraced in revelations of vice.
  • 1989. Revised English Bible (British).
  • 1990. New Revised Standard Version.
  • 1992. Bill Clinton elected U.S. President.
  • 1993. “Re-Imagining” conference of female mainline ministers in Minneapolis features worship of pagan fertility goddess. • Federal agents attack Adventist sect in Waco.
  • 1995. Holy laughter breaks out at Pentecostal Vineyard Christian Fellowship church in Toronto. • Contemporary English Version.
  • 1996. NIV Inclusive Language Edition published in Great Britain. • New Living Translation.
  • 2000. George W. Bush elected U.S. President.
  • 2001. Holman Christian Standard Bible New Testament. • English Standard Version • World Trade Center towers in New York destroyed by fanatical Mohammedans.
  • 2002. Today’s New International Version New Testament.
  • 2008. Barack H. Obama becomes first non-white man to be elected President of the United States.

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Timeline of Bible translations

This timeline only covers some Greek, Latin, and English translations. And there’s really only a handful of the available English translations. Still it’s fascinating.

[UPDATE: My friend Kim says this timeline is incorrect. Some of the connections are wrong and some critical pieces are missing. Even though there should be nothing wrong with the diagram since I found it on the Internet (and the Internet never lies) I trust Kim’s judgement.]

Click (or click twice) to enlarge:

I would love to read Latin well enough to read St. Jerome’s translation.

I found this timeline here.

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Filed under Bible Study, Catholic Church, Church History, Interpretation, Language, Protestantism, The Early Church, Translation

Considering Orthodoxy & Tradition (Part 3)

One of my greatest fears is that I would give up some of my freedom for something that appears worthy of that sacrifice, only to then discover I made a huge mistake. If that freedom is directly related to my ability to decide for myself what is true, then I will have sacrificed my personal integrity and my conscience. I confess that I fear the historical Christian idea that Scripture, and what it means (interpretation), should be studied and understood within an already established Tradition. Is this merely my Protestant indoctrination kicking in? Could it be that I do not understand what it means for Scripture to be part of Tradition? Or is it my pride and even some arrogance that fuels my fear? In this post I want to approach hesitatingly the Orthodox perspective on Scripture, interpreting Scripture, and how all that fits into the Orthodox idea of Tradition. Necessarily, this will be a brief exploration–the topic is just too monumental for my mind and too huge for a blog post. Plus, in order to get at the Orthodox perspective I must examine the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura–an examination that will also be too brief. As I said in my previous post, I am profoundly ignorant of Orthodoxy. I am an outsider looking in, trying to be even-handed in my assessment, but still essentially in water far deeper than my abilities or my comfort.

The Christian Church is a Scriptural Church: Orthodoxy believes this just as firmly, if not more firmly, than Protestantism. The Bible is the supreme expression of God’s revelation to the human race, and Christians must always be ‘People of the Book’. But if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the People; it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should not separate Scripture and Tradition). It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.199)

[A]s an Orthodox clergyman, I hold the position that the Orthodox Christian faith is uniquely true. I would not be Orthodox if I did not believe it to be the true faith revealed by God in His Son Jesus Christ. If I encounter a teaching of the Orthodox faith that makes no sense to me or strikes me as incorrect, then my conclusion should be that it is I who need to be reformed, not the Orthodox Church. This is in fact the classical view of all traditional religions, as opposed to the modern consumer-style understanding of faith popular in our culture; that each person is the arbiter of what is true and false, and that he is free to pick whatever bits of “spirituality” and belief he likes from a sort of religious buffet. (Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, p. 7)

Are we to check our minds at the door of the Church? This is the classic fear of the sola scriptura Christian when confronting the claims of Tradition. The issue is not so much about doctrine as about principle. Though a particular doctrine may be held by both Orthodoxy and by the sola scriptura purist, it is the so-called purist who claims the so-called high ground in the Scripture vs. Tradition debate. The purist will claim that her own, personal arrival at that doctrine was not unduly influenced by outside sources, was grasped with her God-given rationality, and that she came to true belief rather than merely parroting the doctrine as is typically the case (it is argued) with the traditionalist who is only finding comfort within a socially circumscribed religious experience rather than exhibiting true understanding.

I do not hold as tightly to the sola scriptura position as I once did, but much of it still seems true, at least it still holds a powerful influence on me. I do not want to define sola scriptura in this post, you can read about it yourself here. The basic point I want to make is that this doctrine I grew up with taught me that all I really needed to know, and that what I was supposed to believe, and how I was to behave as a Christian, was found in the Bible, and that all I needed to do was open its pages and read it–as long as I let the Spirit of God guide me, and as long as I didn’t stray from what my church said the Bible said.

When it comes to Scripture and Tradition there is really just one two-part question: Do I read Scripture in light of Tradition, letting Tradition guide me and correct me in my understanding; or do I read Scripture fundamentally apart from Tradition, letting my own personal understanding of Scripture critique and even reject Tradition? I must say that at this point I am tending towards the Orthodox perspective that sees Scripture as being a part of Tradition, that Scripture should be interpreted within Tradition (I am not sure there really, honestly is any other way), and that to do otherwise is to open the flood gates (which have already been burst wide open for several centuries) to all sorts of trouble. On the other hand, I am not so terribly concerned with “all sorts of trouble” because I know that God is good and will not abandon His Church.

If we are not to interpret Scripture within Tradition how, then, are we to do it? From a sola scripturist we get this:

Theology, therefore, always faces the danger of elevating the theologian’s own conception of human need to a position of equal authority to, or even greater authority than, the Scriptures. But through prayer and meditation on God’s Word, that danger can be avoided. (John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 19)

There are two problems with this position. The first is that the fear–that the Bible student will elevate human need above Scripture–is already, by definition, inherent within sola scriptura. This is not necessarily a bad thing, the Scriptures are given to us for us. If we are interested in the Truth we are interested in it for ourselves, for our salvation. If we seek glory, if we search for the pearl of great price, we seek and search for ourselves.  If, to safeguard the Truth, we place Scripture above Tradition, right or wrong, it is because we have elevated our human need for Truth and believe the Scriptures are the key to fulfilling that need. The problem, and what I believe Frame is getting at, is that we would let our human need cloud our judgement and that we would twist Scripture to say whatever we want it to say; that we would let lesser human needs, rather than our need for God and salvation, be our standard. In this case it is just as easy, probably much easier actually, to argue in favor of Tradition as an antidote as it is to argue for sola scriptura. The second problem is the emphasis on prayer and meditation on God’s Word as the way to keep the Scriptures in their proper order. This view is akin to giving the fox the keys to the hen-house. There has never been a lack of prayer and meditation on God’s Word at the core of virtually every denominational split, every contrary doctrine, every heresy, and just about every Christian cult. You will find the Baptist preacher, the Episcopalian priest, and the Catholic bishop all fervently praying and deeply meditating on God’s Word, and they do not agree with each other as to what the Bible means in many places. In short, though prayer and meditation are good and necessary things, this is not the way to avoid the danger as Frame argues.

Also notice the emphasis placed on the personal rather than the corporate. It cannot be emphasized enough that the tendency in modern American Christianity to favor the “knowing self” over, and sometimes against, the “believing community” is emblematic of Protestant Gnosticism, which is to say modern North American Protestantism. I recognize this is a grand claim, and I am not prepared to defend it here in this post, but my larger point is to highlight the fact that we all inhabit and embody the traditions we have grown up with, have been trained in and, at some level at least, find comfort in. These traditions include those of Christianity, but also of philosophy, of the socio-political, of the economic (including class), of family, and much more. And it can be argued that we are all children of the Enlightenment Project and that its tenets, conceits, goals, and assumptions are as much embodied in our modern forms of Christian worship, church structures, understanding of knowledge, and even how we approach the Tradition/Scripture debate, as any other influence we might claim. A Baptist apologist is as deeply within a tradition–guiding and correcting his Bible study–as any Eastern Orthodox. Remember, there are few things more indicative and more telling of one’s ignorance of oneself as to claim, “I only believe what the Bible says.”

The Bible requires interpretation. Sola scriptura is based on the claim that human rationality is sufficient to understanding the Bible, and that the Bible is understandable. Both of these claims are profoundly true. You and I can read and understand the Bible using our (common to all humanity) God-given rationality and skills of comprehension. Still, the history of Christianity is full of highly talented biblical exegetes utilizing their God-given rationality and skills of comprehension, along with prayer, meditation, and apparent submission to the Holy Spirit, who have come to fundamentally, and sometimes radically divergent understandings of Holy Scripture. While we may appreciate some of the characteristics of sola scriptura we must realize that it is not a sufficient doctrine to either ensure right understanding or to combat heresy. The evidence may, in fact, show otherwise.

But this post is not so much against sola scriptura as it is an exploration of the Orthodox perspective on Holy Scripture and Tradition. In fact, all that above is really just my way of softening my heart a bit to be more open to the idea of Tradition and of seeing that Scripture might be best understood within Tradition. So then, what does the Orthodox Church understand regarding the study of the Bible?

Since our reasoning brain is a gift from God, there is undoubtedly a legitimate place for scholarly research into Biblical origins. But, while we are not to reject this research wholesale, we cannot as Orthodox accept it in its entirety. Always we need to keep in view that the Bible is not just a collection historical documents, but it is the book of the Church, containing God’s word. And so we do not read the Bible as isolated individuals, interpreting it solely by the light of our private understanding, or in terms of current theories about source, form or redaction criticism. We read it as members of the Church, in communion with all the other members throughout the ages. The final criterion for our interpretation of Scripture is the mind of the Church. And this means keeping constantly in view how the meaning of Scripture is explained and applied in Holy Tradition: that is to say, how the Bible is understood by the Fathers and the saints, and how it is used in liturgical worship. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 110)

From this quote we see that the Orthodox Church’s understanding is normative rather than analytical. The Holy Scripture should be analyzed, scrutinized, and pondered, but within Tradition. First we notice is that the Orthodox view refuses to accept the all-too-common assumption that Tradition is absent from the Christian’s Bible study. Second, it unabashedly claims the Orthodox Tradition. The issue is not Tradition or no Tradition, rather it is which tradition, a question that bypasses sola scriptura and 16th century humanism to bigger questions of God and His Church. It is not the Bible and our rationality alone that guides our study, rather it is the history of the Church, which is a flawed history certainly, but also a history of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of men. Thus, Bible study is as much an activity of trust–trust in God, trust that Christ has never abandoned His Church, trusting the Holy Spirit has always been active in the Church–as it is an activity of reading and comprehension. Thus the question is not really a Scripture versus Tradition question, rather it is one of Scripture plus which tradition. While the sola scripturist may wish to downplay the role of tradition in his understanding of scripture, the Orthodox refuses such denials while elevating together  Scripture, human rationality, and the Orthodox Tradition.

There is so much more that can be said and I am not qualified to do so. My apologies for such a brief description of the Orthodox view, and for leaving open so many unanswered questions. For a few more details, the list below is from The Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church:

On Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture.

16. How is divine revelation spread among men and preserved in the true Church?

By two channels–holy tradition and holy Scripture.

17. What is meant by the name holy tradition?

By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.

18. Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?

All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Tim. iii. 15.

St. Irenæus writes thus:

We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life. (Adv. Hæres. lib. iii. c. 4.)

19. What is that which you call holy Scripture?

Certain books written by the Spirit of God through men sanctified by God, called Prophets and Apostles. These books are commonly termed the Bible.

20. What does the word Bible mean?

It is Greek, and means the books. The name signifies that the sacred books deserve attention before all others.

21. Which is the more ancient, holy tradition or holy Scripture?

The most ancient and original instrument for spreading divine revelation is holy tradition. From Adam to Moses there were no sacred books. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself delivered his divine doctrine and ordinances to his Disciples by word and example, but not by writing. The same method was followed by the Apostles also at first, when they spread abroad the faith and established the Church of Christ. The necessity of tradition is further evident from this, that books can be available only to a small part of mankind, but tradition to all.

22. Why, then, was holy Scripture given?

To this end, that divine revelation might be preserved more exactly and unchangeably. In holy Scripture we read the words of the Prophets and Apostles precisely as if we were living with them and listening to them, although the latest of the sacred books were written a thousand and some hundred years before our time.

23. Must we follow holy tradition, even when we possess holy Scripture?

We must follow that tradition which agrees with the divine revelation and with holy Scripture, as is taught us by holy Scripture itself. The Apostle Paul writes: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thess. ii. 15.

24. Why is tradition necessary even now?

As a guide to the right understanding of holy Scripture, for the right ministration of the sacraments, and the preservation of sacred rites and ceremonies in the purity of their original institution.

St. Basil the Great says of this as follows:

Of the doctrines and injunctions kept by the Church, some we have from written instruction. but some we have received from, apostolical tradition, by succession in private. Both the former and the latter have one and the same force for piety, and this will be contradicted by no one who has ever so little knowledge in the ordinances of the Church; for were we to dare to reject unwritten customs, as if they had no great importance, we should insensibly mutilate the Gospel, even in the most essential points, or, rather, for the teaching of the Apostles leave but an empty name. For instance, let us mention before all else the very first and commonest act of Christians, that they who trust in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the sign of the cross–who hath taught this by writing? To turn to the east in prayer–what Scripture have we for this? The words of invocation in the change of the Eucharistic bread and of the Cup of blessing–by which of the Saints have they been left us in writing? for we are not content with those words which the Apostle or the Gospel records, but both before them and after them, we pronounce others also, which we hold to be of great force for the sacrament, though we have received them from unwritten teaching. By what Scripture is it, in like manner, that we bless the water of baptism, the oil of unction, and the person himself who is baptized? Is it not by a silent and secret tradition? What more? The very practice itself of anointing with oil–what written word have we for it? Whence is the rule of trine immersion? and the rest of the ceremonies at baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels?–from what Scripture are they taken? Are they not all from this unpublished and private teaching, which our Fathers kept under a reserve inaccessible to curiosity and profane disquisition, having been taught as a first principle to guard by silence the sanctity of the mysteries? for how were it fit to publish in writing the doctrine of those things, on which the unbaptized may not so much as look? (Can. xcvii. De Spir. Sanct. c. xxvii.)

A tentative conclusion

I have mentioned in previous posts that the tradition in which I grew up (Protestant, Reformed, Baptist, etc.) knew nothing, and taught me nothing, of the early Church, of Orthodoxy, or of the Church Fathers. I think there are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is a prevalent insecurity masquerading as emphatic confidence. Regardless, it is a big hole that is largely unrecognized and even more rarely addressed. Only recently, and after decades of ignorance, and to my surprise, I have only just begun to learn of the Orthodox Church.

I have concerns (as you can tell) about the doctrine of sola scriptura (a doctrine which, though I know from my training, I may still have misrepresented). Also, the position of the Orthodox Church seems more biblical to me, but I still am conflicted. Orthodoxy is still foreign to me. Should I trust it? What would it mean for me if I was to become Orthodox? What would I gain, what would I be giving up? Would I be leaving my mind at the door? Would I be giving up some of my freedom for something that appears worthy of that sacrifice, only to then discover I made a huge mistake? Although I express a number of opinions in this post I really am unsettled on the issue. I pray for eyes to see.

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A poem on reading the Gospels in Greek

Of my favorite poets Czesław Miłosz is in my top five (others are Yeats, Wordsworth, Heaney, and the fifth fluctuates I suppose).

Readings
by Czesław Miłosz
From The Collected Poems 1931-1987 (p. 234)

You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There were plenty of persons whom the text calls
Daimonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, the bedeviled (as for “the possessed”
It’s no more that the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print and screens,
Rarely engaging in arts and literature.
But the Gospel parable remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which, exasperated by such a sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.

Berkeley, 1969
Lech Wałęsa, Czesław Miłosz and O. Mieczysław Albert Krąpiec circa 1981

Ironically, the poem above is about reading the Bible in its original, untranslated purity, yet the poem was written in Polish and then translated into English. Translations of poems suffer much of the same problems as do translations of scripture, though I think this translation reads beautifully.

On translating his poems from Polish into English (from the Preface):

The existence of this body of poetry in a language different from the one in which it was written is for me the occasion of constant wonder. It means many hours throughout the years spent over the texts with my co-translators, and is a reminder of their devotion and friendship.
[…]
My gratitude to that team is not only for the amount of time they spent on my verse, but in the first place for their active interest, their warmth, and a feeling that they gave me of artistic and intellectual affinity. Not the least important was our common sense of humor, for toiling we often laughed.

Can we not say, then, that to translate is to befriend the author? And that, by extension, all translations are reflections on friendship and all the vagaries that friendship is subject to?

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>traduttore, traditore

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“translator, traitor”

William Tyndale dying for a translation

Bill Mounce was on the committee that created the English Standard Version Bible, one of many English translations of the Hebrew/Greek Bible. Below is his lecture to his Greek class on the translating process and translations. It is a fascinating talk about bibles and what we take for granted and what we often don’t realize goes into creating a translation.
If anything comes through, for me at least, is how important it is to know Greek rather than rely on others’ translations. Still, I am appreciative of the translations I have.

Umberto Eco wrote some interesting thoughts on the process of translation in his article, A Rose by Any Other Name.

Ninety percent (I believe) of War And Peace’s readers have read the book in translation and yet if you set a Chinese, an Englishman, and an Italian to discussing War And Peace, not only will all agree that Prince Andrej dies, but, despite many interesting and differing nuances of meaning, all will be prepared to agree on the recognition of certain moral principles expressed by Tolstoy. I am sure the various interpretations would not exactly coincide, but neither would the interpretations that three English-speaking readers might provide of the same Wordsworth poem.

~ Umberto Eco, from A Rose by Any Other Name

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>"…do instinctively the things of the Law…"

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Here are some thoughts I have regarding the Gentiles who do instinctively the things of the law.

From Jack Crabtree’s translation of Romans, Portion One/Section 1/Part 5/paragraph #14:

3) It is not the hearers of the divine commandments who are dikaios before God; rather, it is the doers of the divine commandments who will be deemed dikaios. 4) Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the Covenant by natural birthright, do the things required by that Covenant—even though these people do not possess the Covenant for themselves—such things are a covenant. 5) Such people demonstrate the deed required by that covenant written on their hearts[.] (See Romans 2:13-15 in your “real” Bible.)

 These real (or hypothetical) Gentiles are not “God fearers” in the sense that they are merely not familiar with the Judaic law or the particulars of the various covenants. These are true pagans or non-religious individuals who know absolutely nothing of the God of Abraham and Moses. When they “do the things required by that covenant” this is not that they have figured out somehow (intuitively?) what the covenant is and then began keeping a list of commandments. From the outside there may be nothing about these Gentiles that would make them appear as devout Jews.* What this implies is that the hearts of these Gentiles have come to a place whereby (one could imagine) they might stumble upon the Sermon on the Mount, for example, and say, “Yes! That’s true. I long for that.” It follows, then, that when Paul here is arguing to “do the things required by that Covenant” he is thinking not of dietary laws or keeping the Sabbath. Neither is he thinking of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I imagine Paul has in mind the list we call the beatitudes – being poor in spirit, being a peacemaker, being someone who thirsts after righteousness, etc. To be poor in spirit, to be a peacemaker, to thirst after righteousness, is to do the things required by the covenant.

What does this mean for us? I think we need to constantly examine our tendencies to create lists of particulars by which we judge others and ourselves. Just like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we too have our rules, our mental covenants that we live by. We judge our spirituality, our faith, our righteousness by these lists, and each of us always come out better in our own minds than do anyone else to whom we apply the standard. But we know this, we hear this on Sunday. The frightening reality is that deep down we know that to truly live as the beatitudes call us would produce people who might not look much like us or the other Christians around us. What is more frightening, we cannot become the people who live the beatitudes by choice. The beatitudes are thrust upon people, mark people, at times against their will.

* I think we have to assume, as well, that there may be nothing about these Gentiles that would make them appear as “devout Christians” either.

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>Translation/Interpretation mumblings

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The most important axiom to keep in mind when doing Bible study is this: One tends to only see what one is expecting to see. Translation and interpretation is about learning to see what is actually there in spite of one’s expectations.

Consider this famous optical illusion:



One will tend to see either a young woman or an old woman until the image is explained. Once it is explained then one laughs at how easy it was to miss the dual image. It can be all too easy to believe one knows exactly what one sees and move on. It took me years to unlearn many “obvious” interpretations. I had to set the Bible down for a while – really a few years – before I was able to come back to it with fresh eyes. I recognize this process also flies in the face of what Christian culture tells me.

“Biblical translation is more like an art rather than a mechanical process.”

Translations play a part as well. We tend to study translations of original (or near original) texts. Translations can be quite bad, and good translations can still mislead. Anyone who has spent time with languages other than their native tongue know this. Think of the instructions below translated from Chinese into English. It is important to have some idea of where one is going.


Even if the translation is fine, or one is studying in the original language anyway, it can still be tricky. Consider to following statement:

“You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor.” 

What does this mean? What should the one managing the nuclear reactor do? Might it be important to get the interpretation correct? But how is one to know? In biblical studies that is a huge question. Many sentences in Greek are not much different than the above quote. Translators often remove such ambiguity because the translators made a decision based on their pre-understanding. That does not mean they were correct. And pastors and Bible teachers who thrive on the performance rather than substance shortchange their congregations by missing such interpretive conundrums, teaching with a practiced conviction that their understanding is without substantial challenge.

For many Christians, doing Bible study is more about letting the spirit of God teach them directly through the words. This is often just a religiously encourage method of disguising one’s intuition as the voice of God. Regardless, imagining that you “get it” is not the same thing as actually getting it. Intuition is rational and takes years of hard work to develop. Having an “intuitive flash” does not mean one has got it right, but that flash is often part of the process of our search for understanding. Tacit knowledge is critical. Regardless, in our pursuit of understanding we need to have humility. And we must remember: One tends to only see what one is expecting to see.

Context is huge for meaning. So is the intent of the author. For example: JFK’s famous line “Ich bin ein Berliner” can mean both “I’m a Berlin-person,” or “I’m a jelly donut,” though I believe most German people instantly knew he meant “Berlin-person.” The socio-historical (not to mention geographical) context meant a lot in understanding JFK’s intent. We often have to make a case for intent, but an author’s intent is frequently difficult to discern. It is important to keep in mind that authorial intent has more to do with making a case for what the text means from the test itself rather than trying to read the author’s mind, which we cannot do. It is also an art and not a mechanical process.

These thoughts are very simple I know. But I think there is something basic and profound in them as well. What is unfortunate, however, is that so much of Bible teaching that I hear reminds me of the Benny Hill skit when a character says, “Look, what’s that in the road? A head?” and the director says “Cut! It’s suppose to be ‘What’s that in the road ahead?'”

Postscript: I recognize that in this day of pomo-evangelical, deconstructive theology my thoughts above are possibly simplistic. But I am convinced that the average Christian cares little for the more intellectual debates and just wants to live as a good Christian (or at least look like one). I believe the general outline I have given is radical enough that if followed would shake up much of popular Christianity as it stands.

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