4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:4-6 ESV)
NOTE: For the past several years now I have wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated “Reformation Day” – the day church history remembers a learned German monk named Martin Luther who nailed his 95 Theses questioning the current practice of the sale of indulgences (and ultimately key doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church) to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. This action ultimately played a role in sparking the Reformation and the beginning of Protestantism. Luther certainly was not alone as is no individual in a true Gospel revival or great movement in history. Today I wish to highlight an individual those of us who read the Bible in English should be thankful for.
A motto of the Reformers was Post Tenebras Lux “After Darkness, Light,” the greatest way the reformers brought light in to the darkness was to translate the Scriptures in to the language of the people.
William Tyndale is known as the father of the English Bible (I like to insert that if Tyndale is the “father”, Luther can certainly be considered the “uncle”), and for good reason. He was the first to tackle the monumental task of translating the scriptures in to the “vulgar” English tongue using the knowledge of the Greek text made accessible by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1516. His greatest sin (according to the “powers that be”) was his interpretive license with certain words like ecclesia, which he translated “congregation” rather than “church” to distinguish between the established clergy and hierarchical church government and what he believed the Greek word actually meant (literally the “called out ones”), that is, every Christian.
“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.”
Today, countless plow boys can be thankful for the labor and life of men like William Tyndale who gave their lives for the task of translation ensuring even the English might hear the gospel, “in their own language.” His work is even more far reaching than one might imagine. It has been estimated that 83% of the New Testament of the KJV published in 1611 derives from Tyndale.
Tyndale was burned at the stake on October 6, 1536 (for “heresies” connected with his translation efforts) and according to Foxes book of Martyrs cried,
“Lord, open the King of England’s Eyes.”
As we trace the history of the English Bible from Tyndale to Coverdale to Rogers to Geneva and ultimately to the “Authorized” version, I love to point individuals to the note in the front of the original KJV entitled, “Translators to the Reader”:
My favorite, and I believe the most sound excerpt from the note is this: it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Transla- tion it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; You can read it in context here:
But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? . . . it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Transla- tion it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered [Gen 29:10]. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which is deep) [John 4:11] without a bucket or something to draw with; or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, “Read this, I pray thee,” he was fain to make this answer, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”
[the Apostles and early church] provided Trans- lations into the vulgar for their Countrymen, insomuch that most nations under heaven did shortly after their conversion, hear CHRIST speaking unto them in their mother tongue, not by the voice of their Minister only, but also by the written word translated.
The task of seeing the Bible translated in to the common languages of the people groups of the world is not over. In fact, there are over 2,000 languages in which the Bible does not yet exist. This Reformation Day, let us consider what drove these men to give their very lives for the furtherance of the Gospel and the written word and let us not neglect the ongoing task which they started.
This Church of England liturgy on the date of Tyndale’s Martyrdom is an appropriate prayer for us all:
“Lord, give your people grace to hear and keep your word that, after the example of your servant William Tyndale, we may not only profess your gospel but also be ready to suffer and die for it, to the honour of your name; …”
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mat 24:14 ESV)
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10 ESV)
For more on Tyndale I recommend this talk by John Piper: Always Singing One Note – A Vernacular Bible