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The Canonization of New Testament Texts Miraculous Nature of the Bible

Translations of the Bible

Once the 27 books of the New Testament were canonized, they were translated and organized into the Bibles we use today. Following is an overview of a few of the major translations of the Bible throughout history. As this overview makes clear, many of the people responsible for bringing the Bible to the four corners of the earth "sacrificed, even to the point of death, to bring the word of God out of obscurity" (D. Todd Christofferson, "The Blessing of Scripture," Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 32).

The Vulgate: Jerome's Latin Translation. (In Latin, vulgate means "common.") When the need arose to take the scriptures into Latin-speaking areas, such as northern Africa, Latin translations were made of the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament) and the New Testament. However, because these translations were not closely controlled, church leaders soon became concerned about the many corruptions and variances in the separate texts. To address this problem, Pope Damasus in AD 383 commissioned his secretary, Jerome, a very able scholar in Greek and Latin, to produce a new suitable Latin translation. In the preface to his Vulgate translation of the New Testament, Jerome wrote a letter to Pope Damasus, describing the problem with creating a new translation: "For if we are to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it is for our opponents to tell us which; for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake?" Jerome's words describe the same problem Joseph Smith dealt with as he created the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.

Jerome's Latin Bible, known as the Vulgate, eventually supplanted all other translations and became the Bible of the western world for close to a thousand years. The Vulgate was given official sanction at the Council of Trent (1545-63). It has been said that the Vulgate was the pillar that preserved Europe's spiritual and intellectual heritage against attacking waves of northern barbarism.

The Luther Bible: Martin Luther's German translation. The history of the Bible's translation into German began in AD 348. To escape religious persecution by a Gothic chief, a Catholic priest named Wulfila (sometimes known as Ulfilas) fled with his followers from Germany to what is now northern Bulgaria. There, Wulfila translated the Bible from Greek into the Gothic dialect. This version established much of the Germanic Christian vocabulary that is still in use today. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a number of German translations of the Bible were produced, but the German translation that had the greatest influence was the one produced by Martin Luther. Luther was a German priest and theologian, whose break from the Catholic church helped to fuel the Protestant Reformation. He disagreed with many church practices that he felt did not accord with the teachings of scripture, and he came to regard the Bible rather than the church as the reliable source of authority for Christians.

After publicly announcing his disagreements with the church in 1517, Martin Luther began to work on translating the Bible into German. He completed work on the New Testament in 1522 and published his translation of the entire Bible in 1534. This translation into the vernacular of German-speaking peoples was one of the most important acts of the Reformation. It not only gave the German people access to the Bible, but it influenced German culture, standardized German religious and literary language, and helped create national unity. Its influence on the German language is comparable to the influence the King James Bible had on the English language. The Luther Bible was also one of the factors leading to the production of the King James Bible. A 1984 revision of the Luther Bible enjoys widespread use today.

It is of interest to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith possessed a copy of the New Testament in several languages, including Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into the German language. He compared the various translations of some New Testament passages and felt that Luther's translation was very good (see History of the Church, 6:307).

John Wycliffe's English translation. A century and a half before Martin Luther, the work of translating the Bible into English was pioneered by John Wycliffe. One of the most prominent scholars of his day, Wycliffe loved the scriptures and was troubled by the ignorance of scripture that he observed among many clergymen and lay persons alike. Like Luther, he grew disillusioned with the church and concluded that the only accurate guide the people still had was the Bible; thus he embarked on the arduous task of taking "God's law" to his countrymen in the English language they understood. Working from Jerome's Latin translation, Wycliffe and his associates completed an English translation of the New Testament in 1380 and portions of the Old Testament in 1382. Approximately 30 years after his death, he was denounced as a heretic. Later in 1432, by order of Pope Martin V, his bones were dug up and burned and the ashes scattered. His followers, the Lollards, were persecuted long after his death.

William Tyndale's English translation. Despite Wycliffe's pioneering efforts, English speakers did not have widespread access to the Bible until after the time of William Tyndale, who has been called "the father of the English Bible." Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described the contributions made by Tyndale:

"Tyndale, born in England about the time Columbus sailed to the new world, was educated at Oxford and Cambridge and then became a member of the Catholic clergy. He was fluent in eight languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Tyndale was a devoted student of the Bible, and the pervasive ignorance of the scriptures that he observed in both priests and lay people troubled him deeply. In a heated exchange with a cleric who argued against putting scripture in the hands of the common man, Tyndale vowed, 'If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost!'

"He sought the approval of church authorities to prepare a translation of the Bible in English so that all could read and apply the word of God. It was denied -- the prevailing view being that direct access to the scriptures by any but the clergy threatened the authority of the church and was tantamount to casting 'pearls before swine' (Matthew 7:6).

"Tyndale nevertheless undertook the challenging work of translation. In 1524 he traveled to Germany, under an assumed name, where he lived much of the time in hiding, under constant threat of arrest. With the help of committed friends, Tyndale was able to publish English translations of the New Testament and later the Old Testament. The Bibles were smuggled into England, where they were in great demand and much prized by those who could get them. They were shared widely but in secret. The authorities burned all the copies they could find."

In 1535 Tyndale was arrested for heresy and treason, and for nearly a year and a half he was imprisoned in a castle dungeon near Brussels, Belgium. The dungeon was dark, cold, and solitary. On October 6, 1536, he was taken outside the castle wall and fastened to a post. Elder Christofferson continued:

"He had time to utter aloud his final prayer, 'Lord! open the king of England's eyes,' and then he was strangled. Immediately, his body was burned at the stake ...

"... Within three years of Tyndale's death, God did indeed open King Henry VIII's eyes, and with publication of what was called the 'Great Bible,' the scriptures in English began to be publicly available. Tyndale's work became the foundation for almost all future English translations of the Bible, most notably the King James Version" ("The Blessing of Scripture," Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 32).

Tyndale's was the first English translation of the Bible to draw directly from both Hebrew and Greek texts and the first English translation to take advantage of the recently invented Gutenberg printing press, which allowed for wide distribution.

King James Version. From 1604 through 1611, a team of approximately 50 translators commissioned by King James I of England (1566-1625) worked on a new English translation of the Bible, which became known as the King James Version, sometimes called the Authorized Version. The translators used Tyndale's text and consulted other helpful resources, including other translations of the Bible in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian; numerous scholarly works; and manuscripts of Bible texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The resulting translation had a tremendous influence on the English language, similar to the impact of the Luther Bible on German. It was the King James Version of the Bible that was studied and used by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Its vocabulary and style of language can be seen throughout the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 1:24). The King James Version is of lasting value in the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In August of 1992, the First Presidency of the Church -- Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson -- released a statement on the King James Version of the Bible. Part of the statement reads: "While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church. In light of all the above, it is the English language Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" ("First Presidency Statement on the King James Version of the Bible," Ensign, Aug. 1992, 80).

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