The Greatest English Classic


THERE are three great Book-religions --
Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism.
Other religions have their sacred writings,
but they do not hold them in the same regard as
do these three. Buddhism and Confucianism
count their books rather records of their faith
than rules for it, history rather than authoritative sources of belief. The three great Book-religions
yield a measure of authority to their
sacred books which would be utterly foreign to
the thought of other faiths.

Yet among the three named are two very distinct
attitudes. To the Mohammedan the language
as well as the matter of the Koran is
sacred. He will not permit its translation. Its
original Arabic is the only authoritative tongue
in which it can speak. It has been translated
into other tongues, but always by adherents of
other faiths, never by its own believers. The
Hebrew and the Christian, on the other hand,
but notably the Christian, have persistently
sought to make their Bible speak all languages at
all times.

It is a curious fact that a Book written in one
tongue should have come to its largest power in
other languages than its own. The Bible means
more to-day in German and French and English
than it does in Hebrew and Chaldaic and Greek --
more even than it ever meant in those languages.
There is nothing just like that in literary history. It is as though Shakespeare should after a while
become negligible for most readers in English,
and be a master of thought in Chinese and Hindustani, or in some language yet unborn.

We owe this persistent effort to make the Bible
speak the language of the times to a conviction
that the particular language used is not the
great thing, that there is something in it which
gives it power and value in any tongue. No book
was ever translated so often. Men who have
known it in its earliest tongues have realized that their fellows would not learn these earliest
tongues, and they have set out to make it speak
the tongue their fellows did know. Some have
protested that there is impiety in making it
speak the current tongue, and have insisted that
men should learn the earliest speech, or at least
accept their knowledge of the Book from those
who did know it. But they have never stopped
the movement. They have only delayed it.

The first movement to make the Scripture
speak the current tongue appeared nearly three
centuries before Christ. Most of the Old Testament
then existed in Hebrew. But the Jews had
scattered widely. Many had gathered in Egypt
where Alexander the Great had founded the city
that bears his name. At one time a third of the
population of the city was Jewish. Many of
the people were passionately loyal to their old
religion and its Sacred Book. But the current
tongue there and through most of the civilized
world was Greek, and not Hebrew. As always,
there were some who felt that the Book and its
original language were inseparable. Others revealed the disposition of which we spoke a moment
ago, and set out to make the Book speak
the current tongue. For one hundred and fifty
years the work went on, and what we call the
Septuagint was completed. There is a pretty
little story which tells how the version got its
name, which means the Seventy -- that King
Ptolemy Philadelphus, interested in collecting all
sacred books, gathered seventy Hebrew scholars,
sent them to the island of Pharos, shut them up
in seventy rooms for seventy days, each making
a translation from the Hebrew into the Greek.
When they came out, behold, their translations
were all exactly alike! Several difficulties appear in that story, one of which is that seventy men
should have made the same mistakes without
depending on each other. In addition, it is not
historically supported, and the fact seems to be
that the Septuagint was a long and slow growth,
issuing from the impulse to make the Sacred
Book speak the familiar tongue. And, though
it was a Greek translation, it virtually displaced
the original, as the English Bible has virtually
displaced the Hebrew and Greek to-day. The
Septuagint was the Old Testament which Paul
used. Of one hundred and sixty-eight direct
quotations from the Old Testament in the New
nearly all are from the Greek version -- from the
translation, and not from the original.

We owe still more to translation. While there
is accumulating evidence that there was spoken
in Palestine at that time a colloquial Greek, with
which most people would be familiar, it is yet
probable that our Lord spoke neither Greek
nor Hebrew currently, but Aramaic. He knew
the Hebrew Scriptures, of course, as any well-
trained lad did; but most of His words have come
down to us in translation. His name, for example,
to His Hebrew mother, was not Jesus, but
Joshua; and Jesus is the translation of the Hebrew
Joshua into Greek. We have His words as they
were translated by His disciples into the Greek,
in which the New Testament was originally written.

By the time the writing of the New Testament
was completed, say one hundred years after
Christ, while Greek was still current speech, the
Roman Empire was so dominant that the common
people were talking Latin almost as much
as Greek, and gradually, because political power
was behind it, the Latin gained on the Greek,
and became virtually the speech of the common
people. The movement to make the Bible talk
the language of the time appeared again. It is
impossible to say now when the first translations
into Latin were made. Certainly there were
some within two centuries after Christ, and by
250 A.D. a whole Bible in Latin was in circulation
in the Roman Empire. The translation
of the New Testament was from the Greek, of
course, but so was that of the Old Testament,
and the Latin versions of the Old Testament
were, therefore, translations of a translation.

There were so many of these versions, and
they were so unequal in value, that there was
natural demand for a Latin translation that
should be authoritative. So came into being
what we call the Vulgate, whose very name indicates the desire to get the Bible into the vulgar
or common tongue. Jerome began by revising
the earlier Latin translations, but ended by going
back of all translations to the original Greek,
and back of the Septuagint to the original Hebrew
wherever he could do so. Fourteen years he
labored, settling himself in Bethlehem, in Palestine, to do his work the better. Barely four
hundred years (404 A.D.) after the birth of
Christ his Latin version appeared. It met a
storm of protest for its effort to go back of
the Septuagint, so dominant had the translation
become. Jerome fought for it, and his version
won the day, and became the authoritative Latin
translation of the Bible.

For seven or eight centuries it held its sway
as the current version nearest to the tongue of
the people. Latin had become the accepted
tongue of the church. There was little general
culture, there was little general acquaintance
with the Bible except among the educated.
During all that time there was no real room for
a further translation. One of the writers[1] says:
"Medieval England was quite unripe for a Bible
in the mother tongue; while the illiterate majority were in no condition to feel the want of
such a book, the educated minority would be
averse to so great and revolutionary a change."
When a man cannot read any writing it really
does not matter to him whether books are in
current speech or not, and the majority of the
people for those seven or eight centuries could
read nothing at all. Those who could read anything
were apt to be able to read the Latin.

[1] Hoare, Evolution of the English Bible, p.39.

These centuries added to the conviction of
many that the Bible ought not to become too
common, that it should not be read by everybody,
that it required a certain amount of learning
to make it safe reading. They came to feel
that it is as important to have an authoritative
interpretation of the Bible as to have the Bible
itself. When the movement began to make it
speak the new English tongue, it provoked the
most violent opposition. Latin had been good
enough for a millennium; why cheapen the Bible
by a translation? There had grown up a feeling
that Jerome himself had been inspired. He had
been canonized, and half the references to him
in that time speak of him as the inspired translator. Criticism of his version was counted as
impious and profane as criticisms of the original
text could possibly have been. It is one of the
ironies of history that the version for which
Jerome had to fight, and which was counted a
piece of impiety itself, actually became the
ground on which men stood when they fought
against another version, counting anything else
but this very version an impious intrusion!

How early the movement for an English Bible
began, it is impossible now to say. Certainly
just before 700 A.D., that first singer of the English tongue, Caedmon, had learned to paraphrase
the Bible. We may recall the Venerable Bede's
charming story of him, and how he came by his
power of interpretation. Bede himself was a
child when Caedmon died, and the romance of
the story makes it one of the finest in our literature. Caedmon was a peasant, a farm laborer
in Northumbria working on the lands of the great
Abbey at Whitby. Already he had passed middle
life, and no spark of genius had flashed in
him. He loved to go to the festive gatherings
and hear the others sing their improvised poems;
but, when the harp came around to him in due
course, he would leave the room, for be could not
sing. One night when he had slipped away
from the group in shame and had made his
rounds of the horses and cattle under his care,
he fell asleep in the stable building, and heard
a voice in his sleep bidding him sing. When he
declared he could not, the voice still bade him
sing. "What shall I sing?" he asked. "Sing
the first beginning of created things." And
the words came to him; and, still dreaming, he
sang his first hymn to the Creator. In the
morning he told his story, and the Lady Abbess
found that he had the divine gift. The monks
had but to translate to him bits of the Bible
out of the Latin, which he did not understand,
into his familiar Anglo-Saxon tongue, and he
would cast it into the rugged Saxon measures
which could be sung by the common people.
So far as we can tell, it was so, that the Bible
story became current in Anglo-Saxon speech.
Bede himself certainly put the Gospel of John
into Anglo-Saxon. At the Bodleian Library, at
Oxford, there is a manuscript of nearly twenty
thousand lines, the metrical version of the
Gospel and the Acts, done near 1250 by an
Augustinian monk named Orm, and so called
the Ormulum. There were other metrical versions
of various parts of the Bible. Midway
between Bede and Orm came Langland's
poem, "The Vision of Piers Plowman,"
which paraphrased so much of the Scripture.

Yet the fact is that until the last quarter of
the fourteenth century there was no prose version
of the Bible in the English language. Indeed,
there was only coming to be an English
language. It was gradually emerging, taking
definite shape and form, so that it could be
distinguished from the earlier Norman French,
Saxon, and Anglo-Saxon, in which so much of
it is rooted.

As soon as the language grew definite enough,
it was inevitable that two things should come
to pass. First, that some men would attempt
to make a colloquial version of the Bible; and,
secondly, that others would oppose it. One can
count with all confidence on these two groups
of men, marching through history like the
animals into the ark, two and two. Some men
propose, others oppose. They are built on
those lines.

We are more concerned with the men who made
the versions; but we must think a moment of
the others. One of his contemporaries, Knighton,
may speak for all in his saying of Wiclif,
that he had, to be sure, translated the Gospel
into the Anglic tongue, but that it had thereby
been made vulgar by him, and more open to the
reading of laymen and women than it usually
is to the knowledge of lettered and intelligent
clergy, and "thus the pearl is cast abroad and
trodden under the feet of swine"; and, that we
may not be in doubt who are the swine, he adds:
"The jewel of the Church is turned into the
common sport of the people."

But two strong impulses drive thoughtful
men to any effort that will secure wide knowledge
of the Bible. One is their love of the Bible and
their belief in it; but the other, dominant then
and now, is a sense of the need of their own
time. It cannot be too strongly urged that the
two great pioneers of English Bible translation,
Wiclif and Tindale, more than a century apart,
were chiefly moved to their work by social conditions. No one could read the literature of
the times of which we are speaking without
smiling at our assumption that we are the first
who have cared for social needs. We talk about
the past as the age of the individual, and the
present as the social age. Our fathers, we say,
cared only to be saved themselves, and had no
concern for the evils of society. They believed
in rescuing one here and another there, while
we have come to see the wisdom of correcting
the conditions that ruin men, and so saving men
in the mass. There must be some basis of
truth for that, since we say it so confidently;
but it can be much over-accented. There were
many of our fathers, and of our grandfathers,
who were mightily concerned with the mass of
people, and looked as carefully as we do for a
corrective of social evils. Wiclif, in the late
fourteenth century, and Tindale, in the early
sixteenth, were two such men. The first English
translations of the Bible were fruits of the
social impulse.

Wiclif was impressed with the chasm that
was growing between the church and the people,
and felt that a wider and fuller knowledge
of the Bible would be helpful for the closing of
the chasm. It is a familiar remark of Miss
Jane Addams that the cure for the evils of
democracy is more democracy. Wiclif believed
that the cure for the evils of religion is more
religion, more intelligent religion. He found a
considerable feeling that the best things in
religion ought to be kept from most people,
since they could not be trusted to understand
them. His own feeling was that the best things
in religion are exactly the things most people
ought to know most about; that people had better
handle the Bible carelessly, mistakenly, than
be shut out from it by any means whatever.
We owe the first English translation to a faith
that the Bible is a book of emancipation for the
mind and for the political life.

John Wiclif himself was a scholar of Oxford,
master of that famous Balliol College which
has had such a list of distinguished masters.
He was an adviser of Edward III. Twenty
years after his death a younger contemporary
(W. Thorpe) said that "he was considered by
many to be the most holy of all the men of his
age. He was of emaciated frame, spare, and
well nigh destitute of strength. He was absolutely
blameless in his conduct." And even
that same Knighton who accused him of casting
the Church's pearl before swine says that in
philosophy "he came to be reckoned inferior
to none of his time."

But it was not at Oxford that he came to know
common life so well and to sense the need for
a new social influence. He came nearer to it
when he was rector of the parish at Lutterworth.
As scholar and rector he set going the
two great movements which leave his name in
history. One was his securing, training, and
sending out a band of itinerant preachers or
"poor priests" to gather the people in fields
and byways and to preach the simple truths
of the Christian religion. They were unpaid,
and lived by the kindness of the common people.
They came to be called Lollards, though
the origin of the name is obscure. Their followers
received the same name. A few years
after Wiclif's death an enemy bitterly observed
that if you met any two men one was sure to
be a Lollard. It was the "first time in English
history that an appeal had been made to the
people instead of the scholars." Religion was
to be made rather a matter of practical life than
of dogma or of ritual. The "poor priests" in
their cheap brown robes became a mighty religious
force, and evoked opposition from the
Church powers. A generation after Wiclif's
death they had become a mighty political force
in the controversy between the King and the
Pope. As late as 1521 five hundred Lollards
were arrested in London by the bishop.[1] Wiclif's
purpose, however, was to reach and help the
common people with the simpler, and therefore
the most fundamental, truths of religion.

[1] Muir, Our Grand Old Bible, p.14.

The other movement which marks Wiclif's
name concerns us more; but it was connected
with the first. He set out to give the common
people the full text of the Bible for their common
use, and to encourage them not only in reading
it, if already they could read, but in learning to
read that they might read it. Tennyson
compares the village of Lutterworth to that of
Bethlehem, on the ground that if Christ, the
Word of God, was born at Bethlehem, the Word
of Life was born again at Lutterworth.[1] The
translation was from the Vulgate, and Wiclif
probably did little of the actual work himself,
yet it is all his work. And in 1382, more than
five centuries ago, there appeared the first complete English version of the Bible. Wiclif made
it the people's Book, and the English people were
the first of the modern nations to whom the
Bible as a whole was given in their own familiar
tongue. Once it got into their hands they have
never let it be taken entirely away.

[1] "Not least art thou, thou little Bethlehem
In Judah, for in thee the Lord was born;
Nor thou in Britain, little Lutterworth,
Least, for in thee the word was born again."
-- Sir John Oldcastle.

Of course, all this was before the days of
printing, and copies were made by hand only.
Yet there were very many of them. One hundred
and fifty manuscripts, in whole or in part,
are extant still, a score of them of the original
version, the others of the revision at once undertaken by John Purvey, Wiclif's disciple. The
copies belonging to Edward VI. and Queen
Elizabeth are both still in existence, and both
show much use. Twenty years after it was
completed copies were counted very valuable,
though they were very numerous. It was not
uncommon for a single complete manuscript
copy of the Wiclif version to be sold for one
hundred and fifty or two hundred dollars, and
Foxe, whose Book of Martyrs we used to read as
children, tells that a load of hay was given
for the use of a New Testament one hour a day.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence
of this gift to the English people. It constitutes
the standard of Middle English. Chaucer and
Wiclif stood side by side. It is true that
Chaucer himself accepted Wiclif's teaching, and
some of the wise men think that the "parson"
of whom he speaks so finely as one who taught
the lore of Christ and His apostles twelve, but
first followed it himself, was Wiclif. But the version had far more than literary influence; it had
tremendous power in keeping alive in England
that spirit of free inquiry which is the only safeguard of free institutions. Here was the entire
source of the Christian faith available for the
judgment of common men, and they became at
once judges of religious and political dogma.
Dr. Ladd thinks it was not the reading of the
Bible which produced the Reformation; it was
the Reformation itself which procured the reading
of the Bible.[1] But Dr. Rashdall and Professor
Pollard and others are right when they
insist that the English Reformation received less
from Luther than from the secret reading of the
Scripture over the whole country. What we
call the English spirit of free inquiry was fostered and developed by Wiclif and his Lollards
with the English Scripture in their hands. Out
of it has grown as out of no other one root the
freedom of the English and American people.

[1] What Is the Bible?, p.45.

This work of Wiclif deserves the time we have
given it because it asserted a principle for the
English people. There was much yet to be
done before entire freedom was gained. At
Oxford, in the Convocation of 1408, it was
solemnly voted: "We decree and ordain that
no man hereafter by his own authority translate
any text of the Scripture into English, or
any other tongue, by way of a book, pamphlet,
or other treatise; but that no man read any
such book, pamphlet, or treatise now lately composed in the time of John Wiclif ... until the
said translation be approved by the orderly of
the place." But it was too late. It is always
too late to overtake a liberating idea once it
gets free. Tolstoi tells of Batenkoff, the Russian
nihilist, that after he was seized and confined
in his cell he was heard to laugh loudly;
and, when they asked him the cause of his mirth,
he said that he could not fail to be amused at
the absurdity of the situation. "They have
caught me," he said, "and shut me up here;
but my ideas are out yonder in the streets and
in the fields, absolutely free. They cannot
overtake them." It was already too late,
twenty years after Wiclif's version was available,
to stop the English people in their search
for religious truth.

In the century just after the Wiclif translation,
two great events occurred which bore
heavily on the spread of the Bible. One was
the revival of learning, which made popular
again the study of the classics and the classical
languages. Critical and exact Greek scholarship
became again a possibility. Remember that
Wiclif did not know Greek nor Hebrew, did not
need to know them to be the foremost scholar
of Oxford in the fourteenth century. Even as
late as 1502 there was no professor of Greek at
the proud University of Erfurt when Luther was
a student there. It was after he became a
doctor of divinity and a university professor
that he learned Greek in order to be a better
Bible student, and his young friend Philip
Melancthon was the first to teach Greek in
the University.[1] But under the influence of
Erasmus and his kind, with their new insistence
on classical learning, there came necessarily a
new appraisal of the Vulgate as a translation
of the original Bible. For a thousand years
there had been no new study of the original
Bible languages in Europe. The Latin of the
Vulgate had become as sacred as the Book itself.
But the revival of learning threw scholarship
back on the sources of the text. Erasmus
and others published versions of the Greek
Testament which were disturbing to the Vulgate
as a final version.

[1] McGiffert, Martin Luther.

The other great event of that same century
was the invention of printing with movable
type. It was in 1455 that Gutenberg printed
his first book, an edition of the Vulgate, now
called the Mazarin Bible. The bearing of the
invention on the spread of common knowledge
is beyond description. It is rather late to be
praising the art of printing, and we need spend
little time doing so; but one can see instantly
how it affected the use of the Bible. It made it
worth while to learn to read -- there would be
something to read. It made it worth while to
write -- there would be some one to read what
was written.

One hundred years exactly after the death of
Wiclif, William Tindale was born. He was
eight years old when Columbus discovered
America. He had already taken a degree at
Oxford, and was a student in Cambridge when
Luther posted his theses at Wittenburg. Erasmus
either was a teacher at Cambridge when
Tindale was a student there, or had just left.
Sir Thomas More and Erasmus were close
friends, and More's Utopia and Erasmus's
Greek New Testament appeared the same year,
probably while Tindale was a student at Cambridge.

But he came at a troubled time. The new
learning had no power to deepen or strengthen
the moral life of the people. It could not make
religion a vital thing. Morality and religion
were far separated. The priests and curates
were densely ignorant. We need not ask Tindale
what was the condition. Ask Bellarmine,
a cardinal of the Church: "Some Years before
the rise of the Lutheran heresy there was almost
an entire abandonment of equity in ecclesiastical
judgments; in morals, no discipline; in
sacred literature, no erudition; in divine things,
no reverence; religion was almost extinct." Or
ask Erasmus, who never broke with the Church:
"What man of real piety does not perceive with
sighs that this is far the most corrupt of all
ages? When did iniquity abound with more
licentiousness? When was charity so cold?"
And, as a century before, Wiclif had felt the
social need for a popular version of the Bible,
so William Tindale felt it now. He saw the
need as great among the clergy of the time as
among the laity. In one of his writings he
says: "If you will not let the layman have the
word of God in his mother tongue, yet let the
priests have it, which for the great part of
them do understand no Latin at all, but sing
and patter all day with the lips only that which
the heart understandeth not."[1] So bad was
the case that it was not corrected within a whole
generation. Forty years after Tindale's version
was published, the Bishop of Gloucester,
Hooper by name, made an examination of the
clergy of his diocese. There were 311 of them.
He found 168, more than half, unable to repeat
the Ten Commandments; 31 who did not even
know where they could be found; 40 who could
not repeat the Lord's Prayer; and nearly as
many who did not know where it originated;
yet they were all in regular standing as clergy
in the diocese of Gloucester. The need was
keen enough.

[1] Obedience of a Christian Man.

About 1523 Tindale began to cast the Scriptures
into the current English. He set out to
London fully expecting to find support and
encouragement there, but he found neither. He
found, as he once said, that there was no room
in the palace of the Bishop of London to translate
the New Testament; indeed, that there was
no place to do it in all England. A wealthy
London merchant subsidized him with the munificent
gift of ten pounds, with which he went
across the Channel to Hamburg; and there and
elsewhere on the Continent, where he could be hid,
he brought his translation to completion. Printing
facilities were greater on the Continent than
in England; but there was such opposition to
his work that very few copies of the several
editions of which we know can still be found.
Tindale was compelled to flee at one time with
a few printed sheets and complete his work on
another press. Several times copies of his books
were solemnly burned, and his own life was frequently in danger.

There is one amusing story which tells how
money came to free Tindale from heavy debt
and prepare the way for more Bibles. The
Bishop of London, Tunstall, was set on destroying
copies of the English New Testament. He
therefore made a bargain with a merchant of
Antwerp, Packington, to secure them for him.
Packington was a friend of Tindale, and went
to him forthwith, saying: "William, I know
thou art a poor man, and I have gotten thee a
merchant for thy books." "Who?" asked Tindale.
"The Bishop of London." "Ah, but
he will burn them." "So he will, but you will
have the money." And it all came out as it
was planned; the Bishop of London had the
books, Packington had the thanks, Tindale had
the money, the debt was paid, and the new
edition was soon ready. The old document,
from which I am quoting, adds that the Bishop
thought he had God by the toe when, indeed,
he found afterward that he had the devil by
the fist.[1]

[1] Pollard, Records of the English Bible, p.151.

The final revision of the Tindale translations
was published in 1534, and that becomes the
notable year of his life. In two years he was
put to death by strangling, and his body was
burned. When we remember that this was
done with the joint power of Church and State,
we realize some of the odds against which he

Spite of his odds, however, Tindale is the real
father of our King James version. About eighty
per cent. of his Old Testament and ninety per
cent. of his New Testament have been transferred
to our version. In the Beatitudes, for
example, five are word for word in the two versions, while the other three are only slightly
changed.[1] Dr. Davidson has calculated that
nine-tenths of the words in the shorter New
Testament epistles are Tindale's, and in the
longer epistles like the Hebrews five-sixths are
his. Froude's estimate is fair: "Of the translation itself, though since that time it has been
many times revised and altered, we may say
that it is substantially the Bible with which we
are familiar. The peculiar genius which breathes
through it, the mingled tenderness and majesty,
the Saxon simplicity, the preternatural grandeur,
unequaled, unapproached, in the attempted
improvements of modern scholars, all are here,
and bear the impress of the mind of one man,
William Tindale."[2]

[1] The fourth reads in his version, "Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness"; the seventh, "Blessed are the maintainers of peace"; the eighth, "Blessed are they which suffer persecution for righteousness' sake."

[2] History of England, end of chap. xii.

We said a moment ago that Wiclif's translation
was the standard of Middle English. It is
time to add that Tindale's version "fixed our
standard English once for all, and brought it
finally into every English home." The revisers
of 1881 declared that while the authorized version
was the work of many hands, the foundation
of it was laid by Tindale, and that the
versions that followed it were substantially
reproductions of Tindale's, or revisions of versions which were themselves almost entirely based
on it.

There was every reason why it should be a
worthy version. For one thing, it was the first
translation into English from the original Hebrew
and Greek. Wiclif's had been from the
Latin. For Tindale there were available two
new and critical Greek Testaments, that of
Erasmus and the so-called Complutensian,
though he used that of Erasmus chiefly. There
was also available a carefully prepared Hebrew
Old Testament. For another thing, it was the
first version which could be printed, and so be
subject to easy and immediate correction and
revision. Then also, Tindale himself was a
great scholar in the languages. He was "so
skilled in the seven languages, Hebrew, Greek,
Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French,
that, whichever he spoke, you would suppose it
was his native tongue."[1] Nor was his spirit
in the work controversial. I say his "spirit in
the work" with care. They were controversial
times, and Tindale took his share in the verbal
warfare. When, for example, there was objection
to making any English version because
"the language was so rude that the Bible could
not be intelligently translated into it," Tindale
replied: "It is not so rude as they are false
liars. For the Greek tongue agreeth more with
the English than with the Latin, a thousand
parts better may it be translated into the English
than into the Latin."[2] And when a high
church dignitary protested to Tindale against
making the Bible so common, he replied: "If
God spare my life, ere many years I will cause
a boy that driveth a plow shall know more of
the Scriptures than thou dost." And while that
was not saying much for the plowboy, it was
saying a good deal to the dignitary. In language,
Tindale was controversial enough, but
in his spirit, in making his version, there was no
element of controversy. For such reasons as
these we might expect the version to be valuable.

[1] Herman Buschius.

[2] This will mean the more to us when we realize that the literary men of the day despised the English tongue. Sir Thomas More wrote his Utopia in Latin, because otherwise educated men would not deign to read it. Years later Roger Ascham apologized for writing one of his works in English. Putting the Bible into current English impressed these literary men very much as we would be impressed by putting the Bible into current slang.

All this while, and especially between the time
when Tindale first published his New Testament
and the time they burned him for doing so, an
interesting change was going on in England.
The King was Henry VIII., who was by no means
a willing Protestant. As Luther's work appeared,
it was this same Henry who wrote the
pamphlet against him during the Diet of Worms,
and on the ground of this pamphlet, with its
loyal support of the Church against Luther, he
received from the Roman pontiff the title "Defender of the Faith," which the kings of England
still wear. And yet under this king this
strange succession of dates can be given. Notice
them closely. In 1526 Tindale's New Testament
was burned at St. Paul's by the Bishop of
London; ten years later, 1536, Tindale himself
was burned with the knowledge and connivance
of the English government; and yet, one year
later, 1537, two versions of the Bible in English,
three-quarters of which were the work of Tindale,
were licensed for public use by the King
of England, and were required to be made available
for the people! Eleven years after the
New Testament was burned, one year after
Tindale was burned, that crown was set on his
work! What brought this about?

Three facts help to explain it. First, the
recent years of Bible translation were having
their weight. The fugitive copies of the Bible
were doing their work. Spite of the sharp opposition fifty thousand copies of Tindale's various
editions had actually been published and
circulated. Men were reading them; they were
approving them. The more they read, the less
reason they saw for hiding the Book from the
people. Why should it not be made common
and free? There was strong Lutheran opinion
in the universities. It was already a custom
for English teachers to go to Germany for
minute scholarship. They came back with German
Bibles in Luther's version and with Greek
Testaments, and the young scholars who were
being raised up felt the influence, consciously or
unconsciously, of the free use of the Bible which
ruled in many German universities.

The second fact that helps to explain the sudden
change of attitude toward the Bible is this:
the people of England were never willingly
ruled from without, religiously or politically.
There has recently been a considerable controversy
over the history of the Established
Church of England, whether it has always been
an independent church or was at one time
officially a part of the Roman Church. That
is a matter for ecclesiastical history to determine. The foundation fact, however, is as I
worded it a moment ago: the people of England
were never willingly ruled from without, religiously or politically. They were sometimes
ruled from without; but they were either indifferent to it at the time or rebellious against
it. Those who did think claimed the right to
think for themselves. The Scotch of the north
were peculiarly so, but the English of the south
claimed the same right. There has always been
an immense contrast between the two sides of
the British Channel. The French people during
all those years were deeply loyal to a foreign
religious government. The English people
were never so, not in the days of the fullest
Roman supremacy. They always demanded at
least a form of home government. That made
England a congenial home for the Protestant
spirit, which claimed the right to independent
study of the sources of religion and independent
judgment regarding them. It was only a continuance
of the spirit of Wiclif and the Lollards.
The spirit in a nation lives long, especially when
it is passed down by tradition. Those were not
the days of newspapers. They were instead
the days of great meetings, more important still
of small family gatherings, where the memory
of the older men was called into use, and where
boys and girls drank in eagerly the traditions
of their own country as expressed in the great
events of their history. Newspapers never can
fully take the place of those gatherings, for they
do not bring men together to feel the thrill of
the story that is told. It must be remembered
that the entire population of England at that
time was only about three millions. And that
old spirit of independence was strongly at work
in the middle-class villages and among the
merchants, and they were a ruling and dominant
class. That was second, that in those ten years
there asserted itself the age-long unwillingness
of the English people to be ruled from without.

The third fact which must be taken into account
to explain this remarkable change of
front of the public English life is Henry VIII.
himself. There is much about him that no
country would willingly claim. He was the
most habitual bridegroom in English history;
he had an almost confirmed habit of beheading
his wives or otherwise ridding himself of them.
Yet many traits made him a typical outstanding
Englishman. He had the characteristic spirit of
independence, the resentment of foreign control,
satisfaction with his own land, the feeling
that of course it is the best land. There are no
people in the world so well satisfied with their
own country as the people of England or the
British Isles. They are critical of many things
in their own government until they begin to
compare it with other countries; they must
make their changes on their own lines. The
pamphlet of Henry VIII., which won him the
title of Defender of the Faith, praised the pope;
and, though Sir Thomas More urged him to
change his expressions lest he should live to
regret them, he would not change them. But
that was while the pope was serving his wishes
and what he felt was England's good.

There arose presently the question, or the
several questions, about his marriage. It sheds
no glory on Henry VIII. that they arose as they
did; but his treatment of them must not be
mistaken. He was concerned to have his marriage
to Anne Boleyn confirmed, and there are
some who think he was honest in believing it
ought to be confirmed, though we need not believe
that. What happened was that for the
first time Henry VIII. found that as sovereign
of England he must take commands from a foreign
power, a power exercising temporal sovereignty
exactly as he did, but adding to it a claim
to spiritual power, a claim to determine his conduct for him and to absolve his people from
loyalty to him if he was not obedient. It arose
over the question of his divorce, but it might
have arisen over anything else. It was limitation
on his sovereignty in England. And he let
it be seen that all questions that pertain to England were to be settled in England, and not
in another land. He would rather have a matter
settled wrong in England than settled right
elsewhere. That is how he claimed to be
head of the English Church. The people back
of him had always held to the belief that they
were governed from within, though they were
linked to religion from without. He executed
their theory. That assertion of English sovereignty came during the eventful years of which
we are speaking.

Here, then, are our great facts. First, thoughtful
opinion wanted the Bible made available,
and at a convention of bishops and university
men the King was requested to secure the issuance
of a proper translation. Secondly, the
people wanted it, the more because it would
gratify their English instinct of independent
judgment in matters of religion. Thirdly, the
King granted it without yielding his personal
religious position, in assertion of his human
sovereignty within his own realm.

So England awoke one morning in 1537 to
discover that it had a translation of the Bible
two of them actually, open to its use, the very
thing that had been forbidden yesterday! And
that, one year after Tindale had been burned in
loyal France for issuing an English translation!
Two versions were now authorized and made
available. What were they? That of Miles
Coverdale, which had been issued secretly two
years before, and that known as the "Matthew"
Bible, though the name has no significance,
issued within a year. Details are not to our
purpose. Neither was an independent work,
but was made largely from the Latin and the
German, and much influenced by Tindale.
Coverdale was a Yorkshire man like Wiclif,
feminine in his mental cast as Tindale was masculine. Coverdale made his translation because
he loved books; Tindale because he felt driven
to it. But now the way was clear, and other
editions appeared. It is natural to name one
or two of the more notable ones.

There appeared what is known as the Great
Bible in 1539. It was only another version
made by Coverdale on the basis of the Matthew
version, but corrected by more accurate knowledge.
There is an interesting romance of its
publication. The presses of England were not
adequate for the great work planned; it was to
be a marvel of typography. So the consent of
King Francis was gained to have it printed in
France, and Coverdale was sent as a special
ambassador to oversee it. He was in dread of
the Inquisition, which was in vogue at the time,
and sent off his printed sheets to England as
rapidly as possible. Suddenly one day the order
of confiscation came from the Inquisitor-General.
Only Coverdale's official position as representing
the King saved his own life. As for the
printed sheets on which so much depended,
they seemed doomed. But in the nick of time
a dealer appeared at the printing-house and purchased four great vats full of waste paper which
he shipped to England -- when it was found that
the waste paper was those printed sheets. The
presses and the printers were all loyal to England, and the edition was finally completed. The
Great Bible was issued to meet a decree that each
church should make available in some convenient
place the largest possible copy of the
whole Bible, where all the parishioners could
have access to it and read it at their will. The
version gets its name solely from the size of
the volume. That decree dates 1538, twelve
years after Tindale's books were burned, and
two years after he was burned! The installation
of these great books caused tremendous
excitement -- crowds gathered everywhere. Bishop
Bonner caused six copies of the great volume
to be located wisely throughout St. Paul's. He
found it difficult to make people leave them
during the sermons. He was so often interrupted
by voices reading to a group, and by the
discussions that ensued, that he threatened to
have them taken out during the service if people
would not be quiet. The Great Bible appeared
in seven editions in two years, and
continued in recognized power for thirty years.
Much of the present English prayer-book is
taken from it.

But this liberty was so sudden that the people
naturally abused it. Henry became vexed
because the sacred words "were disputed, rimed,
sung, and jangled in every ale-house." There
had grown up a series of wild ballads and ribald
songs in contempt of "the old faith,"
while it was not really the old faith which was
in dispute, but only foreign control of English
faith. They had mistaken Henry's meaning.
So Henry began to put restrictions on the use
of the Bible. There were to be no notes or
annotations in any versions, and those that
existed were to be blacked out. Only the upper
classes were to be allowed to possess a Bible.
Finally, the year before his death, all versions
were prohibited except the Great Bible, whose
cost and size precluded secret use. The decree
led to another great burning of Bibles in 1546 --
Tindale, Coverdale, Matthew -- all but the Great
Bible. The leading religious reformers took
flight and fled to European Protestant towns
like Frankfort and Strassburg. But the Bible
remained. Henry VIII. died. The Bible lived on.

Under Edward VI., the boy king, coming to
the throne at nine and dying at fifteen, the
regency with Crammer at its head earned its
bad name. But while its members were shamelessly
despoiling churches and enriching themselves
they did one great service for the Bible.
They cast off all restrictions on its translation
and publication. The order for a Great Bible
in every church was renewed, and there was to
be added to it a copy of Erasmus's paraphrase
of the four gospels. Nearly fifty editions of
the Bible, in whole or in part, appeared in those
six years.

And that was fortunate, for then came Mary
-- and the deluge. Of course, she again gave in
the nominal allegiance of England to the Roman
control. But she utterly missed the spirit of
the people. They were weary with the excesses
of rabid Protestantism; but they were by no
means ready to admit the principle of foreign
control in religious matters. They might have
been willing, many of them, that the use of the
Bible should be restricted, if it were done by
their own sovereign. They were not willing
that another sovereign should restrict them.
So the secret use of the Bible increased. Martyr
fires were kindled, but by the light of them the
people read their Bibles more eagerly. And this
very persecution led to one of the best of the
early versions of the Bible, indirectly even to
the King James version.

The flower of English Protestant scholarship
was driven into exile, and found its way to
Frankfort and Geneva again. There the spirit
of scholarship was untrammeled; there they
found material for scholarly study of the Bible,
and there they made and published a new version
of the Bible in English, by all means the
best that had been made. In later years, under
Elizabeth, it drove the Great Bible off the field
by sheer power of excellence. During her reign
sixty editions of it appeared. This was the version called the Genevan Bible. It made several
changes that are familiar to us. For one thing,
in the Genevan edition of 1560 first appeared
our familiar division into verses. The chapter
division was made three centuries earlier; but
the verses belong to the Genevan version, and
are divided to make the Book suitable for
responsive use and for readier reference. It was
taken in large part from the work of Robert
Stephens, who had divided the Greek Testament
into verses, ten years earlier, during a journey
which he was compelled to make between Paris
and Lyons. The Genevan version also abandoned
the old black letter, and used the Roman
type with which we are familiar. It had full
notes on hard passages, which notes, as we shall
see, helped to produce the King James version.
The work itself was completed after the accession
of Elizabeth, when most of the religious leaders
had returned to England from their exile under Mary.

Elizabeth herself was not an ardent Protestant,
not ardent at all religiously, but an ardent
Englishwoman. She understood her people, and
while she prided herself on being the "Guardian
of the Middle Way," she did not make the
mistake of submitting her sovereignty to foreign
supervision. Probably Elizabeth always
counted herself personally a Catholic, but not
politically subject to the Roman pontiff. She
had no wish to offend other Catholic powers;
but she was determined to develop a strong
national spirit and to allow religious differences
to exist if they would be peaceful. The dramatic
scene which was enacted at the time of
her coronation procession was typical of her
spirit. As the procession passed down Cheapside,
a venerable old man, representing Time,
with a little child beside him representing
Truth -- Time always old, Truth always young --
presented the Queen with a copy of the Scriptures,
which she accepted, promising to read
them diligently.

Presently it was found that two versions of
the Bible were taking the field, the old Great
Bible and the new Genevan Bible. On all
accounts the Genevan was the better and was
driving out its rival. Yet there could be no
hope of gaining the approval of Elizabeth for
the Genevan Bible. For one thing, John Knox
had been a party to its preparation; so had
Calvin. Elizabeth detested them both, especially
Knox. For another thing, its notes
were not favorable to royal sovereignty, but
smacked so much of popular government as to
be offensive. For another thing, though it had
been made mostly by her own people, it had been
made in a foreign land, and was under suspicion
on that account. The result was that Elizabeth's
archbishop, Parker, set out to have an authorized
version made, selected a revision committee,
with instructions to follow wherever
possible the Great Bible, to avoid bitter notes,
and to make such a version that it might be
freely, easily, and naturally read. The result
is known as the Bishops' Bible. It was issued
in Elizabeth's tenth year (1568), but there is
no record that she ever noticed it, though Parker
sent her a copy from his sick-bed. The Bishops'
Bible shows the influence of the Genevan
Bible in many ways, though it gives no credit
for that. It is not of equal merit; it was expensive, too cumbersome, and often unscholarly.
Only its official standing gave it life, and after
forty years, in nineteen editions, it was no longer published.

Naming one other English version will complete
the series of facts necessary for the consideration of the forming of the King James
version. It will be remembered that all the
English versions of the Bible thus far mentioned
were the work of men either already out of favor
with the Roman pontiff, or speedily put out of
favor on that account. Thirty years after his
death; Wiclif's bones were taken up and burned;
Tindale was burned. Coverdale's version and
the Great Bible were the product of the period
when Henry VIII. was under the ban. The
Genevan Bible was the work of refugees, and
the Bishops' Bible was prepared when Elizabeth
had been excommunicated. That fact
seemed to many loyal Roman churchmen to
put the Church in a false light. It must be
made clear that its opposition was not to the
Bible, not even to popular use and possession
of the Bible, but only to unauthorized, even
incorrect, versions. So there came about the
Douai version, instigated by Gregory Martin,
and prepared in some sense as an answer to the
Genevan version and its strongly anti-papal
notes. It was the work of English scholars connected with the University of Douai. The New
Testament was issued at Rheims in 1582, and
the whole Bible in 1609, just before our King
James version. It is made, not from the Hebrew
and the Greek, though it refers to both,
but from the Vulgate. The result is that the
Old Testament of the Douai version is a translation into English from the Latin, which in
large part is a translation into Latin from the
Greek Septuagint, which in turn is a translation
into Greek from the Hebrew. Yet scholars are
scholars, and it shows marked influence of the
Genevan version, and, indeed, of other English
versions. Its notes were strongly anti-Protestant,
and in its preface it explains its existence
by saying that Protestants have been guilty
of "casting the holy to dogs and pearls to hogs."

The version is not in the direct line of the
ascent of the familiar version, and needs no
elaborate description. Its purpose was controversial; it did not go to available sources;
its English was not colloquial, but ecclesiastical. For example, in the Lord's Prayer we read:
"Give us this day our supersubstantial bread,"
instead of "our daily bread." In Hebrews xiii:
17, the version reads, "Obey your prelates and
be subject unto them." In Luke iii:3, John
came "preaching the baptism of penance." In
Psalm xxiii:5, where we read, "My cup runneth
over," the Douai version reads, "My chalice
which inebriateth me, how goodly it is."
There is a careful retention of ecclesiastical
terms, and an explanation of the passages on
which Protestants had come to differ rather
sharply from their Roman brethren, as in the
matter of the taking of the cup by the people,
and elsewhere.

Yet it is only fair to remember that this much
answer was made to the versions which were
preparing the way for the greatest version of
them all, and when the time came for the making
of that version, and the helps were gathered
together, the Douai was frankly placed among
them. It is a peculiar irony of fate that while
the purpose of Gregory Martin was to check
the translation of the Bible by the Protestants,
the only effect of his work was to advance and
improve that translation.

At last, as we shall see in our next study, the
way was cleared for a free and open setting of
the Bible into English. The way had been
beset with struggle, marked with blood, lighted
by martyr fires. Wiclif and Purvey, Tindale
and Coverdale, the refugees at Geneva and the
Bishops at London, all had trod that way.
Kings had fought them or had favored them;
it was all one; they had gone on. Loyal zest
for their Book and loving zeal for the common
people had held them to the path. Now it
had become a highway open to all men. And
right worthy were the feet which were soon
treading it.

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