History, the Bible, and Translations


Church leaders at the time of Martin Luther said they wanted to keep the Bible in Latin to prevent the common people from reading it and then misinterpreting it, is this true? If not, what’s the argument against this common theory?

On that same note, why did Martin Luther want to translate the Bible to German so bad?

Why did church leaders in previous centuries persecute and even kill men, like William Tyndale, who were translating the Bible into the language of the people?


To make what he (fallaciously) believed to be the only source of Christian doctrine available to the people.

Because the translations were heretical and not created within the rightful authority and guidance of the Church.


Really? Can you tell me one leader of the Church at that time that said that?


This is what I pointed out! If there’s no source there’s no argument.


I think this link will mostly answer your questions.


They, like the visible church that preceded them for 1500 years, believed in a faith that was bigger than a collection of texts. Moreover, the authority to interpret those texts resided with the visible Church, not individual people.

For most folks until almost living memory, it is a moot point anyway. Your average person didn’t have the literacy required to fully read the thing until roughly the time electricity was starting to become popular.


Slightly off topic… I recall a thread a long time ago asking why the Church possesses and enforces a copyright to certain translations of the Bible. Some asked “Is it so that they can make money from Bible sales?” I think not. The copyright prevents others from making arbitrary changes to the text. Anyone can translate it themselves, but they can’t take a copyrighted text and change a word here and there. That sort of protection of authors’ works was one of the original purposes of copyright law, as I recall.


Good point.

Faith is living. Important texts should be dead if they are to be useful.

(Dead, here, meaning non-changing)


This was a pastoral concern. As a pastor and teacher Luther saw first-hand how little both the clergy and laity knew about the Bible and their faith, due in large measure to the inaccessibility of the Bible to the common person. This is why he believed that the Bible should be translated into the language of the people, and in public education. This is also why he wrote the small and large catechisms so that the head of household would have a tool to teach basic Christian doctrine to his family (small catechism) and to instruct pastors in the same (large catechism).


OP. The printing process had just started in the 1480s and until then everything was written and painted by hand on animal skins. A handwritten book would be very expensive indeed and the Bible even more due to it’s amount of pages. The book printers had to be produced by hand as well and all those little bits for letters hand carved. Just because the book printing was invented it didn’t mean that every single town had one within a few months.

This is what the bibles looked like. The Winchester Bible is thick and requires two persons to carry it.


Just to clarify, Tyndale’s was by no means the first translation. The Lindisfarne Gospels was the first translation into Old English by Catholic monks and dates back to the 8th century.


In the bigger scheme, translation is not as meaningful as interpretation; translation is linguistic, and interpretation is theological.


These days translation is interpretation. Some translations of the Bible are barely recognizable as the Bible.


Are you speaking of the paraphrase translations that are popular today (e.g., the Message and others)?


Participated in Bible study a couple of years ago. About 10 attending and there were at least seven or eight translations of the Bible used. When people read from some of those translations, it was difficult to find the corresponding text in my Ignatius Catholic Study Bible or the RSVP. I couldn’t help but think that maybe what people were reading was not the Bible but some translator’s idea of what it should really be. I hope I am wrong.


I get what you’re saying, and it makes some sense. However, inasmuch as translation drives interpretation – maybe not at the magisterial level, but by those who read the Bible and attempt to glean understanding from that reading – translation is critical.

Yeah. That can be kinda painful – or, alternately, enlightening – if it helps demonstrate that not all translations are equal!


The Winchester Bible was a study Bible for a large library. It was meant to be huge.

Actually, it was increasingly common for laypeople to own handwritten Bible books or at least psalters, because university towns and large cities had bookstores and their associated book manufactories. Laypeople who could write would copy out books on order. Then woodblock printed Bibles started to appear. It was more cumbersome than Gutenberg typeface printing, but it existed centuries before Gutenberg.


If by “increasingly common”, you mean “less than 10% of laypeople” and “not really going anywhere until after Gutenberg”, then I’d agree with you. Otherwise, I’d say that your assertion doesn’t seem terribly credible.

Take a look at the following graph which I found online:

As you can see, in the late 15th century – following the creation of the Gutenberg Bible! – literacy rates in Europe were still low (typically, <= 10%) and languishing. They really didn’t pick up till the second half of the 16th century, which correlates well with the effect of Gutenberg rather than with ‘woodblock printing’.

Now, if you want to claim that there were small pockets of literacy in Europe in the 15th century, and for a percentage of these folks, there was sufficient wherewithal to fund the luxury of personal book ownership, then that might seem more reasonable a claim to make.


Hand-produced books can’t have been cheap.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.