Here is a specimen of the language in which the Scriptures were read in the eighth and ninth centuries, during the time of the venerable Bede, King Alfred, St. Cuthbert, and probably for a considerable time after the Norman Conquest of England. It is from John's Gospel, and is scarcely readable in the 19th century. By comparing the specimens of early English, the gradual growth of the language into its present form may be more easily traced: —
"On fruman waes Word and thaet Word waes mid Gode, and Gode waes thaet Word. Thaet waes on fruman mid Gode. Ealle thing waren geworhte thurh hyne; and nan thing waes geworht buttan him. Thaet waes lif the on him geworht waes, and thaet lif waes manna leoht. And thaet leoht lyht on thystrum; and thystro thaet ne genamon. Man waes fram Gode asend, thaes nama waes Johannes. Thaes com to gewitnesse, thaet he gewitnesse cythde be tham Leohte, thaet ealle men thurh hyne gelyfdon. Nees he Leoht, ac thaet he gewitnesse forth-baere be tham Leohte. Soth Leoht waes, thaet onlyht aelcne cumendne man on thysne mid-dan-eard. He waes on middan-earde, and middan-eard waes geworht thurh hine, and middan-eard hine ne gecneow."
The English of Wycliffe, 14th century, is more easily read than that just given we transcribe a passage from Luke's Gospel in the Wycliffe translation:
"In the dayes of Eroude Kyng of Judee ther was a prest Zacarye by name: of the sort of Abia, and his wyfe was of the doughtris of Aaron: and hir name was Elizabeth: An bothe weren juste bifore God: goynge in alle the maundementis and justifyingis of the Lord withouten playnt. And thei hadden no child for Elizabeth was bareyn and bothe weren of greet age in her dayes. And it befel that whenne Zacarye schould do the office of presthod in the ordir of his course to fore God. Aftir the custom of the presthod he went forth by lot and entride into the temple to encensen.
"And al the multitude of the puple was without forth and preyede in the our of encensying. And an aungel of the Lord apperide to him and stood on the right half of the auter of encense. And Zacharye seynge was afrayed and drede fel upon him. And the aungel sayde to him, Zacarye drede thou not: for thy preier is herd and Elizabeth thi wife schal bere to thee a sone and his name schal be clepid Jon.
"And joye and gladyng schal be to thee and manye schulen have joye in his natyvyte."
Here is another specimen of early English, from a MS. Bible, about 1350 — thirty years before the publication of Wycliffe's translation
Early English MS. Bible [about A.D. 1350]
John 1:13, 14. (The book has a facsimile of these verses.)
In most, if not all versions of the Holy Scriptures issued before the Great Bible, 1539, will be found the following peculiar rendering of Psalm 91:5: —
"So that thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for any bugges by night, nor for the arrowe that flyeth by daye."
In all the Bibles published before the present authorised version (1611), except the Genevan and Douay Bibles, the word "balm" (Jer. 8:22) is rendered "treacle." Thus Matthew's Bible, 1537, reads:—
"Is not the Lorde in Syon? Is not the kynge in her? Wherefore then haue they grened me (shall the Lorde saye) with theyr yinages and folyshe strange fashyons? The harueste is gone, the sommer hath an ende, and we are not helped. I am sore vexed, because of ye hurte of my people. I am heuye and abashed, for there is no more tryacle at Galaad, and there is no physycyen that can heal the hurte of my people." In the exceptions named we read — "Is there noe rosin in Galaad."
In the Puritan or Geneva editions of the Holy Scriptures the word "aprons" (Gen. 3:7) is rendered "breeches." In Wycliffe's Bible the passage reads thus:—
"And whan yei knewen yat ya were naked, ya sewiden ye levis of a fige tre, and madin breechis."
Richard Rolle, a Yorkshire hermit, in the fourteenth century, before the publication of the Wycliffe Bible, translated the Psalms. Here is a specimen of his work from Scotland's favourite one, the 23rd: —
"Our lord gouerneth me and nothyng to me shall want stede of pasture thar he me sette. In the water of the hetyng forth he me brougte: my soule he turnyde.
"He ladde me on the stretis of rygtwisnesse: for his name.
"For win gif I hadde goo in myddil of the shadewe of deeth: I shal not dreede yueles, for thou art with me.
"Thi geerde and thi staf thei have coumfortid me. Thou hast greythed in my sygt a bord: agens hem that angryn me.
"Thou fattede myn heued in oyle: aud my chalys drunkyenyng what is cleer.
"And thi mercy shall folowe me: in alle the dayes of my lyf.
"And that I wone in the hous of oure lord in the lengthe of dayes."
In one of the reprints of Matthew's Bible, of 1549, August 17th, twelve years after the publication of the first edition, there is a number of curious woodcuts in the Revelation, each picture being explained by two lines. The cuts were common enough in those days, but the explanatory doggerel is not so familiar to English readers: —
By the Stars in hys hand we may wel se
What maner of men our preachers should be.
In the middest of his church God sytteth in majestie,
To whom al hys faythfull geue honoure, and glorye.
Pale hypocrytes, enemies to Goddes Gospel,
Bring death in their doctrine, and dryue us to hell,
The sainctes that we prayed to, lo, where they lye,
And they that were our spokes men herke low they crye.
The Lord hath his numbre, whom he doeth preserue
Their soulles shall not perishe, though theyr bodies sterue.
The prayers of godly men that do lyue here,
And they that before God so pleasant appere.
Oute of the darke pytte came locustes fell,
To vexe them that lyueth not after the Gospel.
The doctrine and laws of these beastes cruel
Drawe the thyrde part of men unto hell.
Goddes worde is swete in the mouth of the faythfull,
But bitter in the bealy, to the fleet it is painful.
The Popes parte is cast out and geuen to the swords
When the Churche is measured wyth Goddes word.
Goddes chosen Churche trauayleth here alwaye,
And bringeth forth Christe both nyght and day.
The open enemye is most ougly in syghte,
But the wolfe in the Lambes skyne doeth al the spight.
The electe of God onely can singe the songe
That soundeth on the herte, and not on the tonge.
At the tyme appointed by Goddes secret wyll,
The Sykle shal cut downe boeth good and yll.
The seuen trompettes and the seuen scales,
Declare the same thinges that the seuen vialles.
The Princes of the earth euerye one
Have with this whore wrought fornicacyon.
The Romyshe marchauntes, the Priestes of Ba.
Do wepe, houle, and crye, at Babylon's fall.
All flesh is kylled with the ij edged sworde,
Which after the spirit is called Goddes worde.
For euer lyeth Sathan bounde in chayne,
Though in his membres he be louse agayne.
A beautyfull cytye, most semelye to se
Are the faythfull followers of Goddes verytye.
In Coverdale's Bible, 1535, there are many peculiar renderings, thus: —
Gen. viij. and 11, "She bare the olive leaf in her nebb."
Judges 10:53, "Cast a piece of milstone upon Abimelech's head, and brake his brain pan."
1 Kings 20:34, "And shot the King of Israel between the maw and the lungs."
1 S. Timothy vj. and 4, "But wasteth his brain about questions and strivings of words."
In some of the early versions the untranslated Hebrew words in the text of our present Bibles are wisely and correctly translated. It is true that in numerous instances the translation is given in the margin, but the English reader of the Scriptures naturally asks, Is then the margin correct? and if so, why is it not in the text? The well of "Beer-lahai roi" (Gen. 16:14) is rendered in the old versions the well of him that "liveth and seeth me." Again, "El-Elohe-Israel" (Gen. 33:20) "El" it is well known, is the expression of God in His might, hence the old Bibles read, "The mighty God of Israel." "It is manna" (Ex. 16:15) has no meaning to a reader unacquainted with Hebrew, but as translated in the earliest versions "What is this?" the passage is simple enough.
In the following pages we give specimens of the same portions of Holy Scripture (New Testament) from the four editions of 1380, 1537, 1560, 1582. The comparison is simple yet withal instructive. It will be observed that the verses are not numbered in the two earliest editions. The first English Bible distinguished by numbers was the Genevan of 1560. We also give a few illustrations from the Old Testament, confining ourselves to the book of Genesis, the book of Psalms, and the prophet Daniel.
John Wycliffe's, 1380.
Matthew. chap. 2.
A therefore whanne Jhesus was borun in Bethleem of Juda, in the daies of kyng Eroude. Lo astronomyenes camen fro the eest to Jerusalem.
And thou Bethleem the lond of Juda are not the leste among the princis of Juda, for of thee a duyk schal go out that schal governe my puple of Israel.
B Thanne Eroude clepide prively the astronomyenes.
C Than Eroude seynge that he was disseyved of astronomyenes was ful wrooth, and he sent and slowgh alle the children that weren in Bethleem.
Effesies. chap. 6.
C For why stryvyng is not to us aghens fleisch and blood, but aghens the princis and potestatis, aghens governouris of the world of these derknessis, aghens spiritual thingis of wickidnesse in hevenli thingis.
Grace withalle men that loven oure Lord Jesus Crist in uncorupcioun Amen. That is so be it
1. Tymo. chap. 4.
A Ghyvynge tent to spiritis of errour and to techingis of develis.
Nyle thou litil charge the grace which is in thee, that is ghovun to thee by prophecie with puttyng on of the hondis of presthood.
John Rogers', 1537.
The Gospel of St. Matthew. chap. 2.
A When Jesus was borne at Bethleem in Jeurye in the tyme of Herode the kynge. Beholde ther came wyse men from the Eest to Jerusalem.
And thou Bethleem in the lande of Jeurye, art not the leest concernynge the prynces of Juda. For out of the shal come the captayne, that shall govern my people Israel.
B Then Herod previly called the wisemen.
C Then Herod perceavynge that he was mocked of the wysemen was excedinge wroth and sent forth and slue all the chyldren that were in Bethleem.
The Epystle of S. Paule to the Ephesy. chap. 6.
C For we wrestle not agaynste fleshe and bloude: but agaynste rule, agaynste power, and agaynste worldly rulers of the darknes of thys worlde, agaynste spiritual wickednes, for heavenlye thynges.
Grace be wyth all them which love our Lord Jesus Christ in puernes. Amen.
The Fyrste Epistle of Saynte Paul unto Tymothe. chap. 4.
A And shall gyve hede unto spirites of erroure, and devilishe doctryne.
D Despise not the gyfte that is in the, which was given the thorow prophesy, and with laying on of the handes of an elder.
The holy gospel of Jesus Christ, according to St. Matthew. chap. 2.
1 When Jesus then was borne at Bethlehem in Judea in the dayes of Herode the king, beholde there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
6 And thou Bethlehem in the lande of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come the governour that shall feede my people Israel.
7 Then Herode privily called the wisemen.
10 Then Herode, seeing that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slewe all the male children that were in Bethlehem.
The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. chap. 3.
12 For wee wrestle not against fleshe and blood, but against principalites, against powers, and against the worldly governours, the princes of the darknesse of this world, against spirituall wickednesses which are in the high places.
24 Grace be with all them which love our Lord Jesus Christ, to their immortalitie. Amen.
The First Epistle of Paul to Timotheus. chap. 4.
1. And shall give heed unto spirits of errour and doctrines of devils.
14. Despise not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecie with the laying on of the hands of the companie of the eldership.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to St. Matthew. chap. 2.
1 When Jesus therefore was borne in Bethlehem of Juda in the daies of Herod the king, beholde there came sages from the east to Hierusalem.
6 And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come foorth the captaine that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herode secretly calling the sages.
16 Then Herode perceiving that he was deluded by the sages, was exceeding angry: and sending murdered all the men children that were in Bethlehem.
The Epistle of S. Paul to the Ephesians. chap. 6.
12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood: but against princes potestates, against the rectors of the world of this darkenes, against the spirituals of wickednes in the celestials.
24 Grace with all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption.
The First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothee. chap. 4.
1 Attending to spirites of errour, and doctrines of devils.
14 Neglect not the grace that is in thee: which is given thee by prophecie, with the imposition of the hands of priesthod.
John Wycliffe's, 1380.
Hebrewis. chap. 1.
A At the laste in these daies he hath spoke to us bi the sone whome he hath ordeynen eir of alle thingis and bi whom he made the worldis which also whanne he is the brightnesse of glorie, and figure of his substaunce, and berith alle thingis bi word of his vertue, he maketh purgacion of synnes and sittith on the right half of the majestee in hevenes.
1. Petir. chap. 1.
A Petir apostle of Jesus Crist to the chosun men, to the comelingis of scateryng abrood of Ponte, of Galathie, of Capadocie, of Asie. and of Bythynie, by the bifore knowing of God the Fadir in halewing of spirit, bi obedience and sprenging of the blood of Jesus Crist, grace and pees be multiplied to you.
1. Jon. chap. 5.
C He that hath the Sone of God hath also lyf, he that hath not the Sone of God hath not lyf.
D And we witen that the Sone of God cam in fleische and gaf to us witte, that we knowe verrei God, and be in the verrei Sone of hym. This is verrei God, and everlastynge lyf. My litle Sones kepe ye you fro mawmetis.
John Rogers', 1537.
The Epystle of Sayncte Paule unto the Hebreus. chap. 1.
A But in these laste dayes he hath spoken unto us by hys son whom he hath made heyre of all thynges: by whom also he made the worlde. Whych sonne beynge the bryghtnes of hys glory, and verye image of his substaunce, bearing up al things with the worde of hys power, hath in hys owne person pourged oure sinnes, and is set on the ryght hand of the majestye on hygh.
The Fyrste Epistle of Saynt Peter the Apostle.
A Peter an apostle of Jesu Christ to them that dwel here and there as straungers thorowout al Pontus, Galacia, Capadocia, Asia and Bithinia, electe, by the foreknowledge of God the Father, thorowe the santyfying of the spyrit, unto obedience of spryncklyng of the bloude of Jesu Christe. Grace be wyth you and peace be multiplied.
The Fyrst Epystle of Sayncte John. chap. 5.
C He that hath the Sonne hath lyfe.
D We knowe that the Sonne of God is come, and hath geven us a mynd to know hymn whiche is true: and we are in hymn that is true thorowe his Sonne Jesus Christ. This same is very God and eternall lyfe. Babes, kepe yourselves from images. Amen.
The Epistle to the Hebrews. chap. 1.
2 In these last dayes he hath spoken unto us by his Sonne, whome he hath made heir of all things, by whom also he made the worldes,
3 Who being the brightnes of the glory, and the engraved forme of his person, in bearing up all things by his mighty word, hath by himselfe purged our sinnes, and sitteth at the right hand of the majestie in the highest places.
The First Epistle Generall of Peter. chap. 1.
1 Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers that dwell here and there throughout Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bythnia,
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father unto sanctification of the spirit, through obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you.
The First Epistle Generall of John. chap. 5.
12 Hee that hath that Sonne, hath that life: and hee that hath not that Sonne of God, hath not that life.
20 But we know that that Sonne of God is come, and hath given us a minde to know him, which is true: and we are in him that is true, that is, in his Sonne JESUS CHRIST: this same is very GOD and eternall life.
21 Babes, keepe yourselves from idoles. Amen.
The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrewes chap. 1.
2 Last of al in these daies hath spoken to us in his sonne, whom he hath appointed heire of al, by whom he made also the worldes, Who being the brightnesse of his glorie, and the figure of his substance, and carying al things by the word of his power, making purgation of sinnes, sitteth on the right hand of the Majestie in the high places.
The First Epistle of St Peter the Apostle. chap. 1.
1 Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the electe strangers of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynla.
2 According to the prescience of God the Father, into santification of the spirit, unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
The First Epistle of St. John the Apostle. chap. 5.
12 He that hath the Sonne hath life. He that hath not the Sonne of God hath not life.
20 And we know that the Sonne of God commeth: and he hath given us understanding, that we may know the true God, and may be in his true Sonne. This is the true God, and life everlasting. My little children keepe yourselves from idols. Amen.
John Rogers' Translation, 1537.
The First Boke of Moses, called Genesis. chap. 3.
B And the eyes of bothe them were opened that they understode how that they were naked. Than, they sowed fygge-leves togedder and made them apurns.
C I wyll put hatred betwene the and the woman and betwene thy seed and hyr seed.
And that seed shall tread the on thy heed, and thou shalt treade it on the hele.
The Psalmes of David. Psalms 68.
A Oh synge unto God, synge prayses unto his name: magnyfye hym that rydeth above the heavens (whose name is the Lorde) and rejoyse before hym.
The Boke of the Prophesye of Daniel. chap. 9.
G Understande thys then and marcke it well: that from the tyme it shall be concluded, to go and repayre Jerusalem agayne unto Christ (or the anoynted) prynce: there shall be seven wekes. Then shall the stretes and walles be buylded agayne LXII wekes but with hard troublous tyme. After these LXII weeks, shall Christ be slayne, and they shall have no pleasure in hym. Then shall there come a people wyth the Prince, and destroye the citie, and the sanctuary: and hys ende shall come as the water floud. But the desolacyon shall contiynue tyll the ende of the battell.
Bishops' Bible, 1572 and 1575.
The First Booke of Moses, called in Hebrewe
of the First Worde of the Booke, Bereschith,
and in Greeke Genesis. chap. 3.
6 Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knewe that they were naked, and they sewed figge leaves togeather and made themselves apernes.
15 I wyl also put enmitie betweene thee and the woman, betweene thy seede and her seede: and it shall treade downe thy head, and thou shalt treade upon his heele.
The Psalmes of David. Psalm 68.
4 O sing unto God, and sing prayses unto his name: magnifie him that rideth upon the heavens, as it were upon an horse, prayse him in his name, yea, and rejoyce before him.
The Book of the Prophete Daniel. chap. 9.
25 Know therefore, and understand that from the goying foorthe of the commandemente, to bring agayne the (people,) and to builde Hierusalem unto Messiah the prince, there shall be seaven weekes, and threescore and two weekes, and the streets shal be built agayne, and the wall, (even) in the straitenesse of tyme.
26 After these threescore and two weekes, shall Messiah be slayne, and not for hymselfe: and the people of the prince that shall come, shall destroy the citie and the sanctuarie, and the end thereof shall be with a flodde, and unto the end of the battayle, it shall be destroyed by desolations.
Geneva edition, 1579.
The First Boke of Moses, called Genesis. chap. 3.
7 Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.
15 I will also put enimitie between thee and the woman, and betweene thy seed and her seed, He shall breake thine head, and thou shalt bruise his heele.
The Psalmes of David. Psalm 68.
4 Sing unto God, and sing praises unto his name: exalt him that rideth upon the heavens, in his name, JAH, and rejoice before him.
Daniel. chap. 9.
25 Know therefore and understand that from the going foorth of the commandement to bring againe the people, and to build Jerusalem, unto Messiah the prince, shall be seven weekes, and threescore and two weekes, and the streets shall bee built againe, and the wall even in a troubleous time.
26 And after threescore and two weekes, shall Messiah be slaine, and shall have nothing, and the people of the prince that shall come, shall destroy the citie and the sanctuary, and the end thereof shall be with a flood; and unto the end of the battell it shall be destroyed by desolations.
King James', or Present Translation.
The First Book of Moses, called Genesis. chap. 3.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
The Book of Psalms. Psalm 68.
4 Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.
The Book of Daniel. chap. 9.
25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary: and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.