The Bible's fight to survive:
Make no mistake, from a human standpoint the survival of the Bible was not a foregone conclusion. The communities that produced it suffered such difficult trials and bitter oppression that its survival to our day is truly remarkable. In the years before Christ, the Jews who produced the Hebrew Scriptures (the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Old TestamentÃ¢â‚¬Â) were a relatively small nation. They dwelt precariously amid powerful political states that were jostling with one another for supremacy. Israel had to fight for its life against a succession of nations, such as the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites. During a period when the Hebrews were divided into two kingdoms, the cruel Assyrian Empire virtually wiped out the northern kingdom, while the Babylonians destroyed the southern kingdom, taking the people into an exile from which only a remnant returned 70 years later.
There are even reports of attempted genocide against the Israelites. Back in the days of Moses, Pharaoh ordered the murder of all their newborn baby boys. If his order had been observed, the Hebrew people would have been annihilated. (Exodus 1:15-22) Much later, when the Jews came under Persian rule, their enemies plotted to get a law passed intended to exterminate them. (Esther 3:1-15) The failure of this scheme is still celebrated in the Jewish Festival of Purim.
From Nero's time on, being a Christian was considered a capital offense by Roman authorities.2 In 303Ã‚Â C.E., Emperor Diocletian acted directly against the Bible. In an effort to stamp out Christianity, he ordered that all Christian Bibles should be burned.3
These campaigns of oppression and genocide were a real threat to the BibleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s survival. If the Jews had gone the way of the Philistines and the Moabites or if the efforts of first the Jewish and then the Roman authorities to stamp out Christianity had succeeded, who would have written and preserved the Bible? Happily, the guardians of the BibleÃ¢â‚¬â€first the Jews and then the ChristiansÃ¢â‚¬â€were not wiped out, and the Bible survived.
Then we have another problem:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ¢â‚¬â€2Ã‚Â Peter 2:1,Ã‚Â 2.
Eventually, the apostate church used its political power in a way that was completely opposed to Bible Christianity, introducing another dangerous threat to the Bible.
When Latin died out as an everyday tongue, new translations of the Bible were needed. But the Catholic Church no longer favored this. In 1079 Vratislaus, who later became king of Bohemia, asked the permission of Pope GregoryÃ‚Â VII to translate the Bible into the language of his subjects. The popeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s answer was no.1
The Church Burned Bibles!
The pope wanted the Bible to be kept in the now-dead tongue of Latin. Its contents were to be kept Ã¢â‚¬Å“secret,Ã¢â‚¬Â not translated into the languages of the common people. JeromeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5thÃ‚Â century to make the Bible accessible to all, now became a means of keeping it hidden.
As the Middle Ages progressed, the ChurchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stand against vernacular Bibles hardened. In 1199 Pope InnocentÃ‚Â III wrote such a strong letter to the archbishop of Metz, Germany, that the archbishop burned all the German-language Bibles he could find.3 In 1229 the synod of Toulouse, France, decreed that Ã¢â‚¬Å“lay peopleÃ¢â‚¬Â could not possess any Bible books in the common tongue.4 In 1233 a provincial synod of Tarragona, Spain, commanded that all books of Ã¢â‚¬Å“the Old or New TestamentÃ¢â‚¬Â be handed over to be burned.5 In 1407 the synod of clergy summoned in Oxford, England, by Archbishop Thomas Arundel expressly forbade the translating of the Bible into English or any other modern tongue.6 In 1431, also in England, Bishop Stafford of Wells forbade the translating of the Bible into English and the owning of such translations.7
These religious authorities were not trying to destroy the Bible. They were trying to fossilize it, keep it in a language that only a few could read. In this way, they hoped to prevent what they called heresy but what really amounted to challenges to their authority.
Individuals suffered terribly for the Ã¢â‚¬Å“crimeÃ¢â‚¬Â of owning a Bible. 8
Eventually, after the Protestant rebellion against Roman Catholic power in the 16thÃ‚Â century, the Roman Catholic Church itself produced translations of the Bible in the everyday languages of Europe. But even then, the Bible was associated more with Protestantism than with Catholicism. As Roman Catholic priest Edward J.Ã‚Â Ciuba wrote: Ã¢â‚¬Å“One would honestly have to admit that one of the more tragic consequences of the Protestant Reformation was a neglect of the Bible among the Catholic faithful. While it was never completely forgotten, the Bible was a closed book for most Catholics.Ã¢â‚¬Â9
The Word of God Survives
It is remarkable, indeed, that the book has survived until today and still exercises a good influence on many peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lives. The Bible has survived bitter opposition to translating it, onslaughts from modernistic scholars, and the unchristian conduct of its false friends included in Christendom. Why? Because the Bible is unlike any other written work. The Bible cannot die. It is the Word of God, and the Bible itself tells us: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures for evermore.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ¢â‚¬â€Isaiah 40:8, The New English Bible.
1. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B.Ã‚Â Pritchard, 1969, pp.Ã‚Â vi, xii, xiii, xiv.
2. The Annals, by Tacitus, BookÃ‚Â XV. 39, 44 (Latin Selections, edited by Moses Hadas and Thomas Suits, 1961, p.Ã‚Â 227).
3. The Cambridge History of the Bible, edited by S.Ã‚Â L.Ã‚Â Greenslade, 1963, Vol.Ã‚Â 3, p.Ã‚Â 476.
4. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, by Sir Frederic Kenyon, 1958, p.Ã‚Â 50.
5. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p.Ã‚Â 79.
6. A Light to the Nations, by Norman K.Ã‚Â Gottwald, 1959, p.Ã‚Â 40.
7. The Dead Sea Scrolls, by Millar Burrows, 1955, pp.Ã‚Â 303, 304.
8. Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text, edited by Frank Moore Cross and Shemaryahu Talmon, 1975, pp.Ã‚Â 276, 277.
9. An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament, by W. O.Ã‚Â E.Ã‚Â Oesterley and Theodore H.Ã‚Â Robinson, 1958, p.Ã‚Â 21.
10. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p.Ã‚Â 55.
1. The Lollard Bible and Other Medieval Biblical Versions, by Margaret Deanesly, 1920, p.Ã‚Â 24.
2. The Lollard Bible, p.Ã‚Â 227.
3. The Lollard Bible, pp.Ã‚Â 30-33.
4. The Lollard Bible, p.Ã‚Â 36.
5. The Lollard Bible, p.Ã‚Â 48.
6. The Lollard Bible, pp.Ã‚Â 295, 296.
7. The Lollard Bible, p.Ã‚Â 328.
8. The History of Christian Martyrdom, by John Foxe, 1873, p.Ã‚Â 130; Casiodoro de Reina, Spanish Reformer of the Sixteenth Century, by A.Ã‚Â Gordon Kinder, p.Ã‚Â 16.
9. Who Do You Say That I Am? by Edward J.Ã‚Â Ciuba, 1974, p.Ã‚Â viii.
10. The Crusades, by Hans Eberhard Mayer, translated by John Gillingham, 1978, p.Ã‚Â 44.
11. The Universal History of the World, by Edith Firoozi and Ira N.Ã‚Â Klein, 1966, Vol.Ã‚Â IX, p.Ã‚Â 732.
12. A Brief History of Ancient, MediÃƒÂ¦val, and Modern Peoples, by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, 1883, pp.Ã‚Â 428, 429.
13. The Church and Its Mission: A Shattering Critique From the Third World, by Orlando E.Ã‚Â Costas, 1974, p.Ã‚Â 245.