October 31, 2011

The English Bible and the Protestant Reformation

Since it's Reformation Day, I thought I'd re-post another article from a couple years back.  It was also the introduction to yesterday's sermon, from Psalm 119.24, entitled "Your Testimonies are my Delight."


“Our Father which art in heaven hallowed be Thy name.” So many of us know those words so well. Our parents or Sunday School teachers taught them to us decades ago … and we can still remember them now – twenty, thirty, forty years on. But did you know that there was a time when those parents and Sunday School teachers could have been burned alive for teaching you those lines from Matthew 6?

It’s true. That is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church was doing in the early 1500’s. Not only was it politically expedient, in the middle ages, for the common man to be prevented from reading the Bible in his own language … but the Church itself realized that many of its practices could not be found in the Scriptures, and would actually be unmasked as heretical and soul-destroying if normal people could actually read God’s word. So the Bible – by both church and political laws – was kept locked in the Latin tongue that almost no one could read. And if you were caught reading, possessing, or reciting the newly (and illegally) published English version … the penalty was uniform: death by burning at the stake.

That was the fate that numerous people suffered in England – for reading or possessing the Bible in English! Included among them were seven parents, in 1519, who dared to teach their children the Lord’s Prayer in their own language.

It may distress some Christians that the Ten Commandments are being systematically removed from public display. But that is almost like nothing in comparison to the 1500’s! We can still display the commandments in our homes and churches. We can still own, read, and teach the Bible freely. We can stand on Fountain Square and read it aloud if we want. But here were seven parents who died for teaching Matthew 6.9-13 to their children … in English. It is absolutely unthinkable. And yet it was real. And it happens, in other nations with other languages, even today. And, oh, how we should pray that God continues to give His suffering people strength.

But as we approach the 494th anniversary of the beginning of Protestant Reformation (10/31) … we should thank God for these martyrs for the English Bible. Yes (praise God!) Luther, Calvin, and others rediscovered the biblical and liberating doctrine of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus alone (and not by works of the law). But we English speakers might have totally missed the blessing were it not for a few brave men and women who dared to get the Bible into English – against the law. Men like John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, and Miles Coverdale translated it – and Tyndale was martyred for doing so. Countless cloth workers smuggled the English Bible into England hidden in bales of cloth sent over from the European continent. And then there were those brave men and women who lost their lives for simply possessing the word of God. Their deaths were not in vain. For such cruelty always arouses the attention of the public to the injustices of those in power … and fans the flame of hunger for God’s word, and for justice!

So this October 31; this Reformation Day – remember these English translators, cloth-workers, and martyrs. And thank God that we have the Bible – and the message of salvation, full and free in Jesus alone – in our own language!


To read more on this topic, check out Piper's bio on William Tyndale (where I got most of this info).

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