I received this article in an email from Ron Walters and I’d like to share it with you. It takes us on a wonderful journey through the history of our English Bible.
Translating one language to another has never been an easy assignment. What’s easily said in one man’s tongue could be a nightmare in another. But nowhere is that more true than when translating the scriptures.
When dealing with God’s word, close enough isn’t good enough. Truth doesn’t have versions. Accuracy matters. Therefore, typesetting and proofreading—just like teaching and preaching—is critical.
For example: In 1631, during a reprinting of the King James Bible, the printer omitted the word “not” from the 7th commandment, causing it to read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The printer was fined 300 francs for his mistake.
In 1515, Psalm 91.5 was printed with a typo. Instead of reading, “Thou shalt not be afraid of terror by night,” it read, “Thou shalt not be afraid of bugs by night.”
In 1702, Psalm 119.161 was published saying, “Printers have persecuted me,” rather than “Princes have persecuted me.”
In 1801, Jude 16 was published calling people “murderers” instead of “murmurers.”
In 1717, the introductory headline of Luke 20 read, “The Parable of the Vinegar,” instead of “The Parable of the Vineyard.”
But not to translate scripture isn’t the answer either. For centuries the Bible existed only in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and those rare copies were sequestered by priests who operated deep within the recesses of a fortified church.
There was no such thing as a personal copy of the scriptures, or personal Bible study, or “My time in the Word.” But all that began to change when John Wycliffe, the brilliant linguist of the 14th century, began to translate scripture into English allowing citizens of Great Britain to read God’s word in their native tongue. You’d think he’d be hailed as a hero. He was not!
The few handwritten copies of Wycliffe’s Bible were considered a blasphemous affront to the church and were quickly confiscated. And, in 1408, the archbishop of Canterbury led a crusade against translating any part of scripture into English. Failure to comply was a crime punishable by death. Even as late as 1519, seven Lollards (a derisive term used by church leaders to describe untrained ministry volunteers) were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English.
It was in this world and under these conditions that William Tyndale went to work. Tyndale, a linguistic expert, proficient in eight languages, lived a self-imposed exile in France, a fugitive from British justice for translating scripture into English. During the last twelve years of his life, before he was captured and killed, he gave his countrymen the entire New Testament and half the Old Testament. Six thousand copies of the illegal Bibles, hot off the mechanical presses, were smuggled inside cotton bails back to England. Each cost three shillings two pence—a week’s wages for a skilled laborer. And yet, even with the hefty price tag, demand quickly outstripped supply.
The archbishop of Canterbury was livid at this biblical invasion and devised a plan to counter Tyndale’s efforts. He purchased all remaining copies of Tyndale’s New Testaments and had them quickly destroyed. However, the infusion of new money enabled Tyndale to produce a much needed revised 2nd edition which included four thousand changes and corrections, cross references, marginal notes, and a much larger print run.
By doing so, the archbishop unwittingly financed a project that advanced God’s words into hungry hearts throughout Great Britain.
These stories are part of our heritage. When we teach God’s word it’s due to the great forfeiture of others who loved His teachings. Their sacrifice to “rightly divide the word of truth” in our language deserves honor from those of us who teach that Word.
Martin Luther said, “The only perpetual and infallible mark of the church is always the Word of God; it must come first.”
This Book, and the journey it took to get to us, is worth being first in our lives and foremost in our teaching.*
*This article was written by Ron Walters.