“The green grass dries up, the blossom withers, but the word of our God endures forever.”
1, 2. (a) What would life be like without the Bible? (b) What helps us to benefit from God’s Word?
WHAT would your life be like if you did not have the Bible? You would not have wise advice to guide you each day. You would not know the truth about God, life, or the future. And you would not have any idea what Jehovah did for humans in the past.
2 Thankfully, we are not in this sad situation. Jehovah has given us his Word, the Bible. He has promised that its message will last forever. The apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 40:8. Even though that verse is not specifically about the Bible, it applies to the Bible’s message. (Read 1 Peter 1:24, 25.) We can benefit the most from the Bible if we read it in our own language. Those who love God’s Word have always known this. Over the centuries, people have worked hard to translate the Bible and make it available, despite great opposition and difficulty. Jehovah wants as many people as possible to “be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”
3. What will we discuss in this article? (See opening picture.)
3 In this article, we will discuss how God’s Word has endured in spite of (1) changes in language, (2) political developments that changed the common language, and (3) opposition to Bible translation. How will this discussion help us? Our appreciation for the Bible and its Author will become deeper.
CHANGES IN LANGUAGE
4. (a) How do languages change over time? (b) How do we know that God does not prefer a specific language? How does that make you feel?
4 As time passes, languages change. Words and expressions may come to mean something very different from what they once did. Perhaps you can think of an example in the language you speak. This is also true of ancient languages. The Hebrew and Greek that people speak today are different from the Hebrew and Greek in which the Bible was written. Most people are not able to understand the Bible in the ancient languages it was written in, and they need a translation. Some have thought that if they learned ancient Hebrew and Greek, they could understand the Bible better. But that might not help them as much as they think.* (See footnote.) We are very grateful that the Bible or parts of it have been translated into nearly 3,000 languages. It is Jehovah who wants people of “every nation and tribe and language” to benefit from his Word. (Read Revelation 14:6, footnote.) Surely, this makes us feel even closer to our God, who is loving and impartial.
We are grateful that the Bible or parts of it have been translated into nearly 3,000 languages
5. What made the King James Version important?
5 The fact that languages change also affects Bible translations. A translation that was easy to read when it was first produced may not be so clear later on. An example of this is the King James Version, first produced in 1611. It became one of the most popular English Bibles. The wording used in the King James Version even affected the English language.* (See footnote.) However, this translation used the name Jehovah only a few times. In most places in the Hebrew Scriptures where God’s name was originally found, it used the word “LORD” in capital letters. Later printings also used the word “LORD” in capital letters in some verses in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In this way, the King James Version acknowledged that God’s name belonged in the so-called New Testament.
6. Why are we grateful for the New World Translation?
6 When the King James Version first appeared, the English words it used sounded modern. But as time went by, some of those words began to sound old-fashioned, and today they are difficult to understand. The same thing happened with early Bible translations in other languages. So we are very grateful to have the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which uses modern language. This translation is available in whole or in part in more than 150 languages. This means that most people in the world can now read this translation in their own language. The modern and clear words it uses make it easy for God’s message to reach our heart. (Psalm 119:97) But what makes the New World Translation truly special is that it puts God’s name in the places where it was originally found.
THE COMMON LANGUAGE
7, 8. (a) Why were many Jews in the third century B.C.E. not able to understand the Hebrew Scriptures? (b) What is the Greek Septuagint?
7 Political developments in the world have sometimes changed what language people spoke at a certain time. But Jehovah has made sure that the Bible would be available to people in a language they could understand. For example, the first 39 books of the Bible were written by the Jews, or Israelites. They were the ones first “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Romans 3:1, 2) They originally wrote these books in either Hebrew or Aramaic. But by the third century B.C.E., many Jews no longer understood Hebrew. Why not? When Alexander the Great conquered a large part of the world, the Greek Empire spread. As a result, Greek became the common language in the areas that Greece ruled, and many people began to speak Greek instead of their own language. (Daniel 8:5-7, 20, 21) This included many Jews, so it became difficult for them to understand the Bible in Hebrew. What was the solution?
8 About 250 years before Jesus was born, the first five books of the Bible were translated into Greek. Later, the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures were also translated. This translation became known as the Greek Septuagint. It is the first known written translation of the whole Hebrew Scriptures.
9. (a) How did the Septuagint and other early translations help people who read God’s Word? (b) What is your favorite part of the Hebrew Scriptures?
9 The Septuagint made it possible for Greek-speaking Jews to read the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek. Can you imagine how excited they were to be able to hear or read God’s Word in their own language? Eventually, parts of the Bible were translated into other commonly spoken languages, such as Syriac, Gothic, and Latin. As more people were able to read and understand God’s Word, they too came to love it. And they could have their favorite verses, just as we do today. (Read Psalm 119:162-165.) Yes, God’s Word has endured despite political changes and changes to the common language.
OPPOSITION TO BIBLE TRANSLATION
10. In John Wycliffe’s time, why were most people not able to read the Bible?
10 Over the years, many powerful leaders tried to prevent people from reading the Bible. But God-fearing men did not stop working to make the Bible available to all. One of these was John Wycliffe, who lived in England during the 14th century. He believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible. During his lifetime, most people in England had never heard the Bible’s message in their language. Bibles were very expensive, and each copy had to be written out by hand. So, very few people owned a Bible. Also, most people at that time could not even read. Those who went to church may have heard the Bible read out loud in Latin, but that was an old language that ordinary people did not understand. How did Jehovah make sure that people would have the Bible in their own language?
11. What was the effect of the Wycliffe Bible?
11 In 1382, John Wycliffe and others translated the Bible into English. The Wycliffe Bible became very popular among a group known as the Lollards. Those people loved the Bible. They traveled on foot from village to village all over England. The Lollards read the Bible to people and gave them handwritten copies of parts of it. Their work made the Bible very popular again.
12. How did the clergy feel about Wycliffe and his work?
12 The clergy hated Wycliffe, his Bible, and his followers. They persecuted the Lollards and destroyed all the Wycliffe Bibles they could find. Even though Wycliffe had already died, the clergy declared him a heretic, or an enemy of the Church. They dug up his bones, burned them, and threw the ashes into the river Swift. But many people wanted to read and understand God’s Word, and the Church could not stop this. In the hundreds of years that followed, people in Europe and other parts of the world began to translate and print the Bible in languages that many could understand.
“THE ONE TEACHING YOU TO BENEFIT YOURSELF”
13. What can we be sure of? How does this make our faith stronger?
13 The Bible is inspired by God. But this does not mean that the work of translating the Septuagint, Wycliffe’s Bible, the King James Version, or any other version is directly inspired by God. Yet, when we examine how these translations were produced, it is clear that just as Jehovah promised, his Word has endured. This strengthens our faith that everything else that Jehovah has promised will also come true.
14. How does what we learn about the Bible make our love for God deeper?
14 When we learn how Jehovah protected his Word, our faith in him becomes stronger and our love for him becomes deeper.* (See footnote.) Why did Jehovah give us the Bible in the first place and then promise to protect it? Because he loves us and wants to teach us how to benefit ourselves. (Read Isaiah 48:17, 18.) This moves us to love and obey him.
15. What will we discuss in the next article?
15 We deeply love God’s Word, so how can we get the most from our personal Bible reading? How can we help those we meet in the ministry to appreciate the Bible? How can teachers in the congregation make sure that everything they teach is based on God’s Word? We will discuss these questions in the next article.
See the article “Do You Need to Learn Hebrew and Greek?” in the November 1, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.
See the box “See It for Yourself!”