The English Bible was first translated from the Latin Vulgate into Old English by a few select monks and scholars. Such translations were generally in the form of prose or as literal translations above the Latin words. As time went on, however, English translations became more frequent into the evolving Middle English. All of the translations made the Bible more accessible to the public, both to those who were literate and through oral interpretation.

Despite differences between the Middle English Bible and more contemporary English versions of the Bible, the importance of the texts in both times should not be doubted. While literacy was more limited in the Middle Ages, the oral tradition, especially through the reading of scripture at Mass, was still very important. In fact, what scriptures would be read at what time of year was largely shaped during this time period. Additionally, the grand cathedrals and smaller churches in the Middle Ages conveyed Biblical stories through their art and stained glass windows. The Bible also played a prominent role in other literary works of the time, both in passing and as the primary subject.

The general perspective on the Bible in the Middle Ages was somewhat different from contemporary views. For instance, very few complete translations existed during that time. Rather, most of the books of the Bible existed separately and were read as individual texts. Thus, the sense of the Bible as history that often exists today did not exist at that time. Instead, a more allegorical rendering of the Bible was more common and translations of the Bible often included the writer’s own commentary on passages in addition to the literal translation.

Despite the lack of “completed” Bibles at that time, there is little evidence to suggest that people felt deprived or as though their parts were less valid than the whole. According to Christian tradition, if all of the scriptures are inspired by God, than any part of the scriptures has complete authority. Additionally, the New Testament in particular, is not just about the life of Jesus Christ, but rather is Christ as well. Thus, the Bible (as a whole or in parts) was seen as equivalent to the Eucharist in being Christ. This perspective helps lay the foundations for John Wyclif’s denial of transubstantiation and the Protestant theology shaped by the Reformation.

Specific Translations

Orrm’s Translation

Orrm wrote his translation early into the Middle English period and it is said to be fairly difficult to read. Like his Old English predecesor, Elfric, an Abbot of Eynsham, Orrm includes very little Biblical text, and focuses more on his personal commentary. This style was adopted by many of the original English translators. For example, in Orrm's translation, the story of the Wedding at Cana is almost 800 lines long, but less than 40 lines are the actual translation of the text. What is unique about Orrm's translation, however, is that instead of writing in prose form, he attempted to mimic the Latin verse-form. In this way, ironically, his work which sometimes borders on the ridiculous, is actually similar to the better-known and appreciated 14th century English poem, Cursor Mundi.

Richard Rolle's Translation

Richard Rolle is very similar to his predecessors in that he provides a great deal of personal commentary in addition to the translation of the text. A particular characteristic of Rolle, however, is that he deviates very little from the Latin in his translation, resulting in a slightly awkward literal translation and a more fluent commentary. Interestingly enough, his reference for his commentary was Peter Lombard.

Wyclif's Translation

Wyclif's Bible was extremely influential and actually came out in two different versions. Specific information on this translation can be found in the earlier link.

Tyndale's Translation

The Tyndale Bible differs from the others since Tyndale used the Greek and Hebrew translations of the New and Old Testaments in addition to Jerome’s Latin translation. Greek and Hebrew are slightly closer to English than Latin, and thus, Tyndale’s translation is one of the more accessible versions in its English phrasing. There is an ongoing debate over how much Tyndale used Wyclif for his translation, which does not have any definite answers presently, but could mean a more fluid continuity in the historical evolution of the English Bible if Tyndale was in fact influenced by his predecessor. Tyndale is also unique in that he was the first of the Middle English translators to use the printing press to help distribute several thousand copies of the his translation throughout England.


Fowler, David C.. The Bible in Early English Literature. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976.

Grabois, Aryeh. "Bible: Biblical Impact on Daily Life." Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol 2. Ed. Joseph R. Strayer. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983.

Lawton, David. “Englishing the Bible, 1066-1549.” The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. 454-482.

Levy, Bernard S.. Preface. The Bible in the Middle Ages: Its Influence on Literature and Art. Ed. Bernard S. Levy. New York: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992.

Maas, A.J.. "Versions of the Bible: English Versions." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 9 April 2008. <>.

Muir, Laurence. "Translations and Paraphrases of the Bible and Commentaries." A Manual of the Writings in Middle English: 1050-1500. Ed. J. Burke Severs. Connecticut: The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1970. Vol 2. 381-409.


You explain the topic very well, including background information and translations. You have excellent structure and topic analysis. You also implement great external and internal links. Good Job! Letter Grade: A

Nice Job! A very thorough, detailed, and organized entry. It’s very clear and very informative. A!

Overall, rather thorough. The section on Wycliffe's bible could have a bit more substance, just as a stub, but this is a minor issue. A.

Well written, informative, and nicely organized. Also great use of links. Grade: A

Your article is clear and well written. Easy to follow. Consider a little "contents" section as a means of organization. Also, I'd recommend citing your sources more often within the text of your article. Overall, very thorough and well structured article. Letter grade: A-

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