February 4, 2008

The English Bible

On this day, February 4, in 1555, John Rogers was burned at the stake in the center of London for translating the whole Bible which was called Matthew's Bible (his pseudonym) and later, The Bishop's Bible. "One of the sheriffs, first came to Mr. Rogers, and asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and the evil opinion of the Sacrament of the altar. Mr. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” - Foxes Book of Martyrs. He was the first martyr during the violent reign of Bloody Mary. Oh such a bloody history of the rise of Protestantism and that of the Bible to be written in the common language of the people.

Rogers was a friend of William Tyndale who had already been martyred for translating the New Testament published at Worms in 1525. Copies were smuggled from Germany into England.

February 1 is also a day in history of note to remember. Luther may have 'hatched the egg that was laid' when it came to asking for church reform, but his contemporary Erasmus is a part of the story. I wrote a bit about it on Reformation Day, October 31. With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, many Greek scholars fled into Europe with their original manuscripts.

Jerome's Latin Vulgate for centuries had been the only Bible. With these new manuscripts Erasmus made a new translation, constructing the original as best he could. He also annotated the text with notes pointing out the church's flagrant departures and errors.

On February 1, 1516, Erasmus dedicated it to Pope Leo X saying, "We do not intend to tear up the old and commonly accepted edition, but amend it where it is corrupt, and make it clear where it is obscure." He was recalling the church to its roots. Though not his intention, he made reforms to come possible.

William Tyndale worked from original Hebrew and Erasmus's Greek. Originally, a handwritten copy took about ten months and cost a lot to produce, then came the printing press. Some people were burned at the stake with their Bibles around their necks. While burning at the stake Tyndale prayed, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."

Until the Authorized or King James Version in 1611, translators had to be careful and many remained in exile on the continent. But neither book burning nor killing the translators could stop the movement that brought the Bible to ordinary people in their own language.

The first few lines of Psalm 23 in the Bishop's Bible -
"God is my sheephearde, therfore I can lacke nothyng: he wyll cause me to repose my selfe in pasture full of grasse, and he wyll leade me unto calme waters. He wyll conuert my soule ..."
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