Do we realize how fortunate we are to have such easy access to the Bible? Studies indicate that over 90% of Americans possess a Bible.
The cost of the Bible in the middle Ages was very high. Philip Schaff has written, “One of the chief causes of the prevailing ignorance was the scarcity of books. The old libraries were destroyed by ruthless barbarians and the ravages of war. After the conquest of Alexandria by the Saracens, the cultivation and exportation of parchment or velum, which took its place, was so expensive that complex copies of the Bible cost as much as a palace or a farm. King Alfred paid eight acres of land for one volume of a cosmography. Hence the custom of chaining valuable books, which continued to the sixteenth century” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 4, p. 603).
The cost, at times, was not just in money. It was a hardship and life. Many paid dearly to have the Bible in their own tongue.
John Wycliffe (1320-1384) wanted the common man in England to be able to read the Bible in his own language. The Catholic Church’s Bible was in Latin. Wycliffe wanted the people to look to the Bible for authority, and not to the church. He declared, “If there were one hundred popes and all the friars were turned into cardinals their opinion ought not to be acceded to in matters of faith except so far as they are based on scripture” (Matthew, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 225). Wycliffe translated the Latin Vulgate into English. “He knew no Hebrew and probably no Greek. His version, which was made from the Latin Vulgate, was the outgrowth of his burning desire to make his English countrymen more religious and more Christian (Schaff, vol. 6, p. 342). “The New Testament was first finished, about the year 1380; and in 1382, or soon afterwards, the version of the entire Bible was completed (Kenyon, Our Bible and The Ancient Manuscripts, p. 200). In 1385, he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church (Gerald Pinson, The Book, p. 70). The hatred continued even years after his death. “Thirty-one years after his death the Council of Constance condemned him as a heretic and ordered his bones removed from their tomb, burned, and the ashes thrown in the Severn River” (Mattox, p. 225). “The Constitution of Oxford in 1408 forbade the reading of any Bible in the vernacular, or common language (Pinson, p. 721). “Those who possessed any of his writings (were) made subject to punishment by death” (Mattox, p. 225).
William Tyndale (1495-1536) had a desire “to give the English people a translation of the Bible based not on Latin but upon the original Greek and Hebrew (Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, p. 77). Once a religious leader opined, “we would be better off without God’s law than without the Pope’s law” (Pinson, pp. 86-87). Tyndale responded, “I defy the pope and all his laws. If God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth a plow to know more of scripture than the great body of the clergy now know” (ibid). Tyndale had difficulty accomplishing his translation work in England. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1524. Thus he fled to Germany (Pinson, p. 90). “Tyndale completed his New Testament translation in 1526, with portions of the Old Testament to follow … copies of Tyndale’s work were smuggled into England…. Tyndale was betrayed by one thought to be a friend, kidnapped, imprisoned, strangled, and burned at the stake on October 6, 1536. His final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes” (Terry Hightower, A Handbook on Bible Translations, p. 158).
We are truly fortunate to have such easy access to the Bible. But, do we read it?
A story is told of a devout father whose son was studying for the ministry. The son decided to go to Europe for an advanced degree and the father worried that his simple faith would be spoiled by sophisticated, unbelieving professors. “Don’t let them take Jonah away from you,” he admonished, figuring the swallowed-by-a-great-fish story might be the first part of the Bible to go. Two years later when the son returned, the father asked, “Do you still have Jonah in your Bible!” The son laughed, “Jonah! That story isn’t even in your Bible!” The father replied, “It certainly is! What do you mean?” Again the son laughed and insisted, “It’s not in your Bible. Go ahead, show it to me.” The old man fumbled through his Bible, looking for the Book of Jonah, but he couldn’t find it. At last he checked the table of contents for the proper page. When he turned there, he discovered the three pages comprising Jonah had been carefully cut from his Bible. “I did it before I went away,” said the son. “What’s the difference whether I lost the book of Jonah through studying under non-believers or you lost it through neglect?”