For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Western Christians find it easy to take their Bibles for granted. I myself am no exception to this—after all, in a house where there are fifteen Bibles at any given time, why worry about what life would be like if you didn’t have one? Even if the house burned down and every paper copy my family owned was lost, I could still easily access God’s word thanks to the internet, my church which has a copy in every pew, or Christian friends.
For billions of Christians throughout church history, however, this has not been the case—far from it. Even in the West, now called a Christian-centered society, there was once a decided lack of Scripture. Many sacrificed all they had for it––even sometimes their lives. They did this because of the transforming power of the gospel, and because they knew that it was the only way to truly know God. The word of God was everything to them, and they were willing to go to their graves for it.
Famous examples of such courageous men and women— some of whom died for the Word, while others instead sacrificed their earthly goods and comfort for it— included:
John Wycliffe was an English Christian in the days when militant Catholicism ordered that the only translations of Scripture could be in Latin. Unwilling to allow his people to perish without the Word of God, Wycliffe decided to translate the Bible into English. He was called the “master of errors” by the Church and received five bulls (or edicts) from the Pope, declaring him a heretic. Wycliffe refused to halt, and although he died before he had finished his translation, a friend completed it for him, creating the first English Bible.
William Tyndale was born over a hundred years after Wycliffe died. He, too, was English and brimmed with passion for his fellow countrymen to have the word of God in their hands. Wycliffe’s translation was illegal and hard to find, and so Tyndale set about making his own. In 1536 he was betrayed by a friend and condemned to death for heresy. In the end, he was strangled and burned to death.
Martin Luther did not die a martyr’s death for Scripture, but he did make history for it anyway. Once a monk, Luther made his famous list of 95 theses, stating the issues he wished to debate with the church. This was seen as a call to reform, and Luther was catapulted into a world where he became the face of Scripture advocates. He went into hiding from the authorities and translated the Bible while he was there; this was the first German translation of Scripture. He wrote many other books, and as a result of his work and that of like-minded men, the Protestant Reformation was truly able to take off.
Mary Jones lived later than any of these men— she was in Wales in the 1800s— but her story is just as inspiring. As a small child, she became a Christian, but in Wales at the time, it was incredibly difficult to procure a Bible, and they were very expensive. Mary made up her mind to save enough to be able to buy one, and at the age of 15 she walked 50 miles round-trip to purchase the Bible. In Welsh tradition, it is said that her devotion and simple faith is what compelled Thomas Charles, the man from whom she bought the Bible, to create the Welsh Religious Tract Society, with a goal of distributing enough Bibles for the people of Wales.
Western Christians in today’s society may not have to go through these difficulties in order to get a Bible they can understand, but we still should not take them for granted. Let the faithfulness of these men and women launch us into a greater gratitude for our Scriptures— the freedom we have did not come for free.