Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Worshiping the God of the Book

Leslie Basham: When you pick up the Bible and read it in English, it is something to be appreciated and cherished. Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains why.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Today there are more than 6900 languages spoken in the world. There are almost 2100 language groups that do not have a single verse of Scripture available in their language today. 340,000,000 people speak those 2100 languages.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, May 5.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Today you and I and can go to the Internet and take our pick of literally hundreds, yes hundreds, of different English translations of the Bible. I understand there are about 200 of them in existence today. But as we have been hearing over the last few days, that was not the case for most of history and for most of the people who have ever lived and who were not able to have that kind of option of reading the Bible in their own language. Certainly not the number of translations that we have available for us today.

We have been talking on this 400th anniversary year of the release of the King James Bible, 1611, about the story of how we got our English Bible and the price that so many have paid to make that possible for us. Now let me take us back. We are doing something of a history lesson here. The point isn’t remembering all of the dates and names, but it is getting the flow and seeing the providential hand of God who not only inspired the Scripture to be written in the first place, but has preserved it as it was passed on from generation to generation and one language to another.

Let me take us back to where we left off yesterday and that is in the mid-1500s. During this time religious freedom ebbed and flowed; sometimes more and sometimes less. There were many in the church hierarchy who still rejected the English Bible, which was just coming to be, because they had their allegiance, their loyalty, to the Latin Vulgate which is what had been used for over a thousand years. Translated by Jerome in 382 AD, the Latin Vulgate was the language that the clergy had read the Bible in for years. For decades it had been illegal for people to own or read a Bible in a language other than Latin, and so many in the church hierarchy were still upset about the newfangled English translations.

In the final years of King Henry VIII’s reign, Parliament passed a law forbidding unauthorized, public teaching of the Scripture. Again they were pulling in the reins wanting to maintain control over what the people would be taught. They also forbade the people in the lower classes to read the Bible privately. Do you think they were maybe afraid of what might happen if the Word really got into people’s hearts and people began to take it seriously?

King Henry VIII was succeeded by his son, King Edward VI, who after a short reign was succeeded by Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary, who became known as “Bloody Mary.” Her five-year reign in the middle 1500s was a period of intense persecution as she made every effort to eradicate the Protestant Reformation in England. During her five year reign, the Bible was banned and 300 religious dissenters were burned at the stake.

During this time there were a number of key scholars, theologians, and Protestant leaders who found it necessary to flee England. Some of those leaders went to Geneva, Switzerland, which at the time was the center of Reformation study, and that is where they found refuge with others who were devoted to the Word of God. Among those who left England and went to Geneva were some who became the translators of what we call today the Geneva Bible

Previous Bibles had been bulky, large, and expensive. They were suitable for use in the church or the pulpit but these translators wanted something that would be affordable, portable, suitable for personal or home use.

The Geneva Bible came out in 1557. Like others before it, was a revision of the Tyndale translation. It was the first English Bible translated entirely from the Greek and Hebrew, from the original languages, and it was one of the best translations ever made. The Geneva Bible proved to be one of the most important Bibles in English history, and it was the most useful Bible to date for the common people.

This is true for a number of reasons, one of which has to do with the font that was used in its printing. The previous translations had this heavy deep black font that was hard to read but this one used a more easily read font. The Geneva Bible was also the first to put numbers next to the verses. (Imagine how hard it would be to find your way through the Bible if you didn’t have chapter divisions and verse numbers.) The Geneva Bible was the first one to number the verses. It included many helpful explanatory study notes—a number of which had been influenced by John Calvin who was one of the reformers there in Geneva.

The Geneva Bible was the most popular Bible for 100 years—including decades after the 1611 King James Bible came out. The Geneva Bible was the Bible of that era.

  • It was frequently quoted by Shakespeare.
  • It was used by Oliver Cromwell and John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
  • The Geneva Bible was the first Bible taken to America.
  • It was used by the Puritans and Pilgrims.
  • This Geneva Bible was also known as the Breeches Bible. That is because it translated Genesis 3:7 this way, “Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made them into “breeches.” So this was called the Breeches' Bible.
  • The Geneva Bible had a strong influence on the King James Bible that came not too many decades later.
  • It was the predominant Bible during the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • It was known for its excellent scholarship and its accurate translation based on the original languages. We have so many translations today that are based on original languages that we take this for granted. This was extraordinary in its day to have this kind of translation of the Bible.
  • It was also known for its extensive commentary.
  • It was the main household Bible for 50 years. (However, those explanatory notes proved to be highly controversial.)

When Queen Elizabeth died, she was succeeded by King James I. (You thought we would never get there, King James I.) Protestant clergy approached the new King and expressed their desire for a new translation. They knew that people loved the Geneva Version, but the leaders of the church wanted a Bible for the people without the controversial marginal notes. This was for a couple of reasons.

  1. Ministers wanted to limit the Puritan influence. They wanted the Bible to be more reflective of the structure and polity of the Church of England. Some of the notes were contrary to the Church of England philosophy, so they wanted to get rid of those controversial notes.
  2. King James himself was offended by two notes in the Geneva Bible that commended civil disobedience. He didn’t want people reading that kind of nonsense, he thought, so he was amenable to the idea of a new translation that would not have those notes.

This new Bible, launched by King James I, involved the combined effort of 47 scholars and translators who were all members of the Church of England. In 1605 they began their research. They worked in committees translating different parts of the Scripture. It is important to keep in mind that this was not a new translation (we are talking about the King James version) and unlike Geneva Bible, it was not based on the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Rather, it was a revision based on other existing translations, some of which had been taken from the Greek and Hebrew, but they didn’t go back to the Greek and Hebrew themselves; they went to these other translations.

The King James Bible was heavily influenced by the Tyndale New Testament that we talked about earlier. It also referenced the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, and the Great Bible. It was heavily influenced as we said by the Geneva Bible.

It was influenced also by two other translations that we’ve not mentioned; I'll just mention them briefly here: the Douay-Rheims New Testament was the Catholic version of the Bible that had been translated from Latin into English—that had an influence on the King James; and another Bible called the Bishops' Bible, which is a version that had been produced in the 1500s by church bishops for pulpit use.

In front of you, to my right here, you see framed a leaf. This was a gift to me a number of years ago from our ministry. This is an original leaf from the Bishops' Bible printed in London by Christopher Barker in 1585. This is a passage from the book of Esther (a prized possession). Christopher Barker was the printer to Queen Elizabeth I, and he was known as a Bible printer. So you see an original leaf from the Bishops' Bible. The Bishops' Bible was one of the translations that was referenced when the King James Bible was being put together.

Finally in 1611, what we know today as the King James Bible, came off the printing press. Two of the earliest editions, both produced in 1611, had a typographical variation in Ruth 3:15. Keep in mind that printing was not a refined art at that point, so it was easy for things to slip or letters to fall out of text.

In Ruth 3:15 some of the Bibles that were printed said, "He went into the city" and the others said, “She went into the city.” These Bibles became known by collectors as "He" Bibles, and "She" Bibles. That is the first edition of the King James Bible, 1611.

The first King James Bibles were huge, pulpit-sized editions that were printed and chained to every church pulpit in England. A year later people began to print smaller editions of the King James Bible for personal and individual use.

What we call the King James Bible in England is called the Authorized Version and sometimes you will hear it referred to that way. The Authorized Version of the King James Bible became the most printed book in the history of the world and has been revered by millions for its elegant language. For over 250 years, that Bible had no serious competition from newer translations.

In the first 150 years after the King James Bible was produced, it went through four major revisions. The 4th of those revisions took place in the mid-1700s when the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge worked to produce an updated standardized edition, because in that day the English language was still being developed. It was still being standardized, so there were many thousands of spelling variations, punctuation variations, and a number of misprints in previous editions.

The 1769 Oxford version of the King James Bible had tens of thousands of textual differences from the original 1611 text. Most of those were minor changes in spelling and punctuation. Many people believe that their King James Bible is the original 1611 version. Not so. The fact is that for the past 200 years, all King James Bibles published in America are actually the 1769 revision of the 1611 version. That text has remained virtually unchanged since 1769. In fact, if you were to see an original 1611 version, you probably would not be able to read it because the English was so different it virtually looks like a foreign language. Many people would say that the 1769 version looks like a foreign language today, and it does to modern readers. But keep in mind that was the common language, the way it was spoken, in 1769.

The King James Bible was the dominant translation for 250 years until the mid 20th century when new translations began to be developed. What prompted the development of many of those newer translations were a number of important archaeological discoveries. Somebody mentioned to me earlier today the Dead Sea scrolls and somebody else mentioned a display of archaeological texts that had been discovered that came to light in the 20th century.

Those discoveries included a number of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that pre-dated those that were in existence in the early 1600s when the King James was translated, and therefore those earlier texts closer to the original were deemed more reliable than the older ones that were available when the 1611 Bible was produced. 

In the preface to the original 1611 version of the King James Bible, the translators referenced the thousands of marginal readings, alternative readings, where they were unsure of the meaning of the word in the original text so they put a marginal note—“it could mean this.” They explicitly stated in this preface that no version was perfect, including this one. The translators understood that only the original Greek and Hebrew text was inspired. They understood that later archaeological and manuscript discoveries and research would help clarify the original meaning, and that Bible translation by its very nature requires "repeated revision and correction."

The 1611 King James Bible is based on half a dozen Greek manuscripts, none of them before the 10th century AD. Today we have more than 5500 Greek manuscripts in part, some of which date back to as early as the 2nd century AD. In time, new translations would arise, to take advantage of these discoveries. They helped us to know better what was meant, what was the word, what was the sense, what was the meaning, what did the Scripture actually say. The more we were able to have Greek manuscripts that took us back closer to the original text the better the translations that we were able to develop.

Another reason these other translations arose was to give us the Bible in our current English language, even as John Wycliffe did for those who lived at the end of the 14th century. Different English than is spoken today but his translation was modern English in the 14th century. William Tyndale did the same for those who lived in the first part of the 1500s, and various other translators did that for those who lived in the early 1600s when the King James Bible came out. They wrote in the common language that was spoken in that day. The intent of the King James Bible translators was to use a language that was familiar to the people. These newer translations, many of which have come about in the last several decades, provide clarity and simplicity for our day as the King James Bible did for readers and listeners in its day.

The story of those newer translations is a story for another day. Some are more accurate than others, some are more readable than others, some have more elegant language than others, but we are not going to go into that story today.

We need to understand that most of these translations we have available today are based on the most ancient manuscripts that we have available today in the original languages. The textual basis is essentially the same, and the textual differences are relatively minor and do not undermine or call into question a single cardinal doctrine of our faith. You can trust that what you are reading is the Word of God.  

God has sovereignly and supernaturally preserved His Word for us over 3500 years. Why would he do that? He did it so that we could know Him and we could know the story of His grace and mercy in redeeming fallen sinners through the sacrificial death of Christ in our place. Why did he preserve his Word for us? Why did he raise up these loyal courageous men of faith who in some cases paid the price of their lives to preserve it for us, to make it available in our language? Why? So that we would read it, study it, believe it, obey it, and share it with others.

The tragedy is that most of us place so little value on the sacrifices that have been made that we might have God’s Word today in our own language. We have more English language Bibles, translations, and study aids available to us today than any people have had in their language in the history of the world, and yet, sadly, studies consistently show that Bible reading and Bible knowledge are steadily declining even among Christians today.

It is an incredible God-given privilege to have the Bible in our language. The question is:

  • Do we cherish that?
  • Do we esteem God’s Word?
  • Do we read it?
  • Do we obey it?
  • Do we love it?

Matthew Henry said, “I love the Word of God, I esteem it above all, I find my heart so inclined, I desire it as the food of my soul, I greatly delight in it, both in reading and hearing it.”1 Matthew Henry wrote that when he was eleven years old.

That is the heart we want our children to have. That is the heart your children will have if they see you cherishing, esteeming, and loving the Word of God. The seeds of so much of my love of God’s Word today were planted by having a dad and a mom who loved and honored, revered, cherished, and read God’s Word.

It is a great wonder that God still speaks today through the Bible with greater force and greater glory and greater assurance and greater sweetness and greater hope and greater guidance and greater transforming power and greater Christ-exalting truth than can be heard through any voice in any human soul on the planet from outside the Bible.2

What a treasure we have. As we close this series on How We Got Our English Bible, let me remind you, don’t worship the book, but let it lead you to know and worship the God of the book.

Leslie Basham: Can you imagine growing up unable to read the Bible in your native tongue? For English speakers, Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been explaining the process that went into translating the Bible that we read. It will remind us to appreciate all the sacrifice and effort that went into the translation the next time we open God’s Word. That message wraps up a series called, How We Got Our English Bible. For details on getting a copy for yourself visit ReviveOurHearts.com. That is also where you can get a copy of a CD that Nancy has been calling, “My new favorite.”

Nancy, why are you so excited about this CD, Hidden In My Heart?

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I think the major reason is because God has used it to be such a means of grace and encouragement in my own heart over the past few months. I think listening to this music is like being connected to an IV. It is a steady dose of Scripture. It is getting God’s Word into our hearts and you will find this music peaceful, refreshing, and encouraging because it will remind you of promises from God’s Word.

We would like to send you a copy of this CD, Hidden In My Heart. It is our way of saying thank you when you make a contribution of any size to Revive Our Hearts. Your support makes it possible for us to bring you Revive Our Hearts each day. Listeners who believe in what God is doing through this program support us financially, which is why you are able to hear this program today. Now if you have never before contributed to Revive Our Hearts, would you ask the Lord what role he might want you to play in helping others hear this program?

During the month of May, some friends of this ministry are doubling the gifts of each new supporter up to a matching challenge amount of $60,000. Would you help us meet and exceed this amount? It is an important part of our overall goal for the month of May. We are asking God to provide $350,000 this month to help us meet our expenses and to prepare for the summer when giving is sometimes down. When you support us with a gift of any amount, ask for the CD Hidden In My Heart. Just give us a call at 1-800-569-5959, or you can make your contribution online by visiting us at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Leslie Basham: Tomorrow we will hear about the powerful prayers of one dedicated grandmother and how they are affecting the lives of women in south central Los Angeles. Please join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1Wayne Jackson. "Matthew Henry: Commentator for the Common Person." ChristianCourier.com.

2John Piper."The Morning I Heard the Voice of God."

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.