"In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus
concerning you" (1 Thess. 5:18).
The next time you read your English Bible, remember the following three
incidents and then give thanks that you have a Bible to read in English.
Incident One. No effort is known to have been made to translate
Jerome’s Latin version of the Scriptures into the language of the people until the
year 706, when Eadhelm translated into the Saxon language the book of Psalms. The Gospels
are said to have been translated soon after, by Egbert. Some years later the illustrious
Bede, the most famous scholar of his day, made a version for the use of his countrymen. It
is narrated of this good old man, by one of his pupils, that even as he lay on his
deathbed he was feebly dictating to his scribe a translation of St. John’s Gospel.
With the setting sun gilding the window of his cell, the old man lay feebly dictating the
closing words. "There remains but one chapter, master," said the anxious scribe,
"but it seems very hard for you to speak." "Nay, it is easy," Bede
replied, "take up thy pen and write quickly." Amid blinding tears the young
scribe wrote on. "And now only one sentence remains." Bede dictated it. "It
is finished, master!", cried the youth, raising his head as the last word was
written. "Ay, it is finished!", echoed Bede. With a last prayer upon his lips
his beautiful spirit passed to the presence of Him whose Word he had, almost with his last
breath, striven to teach.
Incident Two. As the Saxon language merged into what we now know as
the English language, the people of England felt the time had come when the Bible in
English ought to be in the hands of the people. John Wycliffe was raised up to do this
great work for the people of his time. We do not know how Wycliffe became imbued with the
spirit of biblical research and translation, at a time when the Bible was almost an unused
book to the great body of the clergy. Wycliffe found a Bible, and he poured over it so
long and earnestly, and with such fervent prayer to God, that it became to him the source
of a new spiritual existence. Wycliffe gave priority to the translation of the Bible into
the common tongue of the English people. Soon copies of Wycliffe’s Bible were widely
scattered throughout England, in spite of the fact that all of them had to be written with
the pen. The cost of written books was so great that only the wealthier class of people
could afford to buy a Bible. Portions were learned by heart and recited to eager
listeners, so that a knowledge of the Scriptures began to enter like a ray of light into
the dark ignorance concerning spiritual things.
Incident Three. Then came the setting up of the first printing
press in England. In 1482, William Tyndale was born. Tyndale quickly made himself familiar
with the Bible. He set to work to translate it into English. He was not one of those who,
having put their hands to the plough, look back. He had determined that England should
have the word of God spread among her people by means of the new invention of printing,
and he had calmly counted the cost. If his work could not be done in England, he would
accomplish it in Germany. There he at last accomplished his design, producing for the
first time a complete, printed New Testament in English. In boxes, in barrels, in bales of
cloth, in sacks of flour, he began to ship his dangerous merchandise to England. Great was
the commotion they created among the hostile clergy. Wycliffe’s testaments had been
troublesome enough, even though it took months to write out a single copy, and the cost
prevented any but the rich buying it. But here were books pouring into the country which
could be printed at the rate of hundreds each day, and at a price within the reach of all.
In spite of all opposition, including the public burning of some of these Testaments, the
book was being everywhere talked about and read. The path of the Bible was open at last.
Not king nor pope could stay its progress. Over England’s long night of error and
superstition and soul-crushing despotism God had said, "Let there be light!" and
there was light.