How Much Do We Appreciate the Availability of God’s Word?
Paul Niehoff (Australia)
Being grateful in our lives is a very important characteristic we must have to please God. We are instructed in Ephesians 5:20 to be “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And one of those “all” things is God’s Word, the Bible.
In this day and age, it is easy to take for granted the opportunity we have to purchase Bibles so very readily. We can go to a local bookstore which usually has at least one version of the Bible available. We can order one of many different translations on-line. There are even free downloads of some older biblical versions available. But do we acknowledge that this ability is actually a great blessing for us that is not available in some countries and has not been available at all in past times?
Here in Melbourne, Australia, a city with a population of just under five million, the number of religious bookstores has been reduced over the last forty years with some Protestant stores closing or going to on-line ordering only. General bookstores usually stock one or a few modern versions of the Bible amongst various other religious books like the Koran and books on Buddhism. So probably due to reduced demand, the availability of Bibles is not as convenient as it once was.
But still there are no restrictions in most of the Western World yet on purchasing Bibles. In some countries, Bibles are restricted or even totally banned. In North Korea, being caught possessing a Bible can result in a fifteen-year sentence to a labour camp or even death. In some Islamic or communist countries, obtaining Bibles can be quite difficult. For example, in China, the most populous country in the world, the sale of Bibles is government-controlled. The government is actually preparing a new approved translation with a “correct understanding” favourable to the Chinese Communist Party.
When we look into God’s Word, it appears that in New Testament times the Old Testament Scriptures were readily available. In Acts 8:27-28 we read that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah. Because of his position, he may have been able to obtain the Old Testament without any difficulty. However, another mention of the Scriptures being readily available, perhaps in public libraries, occurs in Acts 17:10-11 in the city of Berea. Here we read, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” It appears that these attendees of the synagogue, Jews and Gentiles, were able to read the Scriptures as often as they wanted to.
2 Timothy 3:15 indicates that Timothy had access to the Scriptures in some manner all of his life. For we read, “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” This seems to indicate that either his family had access to the Scriptures or that Timothy was taught from them regularly in the synagogue.
The manner in which Christ and the apostles quoted the Old Testament Scriptures throughout the New Testament indicated that their listeners were familiar with what was being said. Many of the various audiences obviously knew the Scriptures and there is no indication that anyone claimed the Scriptures were in any way misquoted.
So that is the situation today and the situation in New Testament times, but what about between these times? Early on there were some translations into languages like Armenian and Coptic (Egyptian).
Focusing on translations in Britain, over time quite a large part of the Bible was translated into various languages used in the British Islands. In the mid-14th century however, English became the language of Britain, and the older translations became effectively unintelligible to the population. The Latin Vulgate existed, but by this time almost nobody could read Latin. So now the Bible was basically unobtainable in England. However, it was necessary that English translations would become available, as God’s Word was to spread from England to the New World.
Near the end of this century, in about 1382, John Wycliffe and his associates translated the whole of the Bible from Latin into English. So, the Bible became available to be read by the people, but since copies were hand-written, they could cost a year’s salary. This was a very great barrier for most people. A further consideration was that the Catholic Church was totally against any English translation and condemned John Wycliffe. While he was not put to death, later his bones were exhumed and scattered far from a Church burial site.
In 1408 in Oxford, Archbishop Arundel produced a law forbidding anyone to translate the Scriptures into the common language, and to even have a copy of it could, and did, lead to the death penalty. Many were burnt at the stake purely for possessing a Bible in English.
The next major event in the production of the English Bible was with the arrival of William Tyndale. In 1526 he translated the New Testament from the Greek text provided by Erasmus and later the Old Testament from Genesis to 2nd Chronicles and the book of Jonah from the Hebrew text. His New Testament was sold as a printed edition which made it much cheaper to purchase. However, to try to prevent its circulation, the bishop of London bought and burnt as many copies as he could obtain. Various ways were tried to smuggle copies into England to prevent them from being confiscated.
Tyndale was arrested and burnt at the stake for his efforts. About a year after his death, Miles Coverdale and John Rogers in 1536 produced a complete English Bible, beginning with William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament and part of the Old Testament from the original languages, and finishing with Miles Coverdale’s translation of the rest of the Old Testament from the German and Latin languages. For this effort, Miles Coverdale had to flee to Europe to save his life, and John Rogers was burnt at the stake. This version of the Bible, named the Thomas Matthew Bible, formed the basis of the King James Bible or the Authorized Version and other modern versions.
So, from this we can see that obtaining a copy of the Bible has not always been easy. In fact, we find that the blood of men has been shed in order that the ordinary person could obtain a copy of the Word of God.
So then, when we think how easy it is today to obtain our own personal copies of the Bible, we can be thankful that some have laboured long and hard and in constant danger to make this possible. We should consider this convenient access to His Word a great blessing that God has provided for us and give Him thanks for it always.