Dr. Ed Blum Explains Ancient Text Preservation
“We don’t have a lot of information about how the books were carried around and preserved. Moses, of course, was from a tribe of Levi and the Jewish people had 12 tribes. This one tribe was chosen by God to be a special priestly tribe, and they were also a teaching tribe.
They had the responsibility of taking care of the sacred altar, the arc of the covenant, and eventually the temple. And in the temple, they would preserve the writings. The Jewish people, of course, preserved their scripture very carefully. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is of interest to a lot of people.
In the ancient world, they had different ways of preserving things. People started writing at the beginning of recorded history, which was around 3,300 B.C., on clay tablets. And in Egypt, they wrote things on walls. They carved things into stone. And the Egyptians had a plant called Papyrus, and Papyrus was the precursor of what we call modern paper.”
The Importance and Work of John Wycliffe
“Wycliffe is one of these interesting figures. He was an Oxford philosopher and theologian, so he came before the reformation, printing, and paper. Those things are interesting because the Roman Catholic Church had become extremely popular and extremely powerful.
The Pope was more powerful than any king. In John Wycliffe’s Day, the church owned almost one third of the entire British Isles. Wycliffe became the authority, and he stressed the authority of the scripture in religion and government rather than church rule and tradition. That was a big threat to the Catholic Church.
The Catholic church, a couple hundred years earlier, was so powerful that Kings could be almost kicked off their throne because the Pope had the power to declare an interdict on a country. All the power was in the papacy. So Wycliffe began writing against the papacy.
He decided that for people to know what the Bible says, they needed to be able to read it in their own language. He was a forerunner of reform in the church. Wycliffe had some followers that helped him and he began to translate from Latin into Middle English, and the translation was finished by his followers after he died. The Catholic Church said that it was a death penalty for the possession of a Wycliffe Bible. After he died, the Roman Catholic Church dug up his bones and burned him, saying that he was a heretic because he was stressing the authority of scripture alone. That was the first translation of the Latin Bible into English, and it’s amazing that over 250 portions of that handwritten Bible have survived to this day.”
The Importance and Work of William Tyndale
“Here’s a man who is more learned in certain respects than Wycliffe. Between Wycliffe and Tyndale, paper mills are printing paper, printing presses are printing books and books are being translated. So for example, Tyndale would have a published copy printed of a Hebrew Bible, and he would have a copy of a Greek Bible as well.
He knew Hebrew and Greek, which was rare. If you look at church fathers like Augustine, he basically wrote and worked with a Latin Bible. The greatest scholar of the Western church didn’t know Greek or Hebrew.”
Dr. Ed Blum Explains The Importance of Martin Luther
“In 1517, Martin Luther was working on a translation from Greek to German, and at the same time around 1520, there was a man named Zwingli and he was working on a translation into Swiss German. By the time Tyndale started translating and working, he was able to get some knowledge of how translations work from Luther. He was able to translate the whole New Testament and start work on the Old Testament before he was killed.”
The Kings Allowance of Bible Transmission
“At that time of Tyndale’s death, Henry the 8th had just broken with the Pope. He declared himself the head of the English church. At first, he was not interested in having the Bible transmitted, but eventually he listened to his staff. He allowed the Bible to be printed. In those days, the kings that followed decided that people needed to read the Bible, and so they had Bibles printed.
Every parish priest was to have a Bible. They chained these Bibles to a piece of the altar or to a place where it could be read. People would come into the church and sit there and listen and somebody would read the Bible out loud. Bibles at that point were too expensive for the average individual to own. But each church now could have a Bible and the king was permitting it.”
The History of The King James Bible
“The King James Bible is not the first English translation. Including Wycliffe, Tyndale, the Coverdale, Matthew, the Great Bible, Tavener, Geneva, and the Bishops Bible, you have 10 translations or reiterations of the English translation that came before the King James Bible.
The King James Bible was not technically a fresh translation. Tyndale makes up about 75% of the wording. The KJV then was printed and it became popular because it was a very good summary of all the previous translations. It had all the advantages of the Geneva Bible.
Another thing that people don’t know about the King James Bible is that it was copyrighted. In other words, there was a crown copyright. So when the people came to America and set up printing presses in the United States, you could not print a King James Bible in America until the Revolutionary War. After the Revolutionary War, nobody paid any attention to the King’s copyright. They went ahead and printed King James Bibles.”
The Problem With The KJV
“People became a little bit more dissatisfied with the KJV when, in 1870, the Church of England decided to do a revision of the KJV. Many of the documents that supported King James were not the most accurate documents and the language was changing away from the KJV.
So a group of scholars got together in 1870 and they worked on it, inviting an American committee to help; It was published in the 1870s. The Americans were not happy with it because they had signed an agreement not to publish anything separate until 1901. So in 1901, the Americans published the American Standard version. But the KJV was still the most popular and it remained that way until the NIV, and that was the first translation that surpassed the annual sales of King James Bibles.”
How We Got The New Living Translation
“There was a man who worked for a publishing company, and he had a bunch of kids, and the popular Bible that was considered the most accurate was the American standard version in his day. His kids, at daily devotions, couldn’t understand what he was talking about. So as he traveled, he paraphrased the American Standard version, into what he would say is normal English. It became the Living Bible.
He would read it to his children and people thought it was a great idea. Somebody sent a copy of this first paraphrase to Billy Graham. Billy Graham held it up at one of his meetings and said it was one of the best things since sliced bread, but nobody wanted to publish it.
So he published it himself and eventually it became Tyndale Publishing House. But then it was criticized for not being a real translation, but a paraphrase. And so he got some scholars and they tried to keep it as close as you can to the Living Bible, which had sold 40 million copies, and they came up with the NLT in 1996.”
Why Do We Have So Many English Bible Translations?
“People are traditionalists. We also are a very competitive society and the essence of capitalism is making money. If you want to use a printed Bible that’s in copyright, you pay a 7% royalty to that copyright owner.
If a person wants to use the NASB, they have to pay a 13% royalty. Zondervan right now is the dominant publisher, and that’s controlled by Harper and Roe, which controls the Wall Street Journal as well. There’s a lot of political things that go on. One of the reasons why the Holman was created was because Zondervan was re-gendering the standard Bible.
That became a political issue. So we are living in changing days. The West is becoming more secular and anti-Christian. In many other countries like China, the word of God is something that people have given their lives for. I’m sure they’re doing that in many countries to sell Bibles, to possess Bibles, to print bibles. We don’t realize how difficult it is in certain parts of the world.
From Wycliffe in 1384 to 1611, many scholars labored to produce this classic. A number gave their lives so that the average English reader would be able to own and read God’s word and His message in their language.”
Key Takeaways From This Interview
I’m convinced that the Christian life is grounded on a three-legged stool. God’s word, God’s spirit, and God’s people. If we aren’t exposed to God’s word on a regular, ongoing basis, we don’t know what we don’t know. We forget everything. We need God’s spirit then to empower us, to control us, to help us retain and apply what we’ve learned. And we need God’s people to shape us, to round off the rough edges, to love us, to encourage us, and to walk with us.
About Dr. Ed Blum
Edwin A. Blum (D. Theol, University of Basel; ThD, Dallas Theological Seminary) for many years was Professor of Theology and New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. He served as Senior Pastor of several churches in Houston and Dallas, TX and was the Executive Director of the Christian Medical Society. The author of several commentaries and multiple articles, Ed also was the General Editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation and the General Editor of the CSB Study Bible. Ed and his wife Ann live in Prescott, AZ and are the parents of five adult children.
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