Inside View Sep/Oct 2021
The Western church relies heavily on English translations of the original manuscripts of Scripture. Until John Wycliffe’s first complete translation in 1382, no English translations existed. However, it and other earlier translations were considered heresies and outlawed by the church. Most people were illiterate and relied on church leaders to tell them what the Bible said. But three key events six centuries ago changed everything.
1. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in mid-15th-century Germany meant books suddenly could be printed and sold at affordable prices. The first book printed was the Bible.
2. The Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century made it acceptable to question the church’s orthodoxy and authority if either contradicted Scripture. As the Reformation took hold in Europe, more and more people viewed the Bible’s authority above that of church leaders.
3. A 16th-century authorized translation from Latin into English permanently changed the church. Lower printing costs, combined with the increased tendency to question church authority, led to a growing desire to put the Bible into everyone’s hands. Translating the Scriptures into English was quicker and simpler than trying to teach everyone Latin.
To be sure, early translators of the English Bible were considered heretics and faced severe persecution. Some lost their lives; others were beaten and imprisoned. But in time, English translations became accepted in the church, and the English Bible became the textbook for teaching men and women in the Western World how to read.
As more people became literate and able to study Scripture, they began to see contradictions between the church’s teaching and God’s Word. This disparity fueled the Reformation. Splinter groups arose within the established church, and a reliance on the literal reading and interpretation of Scripture overtook the long-held teachings of the church fathers.
Reading the Bible also triggered a new understanding of key biblical truths, along with a renewed appreciation for the Jewish people. In many corners, the church was no longer seen as the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. People realized the Bible taught that God had a plan to restore His Kingdom, and it involved Israel.
Consequently, a new movement emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries called Restorationism—the belief that God would restore the Jewish people to the land He promised them. All the promises He made to Israel were considered valid, and many were yet to be fulfilled.
Restorationism became extremely popular in the Western church. Many believed God would use the church to restore the nation of Israel before He restored His Kingdom on Earth; and their efforts were instrumental in birthing the Christian Zionism movement, a predecessor of the Jewish Zionist movement that helped influence the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Today we have many English Bibles. But conveying the nuances of Scripture remains a challenge of Bible translation. For example, God commanded Moses to establish the sin offerings, saying, “When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock” (Lev. 1:2). In the NKJV, ESV, and NIV, to name a few, the word translated “any one [or anyone] of you” is the Hebrew word adam, which also means “man, men,” or “Adam.”
Why is that important? Because God chose adam, rather than the common Hebrew word ish, to connect the sin sacrifices with the person who brought sin and death into the world. We all descend from Adam and therefore are all sinners (Rom. 5:12). God literally was saying, “When an adam from among you brings a sacrifice . . . ” The first Adam brought death; the last Adam, Jesus Christ, brings life everlasting (1 Cor. 15:22).
Everything God is doing—past, present, and future—connects us with the first Adam’s rebellion and the last Adam’s restoration of God’s Kingdom on Earth, with Jesus ruling as King of kings. Today, we read our English Bible with little appreciation for the efforts, sacrifices, and events that gave it to us. Yet it is good to consider how much better our lives are because of it.