Finally Getting a Foothold
  Christianity first came to England with the Romans in the 2nd Century A.D. However, it was almost wiped out when England was invaded by the Angles and Saxons in the 5th Century. These conquerers brought with them their own pagan religion, and supressed most expressions of Christianity. But in 597 A.D., at the wishes of Pope Gregory the Great, the monk Augustine arrived in England to establish footholds of Roman Catholicism. From that time on, Christianity was in England to stay.

In those days, the only Bible recognized by the Catholic Church was the 'Latin Vulgate' — a translation of the Scriptures in Latin. Most common people were illiterate; they certainly didn't understand Latin. So they relied on the Clergy for their Bible instruction. Although this worked OK, it deprived the common man of understanding the teachings and hearing the beauty of Scripture in his everyday language. And it was this devotion to the Latin Vulgate translation by the Catholic Church that caused much religious strife for hundreds of years in England.

Caedmon -- The Reluctant Singer
  A man named Caedmon is credited with making the first paraphrases of the Scriptures into Old English sometime around 670 A.D. His real profession was tending cows at the local monastery. In the evenings at mealtime, it was a custom to "call for songs," where everyone sitting around a table took turns singing. However Caedmon would always leave the table before it was his turn because he had no gift in this area. According to tradition, one night after leaving the table early, he went to the stables, where he heard a voice saying, "Caedmon, sing something to me." Caedmon replied that he was a bad singer, but the voice persisted. When Caedmon finally asked what he should sing, the voice answered, "Sing of the beginning of created things." Amazed and fully inspired by this experience, Caedmon started paraphrasing small portions of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon — the language which eventually evolved into English. Whether this tradition is true, no one can say. But however he did it, Caedmon took stories from the Scriptures — the Creation, the Exodus, the Crucifixion — and turned them into poems that could easily be memorized. Personally, Caedmon preferred to sing his poems, while he played his harp.

Caedmon's Hymn
Portion of
Caedmon's Hymn
in Anglo-Saxon

One example of his work that has survived is simply called "Caedmon's Hymn." It was of course written in Anglo-Saxon, but here is a translation in today's English. (I'm assuming it 'flowed' a little better in its original language.)
    Now we should praise the Guardian of the Heavenly Kingdom —
    the Ruler's power and His understanding —
    the work of the Father of Glory.
    How He, eternal Lord, established the beginning of every wondrous thing.
    He first created Heaven as a roof for the children of mankind —
    the holy Creator.
    Then the Guardian of mankind, the eternal Lord,
    afterward adorned the earth.
    The Lord Almighty created the world for men.
Other Early Translators
First Bible Translator

The first bona fide translation of the Bible from Latin into Old English was made around the year 700, when a bishop named Aldhelm published the Psalms. Aldhelm was born in 639, and went to school at a very early age. While just a boy he excited his teachers with his quick learning of Latin and Greek. By the time he was 40, in the year 680, he was surrounded by a group of scholars who had heard of his reputation for learning. It was said that Aldhelm was able to write and speak Greek, was fluent in Latin, and able to translate the Old Testment from Hebrew — not bad for living in the 7th Century A.D. So it should be no surprise that this ancient scholar was the first to give Anglo-Saxon-speaking people an actual translation of a portion of God's Word.

Venerable Bede
Venerable Bede
Working on his Bible Translation

Next on our list of ancient Bible translators is a monk named Bede, who was so revered that he is often referred to as "Venerable Bede." He is widely regarded as the greatest of all early Anglo-Saxon scholars. He wrote some forty books on practically every area of knowledge, but most of his writing was on theology and history. He translated various portions of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon in the early 700's. According to tradition, during his last illness in 735, Bede was working on a translation of the Gospel of John. So ill that he was unable to write for himself, the 62 year-old scholar had to rely upon a young scribe called Wilbert for assistance. According to one account, this final conversation took place between them:

'Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not written down.'
Bede responded, 'Write quickly.'
After a little while the boy said, 'There, now it is written.'
'You have said well.' replied Bede, 'It is at an end. All is finished.'

Saxon King Alfred the Great
King Alfred the Great
Loved the Bible

Moments later, surrounded by the monks amongst whom he had lived, Bede offered up a last prayer and then died. Unfortunately, no part of his translation exists today.

Last on our list of early translators is royalty. Saxon King Alfred the Great was a scholarly man who lived in the 9th Century. He had a godly mother, from whom he gained a love of books — especially the Bible. The King actively promoted literacy and culture during his reign. He translated several non-religious works into English, and introduced a code of laws which included 'The Ten Commandments' and other extracts from the Bible.

It was Alfred's wish "that all freeborn youth of the kingdom should employ themselves on nothing til they first read well the English Scriptures." Unfortunately, it would be many more centuries before English Youth would actually have access to an English Bible from which they could read.

Private Copies
  Not much happened in the area of English Bible translation in the years following 1066, when England was invaded by the Normans. Certain individual monasteries had their own copy of the Scriptures in English, which was available for personal and private use only. It was never used during mass or any other church service. The official Bible of the Church would remain the Latin Vulgate for many more centuries.

Today, not much is left of the work of these early pioneers. The only Old English scriptures that have survived are the Pentateuch, Psalms, the Gospels, and a few Old Testament historical books. Yet the work of these early translators set the stage for the first real English translation of the New Testament in the 14th Century by John Wycliffe.

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