(A BIBLE FOR WHICH MEN DIED—continued)
But even more than the Greek New Testament, the Roman Church feared the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. In the Translators’ Preface to the Reader we find the following reference to this attitude of the Roman Church: “So much are they afraid of the light of the Scripture that they will not trust the people with it, no not as it is set forth by their own sworn men, no not with the License of their own Bishops and Inquisitors. Yea, so unwilling they are to communicate the Scriptures to the people’s understanding in any sort, that they are not ashamed to confess, that we forced them to translate it into English against their wills.” Thus all the wrath of Rome came down upon those who were involved in getting the Bible into the hands of the people.
John Wycliffe, translator of the first complete English Bible, was one of the first to feel the wrath of Rome, even though he translated from the Latin. He translated the Bible with the expressed purpose of promoting the Reformation of the church. But the circulation of his Bible was bitterly opposed by the Roman Church. Those who read it and disseminated it were denounced as heretics. Wycliffe himself was accused of being “a master of errors” and was condemned as a heretic. Even though they could not capture him in life because of his powerful friends, nevertheless, forty years after his death they disinterred his body, burned his bones, and scattered the ashes in the Swift River.
William Tyndale, who so greatly influenced the King James Version, was so persecuted that he was not even allowed to translate the Bible in England. He had to do it in Germany. But even there he was not left alone. He was hunted down by both the emissaries of Henry VIII and of the Roman Church. In order to elude them he was compelled not only to move with great secrecy, but to assume other names. When finally his translation came off the press and was circulated in England, it was branded as “crafty, false, and untrue” and was forbidden to be kept and used in the land. Many copies were confiscated and burned. Tyndale himself was slandered by his enemies. They maliciously circulated the slander that his New Testament was only an English translation of Luther. Tonstal preached against Tyndale’s Testament and alleged at St. Paul’s Cross that it contained not less than two thousand mistranslated texts. His enemies finally captured him in early 1535 and imprisoned him for eighteen months in the castle of Vilvorde. All who talked with him in the castle witnessed of his purity of character. He was even instrumental in the conversion of some. But on the 6th of October, 1536, they led him forth to the place of execution where they tied him to the stake. Tyndale then cried with a loud voice and fervent zeal, “Lord! open the eyes of the King of England.” That was his dying prayer. Then the hangman strangled him to death and burned his body.
John Rogers, who completed and edited Tyndale’s version, found himself in great trouble when “bloody Mary” came to the throne. It was not long before he was imprisoned by that enemy of God and His Word. For half a year he remained a prisoner in his own house, and during all of 1554 he was confined to Newgate prison with thieves and murderers. He was very harshly and cruelly treated. All that time he was refused permission to see his wife and ten children. It was not until he was led to the stake on January 4, 1555 that they met him. There he was burned alive to become the first victim of the wicked Mary.
Thomas Cranmer, who exerted a great deal of pressure to get the Bible into the hands of the people, could not escape the wrath of Queen Mary either. He was tried and convicted of heresy with others of like faith. Before he was executed, he was forced to watch the burning of Latimer and Ridley, who were also of the faith of the Reformation. Mary thought that she had won the day when Cranmer signed a recantation of his Protestantism. But when the fire was put to him, he publicly repudiated his retractions and held the offending hand, which had signed the recantation, in the flame until it was consumed. In his death he did not forsake the faith.
Although Coverdale did not die at the hand of Mary, he did suffer persecution with the rest. He was imprisoned for two and a half years. Several times he was examined by his inquisitors and was in extreme danger of losing his life.
The very existence of the “Geneva Bible” was due to religious persecution. Queen Mary sought to stamp out the Word of God in England and to destroy the faithful with fire and sword. As a result, hundreds of Protestants fled England to find refuge on the continent. Many of them settled in Geneva and there translated the Bible into English. Thus the “Geneva Bible,” in a very unique way, is a Bible that came out of persecution.
Even some of the translators of the King James Version had to suffer for the cause of the Holy Scriptures. They were dedicated to translating the Bible accurately into the language of the people. Many of them sacrificed much for the work and were rewarded with very little. The translators’ Preface to the Reader makes it very clear that there was much opposition to their work. They write, “Thus not only as oft as we speak, as one saith, but also as oft as we do any thing of note or consequence, we subject ourselves to everyone’s censure, and happy is he that is least tossed upon tongues; for utterly to escape the snatch of them is impossible.” But none of this could keep them from doing their work. Like their predecessors, they were willing to endure great hardship in order that they might see the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people. Dr. John Reynolds, the Puritan who petitioned the king for the new translation, died before the. work was finished. His death was caused in part by his diligent study and work on the translation. But when his friends urged him to cease his labors he replied that “for the sake of life, he would not lose the very end of living!” The King James Version is a martyrs’ Bible because the Word of God meant more to these men than the life of this world.
GOD’S WORD TO HIS CHURCH
The new translation did not immediately take over all others. For some time there was a struggle with the “Geneva Bible.” But in the end, the people of God recognized the superior qualities of the King James Version so that it conquered all others. It has gone through hundreds and hundreds of editions in the past 370 years. Some, changes have been made in the spelling, punctuation, italicizing, and cross references. Nevertheless, the King James Version which we have today is basically the same as that published in 1611. It is still the choice of God’s people too. More King James Version Bibles are sold today than any other, even with all the competition from the modern versions.
As far as we know, the King James Version, also called the “Authorized Version,” was never authorized. Even though it was appointed by the King, it was never approved by Parliament nor the Convocation nor the Privy Council. Nevertheless, it is recognized by God’s people as the “Authorized Bible”—God’s Authorized Bible. God has so worked in the hearts of His people that it has been recognized by generation after generation of English speaking Christians as God’s Word. Yea, it has been recognized as the Bible God has given to us in His good providence. There is no other translation so universally regarded as God’s Word. It is the Bible which we must use and which must be our authority in life and doctrine.
Even though the King James Version is not absolutely perfect, it is an excellent translation and by far the best version available today. We must not be taken in by the modern versions and their claims. Our 370 year old Bible is to be preferred above all others because it is better than them all.
1) It was translated by men who are unsurpassed in their knowledge of Biblical studies.
2) The translators were pious men of God who believed in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
3) It is the mature fruit of generations of English translations as well as the careful work of its translators.
4) The King James Version is based upon the “Received Text” rather than the critical texts of modern versions.
5) It is a word-for-word translation which faithfully and accurately reflects the originals. 6) The language is one of reverence and respect which gives honor to the majesty of its Author.
7) Of all the English versions of today, it alone is the Bible of the Reformation.
8) Our spiritual forefathers thought so highly of it that they were willing to suffer and even die for it.
9) It is the version which has been recognized for generations and generations as the Bible God has given to His English-speaking church.
The translators’ admonition to the reader concerning the new translation is certainly just as applicable to us today as it was in 1611. They exhort us, saying, “Ye are brought unto fountains of living water which ye digged not. Do not cast earth into them with the Philistines, neither prefer broken pits before them with the wicked Jews. Others have labored, and you may enter into their labors; O receive not so great things in vain, O despise not so great salvation! Be not like swine to tread under foot so precious things, neither yet like dogs to tear and abuse holy things . . . . If light be come into the world, love not darkness more than light; if food, if clothing be offered, go not naked, starve not yourselves . . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but a blessed thing it is, and will bring us to everlasting blessedness in the end, when God speaketh unto us, to hearken; when he setteth his word before us, to read it; when he stretcheth out his hand and calleth, to answer, Here am I, Here we are to do thy will, O God.”
Indeed, in the King James Version of the Bible we find the fountain of living water. Do not despise it and reject it for the modern versions as so many today. Stand up for the truth of God and defend your Bible against the attacks of its enemies. Do not let them take your Bible away from you. It is yours by the good providence of God.