Bible Translation Through the Centuries

You’ll remember that Wycliffe is often referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation predating Martin Luther and his commitment to “sola scriptura.” Wycliffe’s commitment to a readable and understandable Bible for English peasant was, as you know, not well received by the Church which had mandated the Latin Vulgate for use in worship.

When Wycliffe was translating (from the flawed Vulgate translation) English was a throwaway language. French and Latin were the main languages of England. Even though a flawed translation, it was revolutionary and Wycliffe was at the forefront of a movement, not a singular translation. He recognized that Christianity was always a translated religion. God did not intend for us to have to learn Hebrew or Greek to know and experience him.

Here’s an example of this translation:

Wycliffe Bible (WYC) 1390
12 Have thou mind on thy Creator[a] in the days of thy youth, before that the time of thy torment come, and the years nigh, of which thou shalt say, Those please not me.
2 Before that the sun be (made) dark, and the light, and stars, and the moon; and the clouds turn again after rain.
3 When the keepers of the house shall be moved, and strongest men shall tremble; and grinders shall be idle, when the number shall be made less, and seers by the holes shall wax dark;
4 and shall close the doors in the street in the lowness of voice of a grinder; and they shall rise at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of song shall wax deaf.
5 And high things shall dread, and shall be afeared in the way and an almond tree shall flower, a locust shall be made fat, and capers shall be destroyed; for a man shall go into the house of his everlastingness, and wailers shall go about in the street,
6 before that a silveren rope be broken, and a golden lace run against, and a water pot be all-broken on the well, and a wheel be broken together on the cistern;
7 and dust turn again into his earth, whereof it was, and the spirit turn again to God, that gave it.
To our ear and mind, completely nonsensical but was, at the time, his best effort at idiomatic translation for the common people who he believed deserved to hear the Gospel in common, everyday language that wasn’t filtered by the Church.

King James, 300 years later, brought scholars together to produce a more accurate, understandable and readable translation:

Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)1646
12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
2 while the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 and the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 also when they shall be afraid of that which ishigh, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
6 or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Still not the language of today so it was revised 300 years later:

Revised Standard Version (RSV) 1946
12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain;
3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows are dimmed,
4 and the doors on the street are shut; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low;
5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets;
6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,
7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Translation theory evolved over time so that dynamic translation, pioneered by modern-day translators (Eugene Nida) and still used today, has become the norm for all of translation, including English.

“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly. Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint. Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral. Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭12:1-7 NLT

That nails it for us, at least temporarily, giving room for the evolution of English and future idiomatic translations that will ultimately be needed.

Pretty fascinating and this article reminds us that no one owns Christianity. Christ transcends all barriers: geography, cultural, linguistic, political and economic.

About Bob Creson

Husband, father, grandfather. Retired past President/CEO Wycliffe Bible Translators USA. Collaborating with inspired leaders who lead exceptional organizations to achieve exceptional results
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