I wonder how much your Bible cost you?
You can purchase a good quality English translation for less than £10.00 and if you use a smartphone you can download dozens of English translations for free (visit www.youversion.com ). In fact, there are so many English translations that people are often confused which is best to read. I recommend the most recent anglicised NIV which was published in 2011.
Given the freedom and ease with which we have access to the Bible, it is salutary to recall that this was not always the case. During the middle ages, it was illegal to translate the Bible into the language of the common people. The only copies available were written in Latin (a version known as the Vulgate) which few people could read and only the Pope was authorised to interpret and apply.
In the second half of the 14th Century, John Wycliffe, a brave Oxford professor, along with associates, translated the Vulgate Bible into Middle English. This work was completed in 1384 shortly before his death from a stroke. In 1415, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic and banned his writings. His body was exhumed and burnt to punish him for his heresy. His followers, known as Lollards, were viciously persecuted. Possession of a copy of Wycliffe’s Bible was punishable by death.
In the first half of the 16th Century, William Tyndale, another brave scholar who studied at both Oxford and Cambridge undertook the first English translation from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. When a learned clergyman lambasted him for his efforts Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
The work became too dangerous in England and so Tyndale fled to Europe. The printing press had been developed in the time between Wycliffe and Tyndale which enabled his Bible to be mass produced and smuggled into England.
In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Philips and the following year he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was strangled while tied at the stake upon which his body was burned. His final words were “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”.
Four years later, at the instigation of Archbishop Cranmer, King Henry VIII sanctioned the publication of his Great Bible. Politically this was presented as an original translation, but in truth, it was based heavily on Tyndale’s work. Even the King James Version which was authorised in 1611 is estimated to be 80% the work of Tyndale.
During the 200 years between Wycliffe’s Bible and the KJV thousands of men, women and children were tortured and killed, many being burnt alive because they possessed and read the bible in their own language. Today Tyndale’s vision has become a reality. It is possible for ordinary people, like ‘the boy that driveth the plow’, to read and understand the scriptures for themselves. Next time you pick up your bible remember that what has cost you just a few pounds cost heroes like Tyndale their lives.
This blog post featured in the February 2016 edition of Lifelines