Why Are There So Many English Bible Translations?

“Why are there so many English Bible translations?”

I get asked that from time to time.  The answer? So we can read the Bible. (The truth is, since the autographs (originals) of the Bible do not exist, every single Bible that’s ever been printed is, by definition, a translation.)

But, it may be surprising that getting a Bible in the language we understand came at great cost.  John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were merely two of the pioneers of Bible translation burned at the stake for the “crime” of translating the Bible into the language of the common people.   One historian describes Tyndale’s final moments:

On Friday, October 6, 1536, after local officials took their seats, Tyndale was brought to the cross in the middle of the town square and given a chance to recant. That refused, he was given a moment to pray. English historian John Foxe said he cried out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

Why would the religious leadership consider the translation of the Bible from Latin into English, German, or other languages a crime worthy of death?  Because, as Wycliffe, Tyndale, and other martyrs rightly believed, all Christians should be able to learn the Christian faith for themselves.  This conviction necessitated the Scriptures needing to be translated into languages the people understood.  However, this was a courageous, nay dangerous, endeavor.  For when the masses were able to read the Bible for themselves, the corrupt church leadership of the day would no longer be able to manipulate the people by manipulating the scriptures.

The brave Wycliffe, hailed as the morning star of the Reformation, went so far as to call out the church leadership publicly,

England belongs to no pope. The pope is but a man, subject to sin, but Christ is the Lord of Lords and this kingdom is to be held directly and solely of Christ alone.

Wycliffe would also say to church leadership,

“If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the scriptures than you do.”

This did not sit well with the power-hungry pastors of days.

The blood of many men paved the way for us to have the Bible translated into languages people can understand.

I have a number of books in my library describing how we got our English Bible. I am deeply moved every time I refer to them.  May we never take the scriptures we hold in our hand for granted.

Click here to read a solid article on the value of multiple English translations. 

Sola Scriptura, Nick