Before the advent of the vernacular Bible, which was made available to the general public by printing, most people did not know what the Bible actually said. Thereafter, they could read it for themselves and decide, for themselves, what it meant. Their free discussions about the authority of the Church and state fostered concepts of constitutional government in England, which in turn were the indispensable prerequisites for the American colonial revolt. Without the vernacular Bible—the English Bible in particular, through its impact on the reformation of English politics—there could not have been democracy as we know it, or even what today we call the “Free World.”
In short, the English Bible, with all the followed in its train, had sanctioned the right and capacity of the people to think for themselves.
This passage (emphasis mine) from Wide as the Waters (p. 269) is the heart of author Benson Bobrick’s hypothesis that “the English Bible remains the most influential book ever published and the King James Version the famous of all translations.”
I did not read this book word for word. I skimmed a great deal because, frankly, all the details on (for instance) the backgrounds of the translators of the King James Version is of no interest to me.
Bobrick traces the origins of the English Bible through John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, King James I and John Bunyan. There’s a lot of details on the lives of these men that may not interest the average reader. I love history and I found myself skimming some of the information.
However, a few of observations, ‘take-aways’, surfaced:
- people in charge, in authority do not, generally, like to have their position challenged. We see this clearly in the Gospels. The ruling Jewish authorities opposed Jesus, often vehemently, plotting and eventually achieving his death. So too was the case of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. Those leaders were opposed to translating the Bible—it threatened their power base.
- the Bible will survive. In spite of opposition and persecution, the Bible lives on. I don’t have a reference for this, but learned recently that a copy of the book of Isaiah, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (2400 years old), is (except for some punctuation) identical to the Isaiah found in our Bibles today! Remarkable.
- the Word of God is living and active and does not return empty but accomplishes what God wants it to accomplish (Hebrews 4:12 & Isaiah 55:11)
- the Word continues to change lives and societies wherever and whenever people receive it in their tongue and can read it for themselves.
Pretty remarkable for a book, don’t you think? Perhaps we should do something radical like base our lives on it.
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (trivia: the only named character in the parables), the rich man, in hell, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers so they don’t end up in hell too—
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. ’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. ’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Jesus in these verses (Luke 16:29-31) is telling us that the Scriptures are a more powerful witness to the truth than someone rising from the dead. People choose not to believe. There is nothing worse (that I can imagine) than being like the rich man and missing the opportunity of spending eternity with Jesus and knowing you’ve missed it.
Because of the work of men like the reformers and later Tyndale and others, the light of Scripture shone upon our forefathers and shines upon us today.