On Ploughboy Bibles


Since the 14th century, English Protestant bibles can be divided into four periods:

1380 – c1500 – Lollard bibles (John Wycliffe)

During this period, Church leaders were violently opposed to having an English bible. They wanted it in Latin, and people to trust the clergy to tell them what the bible means. Translators worked “outside the camp” under John Wycliffe. They and their readers were reviled and persecuted, even to bloodshed.

The principle of translation articulated by John Purvey was that the full meaning of the original passage must be translated, not just the words.

c1500 – c1540 – Plouhboy bibles (Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers, and Martin Luther)

In the early Reformation period, Church leaders remained opposed to an English bible. They claimed authority to teach the scriptures to the people. William Tyndale said that if God spared his life, he would make the bible so clear, that the ploughboy would understand it better than the clergy. Translators again worked “outside the camp” and they and their readers were persecuted.

Governing principle of translation: the bible should be clear enough to stand on its own. Overly “literalistic translations,” which follow the words at the expense of giving the meaning, defeat the purpose (Martin Luther). The true literal sense of the bible is in the meaning (William Tyndale).

 ‘Ecclesia’ is translated ‘congregation’.

1557 – c1900 – Literal translation theory assumes dominant place

In the 1550s, Englishmen living in Geneva wished to revise the bible. These were men within the puritan camp, and in their bible they pit their Church against not only the Roman Catholics, but also Anglicans and Lutherans. They translated ‘ecclesia’ as ‘Church’. The translators were not reviled or persecuted, but esteemed within their Church.

The dominant principle of translation in the Geneva Bible is that “literal” renderings, especially of Hebrew idioms, are best, “notwithstanding that they may seem somewhat hard” to understand (preface to Geneva Bible). Readers should turn to clergy for a full understanding (See Geneva note on 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Both Queen Elizabeth and King James were obliged to respond to the Geneva Bible, and wisely removed divisive notes. However, the “literal” translation approach influenced their bibles.

Modern bibles – Anything goes

Anyone can make their own bible. New bibles are supposedly better due to better manuscripts. However, 99% of the time differences in translation are not due to manuscript variations, but to different interpretations, and certain Reformation doctrines are changed. “Messianic” bibles do not translate at all, but use transliterated Hebrew words, even in the Greek Testament.

x x x x x x

Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will look at Martin Luther’s translation theory.