Translating the Bible

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11965

The Bible is the best-selling, most-translated book in history. It can be purchased in dollar stores, malls, and high-end bookstores. Yet, its history is not so common!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What languages are these?
  • Do you know what these texts say?


Here's a clue: they all say the same thing.

Here's another clue: they are all the same verse from the text of the Bible.

If you open an English Bible to the very first chapter of Genesis, you will read words something like this: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

Of course, this famous verse was not originally written down in English, but rather it was recorded in the Hebrew language, the first language you saw in the opening section.

The next stop in the history of Bible translation, which was the second language you saw in the opening section, was Greek.

  • Why couldn't they just leave it in the original Hebrew?

The answer is that Hebrew fell out of popular usage, and apart from a few elites, the common language of the day became Greek.

The next stage in Bible translation came with the third language you saw in the opening section.

  • Do you know what it is?

The Vulgate, or the Latin translation, became the most widespread and important translation of the Bible for many centuries. Just as Hebrew was earlier replaced by Greek as the common language, now Latin had taken over as the common language of Europe and the Church.

Let's find out more about the original languages of the Bible.

As you read In what language was the Bible first written?, from Biblica, write down the answers to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper when you find them:

  • What are the actual languages of the original Biblical texts?
  • Which parts of the Bible were written in which language?
  • What was most likely the language spoken by Jesus and his followers?
  • Why wasn't the New Testament written in that language?

After finding all the answers, consider these questions:

  • If you were a scholar of the Bible, which language or languages would you most want to master? Why?
  • What are some things that are lost or gained when you translate a text from one language to another?
  • What are some reasons why Bible translation could be a controversial matter?

The Bible has been communicated in various languages over time in order to reach new groups of people. You will be surprised to discover, though, just how controversial the translation of the Bible became for some time and still is for some people!

In the Got It? section, take a closer look at the history of Bible translation and discover some of the individuals who suffered greatly in order to bring the text of the Bible to the common people.

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