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The Bible: between 1500-1600 April 10, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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When I mentioned that YouVersion had scripture in 1555 languages, one facebook friend thought that I was talking about the language of the year 1555, not the number of languages. Perhaps I should have written my post to commemorate the first authorised translations in the English language “Great Bible” of 1539, also known as the “Chained Bible”.

“The Great Bible” 1539, also known as “The Chained Bible”

A lot of things changed in regard to the availability of scripture in the 1500’s. I’ll mention a few of them before reflecting on the amazing progress being made in our own century.

William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English in the 1520’s, with the New Testament first published in 1525. For this (and perhaps for some of the words used) he was forced to flee. In 1536 charged with heresy, he was tied to a stake, strangled and then his body burned. His final words are reported as, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

His prayer was answered. The principle of an English Bible was legalised in 1536 and the first authorised text was approved in 1537 (here’s the letter). While not given official credit, Tyndale’s translation was built upon in the Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Authorised Version or King James Bible (1611).

The Mathew Bible 1537, British Library
“The Byble, which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament
truly and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew.”
View more at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/matthews-bible

You can read more about the various versions on the website of the British Library in a 2019 article by Alec Ryrie, “From Sacred Scriptures to the people’s Bible” .

The picture at the top of this post is of the “Great Bible” which as the caption says and the Wikipedia article explains, the name was due to it’s size and it was also referred to as the “Chained Bible”.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just legal for churches to own a copy, it was commanded,

In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bible

But, on display in the church was still different to being available in people’s homes. The Bible’s were often chained to prevent removal from the church.

Today, as I also mention a lot in my blog posts, the Bible is very widely available in a huge number of languages. There are full Bible in over 700 languages.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Many others have at least a New Testament

progress.bible/data March 2021

And still more have selections and individual books of the Bible published.

progress.bible/data March 2021


Published, still isn’t the same as freely available to everyone and freely available isn’t the same as people knowing where and how to access a copy, but through print and digital versions this is getting closer. Making scripture available on an app or website still doesn’t quite make it accessible to everyone, but it’s certainly a help.

I started the post with my friends confusion about YouVersion having the Bible (or at least part of it) in 1555 languages. This was on March 24, 2021. By the time I started writing this post that number had gone up to 1575 languages, and as I publish the number at the bottom of their page at bible.com has just shot up to 2375 versions in 1639 languages.
It might be more by the time you click the link!

YouVersion isn’t the only platform providing scripture as text, audio, and as part of films including the Jesus film and the new Lumo Gospel films. Also check out the recordings data base of Faith Comes By Hearing and via their bible.is app. ScriptureEarth.org is another fantastic resource, providing links to the major platforms and also hosting a large number of additional texts and recordings along with links to individual apps and scripture sites.


Do you know anyone who doesn’t know that an “unchained” Bible is available on their phone? Is your church making people aware of this?

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