Our Bloody Bible

HE history of the Bible is drenched in blood and reeks of burning flesh. It was written mostly by persecuted authors who often risked their lives penning God’s inspired message. But the bloodshed doesn’t end with the martyrdom of prophets and apostles. Those who possessed, copied, and translated God’s Word have often done so at the risk of life and livelihood.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries stand out for spectacular accomplishments in biblical translation. Last year the BBC covered three specific figures who invested their lives in translating God’s Word. The first individual they discuss is John Wycliffe whose legacy is carried on today by the translation organization named in his honor.

Wycliffe was a graduate and eventually a professor of Oxford University. He gave up the classroom for a church ministry, and in time challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. He directed the translation of the Bible into English, and though he died of natural causes, in the century after his death his remains were dug up, burned, and cast in a river to put an exclamation point on the disapproval those in authority felt for his life and minsitry. He was retroactively labeled a heretic.

Wycliffe inspired the young pastor Jan Hus, who led a congregation in Prague. Like Wycliffee, Hus wanted the people to be able to read God’s Word in their own language and thus recruited a team to translate the Bible into the Czech language. In 1416 they were able to give the people a Prague a Bible they could read. As you might imagine, that mean Hus had to die.

His trial was something like a Vegas act. There was glitz, glamor, and prostitutes for all the religious leaders and onlookers convening in Constance (present day Germany). It’s thought his conviction must have seemed anticlimatic amidst all the partying. He was slaughtered and burned at the stake, a price he was willing to pay to get the Scriptures into the hands of normal folk like you and me.

The next centruy witnessed one of the better known Bible translators, William Tyndale. Tyndale possessed the inocorigible conviction that the people of England should be able to read the Bible in their own language, which required a new translation built upon the shoulders of John Wycliffe. To do so, he moved to Germany where Luther had successfully tranlsated the Scriptures (video depiction of Luther on trial below) in hopes he would be free to set about his task.

Tyndale couldn’t seem to find a safe place, as he was regularly smuggling unfinished publications moments before printing houses were raided. In time he successfully completed a new English translation that would be illegally distributed back in England.

On an evening in the middle of the sixteenth century, Tyndale was invited who to dinner by a friend who conspired against him and handed him over to authorities who rewarded his translation work by tying him up and burning him alive. This is but a short introduction to the blood stained trail of biblical translation leading to what you hold in your hands everytime you open God’s Word.