“Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? . . . ‘” (Acts 2:7-8)
Perhaps we take for granted the blessing that we are able to hear in our own language the wonderful works of God.
Many of our homes have multiple copies of the Bible. Children in grade school have their own Bibles. We cannot fully comprehend the joy of that first Pentecost when the people gathered in Jerusalem heard the wonderful works of God in their own language or dialect.
This was brought home as I instructed a man born in Mexico. It was reinforced by a kindergarten student whose first language is Spanish. They are able to understand English, but there are times that I wish I could speak to them about Jesus in their own language. It is a remarkable thing not only that God preserved His Word for us in the Bible, but also that God broke the curse of Babel and the confusion of tongues by seeing to it that people are able to hear and read the Bible in their own language.
This began at Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit enabled Peter and the apostles to preach in languages that they did not know or had not even learned. God also provided for the growth of the Word by causing the New Testament to be written in Greek, the language of the Roman Empire. God saw to it that the New Testament was written in the koine Greek (the common Greek of commerce and the streets) rather than in the classical Greek of Plato and Aristotle. In the first centuries of the church, manuscript evidence reveals that the Bible was translated into many languages.
However, by the Middle Ages the Bible had become a closed book for most people. This was due to the fact that many people were not very well educated, and that the Bible was in Latin. Jerome’s Latin “Vulgate” was the only translation of the Bible available.
In Luther’s day, the people did not have access to the Bible in their own language.
God Restored His Word
God moved mightily to bring about the restoration of the Word to His people. First of all, in 1454 Gutenberg invented movable type, which made possible the printing of books on a large scale. Prior to this, books had to be copied by hand. The first book ever printed was the Bible–an edition of the Latin Vulgate known as the “Mazarin Bible.” Thus the stage was set for the Reformation, which was ignited by the posting of the ninety-five theses on October 31, 1517.
One of the earliest convictions of Martin Luther was that the people of Germany must have the Bible, and to this end it must be translated into their own language. Luther had already translated some Psalms into German in 1517 and 1518. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther was declared to be a heretic and an outlaw. Luther’s friends “captured” him and took him to the Wartburg for safe keeping.
While at the Wartburg, Luther translated the New Testament into German. The first translation of the New Testament into German was published in September of 1522. The complete translation of the entire Bible did not take place until 1534. Luther was continually revising his translation until his death, so that it might speak to the people in their own language.
What makes this remarkable is that Luther did not know much Greek before 1514 and practically no Hebrew. Also at this time there was no single German language, but only a confusion of dialects. Yet in less than two years, Luther had translated the New Testament into the German language.
Luther’s German Bible became the basis for the modern German language. It is estimated that five thousand copies of Das Neue Testament Deutzsch were sold in two months. Luther’s translation of the Bible remains the standard by which other translations are often measured.
What A Blessing!
Luther wanted God to speak to his people in their own language. What a blessing that we are able to hear the wonderful works of God in our own language!
It is a sad fact that our age is also one of gross spiritual darkness. This is because, in spite of the availability of the Bible in our own language, very few people make the effort to search the Scriptures. Most families do not have family devotions, and very few people personally read and study the Scriptures. Even pastors tend to read books about the Bible rather than the bare Scriptures themselves.
If God is going to effect a twenty-first century Reformation, it will have to come through a reawakening and a realization of the importance of the searching (reading and studying) of the Bible.
May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to speak the wonderful works of God to the next generation in their own language. The power of the gospel is in the small still voice of God’s Word. May God’s Word continue to be our great heritage.
–Pastor John Schierenbeck