Translations of the Reformers – Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and Myles Coverdale
The vernacular translation breakthrough was made by Martin Luther (1483-1546) with his German New Testament of 1522 directly from Erasmus’s Greek New Testament. This bestseller stimulated translations into many other languages, such as French, English, Italian, Swedish and Spanish. Luther, the initiator of the Reformation, grasped the opportunity to translate the New Testament whilst in hiding as a religious outlaw in Wartburg Castle. He completed the work, written in contemporary and idiomatic German, over six weeks in 1522. In collaboration with others he published the German Old Testament in 1534.
Luther’s exemplary translation of the New Testament was enormously influential and served as a model for William Tyndale’s English rendering. Inspired by Luther, the martyred Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) was responsible for the first English translation of the New Testament directly from Greek, printed abroad in 1525. He used the Greek editions of Erasmus and included a translation of Luther’s famous preface to his German New Testament laying down the rudiments of Reformation scriptural doctrine. Tyndale’s New Testament translation determined about 80% of the vocabulary and expressions in the 1611 King James Bible.
A Protestant like Tyndale, Myles Coverdale’s (1488-1569) Bible was also published in an unidentified and clandestine manner while he was in religious exile on the Continent, although the year 1535 is stated, and the preface to the reader is in Coverdale’s name. It was the first complete, printed Bible in English, and includes the Apocrypha. Although the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament are mostly William Tyndale’s translation from the Greek and Hebrew (published 1530), Coverdale did not translate the rest of the Scriptures from the original language. As stated in the title, he availed mostly from new Latin and German versions. It was dedicated to King Henry VIII (1491-1547), referred to as ‘Defendour of the Fayth, and under God the chef and suppreme heade of the Church of Englonde’.