A Living Book Reaches the Ends of the Earth
HE HAD conquered Europe and feared no one. No opposing forces seemed unconquerable. Yet, after considering the history of the Bible, Napoleon admitted: “The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all that oppose it.”
Indeed, it is a book that has proved to be indestructible! And its powerful influence is not limited to the land of its origin. Though born in the Middle East, the Bible has marched into one land after another. It has “learned to speak” in hundreds of languages to the very hearts of mankind. However, this march into lands having unfamiliar languages was not without serious problems.
Into the Languages of the World
Between the ends of the 15th and 19th centuries the number of languages in which the Bible “spoke” rose from 30 to over 450. This was no easy task, for translators were often confronted with unwritten languages or ones whose structures were totally foreign, as Adoniram Judson, the translator of the Burmese Bible, explains:
‘When we find the letters and words all totally destitute of the least resemblance to any language we have ever met with, and these words not clearly divided but run together in one continuous line, a sentence or paragraph seeming to the eye but one long word; when we have no dictionary and no interpreter to explain a single word and must get something of the language before we can avail ourselves of the assistance of a native teacher—that is work!’
Yet there were other more severe obstacles.
The Chinese Bible
When Robert Morrison secretly began to translate the Bible in Canton, China, in 1807, he had to contend with a Chinese law that said: ‘From this time forward, such Europeans as shall privately print books and propagate their religion shall be executed.’
In an abandoned warehouse, living under constant fear of detection, he finished the book of Acts. He had copies printed and freely distributed these, with false covers, to the book sellers. To conceal the handmade wood printing blocks, he buried them, only to find later that termites had destroyed them all! Still not deterred from his goal, in time he completed the entire Bible.
However, his translation was in the literary language, which was not spoken by the majority of Chinese, so Isaac Schereschewsky began a version in the common dialect. After he had just started, a spinal disease rendered him a complete invalid. He had the use of only one finger! Still, on went the translation. With his one good finger he typed while his helpers converted the words into Chinese characters. For seven years, according to the book Chinese Versions of the Bible, ‘he had literally one object—to make plain the Word of God to the Chinese. Day by day, without rest or intermission, he toiled on.’ At last “the One-Finger Bible,” as it was called, put God’s Word into the language spoken by more people than any other in the world!
The determined efforts of such translators have made it possible for various parts of the Bible to be currently available in 1,660 languages. One Bible society alone currently distributes over 200 million copies each year.
Is Its Power Waning?
But does wide distribution assure that the Bible is a living influence? One young girl was asked if she knew anything that was in the Bible. Her tragic answer was, “Yes, there is a pressed squirrel tail, a rose from Aunt Molly’s grave, a lock of Grandpa’s hair, an insurance receipt, and Pa’s Masonic emblem!” Many are like her.
You may own a Bible. But when was the last time you read several pages? How familiar are you with its contents? One Baptist minister observed: “Many know the Bible as we know of George Washington, Socrates, Napoleon, and others—historically. They are dead so far as our knowing them personally is concerned. Just so dead is the Bible in the thinking of many today.”
The enlarging influence of television and radio, along with increasingly busy schedules, has discouraged book reading. Additionally, many doubt that the contents of a book several millenniums old can help them to cope with today’s emotional strains and pressures. Yet, not all feel this way.
The Bible—A Living Force to Millions
There is a former Brazilian prostitute who ran her own brothel; a former hardened killer in a Guatemalan prison; a former member of a shoplifting gang in Ireland who “earned” for himself £100 (about $200, U.S.) a day; an American housewife whose marriage problems caused her to attempt suicide twice and to have a nervous breakdown; and a former Guyanese drunk who was a habitual gambler and “took a delight in beating women.” What do they all have in common?
All of them changed their conduct to harmonize with the Bible’s principles of morality and honesty. The list of examples could go on and on as, yearly, thousands of persons—old and young alike—have found the strength to cope with the pressures of today’s world with help from the Bible. Their lives have reached levels of personal dignity, happiness and satisfaction previously undreamed of.
How did they do it? Did they merely pick up a Bible, begin reading, and make such transformations? Hardly! As one said: “I’ve always wanted to understand the Bible, but it is difficult!” In every case they received personal assistance, much like the Ethiopian court official mentioned in Acts chapter 8. While reading the Scriptures, he was approached by one of the early Christians, Philip, who asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” His modest reply was, “How can I unless I have someone to guide me?” Philip freely assisted him.—Acts 8:30, 31, Phillips’ translation.
Attending meetings designed for group Bible study also helped these ones to mold their lives. These meetings are similar to those of the first-century Christians. There the Bible is copiously read. Also, qualified teachers serve as did the ‘prophets and teachers’ in the first century. (Eph. 4:11-14) Of these, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says: “The prophets and teachers explain to the believers, and apply to their lives and circumstances, the message of salvation that was brought them by the apostles.”
Have others noticed the effects of such Bible study? In the cases mentioned earlier, all became Jehovah’s Witnesses. Concerning the Witnesses, The New Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that they have a “current reputation as one of the best-behaved groups in the world,” with “indefatigable zeal” in preaching, and their “conjugal [marriage] and sexual morality is quite rigid.”
From Africa comes the following report:
“From all accounts, those areas in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongest among Africans are now areas more trouble-free than the average. Certainly they have been active against agitators, witchcraft, drunkenness and violence of any kind. A close study of the Bible is encouraged.”—The Northern News (Zimbabwe Rhodesia).
Naturally, their conduct is not perfect, but the overall condition is certainly striking. Such a large international brotherhood of over two million persons applying Bible counsel clearly shows that now, as never before, the message in the Bible is a “living power,” at work in the believers!—Isa. 2:2-4.
Is the Bible a Living Force in Your Own Life?
No doubt you want happiness and success in life. Who in his right mind does not? Notice this recommendation:
“This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.”—Josh. 1:8.
Yes, the key to a successful life is not the mere possession of the Bible, but reading and carefully following it. Though much of the Bible is crystal-clear, some parts are “hard to understand.” (2 Pet. 3:16) These difficult portions help to reveal one’s motives. (Heb. 4:12) If a person, deep inside, is unconcerned about learning and doing God’s will, he can point to difficult passages as a “reason” for not reading much of the Bible.—Compare Matthew 13:10-16.
We must face the fact that making the Bible a living force in our own lives requires real effort. Proverbs 2:1-5 shows that to find ‘the knowledge of God’ we must ‘cry out for understanding and search for it as for hid treasure or for silver.’ “Hid treasures” are not in the open for easy picking. You have to dig. While digging for treasure, some have sacrificed food and sleep. Ah, but when the treasure is found, it was all worth it!
So, too, time, concentration and meditation are all needed to read the Bible with benefit. Oftentimes a translation in modern language can be helpful. Many have made it a goal to read the Bible through every year. By reading three chapters a day it can be done.
Never forget what some did in the past merely to have a Bible that they could read with understanding. They were willing to face death on a burning stake to do so. Recall how some men, at the risk of their lives, translated the Bible so the common man could read it. Such examples should surely move us to show our appreciation for this precious book by carefully reading it.
A Book That Offers Hope of Eternal Life
Now to that yet unanswered question: Why has God seen to it that the Bible was preserved and made available in a form that all, earth wide, can understand? Because it enables us to get to know our Creator and it contains his promise of everlasting life. He wants every person to have these blessings. The Bible, at Titus 1:2, refers to “a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting.”
Everlasting life under what conditions? The Bible speaks of a ‘new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is to dwell.’ When righteousness prevails, all will have God’s words at work in their hearts and will deal lovingly with one another. God will bless these with perfect health and freedom from want. What a world! Are we not deeply thankful that God saw that this promise was preserved through his Word till our day?—Ps. 37:10, 11; 85:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:3-5.
God wants you to know about and enjoy this hope. It is offered to all who are willing to make the Bible a living force right now in their life. Why not make it such in yours? Jehovah’s Witnesses will be glad to help.
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The Bible, the whole or in part, is now in 1,660 languages, the tongues spoken by nearly all mankind
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