by Janice Smith
Today the Bible is easily available. We can find copies in bookstores, specialty shops, discount stores, and even order it online. We can buy compact discs with not only the text of the Bible (some of them with more than one translation) but study helps too. Because access to the Bible today is so free we often forget that there were thousands of people who paid dearly for the opportunity to read it and share it with others.
John Wycliffe was a highly respected and prominent scholar at Oxford in the 1300ís. He had a great appreciation and knowledge of the Bible, and drew strength from its teachings. Wycliffe also had a strong desire that the teachings of the Bible be brought to the common people. To that end Wycliffe and his followers translated passages from Holy Writ, and the ďLollards,Ē as they were called, would go among the people in their streets and shops, and discuss the scriptures with anyone willing to listen. This extracurricular activity cost Wycliffe his position at Oxford. After his death his followers were hunted down, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, and often executed. Sometimes passages of Bible translations would be tied around their necks before they were burned at the stake. Copies of the Bible were piled up and burned.
William Tyndale had the audacity to translate and publish the New Testament, a translation that strongly influenced the King James Version years later. For his crime Tyndale was imprisoned in a cold, dark cell which he was only permitted to leave for his trial, his excommunication, and his execution. He was strangled to death before being burned at the stake.
Small wonder that decades later people immigrated to America to escape religious persecution. The framers of the Constitution of the United States of America had very compelling reasons to include freedom of religion in the first amendment along with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble.
Our access to the Bible is so free and unfettered that itís all too easy to take it for granted, and underestimate the power of the Bible to influence us.
Years ago I was substituting for a teacher whose class was indisputably the worst-behaved in the entire school. Most of the substitute teachers assigned to that class refused to go back, and at least one didnít return to the school at all. I was pretty strict with them, but we got along well. One time I subbed for that class a couple of days after two men from the Gideon Bible Association had passed out small copies of the New Testament with the Psalms and Proverbs to all of the students at the school. I was amazed at the impact those tiny green books had on this difficult group of students. Whenever they had a few free minutes they would eagerly open the scriptures and read. They showed passages to each other and discussed them. They were polite and respectful to me, and, even more remarkably, to each other. They did their work, participated in class discussions, and their behavior that day was exemplary. I honestly believe that the dramatic improvement in their conduct was brought on by their study of the Bible.
Itís very appropriate to National Bible Week is scheduled to coincide with the week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Simply having the right to own and study the scriptures is a reason to be thankful, and to remember the brave people who were willing to sacrifice so much for all of the freedoms we enjoy.
(Most of the information in this article was found in "How We Got the Bible" by Lenet Hadley Read).