This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8 ESV)
Here in the United States, we take for granted how readily available are copies of the Bible. We take for granted that many faithful translations exist in our language. We take for granted the opportunity to open that sacred book for ourselves.
I think we don’t understand the great privilege we have in having such access to God’s word! There were times in our history that men were killed for translating the Bible into more commonly used tongues, such as Greek, and, especially into tongues of the common people – the vernacular – such as English or German.
There was a time when certain people thought only clergy and the educated elite should read the Bible.
In the first edition preface of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, he said, “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the holy scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues, as though either Christ taught such difficult doctrines that they can only be understood by a few theologians, or the safety of the Christian religion lay in ignorance of it. I should like all women to read the gospel and the epistles of Paul. Would that they were translated into all languages so that not only Scotch and Irish, but Turks and Saracens might be able to read and know them.”
In the preface of Erasmus’s third edition, he said, “Some think it offensive to have the sacred books turned into English or French, but the evangelists turned into Greek what Christ spoke in Syriac, nor did the Latins fear to turn the words of Christ into the Roman tongue – that is, to offer them to the promiscuous multitude... like St. Jerome, I think it a great triumph and glory to the cross if it is celebrated by the tongues of all men; if the farmer at the plow sings some of the mystic Psalms, and the weaver sitting at the shuttle often refreshes himself with something from the gospel. Let the pilot at the rudder hum over a sacred tune, and the matron sitting with gossip or friend at the colander recite something from it.”
You can argue all day as to whether you think Erasmus’s Greek New Testament was expertly translated from Latin or not, but I think his intent was noble, right and helpful. Secondly, you’d have to take the time to become a scholar in Latin and Greek, and even some Aramaic and Hebrew, to even put up a decent argument.
My point is this: Erasmus wanted the word of God in regular folks’ hands!
In a homily, Erasmus said, “Do we desire to learn, is there then any authority better than Christ? We read and reread the works of a friend, but there are thousands of Christians who have never read the gospels and the epistles in all their lives. The Mohammadans study the Koran, and Jews peruse Moses. Why do we not the same for Christ? He is our only doctor. On him the spirit descended and a voice said, ‘Hear ye him!’ … Happy is he whom death overtakes meditating thereon. Let us then thirst for it, embrace it, steep ourselves in it, die in it, be transformed thereby. … In [the scriptures] we have Christ speaking, healing, dying and rising and more genuinely present than were we to view him with the eyes of the flesh.”
O that we’d look upon God’s word for ourselves! O that we’d meditate! O that we’d soak in his thoughts until they become ours.
O that we’d see the grand privilege of having the Bible, freely, in our own language, without interference from governments!