National Catholic Register


Friday Fast Fact: The Bible in English

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 1/29/10 at 12:12 PM


Did Martin Luther save the bible from the Roman Catholic Church? Was John Wycliff the first to translate the Bible into the English language in 1382 so the regular-Joe could read the Bible too?

Many people answer yes to these questions. The same people also commonly accuse the Catholic Church of things like “hiding the Bible from the people.” And not letting the laity read the Bible for themselves in fear that the people would learn how wickedly warped and un-biblical the teachings of the Catholic Church truly were. So, naturally, for these reasons the Catholic Church kept Bibles locked up, hard to find and in languages nobody could understand.

This absolutely ridiculous, academically inept, historically false and blatantly ignorant point of view oozes with irony. Here are just a few reasons why:

1) Throughout much of Church history, if you could read, you could read Latin. The Church translated the Bible into Latin in the first few centuries of its inception so that all who could read would be able to do so.

2) The Church distributed the Bible in every country it was in and in the common language of the people from the 7th down to the 14th century and beyond.

3) There were “626 editions of the Bible, of which 198 were in the language of the laity…before the first Protestant version of the scriptures was sent forth into the world.” (Where We Got The Bible)

4) There were 27 versions of the Bible in the German language before Martin Luther’s version came out.

5) It was almost solely in those countries which have remained most Catholic that popular versions of the Bible had been published; while it was precisely Protestant countries (like England, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway) that no bible existed when they embraced Protestantism (Dublin Review - Oct 1837). So there is no evidence that access to a Bible in the vernacular caused people to become more protestant. If anything, it made them become more Catholic. It was the spread of such “traditions of men” as private Judgment and Sola Scriptura which caused the spread of Protestantism and further division within the Body of Christ.

The reasons many people still didn’t have access to a Bible was not because of the Catholic Church (The Catholic Church supported access to it). One of the main reasons was the high cost and labor to produce and/or obtain one. That changed drastically with the printing press, of course.

So why then did the Catholic Church reject and forbid the use of protestant “bibles” such as the one published by John Wycliff?  It was not because they were in English or another vernacular. It was not because they were being made available to the laity. It was because they were corrupt versions of the Bible. They were bad translations. And were often being used to spread false doctrine. It’s that simple.

If the Catholic Church had wanted to destroy or alter the Bible, it could have done so at just about any time in its long history. The Catholic Church is the reason we even have the Bible today. It is the institution that protected and preserved it. It would have been easy for those in the Church to destroy original documents and come up with something else if they didn’t like what the Bible taught. But they didn’t do that because of their love for Scripture and genuine desire to share it with the entire world.

If you can read, thank a teacher. If you can read a Bible, thank the Catholic Church.