Every morning when you wake up a battle begins in your heart. You feel the pressure to get going. Your responsibilities rush at you like the Seattle Seahawks’ defense. But if you listen closely, there’s another option, a quiet invitation, a prompting from God, saying, “Open the book and read.” Your Bible is there, on your nightstand, your bookshelf or your phone. Will you stop and open it? Will I?
Five hundred years ago, English-speaking people didn’t fight this battle. They never felt that prompting. God didn’t speak to them that way. Because 500 years ago an English Bible did not exist.
Printing was still new technology and printed books were not only expensive, but almost always in Latin. Latin was the language of anything official or serious and the problem was most people didn’t know Latin. If the masses waited till Sunday for their weekly dose of Scripture, they would have been disappointed again because everything done in church was done in Latin. Externally, Christianity was all dressed up and in its place, but internally the life of God was not pulsating in people’s souls.
Today we live in one of the most evangelical nations on earth, but even so we find ourselves in a similar position. Religion and spirituality are everywhere, but the Bible is a foreign language. We know of it, but we don’t know it.
What we see in history is that God raised up a man named William Tyndale and gave him a burning desire to change things. Tyndale could read Latin, knew the Bible and desperately wanted to bring God’s Word into the language of the people. But back then Bible translation was illegal, the equivalent of heresy. Tyndale didn’t know what to do until a risk-taking businessman came alongside him and funded him to work exclusively on translation.
The man’s name was Humphrey Monmouth and he was a successful cloth merchant. Monmouth housed Tyndale for six months and eventually used his merchant ships to send Tyndale across the English Channel to get it printed. A year later Monmouth’s ships smuggled the first 3,000 copies of the English New Testament into England. They came into their own nation hidden in bales of cloth, stuffed in sacks of flour and sealed in watertight boxes inside barrels of oil and wine.
These contraband Bibles were sold in secret. A baker named John Pykas bought one for four shillings. Another man bought two unbound copies for three shillings and four pence. Those who had them gathered their friends, huddled together and read their English Bibles in secret. At last they had a Bible they could read and a God they could know.
But Tyndale and his patron paid a high price for their nation’s joy. Monmouth spent a year confined in the Tower of London. Tyndale, who had lived in exile from England for over a decade, ended up betrayed, arrested, imprisoned and finally killed — for translating the Bible into English!
The question that 21st century Christians should ask is: Why not us? When the great men and women of history risked so much and gave so much for the Bible, why not us? Why do we not value God’s Word like that? Why are we content to lose the battle of Bible reading?
As a kid I remember visiting the science museum and seeing the huge dinosaur bones all hung together in place, recreating the shape of some behemoth 10 times my size. It was always interesting to look at and yet always irrelevant to my life. I’m sure the bones really mattered to some expert somewhere, but not to me. Sadly, I think we can often treat the Bible like dinosaur bones, a surviving memorial of something past, rather than God’s living Word for us today.
But God’s quiet invitation still stands, “Open the book and read.” As Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” Here is rest for your weary souls, food for your spiritual hunger and pure milk for all who are thirsty. For those in need of direction, here is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. Here is your one offensive weapon for the very real struggles of life. Here is the only way a young man can keep his way pure. Here is the truth that pierces our souls and sanctifies us. It’s sweeter than honey and a greater treasure than all riches.
Tyndale and Monmouth knew this. And after their deaths the English Bible went on to become the most influential book in the English-speaking world. History’s unanimous testimony shows that the fuel of the reformations and revivals of the past was the rediscovery of the glorious truths of the Bible.
It’s time we bring our Bibles out of their exile in the dusty corners of our nightstands and bookshelves and reengage them as the means God uses to change our lives and revive our world. It’s time again to open the book and read.
John Rinehart (’02, M.Div. ’09) is the author of the newly released book Gospel Patrons: People Whose Generosity Changed The World, available at Amazon.com and gospelpatrons.org. John is a writer and speaker who helps business and ministry leaders pursue a passion for Jesus and find their part to play in his work.