Just like many of you today, I started my day by reading a selected section from the Bible. As I look around my bookshelf I notice many copies of the Bible and various translations. On occasion I will also use one my Bible apps or if I really want to dive deep into my study, I will open the Logos Bible software on my computer. Today as I was reading my Bible I was reminded of the great sacrifice that many have made to make Bible reading in the English language possible. I am also reminded that there are people who still have no translation of the Bible in their language. It is hard to imagine a place without a translation of the Bible but the reality is that there was a day when it was not common a translated copy and in fact it was very dangerous to translate the Bible into another language.
It is had to comprehend but church history indicates that the leadership prohibited the translation of the Bible into a foreign language. Obviously the leaders were concerned about “maintaining purity” of the content and there was a day when Latin was even considered the ‘holy’ language. Nevertheless, the church rigorously enforced their position. Here are a few historical decisions from councils condemning the act of Bible translation:
Decree of the Council of Toulouse (1229): “We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.”Ruling of the
Council of Tarragona of (1234): “No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Romance language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned...”
Proclamations at the Ecumenical Council of Constance (1415): Oxford professor, and theologian John Wycliffe, was the first (1380) to translate the New Testament into English to “...helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.” For this “heresy” Wycliffe was posthumously condemned by Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury. By the Council’s decree “Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and publicly burned and the ashes were thrown into the Swift River.
”You might be familiar with John Wycliffe, the priest from England. He is often identified as “The Morning Star of the Reformation”. It is not certain how much he translated himself, but Wycliffe’s Bible is an English translation of the Vulgate. The Vulgate is a fourth century Latin translation of the Bible. Another important figure in Bible translation is William Tyndale. He like Wycliffe was also an English priest. Tyndale was the first person to produce an English translation of the Bible directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts. Years after his death Tyndale’s work would be used to help produce the first mass production of the English translation of the Bible.
In 1523 William Tyndale promoted the idea of translating the Bible into English to the bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall. Unfortunately this was not received well and Tyndale would find himself living as a fugitive between Germany and Belgium for the next 12 years. In 1535, the Church of England paid a large sum of money to a man named Henry Phillips to find and capture Tyndale. Phillips eventually arrived in Antwerp Belgium where Tyndale was working. Tyndale was arrested and carried back to England. On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was strangled to death and his body was then burned at the stake, by the Church, for his ‘crime’ of translating the Bible into English. Tradition states that before his death, he cried his famous last words: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”
Let me encourage you to remember as you read your Bible the sacrifice that many have made in the area of Bible translation. The joy of reading the Bible is a privilege. Scripture reading is also a means of our sanctification. Also remember there are still many people in the world with no Bible in their own language, and there are also Christians who have many copies but never read it. Take time to open your Bible, read it, and know God more and more each day.
Our Pastor writes most of the blog posts we publish, however, occasionally some of our other church leadership (some staff, some volunteer) who also contribute to the New Life blog.