The Bible has a fascinating history. Before the advent of the printing press it was a scarce commodity. Laboriously copied by hand in the monasteries, only a few copies were available here and there. These copies were so prized that they were often fastened into position with chains to prevent their being stolen. Once the printing press had been invented, the story changed. Now the Bible could be made available in quantities by mass production.
The printing press did not solve all the problems connected with the publication of the Word of God, however. When printing came into use, the Latin Vulgate was the chief source of religious truth. Yet hardly anyone could read Latin. And even for those who could read it the Vulgate was a problem. It contained thousands of errors, not the least of which was one that changed the thinking of Martin Luther. The Vulgate translated Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:17, “Do penance.” The KJV and the RSV translate them, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was from the printed Greek text of Erasmus that “Luther had learned that the original simply meant ‘be penitent.’ The literal sense was ‘change your mind.…’ This was what Luther himself called a ‘glowing’ discovery. In this crucial instance a sacrament of the church did not rest on the institution of Scripture” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, New York, 1950, p. 88). Men like Luther quickly discerned that if the Bible were to be brought to the people, it would have to be translated into the language of the reader, despite the intense and continuous opposition of the church.
Luther made the Bible available in the German vernacular. This was a laborious task in which he encountered innumerable problems. He wrote a letter to a friend saying: ...1
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