In the Western world, and for nearly two centuries, Halloween has occupied the limelight of October 31st. Few are aware, however, that October 31st marks another important event that has shaped our world far more than clever costumes and excuses to eat candy. I am speaking, of course, of Reformation Day.
On October 31st, 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg. While purposed to generate discussion on the Catholic sale of indulgences (N.B., and not intended to affect a break with the Catholic Church), Luther’s theses began a chain of events that ushered in the Protestant Reformation, forever changing the landscape of Christianity. In honor of Reformation Day, we’ve decided to unveil our Resource of the Month a day early, and honor Luther along with a host of other key reformers for their contributions to Christianity. Our hats are also off to Tim Challies, for suggesting a third Reformation Day Symposium; stop by his site when you get a chance.
We can think of no better way to kick off this series than to consider the Reformation’s impact on the Bible. If you own a Bible in your native language, you can thank God for people like Martin Luther. In Luther’s day, the only Bible readily “available” was the Vulgate: A Latin translation of the original Greek and Hebrew penned some 1,000 years earlier. If you lived in 16th century Europe, chances were that you didn’t read or speak any Latin outside of the few phrases you might have picked up at church (since mass was in Latin, too). Latin was reserved for the small island of society fortunate enough to receive a proper education. To put it in modern terms, imagine that only high-ranking government officials and multi-millionaires had access to the Bible. This might give you a flavor for what it was like in Luther’s day.
Aware of this horrible disparity, Luther began his translation of the Bible into German while he was exiled in Wartburg castle in 1521. The completed work, which Luther would spend the rest of his life refining, was published in 1534. Even today, the Luther Bible is considered seminal in terms of its impact on Christianity and the German language itself. The advent of the printing press helped Luther’s translation (indeed, the Reformation itself) immensely, and thousands of copies were made and distributed to those hungry for God’s Word.
Of course, Luther was not the first to translate the Bible into the vernacular. John Wycliffe (the eponym for Wycliffe Bible Translators) published a translation in Middle English about 150 years before Luther. Luther also had company in William Tyndale, who began publishing translations in English shortly after him.
While other partial Bible translations pre-date Luther’s, few had his impact. In addition to the aid Luther’s work received from the printing press, the Luther Bible was helped by the translator’s passion to make God’s Word accessible: He spent a great deal of time studying how people communicated in his day. Luther wanted to ensure that his translation would be readily understandable by people of every age and class.
So, to my titular question: How Much for that Bible? A lot: Years upon years devoted to faithful study of Biblical languages, many more pouring over the texts for translation, the logistical nightmare of managing the undertaking without modern contrivances, and the threat of public disgrace, imprisonment, or even death at every turn. Much like our salvation, the Bible you own today was bought at a tremendous price, and it is stained with the blood, sweat and tears of many saints who gave everything for the sake of furthering the Gospel.
Today the Bible is available in thousands of translations. For those of us in America, countless study guides, concordances, commentaries, cross-references and books complement the Bible, and the internet brings a wealth of free resources (this website to wit) right into your home with a slight twitch of your index finger.
What, then, will be our excuse should our Bibles spend more time on a shelf than in our hands? Have we sought after God’s Word with the hunger and zeal of one starving for bread? Do we cherish each page of God’s Word, understanding that what we hold cost more than we can imagine? Do we humbly and thankfully accept that over the span of human history, we enjoy today a luxury afforded by a very few?
This Reformation Day, let us take a moment to thank God for His Revelation to us through His Word, and making it so accessible to us. Let us put our thanks into action by diligent study and meditation. Finally, let us do all we can to make sure that the reformers did not labor in vain, and continue their work, by getting the Bible, history’s greatest evangelist, into the hands of all the world.