Translation Wars

A snapshot of the history of Bible translation from Latin to English:

There were surface reasons and deeper reasons why the church opposed an English Bible. The surface reasons were that the English language is rude and unworthy of the exalted language of God’s word; and when one translates, errors can creep in, so it is safer not to translate; moreover, if the Bible is in English, then each man will become his own interpreter, and many will go astray into heresy and be condemned; and it was church tradition that only priests are given the divine grace to understand the Scriptures; and what’s more, there is a special sacramental value to the Latin service in which people cannot understand, but grace is given. Such were the kinds of things being said on the surface.

But there were deeper reasons why the church opposed the English Bible: one doctrinal and one ecclesiastical. The church realized that they would not be able to sustain certain doctrines biblically because the people would see that they are not in the Bible. And the church realized that their power and control over the people, and even over the state, would be lost if certain doctrines were exposed as unbiblical—especially the priesthood and purgatory and penance.

Thomas More’s criticism of Tyndale boils down mainly to the way Tyndale translated five words. He translated “presbuteros” as “elder” instead of “priest.” He translated “ekklesia” as “congregation” instead of “church.” He translated “metanoeo” as “repent” instead of “do penance.” He translated “exomologeo” as “acknowledge” or “admit” instead of “confess.” And he translated “agape” as “love” rather than “charity.”

Daniell comments, “He cannot possibly have been unaware that those words in particular undercut the entire sacramental structure of the thousand year church throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. It was the Greek New Testament that was doing the undercutting.” And with the doctrinal undermining of these ecclesiastical pillars of priesthood and penance and confession, the pervasive power and control of the church collapsed. England would not be a Catholic nation. The reformed faith would flourish there in due time.

John Piper, Always Singing One Note- A Vernacular Bible