Chances are that near you, right now, is an English copy of the Bible either in print or digital form. Perhaps there are multiple copies in multiple translations. I have two offices that consist of dozens of Bibles. We modern Westerners take such an abundance of God’s Word for granted. No other generation has ever been so blessed.
In his History of the Scottish Reformation, John Knox chronicles the struggle for the English Bible in Scotland. William Tyndale published the New Testament in English in 1526 from Germany – an illegal act at the time. Although there were few copies of Wycliffe’s translation being smuggled in throughout England and Scotland at the time, Tyndale’s version was the first translation of the New Testament from the Greek and it spread like a wildfire.
In response to Tyndale’s translation, both Scotland and England banned any and all copies of the Bible in English. One dear saint, Knox recounts for the reader, Forest of Linlithgow was burned at the stake “for non uther cryme but becaus he had ane New Testament in Engliss” (53)
Around 1540-1541 (Knox does not give a lot of dates), Parliament took up the debate. The law had been “That under pane of heresye, no man should reade any parte of the Scriptures in the Engliss toung, nether yitt any tractat or expositioun of any place of Scripture.” (98)
From here, Knox provides the reader with a number of arguments the early reformers made in favor of the Bible in the vernacular. First, the common man did not understand Latin. It is logical “for latine ment to have it in Latyne, Graecianes or Hebrewis to have it in thare tounges.” (98)
Secondly, Christ has commanded that the gospel be preached to all the nations. Why preach in the language of the people but read Scripture in a foreign tongue?
“Now, yf it aught to be praeched to all nationis, it must be preached in the tung thei understand: Now, yf it be launchfull to preach it, and to hear it preached in all tongues, why shall it not be lauchfull to read it, and to hear it rd in all tongues? (99)
More arguments were made, but by the end:
The conclusioun was, the Commissionaris of browghtis, and a parte of the Nobilitie requyred of the Parliament, that it mycht be ennacted, “that it should be lauchfull to everie man to use the benefite of the translatioun which then thei had of the Bibill and New Testament, togitther with the benefite of other tractises conteanyng holsome doctrine, unto such tyme as the Prelattis and Kirk men should geve and sett furth unto thame ane translatioun more correct.” (100)
This means that by an Act of Parliament, “it was maid free to all man and woman to reid the Scriptures in the air awin tong, or in the Engliss toung.” This officially took place on March 15th 1542 or 1543.
The significance of this event is made clear by Knox when he states, “This was no small victorie of Christ Jesus.” Indeed it was. Reading the Bible in English undermined the power of the papacy arguably more than any other event in the Reformation. The same is true in Germany when Luther translated the Bible into the common tongue. When people began reading the Bible and pastor’s began preaching the text with clarity, the laity understood how unbiblical and corrupt the Church had become.
No small victory indeed!
A Year in Scotland: Blogging Through The Works of John Knox – Introduction
A Year in Scotland: Blogging Through The Works of John Knox – Lollards of Kyle
A Year in Scotland: Blogging Through The Works of John Knox – Patrick Hamilton
A Year in Scotland: Blogging Through The Works of John Knox – English Bible