How many Bibles do you own?
Right now in my office I have sixteen, if I counted them all. Most of them are in English, but I also have Spanish and Haitian Creole. I even have electronic Bibles where I can look up the Hebrew and Greek words with one click. I could probably come up with that many again when I get home.
According to Guinness World Records, “there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion.”
With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we’ve been studying some of the history of what happened back in 1517. Back then the Catholic Church had forbid anyone to translate the Bible from Latin into any other language. If you did translate the Bible, or were caught with a Bible in another language than Latin, Greek or Hebrew, you could be excommunicated or even burned at the stake. Indeed, there is a story of seven parents being burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English. Yet, when Martin Luther was hidden in the Wartburg Castle he translated the whole New Testament from Greek into German in about eleven to twelve weeks. Luther was adamant that the people needed God’s Word in their own language.
Imagine not having the Bible in your own language. I’ve done mission trips to Mexico eight times and I’ve been to Haiti four times. I can assure you that when I hear someone speaking Spanish or Haitian Creole I’m pretty much lost. I would be sorely disappointed if I had to give up my fourteen English Bibles and my comprehension would greatly suffer!
As of September 2016 the full Bible has been translated into 636 languages, and the New Testament alone has been translated into 1442 languages. Yet there is still an estimated 160-180 million people without access to any Scripture in their heart language. There are also still countries around the world where owning a Bible is illegal. North Korea would be at the top of that list. In North Korea Bibles are banned and those found in possession of one face imprisonment, torture and even death – as do up to three generations of their family. Other nations that are against the Bible tend to be Islamic states (e.g. Somalia, Libya and Uzbekistan).
John Wycliffe translated the Bible into the first English translation thus making it available to ordinary people. He had five decrees (Bulls) against him and the Catholic Church condemned him on nineteen different charges concerning his writings. Forty years after his death, John Wycliffe’s bones were dug up and burnt by order of the Roman church. About a hundred years before Luther, Jon Hus was “stirred by his knowledge of the Bible. He read the works of John Wycliffe and he started preaching in a chapel in Prague known as the Bethlehem Chapel. This chapel was established to allow people to hear the Bible in their own tongue.” Huss was burnt at the stake because he revealed this truth to ordinary people! Although Luther was not martyred, he believed that he would die a martyr’s death. Indeed, if the Roman Church could have caught him, he would have. William Tyndale became determined to produce an English copy of the Bible that “even a ploughboy could understand”. His translation of the New Testament was printed under the continual threat of discovery and persecution and had to be smuggled into England. The Roman church worked hard to stop the Bible being circulated. They burnt every copy they could and people found with them faced death. The Roman church eventually managed to capture Tyndale and he was burnt at the stake. The list of reformers and people that were willing to give their lives for the sake of the Bible is long.
The Bible itself tells us why the Bible is important. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it says:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Isaiah 55:11-12 says,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
It was true in Isaiah’s day, it was true 500 years ago, and it’s still true today.