This is the last in the series on the global year of the Bible. The first two letters emphasized the importance and the benefits of daily Bible reading. The 2020 Global Year of the Bible ends on December 31. But the daily reading of the Bible does not end with it. We embarked on this venture in concert with the World Evangelical Fellowship( WEF) which declared 2020 The Global Year of the Bible. The spirit behind it being to promote daily Bible reading worldwide and the relevance of its teaching to the contemporary church and the challenges of a Post-Christian culture.
In his 1983 Proclamation of the Year of the Bible, President Ronald Reagan said:
Of the many influences that have shaped the United States of America into a distinctive Nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible. Deep religious stemming (sic form) the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land.
Similarly, his successor, George W. Bush in his Proclamation 6100- International Year of Bible Reading,1990 stated:
Among the great books produced throughout the history of mankind, the Bible has been prized above all others by generations of men and women around the world— by people of every age, race, and every walk of life. The Bible has had a critical impact upon the development of Western civilization. Western literature, art, and music are filled with images and ideas that can be traced to its pages. More Important, our moral tradition has been shaped by the laws and teachings it contains…The Bible has not only influenced the development of our Nation’s values and institutions but also enriched the daily lives of millions of men and women who have looked to it for comfort, hope, and guidance.
The Bible in History
The two Presidents are absolutely correct. The Bible has throughout history had transforming influence and made tremendous impact not only on America as a nation but on nations and peoples of other cultures and indeed the entire mankind. Its teaching has brought civility not only to savage cultures, but to civilized ones which have unleashed cruelty to the weak, administered injustice to minorities, and taken undue advantage of the ignorant.
The abolition of slavery and child labor, prison reforms, establishment of educational institutions and medical facilities have all been pioneered by men and women who were influenced by the teaching of the Bible. The value of the Bible’s teaching has been esteemed through history by both people of Judeo-Christian faith and non-Christians alike. One of the oldest translations of the Bible, Septuagint((LXX) was completed before 250 BC at the request of the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Alexandria, Egypt. The monarch wanted the Greek translation for the education and moral instruction of the Diaspora Jews in his domain who could not read the Hebrew language. Because of its perceived value, copying, translation and preservation of portions of the Bible, especially the Old Testament was a practice begun in antiquity. These portions of Scripture were either for liturgical purpose or for personal edification. This brings to mind the Masoretes and those of the Qumran community known as the Essenes. Moreover, it was the proliferation of various translations of the Bible in Old Latin, that prompted Pope Damascus 1 to commission Jerome to produce a standard translation in a common (vulgar) Vulgate language. This unprecedented work which took nearly 24 years to produce became and remains the standard version of the Roman Catholic church.
As can be deduced, the goal of Bible translation is to make the Bible not only available, but readable in the common language of a given populace. But it would be mistaken to assume that this fact was a given prior to the Reformation. Quite on the contrary. During the Middle Ages, ownership of the Bible was beyond the dream of the wealthy much less the commoners. Besides being scarce, the price of a copy of the Bible, if at all available was prohibitive. The Bible was so scarce that it was customary for the only available copy for a local church to be chained to the pulpit to prevent theft. Even the mere reading of the Bible in any vernacular language other than Latin was forbidden. The possession of the Bible outside the circle of the clergy was not only forbidden, but a treasonable offense.
The “Morning Star” Of the Reformation
John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the entire Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. This was no doubt a very daring undertaking for his time. Wycliffe’s motivation for this venture was based upon his theory of “dominion of grace” by which he meant that everyone is directly responsible to God and immediately responsible to obey His law. He rejected the status quo of the mediation of the priests or the magisterial authority of the church. He was convinced that the sacred duty of reading the holy Scriptures is beyond the legislation of any clerical or magisterial control.
Wycliffe was preceded by many others who had translated bit and portions of the Scriptures for liturgical uses, poetical likeness or merely for its aesthetic appeal. But Wycliffe had a declared goal to make the Scriptures available for the common man to read, understand and live according to the teaching of the Bible.
Wycliffe’s impetus was further fueled by the pervading moral laxity and abuse of clerical authority in the church. These included priests and bishops living with concubines, selling of clerical office (Simony), selling of indulgences, and praying to the saints. Wycliffe distanced himself further from the church when he denounced the church’s eucharistic doctrine of Transubstantiation (the belief that during the mass, the bread and wine of the communion transform into actual body and blood of Jesus). Wycliffe offered the following statement for his rejection of the church’s doctrines:
Those Heretics who pretend that the laity need not to know God’s law but that the knowledge which priests have had imparted to them by word of mouth is sufficient, do not deserve to be listened to. For Holy Scriptures is the faith of the Church, and the more widely its true meaning becomes known the better it will be. Therefore, since the laity should know the faith, it should be taught in whatever language is most easy to know Christ and hence, His apostles taught the people in the language best known to them.
Not only did Wycliffe translate the Bible into English, but he encouraged his followers known as the Lollards to travel all over England and Europe distributing the Scriptures.
Wycliffe’s Bible translation and its circulation so enraged the church authority that years after his death, it passed an edict in 1408, the Constitutions of Oxford which forbade anyone from translating or reading the Bible or portions of it in any other language than the Latin Vulgate without the approval of a diocesan bishop. The edict passed a death verdict by burning for anyone who dared violate its stipulations.
About 150 years after Wycliffe’s death, the Reformers embraced his position and promoted the work of Bible translation in various vernacular languages. This they did to enable the laity to read the Bible on their own without the mediation of the clergy. Among the monumental achievements of this period was the translation of the Bible into German from the original languages by Martin Luther. Before the Reformation, the church wielded a stringent authority over the laity by restricting the reading of the Bible only by the priests. And only in Latin, which most of the laity could neither read nor understand. In addition, all the liturgies, sermons and sacraments were said and administered in Latin. This resulted in the latter’s ignorance of Scriptural truth and exploitation. But the Reformers felt that it is impossible to live righteously and piously without freedom and access to the Bible by the laity. Hence, they insisted and risked their lives up to the point of death to make the Bible available in the common language of the people.
William Tyndale was the first person to translate the entire Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. He was both defiant and courageous. He was arrested and condemned for translating the Bible into the English language. While in prison awaiting execution, he wrote “I defy the pope and all his laws. And if God spares my life, ere many years, I would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than the pope himself.”
In 1536 while being tied to the stake, he prayed, “Lord, Open the King of England’s eyes.” How quickly his prayer was answered. The King of England for whom he prayed was Henry V111. The King was a chief opponent of the new and popular Bible translation. A year later, following his fallout with the pope over his divorce and disaffection with the Roman Catholic Church, King Henry V111 who had become the Head of the Church of England gave approval for the Bible to be distributed all over his kingdom.
The Moral of The Story
I suspect by now some may be bored or wondering why all these long unfamiliar stories and details? It is important in order to help gain some insight into the history of the Bible as a book. The Bible is God’s book. But the Bible is more than an ordinary book. The Bible is God’s propositional revelation to man. It is God’s revelation of Himself and His will to us on how to know Him and to live in accordance with His will and plan for our lives. God took the initiative to put these in writing.” Then the LORD spoke to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them’. Exo. 24:12. Both the early copyists of the Scriptures and the later translators of the Bible had the discernment to distinguish the Scriptures from the writings of men like Homer, Plato, Shakespeare or even the saintly Augustine. The solemnity with which the Bible was copied, preserved and translated showed that those ancients and Reformers recognized that they were not handling an ordinary writing, but a sacred document. Someone has called the Bible from God to us. That is right. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself in a written form. Besides God’s revelation of Himself in Christ Jn1:18; 14:9; Heb.1:1, the only other revelation of God to us is the BIBLE.
When the 2020 global Year of the Bible ends on December 31, the daily reading and relevance of the Bible continues. Of all the books and the literary works of men, the Bible is the most enduring and surpasses them all. Do you wonder why it has remained the all-time BEST SELLER from MAIN STREET to WALL STREET.
The Bible has outlived its critics, haters and opponents. While it is true that it has been hand-copied and translated by men through the ages, but its origin is from GOD.
THIS MORAL OF THE STORY is lyrically expressed in the old classic by Haldor Lillenas.
The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
‘Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime
The Bible stands tho’ the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands.
The Bible stands like a mountain tow’ring
Far above the works of men;
It’s truth by none ever was refuted,
And destroy it they never can.
The Bible stands and it will forever,
When the world has passed away;
By inspiration it has been given,
All its precepts I will obey.
The Bible stands every test we give it,
For its author is Divine;
By grace alone I expect to live it,
And to prove it and make it mine.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!
Author: Rev. Joseph Ezeigbo
Rev. Joseph Ezeigbo is the Vice-Chairman of ECWA USA and a Bible teacher for the weekly Bible study at ECWA Maryland. He is also a part of the National Day of Prayer and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted.