Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remember the Bible?

Remember that thick book at the bottom of your TBR stack? The one you look away from whenever you see it, guilt plaguing your mind? I really should read it. I know I should . . . but I'm too busy. I have to update my social media status first. Then I'll read a bit.

Two hours later: Well, I guess it's too late now. I'm really tired and have to get up early tomorrow for work, and then there's that birthday party I'm going to afterward. I won't have time tomorrow, but I'll be at church Sunday so that's alright.


So often in today's American culture a family might own ten Bibles. The majority of them sit on a shelf collecting dust, and maybe one per family member rests on a bedside table to be used twice a week. Reading the Bible frequently seems like a chore. Something that should be done, but is more of a task to get over with than the privilege that it is. Compare this to the 1400s and early 1500s in England.

Each week people would attend church services spoken in a language they were unfamiliar with. The Bible would be read in Latin and interpreted by the church who changed the meaning to match its own agenda. Translating the Bible into English was forbidden. People didn't own a single Bible they could understand. They weren't able to study the Bible at leisure. If they were caught with an English Bible, their punishment would be death. In 1519, seven fathers were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord's Prayer in English (Piper). Stop and imagine that for a moment. Parents wanted their children to understand what they were praying, and they were murdered for this.

Why? Why would the church execute Christians, seeking to read the Bible and understand it? Wasn't the church supposed to want people to learn more about God? No. The church wanted people to hear specific things about God (some of these things altogether faulty), and think they knew God. The church was unwilling to lose the power it held over people by making them believe they were saved by good works.

Enter into the scene: William Tyndale.

As Pastor John Piper, founder of desiringGod.org, summarizes Tyndale's life, Tyndale was “always singing one note.” His single-minded focus in life was getting the Bible translated into the common tongue and the hands of every person in England. In Tyndale's famous declaration, he audaciously stated his ambition: “I defy the pope and all his laws . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

Tyndale recognized the importance of people reading the Bible for themselves. Mastering several languages, Tyndale devoted his life to translating the Scriptures to English, despite being wanted by the law and living in exile in Germany for it. Upon completing the Greek New Testament, Tyndale smuggled at least 3,000 copies into England. After studying Hebrew, he published a revised edition of the New Testament in 1534, as well as translating parts of the Old Testament. Piper explained that Tyndale's translations were so accurate, many of his exact translations have remained through today. He estimates that the English Standard Version of the Bible (the translation I primarily use) is over 70% of Tyndale's direct work. Tyndale's Bible was certainly the basis for both the King James Version and Geneva Bible.

While Tyndale dedicated every moment to translation and distribution of the Bibles, the church in England retaliated and burned as many of his Bibles as they could find. Because people had accessed the Scriptures and read them for themselves, more and more started standing against the church's contrary teachings and for the truths they found in the Bible. The number of martyrs grew—for doing nothing more than reading the very book you have three copies of sitting on your shelf, virtually unused. It's a shocking revelation to realize that simply owning only one of what you have multiple copies of would have made you a martyr a few hundred years ago.

Tyndale never was able to complete the Old Testament translation, because he was betrayed by Henry Philips, who Tyndale had thought was a good friend, and arrested in May of 1535 for heresy. The generally accepted date of his strangling and burning is October 6, 1536. While the exact year of his birth is contested, Tyndale was somewhere around the age of 40. He'd spent 12 years of his life in exile, and a long, hard twelve they were. Tyndale died so you could have the Bible in your own language. So that you could read and study it—not leave it lying somewhere unused. Allow George Mueller to remind you of the value of studying the Bible from his own life:
“I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it. . . . What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and . . . not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.”
The next time you see your Bible shoved in between the dictionary and the edge of the shelf, take some time to pull it down, dust it off, and read. Remember the sacrifices people made for the same privilege you have in abundance. America is still a free nation, and you still can access the Bible everywhere you turn. It's an honor. And a command. “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.1-2). Remember what a treasure the Bible is.

Note: Another post I wrote on a similar subject as reading your Bible is one of my favorites, Dear God, Where Have You Been?

Piper, John. “Always Singing One Note—A Vernacular Bible.” Desiring God Conference for Pastors. Desiring God. 31 January 2006. Conference Presentation.

4 comments:

  1. This was a really cool post especially becaude im taking a us history class in college and they always seem to gloss over the fact that a lot of people wanted out of england for teribal persecution. Thabks for being a light to this would thought your writings. Keep up the grewt work!

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    1. Isn't it sad how hard people try to avoid such topics? It's good when there are Christians like you in those environments and can remind people of the truth. Thank YOU for being a light in this oh-so-dark world.
      Blessings to you!

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  2. Wow! This is a very powerful post! Thank you for sharing! You know, I have never actually read through the Bible from cover to cover. But I've just started too, I was thinking just the other day on how many fictional books I read, and really even though the Bible is pretty thick, I can read two to three other pretty thick books in a month... Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover?
    -Brooklyne

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    1. Your comment blessed me, Brooklyne! Thank you! I have often had the same thought about how much fictional reading I do . . . yet I have never read the Bible all the way through. When I think about it that way, I start feeling pretty guilty. Thank the Lord for His grace!

      I've read the New Testament two or three times before, and the Old Testament through 1 Chronicles, but not much beyond that. I think I've probably read about 2/3 of the Bible. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

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