I've heard the King James Version of the Bible was influential.

Were there other versions/translations of the Bible that were influential and/or prominent in church history?

For example, I've heard that Latin was a big language for Christianity at one point. Are there major historical Latin versions?

  • 2
    The Greek Septuagint, predating the Greek New Testament by three centuries, a product of Hellenized Judaism. Ulfilas' Gothic Bible, converting Germanic tribes to Arian Christianity. The Old Latin or Old Italic Bible, predating Jerome's aforementioned Vulgate by centuries; etc.
    – user46876
    Sep 27, 2021 at 7:41
  • 3
    The Latin Vulgate and the English translation of it (The Wycliffe of 1382 and the Challoner's later) are of great importance. So, also the Douay Rheims version. So also Young's Literal translation and J N Darby's version. Note also Tyndale's version which preceded all of the Greek based English translations.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 27, 2021 at 8:45
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    The Luther Bible by Martin Luther was another influential Bible translation. I would also add the translation into Bengali by William Carey, as that began the massive missionary movement of the 19th Century. Sep 28, 2021 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Throughout church history, what have been the major, influential translations of the Bible?

There are several translations of the Scriptures that in one way or another have been influential throughout Christendom.

The Vulgate was given an official capacity by the Council of Trent (1545–1563) as the touchstone of the biblical canon concerning which parts of books are canonical. The Vulgate was declared to "be held as authentic" by the Catholic Church by the Council of Trent.

The council of Trent cited sacred tradition in support of the Vulgate's magisterial authority:

Moreover, this sacred and holy Synod,—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.

The Catholic Church has produced three official editions of the Vulgate: the Sixtine Vulgate, the Clementine Vulgate, and the Nova Vulgata.

  • The Douay–Rheims Bible, also known as the Rheims–Douai Bible or Douai Bible, is a translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English made by members of the English College, Douai, in the service of the Catholic Church:

The original Douay–Rheims Bible was published during a time when Catholics were being persecuted in Britain and Ireland and possession of the Douay–Rheims Bible was a crime. By the time possession was not a crime the English of the Douay–Rheims Bible was a hundred years out-of-date. It was thus substantially "revised" between 1749 and 1777 by Richard Challoner, an English bishop, formally appointed to the deserted see of Debra (Doberus). Bishop Challoner was assisted by Father Francis Blyth, a Carmelite Friar. Challoner's revisions borrowed heavily from the King James Version (being a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism and thus familiar with its style). The use of the Rheims New Testament by the translators of the King James Version is discussed below. Challoner not only addressed the odd prose and much of the Latinisms, but produced a version which, while still called the Douay–Rheims, was little like it, notably removing most of the lengthy annotations and marginal notes of the original translators, the lectionary table of gospel and epistle readings for the Mass, and most notably the apocryphal books (all of which save Psalm 151 had been included in the original). At the same time he aimed for improved readability and comprehensibility, rephrasing obscure and obsolete terms and constructions and, in the process, consistently removing ambiguities of meaning that the original Rheims–Douay version had intentionally striven to retain.

  • The King James Version (KJV), also known as the King James Bible (KJB) and the Authorized Version, is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, commissioned in 1604 and completed and published seven years later in 1611 under the sponsorship of James VI and I.
  • Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English that were made under the direction of John Wycliffe. They appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395.
  • The Tyndale Bible generally refers to the body of biblical translations by William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536). Tyndale's Bible is credited with being the first English translation to work directly from Hebrew and Greek texts. Furthermore, it was the first English biblical translation that was mass-produced as a result of new advances in the art of printing.
  • The Gothic Bible or Wulfila Bible is the Christian Bible in the Gothic language spoken by the Eastern Germanic (Gothic) tribes in the early Middle Ages.
  • Elizabeth Bible is the authorized version of the Bible used by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Elizabeth Bible was the third complete printed edition of the Bible in Church Slavonic, published in Russia in 1751 under and with the assistance of the Russian Empress Elizabeth (the previous ones being the Ostrog Bible of 1581 and the Moscow Bible of 1663).
  • Aramaic version have been historically employed in countries of the East and have a great influence in this regions:

The New Testament in Aramaic languages exists in a number of versions:

  1. The Vetus Syra (Old Syriac), a translation from Greek into early Classical Syriac, containing most—but not all—of the text of the 4 Gospels, and represented in the Curetonian Gospels and the Sinaitic Palimpsest

  2. The Christian Palestinian Aramaic Lectionary fragments represented in such manuscripts as Codex Climaci Rescriptus, Codex Sinaiticus Rescriptus, and later lectionary codices (Vatican sir. 19 [A]; St Catherine’s Monastery B, C, D)

  3. The Classical Syriac Peshitta, a rendering in Aramaic of the Hebrew (and some Aramaic, e.g. in Daniel and Ezra) Old Testament, plus the New Testament purportedly in its original Aramaic, and still the standard in most Syriac churches

  4. The Harklean, a strictly literal translation by Thomas of Harqel into Classical Syriac from Greek

  5. The Assyrian Modern Version, a new translation into Assyrian Neo-Aramaic from the Greek published in 1997 and mainly in use among Protestants

  6. And a number of other scattered versions in various dialects

Before the printing press, bible were done by hand and were extremely pricey. The printing press made it easier to make more copies of the bible at a greater speed and a somewhat less pricey sale’s tag.

Why didn't people in the Middle Ages read the Bible?

Bible wasn't available - no printing presses

The Bible was on scrolls and parchments during the early centuries of Christianity. No one had a "Bible". In the Middle Ages, each Bible was written by hand. Most people were, at best, only functionally literate. That is partially why they used stained glass windows and art to tell the Bible story. The printing press was not invented until 1436 by Johann Gutenberg. Note: The Gutenberg Bible, like every Bible before it, contained the Deuterocanonical books - or "apocrapha" in Evangelical circles.

So prior to 1436, the idea of everybody having a Bible was out of the question, even if they could read. It's hard to imagine a world without photocopiers, printing presses, email and websites.

The printing press

After the invention of the printing press, prior to Luther's Bible being published in German, there had been over 20 versions of the whole Bible translated into the various German dialects (High and Low) by Catholics. Similarly, there were several vernacular versions of the Bible published in other languages both before and after the Reformation. The Church did condemn certain vernacular translations because of what it felt were bad translations and anti-Catholic notes (vernacular means native to a region or country).

The Catholic Douay-Rheims version of the whole Bible in English was translated from the Latin Vulgate. It was completed in 1610, one year before the King James Version was published. The New Testament had been published in 1582 and was one of the sources used by the KJV translators.

The Latin Vulgate was always available to anyone who wanted to read it without restriction. Some Evangelicals have said that it would only have been usable by people who read Latin. But in the 16th Century there were no public schools and literacy was not that common, especially among the peasants. Those people who could read had been well educated and could read Latin. We got an email that said:

The Church still had its readings and services in the dead language of Latin ...The Church fought to keep the Bible in Latin even though it could not be understood by most people of the time.

Latin was far from a dead language. It was the language of theology and science (the language of all educated peoples throughout Europe and beyond) well into the 17th and 18th Centuries. For example, when Isaac Newton published his works on physics, he published them in Latin so that all of Europe could read them. The same was true of all other scientific and scholarly advances.

The reason that the Protestant reformers used vernacular languages was because (a) most educated people did not take the reformers seriously and (b) they used the masses to get power for their movement. The pamphlets published by Luther and Calvin were filled with all manner of crude and dirty language (lots of references to "shtting," "pssing," and "farting"), and this was done to capture the imagination of the common man and to create popular uprising against the social establishment.

The Bible could very much be understood by people with the intelligence and ability to understand its theological content -- most of whom spoke Latin. Most common people of the time, however, could understand neither the language nor the content ...and most common people are still clueless about the content of the Bible today ...which is why Protestants provide "ministers" to interpret it for them.

The Jewish Bible was in Hebrew until the 19th Century. The Greek versions of the Jewish Bible made in ancient times were used by Christians so the Jews avoided them. Any Jew who wanted the read the Bible was expected to make the effort to learn Hebrew. - Did the Catholic Church forbid Bible reading?


Ulfilas famously translated the Gospels into Gothic in the 4th century, helping them create an alphabet I think. The Old Church Slavonic of the 9th century where Saints Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic alphabet is another example.

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