Silence, or Else…

Under Catholic rule, development of a Bible that was accessible to the common people was stalled, and the official Bible of the papal church, the Latin Vulgate, stood mostly alone for a millennium. This would change…

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” – Psalm 56:4

Coming a thousand years after the Vulgate, Wycliffe’s English translation was composed in 1380 AD, written in the common tongue for the common folk. Though literacy was highly limited at the time, Wycliffe was regardless convinced of its necessity, saying “it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.”¹ 

Written without the authorization of the Catholic Church, Wycliffe’s translation was quickly suppressed. In spite of this, it became quite popular, and in an effort to preempt any further distractions, the authorities of the Oxford Convocation of 1408 AD voted that absolutely no new translations could be produced without the expressed approval of the church. Such measures were fruitless, as time would reveal.

In 1456 AD, one of the most important developments in Biblical outreach occurred. Using the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg sidestepped a millennia of hand-transcription with the development of the first printed Bible – a version of the Latin Vulgate – setting a precedent for essentially all future Bibles. The advantage of the printing press in its application to the spread of the gospel absolutely cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

Commenting on the matter, the Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons wrote, “It was well for Luther that he did not come into the world until a century after the immortal invention of Guttenberg. A hundred years earlier his idea of directing two hundred and fifty million men to read the Bible would have been received with shouts of laughter, and would inevitably have caused his removal from the pulpit of Wittenburg to a hospital for the insane.”²  One cannot read those words without gathering a sense of the hatred such men as this had for those who endeavored to equip even common folk with the Scriptures.

The path to our modern Bibles saw another great milestone in 1516 AD. That year, the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus developed what would come to be known as the Textus Receptus. A vastly intelligent man, it has been said that he could wield Latin – a language which had by that time been dead nearly a thousand years – effortlessly and with an impressive acuity. Bypassing a simple retranslation of the Vulgate, Erasmus instead, utilizing a half-dozen partial Greek manuscripts he had acquired, opted for a fresh translation. Through his work, the errors and corruptions of the Catholic Latin text could clearly be seen, causing many to question the authority of the Roman establishment.

Quinten Massys, Desiderius Erasmus 1517
Desiderius Erasmus, Quinten Massys 1517

References:

  1. Robinson, Henry Wheeler,”The Bible in its Ancient and English Versions,” Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, USA, (1970), pp. 137–45
  2. Gibbons, Cardinal James, “The Faith of Our Fathers: Being a Plain Exposition and Vindication of the Church Founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ,” J.P. Kennedy & Sons, New York, 1877,  pg 69

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