Many of the first Christians were not Greek, or did not have sufficient knowledge of Greek to be confident in using the Greek New Testament scriptures only. Consequently as early as the second and third centuries the documents were translated into the common languages of that day like Coptic, Syrian and old Latin.
The value of these translations lies in the fact that they preserve the text that was available at that specific time and at that location. Very accurate text critical deductions cannot be made due to the intricate problem of translation in general, and the fact that peculiarities and even synonyms do not cover the same meaning in different languages. Yet, if a verse or phrase is missing in all translations as well as Greek manuscripts before a certain date, it is logic that these words must have been introduced into the manuscripts at a later date, and had not been part of the original autograph. Let us consider Acts 9:6. According to the King James Version, when Jesus confronted Paul in a vision on his way to Damascus, he presumably said: “…Lord, what will You have me to do?” This phrase is not found in any Greek manuscript at all. Of all known manuscripts of nine translations dating from 201 to 700 A.D. it is found in only one Syriac and one Old Latin translation both dating between 601 and 700 A.D. After 701 A.D. it is found in another six manuscripts of the old Latin group. This evidence, confirmed by all other known documents of the New Testament, clearly proves that this phrase had never been part of the original autograph. This phrase had rather been included under influence of the Latin translations. In fact it was interpolated from Acts 22:10 by Erasmus into the text that became the source for the KJV, known as the Textus Receptus.
Let us look at the ancient translations that are available:
1. Bible scholars have identified five different Syriac translations that were created between 301 and 1200 A.D. No less than 357 witnesses are available.
2. Numerous Latin translations were made, the first ±175 A.D. in Carthage, North Africa. After 201 A.D. Latin translations were used in Italy, Gaul and Spain. Most of these are highly individualistic in nature suggesting that some copies were made from interlinear translations. It seems as though everyone needing a Latin translation, made his own. Due to this chaotic situation, Pope Damasus commissioned St. Jerome in 382 to make a new official translation, known as the Vulgate, of which more than 8000 manuscripts in many variations and different states of corruption exist.
3. In Egypt mainly two dialects of the Coptic language, a late form of ancient Egyptian had been in general use; Bohairic in the North and Sahidic in the South. During the third and fourth centuries a Sahidic translation written in adapted Greek uncial letters circulated in the South. It represented mainly the Alexandrian text type. During the fourth century the NT. was also translated in Bohairic, again written in adapted Greek uncials with an Alexandrian text type as source. Translations in some other two Coptic dialects of the fourth century also represent an Alexandrian text type.
4. At the closing of the fourth century Ulfilas translated the Greek New Testament in Gothic. He had to create a Gothic alphabet since his translation had been the first literary document in a German language. His source text was of the Byzantine text type.
5. The Armenian translation dating from around 420 A.D. is reckoned as one of the most accurate of the early translations. It became the official New Testament of the Russian Orthodox Church. More than 1250 manuscripts are available, making it the second numerous translation after the Latin Vulgate. It is in the Caesarean text type.
6. The Georgian Translation for the Caucasians of Georgia between the Black sea and the Caspian sea was completed during the first half of the fourth century. It is also in the Caesarean text type.
7. During the fourth or the sixth centuries an Ethiopian translation was made, either based on a Greek text, or on a Syrian text. It displays mainly the Byzantine text type, though it often agrees with Vaticanus and p46, which are Alexandrian.
8. During the ninth century the Bulgarians received their Slavonic translation.
9. The earliest translation in Anglo Saxon, the ancestor of English as a tenth century translation made between the lines of a seventh century Vulgate. This codex known as the “Lindisfarne Gospels” is named after Lindisfarne, a town in North East England where this translation originated.
This magnificent manuscript can be studied online at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/ttpbooks.html
It is such a privilege to study the Word of God in this modern age with its technology giving us an oversight of two millennia at the touch of a keyboard!