I have been thinking about The Holy Bible and how it is almost ubiquitous in U.S. culture. In fact, the Holy Bible has been translated into far more languages than any other book. According to the United Bible Societies and Wycliffe, as of 2010:
- There were 6,800 languages in the world.
- The complete Bible has been translated into only 450 languages.
- About 2,000 languages do not have any part of the Scriptures. These languages are spoken by about 5% of the people on our globe.
- About 4,350 languages have some of the Scriptures translated for its readership to use.
- So, approximately 95% of the people in the world have some part of the Scriptures in their own language.
While those figures are stunning, and it makes me want to thank God for the blessing of having the Scriptures in my language, and we need to ponder how we received these translated Scriptures and how God preserved them down through the centuries. Please don’t tune me out now – a little history is good for the soul!
In 382 A.D., a monk by the name of Jerome was commissioned to translate the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry as found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from Greek into Latin. The Old Testament was in Hebrew. Once the gospel accounts were completed, Jerome translated the entire Old Testament from Hebrew into everyday Latin. His translation, later to be called the Vulgate (meaning common), was used by the church for over 1,000 years, until the Reformation.
John Wycliffe (1338-1384) believed that the ability to read the Scriptures was necessary for one to live one’s faith. He translated the Scriptures into English from the Latin Vulgate. The translations were considered “unauthorized” by the established church and anyone with a copy could be put to death. After Wycliffe’s death his bones were exhumed and burned, with his ashes scattered in a river. Wycliffe’s translation exists today, in fact more copies of his translation exist than anything else written in that time period.
About 1450, Guttenberg created a printing press with movable type and everything changed. Now, the Bible was not only for the super-rich, it could now be obtained by the common man. Guttenberg wrote:
It is only a press, but a press from which will flow a constant stream. … Through it, God will spread His Word. A spring of truth will flow from it. Like a new star it will scatter the darkness of ignorance and cause an unknown light to shine for all.
In 1492 the Vulgate was brought to the Americas when Christopher Columbus voyaged under what he claimed was guidance through the Scriptures.
In 1516, Erasmus produced a parallel New Testament that had the Greek on one side of the page and Latin on the other side. He focused on using the original Hebrew and Greek in preparing a translation.
In the early 16th century, William Tyndale, who was proficient in at least 7 languages, translated the New Testament from Greek into English. Having an English Bible was still illegal and in 1536 he was convicted, strangled and burned to death at the stake.
Henry VIII renounced Roman Catholicism and established the Church of England and in 1539, just three years after Tyndale’s death, the King funded the printing of the “Great Bible”. Twenty years later the Church of England became the only church in the country and those caught leading alternative services were destined to fine, imprisonment and/or execution.
This caused many to flee to the continent, including John Knox and John Calvin. While in exile, they and the Church of Geneva translated the first complete English Bible from the original languages. It was the first Bible to use Roman letters and the first to have divisions between verses. It also contained extensive study notes.
A conflict arose between the Geneva Bible and the Great Bible, so in 1604, King James I ordered a new translation, and we know it as the authorized King James Version. It is the product of the work of fifty-four scholars over 7 years. (About 80% mirrors the translation of Tyndale!)
The first copy of the King James Version reached the American Colonies when John Winthrop arrived in 1630.
Why all this history in The Ruminant Scribe’s blog?
It behooves us to understand and appreciate that God actively worked through men and women who devoted their lives and, when necessary, who gave their lives so that the Scriptures could be read by the common people, not just the clergy and not just the rich, empowered people. The dedication and risks, the devotion and persecution, the effort and zeal that surrounded the preservation of the Scriptures should not be taken for granted by us in the 21st century. We still need to get the Holy Scriptures into the hands of men and women so that the Holy Spirit can use the text of the Scriptures for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
Praise our Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, the Author and Creator of our Salvation for the gift of His Word.
Father, there are not mortal words that can compare to the Words that You have given us in the Scriptures. Your Words are light and life eternal. I thank You and praise Your Holy Name for the gift of the Holy Scriptures.