Let’s talk about how God brought His written word to us that we now refer to as the bible. In approximately 1400-1500 BC:, God, Himself, wrote the Ten Commandments on stone ancient form of Hebrew called Paleo Hebrew. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and God began recording His word to us. Exodus 34:27 records, 27 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (NIV)
Moses recorded the first five books in the Old Testament which were the first scriptures, known as the Pentateuch. They are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Since Moses grew up in an Egyptian palace, he knew how to write and probably wrote on Papyrus, a thick paper made from the reed like plant that grew around Egypt. In time God’s Word was recorded on animal skins called parchment that were made into scrolls. A scribe might use the animal skin of a cow, or a sheep. The entire Old Testament on a scroll is called a Torah. A Torah scroll, if it would be completely unraveled, would be over 150 feet in distance. The scroll was so long that it would often take an entire herd of sheep just to make one Torah scroll.
By approximately 500 B.C., the thirty-nine books that we know today as the Old Testament were completed and continued to be preserved in Hebrew on scrolls.
By the end of the First Century A.D., the New Testament was completed, and it was preserved in the Greek language on parchment or papyrus. In the year 367 A.D., the Bishop of Alexandria, Athenasius, wrote his Easter letter and in it, he listed all of the books that we read today in the New Testament. Then in the year 393 A.D., the African senate of Hippo approved all of the books that you find listed as your New Testament today.
By the year 500 A.D., the Bible had been translated into over 500 different languages. People all over were so thankful, because they could read God’s word in their own language. But then, something very unusual happened. In just the next century, the next one hundred years, by the year 600 A.D. the Bible was only allowed in one language, Latin. Why? The Catholic Church of Rome, at the time, was the only recognized church in the land, they issued a decree that no Bible in any other language was allowed. If anyone had a Bible in any language besides Latin, that person would be executed. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church became very corrupt. The priests were the only one educated in the Latin language so that the common person could never read God’s word. That gave the priests ultimate power. They could teach what parts of the Bible they wanted to, and they could even throw in some things that weren’t in the Bible at all. In that day it was common for a person to pay for indulgences or paying for forgiveness. If they sinned, they’d pay a certain amount of money and the priest would say, “Because you’ve paid that, now you are forgiven.” The Catholic Church also taught about a place called purgatory, a word that’s not found in scripture, but they said if your relative dies, they go to purgatory, but for a certain amount of money, you can purchase the freedom for your relative from purgatory. The priests used this forced ignorance, and between the years 400 A.D. and 1400 A.D. they deceived the masses during a 1,000-year period, which became known as the Dark Ages.
How did the church break free from this long season of dark and horrible corruption? The answer is simple. Once the Bible, the truth of God’s word, got in the hands of enough people and the right people, God used His truth through people to bring about the very necessary reformation of the church. In the year 563 A.D., there was a guy named Columba who started a secret Bible society, or a Bible school, where they could faithfully teach God’s word, and this group of people became the remnant on earth where God’s word was taught faithfully century after century after century. The students were known as the Culdee’s and for 700 years, they would disciple one another and they faithfully studied God’s word. It was out of this group that God raised up the right people to bring about the reformation.
In 1380 John Wycliff was the very first to translate the Bible into the English language. When he did so, all of a sudden, all these people who before couldn’t read God’s Word were now able to do so. At this time, some say that it would take about ten months to translate one single Bible. For ten months people would work to get the Bible translated into English. He was faithful in spreading God’s word, but unfortunately, he was called a heretic, and forty-four years after his death, the pope ordered Wycliffe’s bones to be dug up, ground to powder and be spread across the river. Some people say that Wycliffe was actually the morning star of the reformation. He was the one that God used to start the ball rolling in the very necessary reformation of the church.
Wycliffe’s work and writings influenced a man named John Hus, and Hus was equally passionate about getting God’s word into as many hands of people as possible. Unfortunately, Hus too, was called a heretic and was burned at the stake in 1415. They used Wycliff’s Bibles to start the fire around Hus as they burned him at the stake . It was Hus’ final words that became known as a prophecy that helped direct the future of the church. “In the next one hundred years, God will raise up a man who’s call for reform cannot be suppressed.” And that’s exactly what God did.
In the year 1517, God raised up the man named Martin Luther a priest who was fed up with all of the corruption in the church. He strongly believed that God was calling him to help reform the church. On All Hallows Eve Martin Luther took what became known as his Ninety-five Theses. It was a document with ninety-five disagreements or needed reformations. He went and he nailed it to the door of the Wittenburg church. People now describe that event as the knock that was heard around the world. God used those accusations of heresy to spark what’s become known as the reformation of the protestant church. God also used Martin Luther to take the Bible and to translate it into the German language. He then took the recent invention called the printing press, the invention of Gutenberg, and established it to now get the Bible into the hands of the masses. Of course, Luther was called a heretic. People wanted to kill him, and he had to spend much of his life on the run, but God used him to spark major changes in the church and to get the word of God into the hands of the masses.
About that same time, there was another guy, an Oxford professor, his name was John Colet, and he translated the Bible into English for his Oxford students. He also taught the Bible in the English language at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. Over 20,000 people would pack themselves into this cathedral simply to hear the word of God in a language that they could understand. Not only were 20,000 people in the building, but it was said that as many people would be outside the building waiting for their turn to get in. Why? Because they were hungry, desperate and would do anything to simply hear the word of God. What’s sad is that beautiful historic cathedral still exists today, but instead of over 20,000 people a weekend, they minister to about 200 people a weekend, and most of these are tourists.
In the year 1526, William Tyndale printed the very first English Bible. That’s the good news. The bad news is, anyone who was caught with this illegal Bible would be executed immediately. You could only imagine what demand there would be for people that read English and wanted to read God’s word in the language that they could understand. They would do almost anything to get God’s word into their hands. These people, they were incredibly creative and would often smuggle Bibles into England, using all sorts of different means. Occasionally, they put Bibles in bales of cotton to smuggle them in, or other times, they’d put Bibles into bags full of flour. Ironically, the biggest buyers of Tyndale’s Bibles were actually the king’s men. That’s right, the king’s men would buy up as many English Bibles as they could, not because they wanted to read them, but instead, because they wanted to burn and destroy all of Tyndale’s Bibles. Well, Tyndale, he was a good businessman, and he would simply take the profits of all of these Bibles the king’s men would buy and he would use the money to print even more Bibles to get the word of God out. Unfortunately, because what he was doing was considered illegal, Tyndale was on the run for eleven years of his life.
Imagine waking up every single morning, knowing that people were hunting you down, wanting to kill you simply because you wanted to help other people experience the word of God. That’s what Tyndale experienced. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he was on the run, running for his life because people wanted to execute him. Sadly, they eventually caught up to him and incarcerated him for about five hundred days before they finally decided in the year 1536 to burn him at the stake. His last words, though, were a prayer to God, which people will remember forever. He prayed, “Oh, Lord, open the eyes of the King of England,” and three years later in 1539, God answered that prayer. Not only did the King of England allow the printing of the Bible in the English language, but he actually helped to fund it, setting the word of God free.
*Think about this. Remember all the people who died, gave their lives fighting with everything in them to help God’s living and active word be available to you.
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