Posts Tagged ‘biography’

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

Saturday, February 18th, 2017 by Alfred

On February 18th we commemorate the death of priest, theologian, and Bible translator Martin Luther (b. November 10, 1483 – d. February 18, 1546).

Luther is most famous for nailing his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg – 500 years ago this year – which many people cite as the primary starting point of the Reformation.

Yet Luther’s later work translating the Bible was also fundamental to the Reformation.

Luther loved the Bible but knew that, at the time, the Bible was not accessible to everyone. So he concluded that a new translation, in the common language of the German people was necessary.

His focus as he worked on the translation was to enable the ‘tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons’ to be able to read God’s word for themselves. Indeed, he was so committed to the ordinariness of the language in the translation, he would take trips into local towns and villages to listen to the way people spoke.

Luther’s translation marked a shift in the church’s approach to the Bible, as Philip Schaff notes:

“The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became far more clear and dear to the common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his daily guide in spiritual life.”

It spurred on Bible translation in Europe, especially in French, Dutch and English.

Yet now over 1.5 billion people – more than the entire world population when Luther was alive – still do not have the Bible in the language they speak and understand best. Wycliffe Bible Translators is working so that all peoples around the world can engage with the Bible in the language they most understand.

Find out how you can be part of Bible translation.

When tennis, fresh fruit and ??? were illegal

Thursday, October 6th, 2016 by Camilla

The 1500s were a very different time. Most of England’s population lived in villages and made their living from farming. In 1512, tennis became illegal, along with a number of other games. For a brief time during the plague of 1569, it also became illegal to sell fresh fruit (presumably possession of the stuff was a lesser crime). What is perhaps even more surprising, however, is that it was illegal to translate the Bible into the modern English of the day.

william_tyndaleSo why are we talking about the 1500s? you ask. It’s because of this dapper-looking chap. He is in fact none other than William Tyndale (pronounced ‘tindle’). It’s the anniversary of his death, and if you’ve never heard of him, you’re in for a treat.

Tyndale is one of our heroes here at Wycliffe Bible Translators. Like us, he believed that people (specifically, the English) should be able to read the Bible for themselves, in their own language. The difference is, in his time – the early 1500s – this was considered a very dangerous idea. Even the Church of England was against it.

Even though the Bible had been translated into an earlier form of English (Middle English) before, by John Wycliffe, translating the Bible into modern English was strictly forbidden. Tyndale went ahead and did it anyway.

Tyndale started his work in London, and later relocated to Germany for safety reasons. Three years after he started his work, copies of Tyndale’s English New Testament were being smuggled into England.

Tyndale ended up being arrested for heresy, imprisoned, and eventually strangled and burned at the stake for his crime – but not before several thousand copies of his New Testament had been printed.

Want more? Read about our history as an organisation!

Tyndale completed his work for his countrymen hundreds of years ago. But there’s plenty of work still to do: there are over 1.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to the Bible in their language. Why not connect with a Bible translation project that’s happening right now!

Myles Coverdale (c. 1488 – 20 January 1569)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 by Ruth

Myles Coverdale was the translator of the first complete Bible into English, published in 1535. His work followed on from other first mother-tongue translations of Europe – French, German and Dutch – and the work of Tyndale, whose New Testament was published ten years earlier.

Coverdale began his work despite knowing that Tyndale was working on a complete Bible translation. ‘Why should other nations,’ he said, ‘be more plenteously provided for with the Scriptures in their mother-tongue than we?’

Like Tyndale, his translation was written and published in Europe, and was smuggled into Britain. In many ways, though, Coverdale’s translation was very different: he was not as proficient a linguist as Tyndale, and knew no Hebrew. Instead he worked from other translations. However, he was a great executor of the English language, and his translation is greatly admired for its literary, as well as spiritual, significance.

Despite his substantial work and impact, Coverdale was not a celebrated man. He was not born to a great family – in fact, the date of his birth is not even known. He never rose to great position in the church of his day, and died aged 81, in relative obscurity – 447 years ago today. Others thought he was humble and unassuming, a ‘very gentle spirit’. And he was phenomenally industrious: his notes suggest that he began his first translation less than a year before its publication, which meant he translated or revised on average 2,400 words a day – a remarkable feat.

He remained adamant in his belief that God used translations effectively. In response to objections to vernacular translations, he said, ‘The Holy Ghost is as much the author of it in the Hebrew, Greek, French, Dutch, and English, as in Latin… The word of God is of like worthiness and authority in what language soever the Holy Ghost speaketh it.’

Today, while English-speakers are indeed ‘plenteously provided for’, of 7,000 living languages in the world only 554 have a complete Bible. And around 1,800 languages don’t have any access to God’s word in their mother tongue at all. Give the Story.

John Calvin and Bible translation

Monday, May 26th, 2014 by Hannah

Today is the 450th anniversary of the death of John Calvin. The name has become synonymous with Reformation and theology. Given that context, and the significant impact he had on the church, it’s no surprise he had a part to play in Bible translation.

Calvin, second from the left, with William Farel, Theodore Beza, John Knox on Reformation Wall in Geneva.

Although not a Bible translator himself, Calvin had close connections to Bible translators. It was a relative, Pierre Robert Olivétan, who first encouraged him to study the Scriptures when he had changed his mind about becoming a priest. The same Olivétan was the first person to translate the whole Bible intro French from Greek and Hebrew. When it was published in 1535, Calvin wrote the foreword, saying that having the Bible available in the vernacular would allow all believers to know what God has said.

John Calvin, Bible in hand.

When he and other reformers, including John Knox, were established in Geneva, they encouraged the British expatriates there to do a complete Bible translation into English too, what would become the Geneva Bible. One of the key workers on the team was William Whittington, Calvin’s brother-in-law. The Geneva Bible went on to be incredibly popular, even after the publication of the Authorised Version, and was the translation used by Cromwell and Shakespeare.

Why was it that Calvin – busy as he must have been writing his many Institutes – cared about Bible translation, when he knew Hebrew, Greek and Latin himself? In his magnum opus, he said:

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.

If it’s in a language you don’t understand, the Bible stays indistinct and unreadable, as if you’d forgotten your glasses. In your language – a language you really understand – the Bible shows us the true God clearly. Find out what you can do in Bible translation.

John Paton: how to be immortal

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 by Hannah

Old missionary biographies can be simultaneously the most uplifting and the most terrifying reads. One of most dramatic is John Paton’s, who died on this day in 1907.

Constantly in danger

Paton’s half-year journey to Tanna Island (in present day Vanuatu) started a fortnight after his wedding. Three months after arrival, and just days after the birth of their first child, both his wife and the child died. Paton buried them with his own hands, and his memoir speaks about the pain he felt as he struggled on for the next four years, until the population of the island drove him away. Among his many near-death experiences, perhaps the most dramatic was the four hours he worked while being followed by a man pointing a loaded gun to his head. Paton’s response? ‘Looking up in unceasing prayer to our dear Lord Jesus, I left all in his hands, and felt immortal till my work was done.’

Two decades earlier, the first two Christian missionaries to the islands had been killed and cannibalised minutes after their arrival. People told Paton he was a fool, many because he went to the islands and at least one because he left: ‘It would have been to your honour, and better for the cause of the Mission, had you been killed at the post of duty.’

Paton inspired many mission workers in his time away and returned to the islands – to an island called Aniwa – with his second wife. The trials didn’t go away – he lost four more children in early childhood and he was often sick and threatened – but after 41 years work, every adult on the island professed faith.

A cloud of witnesses

By the time he died, there were missionaries on 25 out of 30 of the islands of Vanuatu. Vanuatu today is estimated to be 90% Christian. The translation of the New Testament he worked on is still in use. The work Paton was doing is far from finished. Vanuatu has the highest language density in the world, with an average of 2,000 people speaking each language. People have lived and died to bring them the gospel, but many are still waiting for it in their own languages.

In this video from Wycliffe Australia, local colleagues explain how much workers are still needed in Vanuatu:

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The same challenge that faced Paton, to die to self and live to Christ, is ours. Find out more about being a modern-day missionary and other ways to be involved.

C. S. Lewis, Storyteller

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 by Hannah

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. The Northern Irish-born writer died on the 22 November 1963. However, Lewis’ legacy has lived on through his works of literature, most famously in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Photo: Albert Bridge (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why has his legacy lasted in this way? One significant reason is due to his ability to adapt his style to meet his audience in a different way. Alister McGrath, in his book C.S. Lewis: A Life , points out that one of Lewis’ major reasons for writing the Chronicles of Narnia was due to his desire to take a step back from public apologetics after World War II, feeling the strain of the public eye and family problems, and feeling out of touch with current debates (2013, Hodder and Stoughton). He decided then to concentrate on teaching his apologetics through a different medium, using stories that evoke the imagination. The Narnia writings have become classics of English literature and popular children’s stories.

Lewis changed his style of writing to meet a new audience. He gave the same message in a new, fictional form that would evoke emotions from the reader in a different way and to help them engage with the gospel anew.

Jesus did this when he told stories and parables, and the message of God touched the lives of his hearers in a powerful way. However there are millions of people today worldwide who do not have access to Gods word, because there is no Scripture in their language, or it’s in a written format that an illiterate community can’t understand.

Bible translation changes this. When Scripture is translated into another language it gives the reader access to God’s word and there is clarity in the newly translated text. One mother-tongue translator recently talked about the first time when she heard the Bible being read in her heart language. She said, ‘It was as though it was my own father just talking to me.’

The Bible is the Story everybody needs. Give the Story.

 Our thanks to Richard Ferguson, who wrote this post.

Celebrating the past: Kenneth L. Pike

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 by Hannah

As Wycliffe in the UK move out of our long-term home at the Wycliffe Centre, we’ve been thinking about some of the people who placed the founding stones of our organisation. For years, we’ve been remembering them by the buildings that we’ve named after them.

Pike earns his PhD

When Kenneth Pike graduated from his studies in Theology, his heart’s desire was to be a missionary to China. He had been inspired by a biography on Hudson Taylor and, on Christmas day 1933, send his application. He was turned down. The beginnings of a great career for God!

After this rejection, Pike didn’t give up. In the summer of 1935, he hitchhiked more than 1,400 miles across the east of the US to get to the second Wycliffe summer camp being run by William Cameron Townsend. The five students on the course travelled with Townsend to Mexico, and that autumn, Pike first visited a Mixtec village. It was a people group that he and his wife would come to know very well.

Kenneth and Evelyn lived with the Mixtec people for many years, developing a writing system and helping them to translated the New Testament into their language. When it was completed in 1951, it was the first New Testament ever completed with the help of Wycliffe Bible Translators.*

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Pike was that, alongside his missionary life, he served as a highly respected academic. He used the research he did among the Mixtec people to complete a PhD in Linguistics, he served as president of SIL, Wycliffe’s linguistic partner, for 36 years. He also worked at the University of Michigan for 30 years, later becoming Professor Emeritus of the University. He received 16 nominations for the Nobel Prize, three for the Templeton Prize, 10 honorary doctorates, published 30 books and 200 scholarly articles.

Kenneth L PikeSo was he a missionary or an academic? ‘I am a mule,’ he said. Part horse, part donkey. Part linguist, part mission worker. His work not only had a significant impact on the academic study of linguistics and language, and established SIL as a significant linguistic and academic organisation, but it also helped the Mixtec people to have the Bible in their own language.

As we look back to our heritage, we also consider that still to do: more than 200 million people don’t have the Bible in a language they understand. In fact, they don’t even have one verse. Help them to have God’s word.

*God has used Wycliffe to help with another 830 since then!

Celebrating the past: L L Legters

Friday, October 18th, 2013 by Hannah

At our offices in Buckinghamshire, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Maybe not so much a cloud as a camp – each of the buildings here is named after a pioneer mission worker. As we plan to move to new offices, we want to remember some of the people who are named on our buildings and built our organisation.

L L LegtersIt was early 1921 and William Cameron Townsend, who would later found Wycliffe, had been working with the Cakchiquel people of Guatemala for several years. He was planning a Cakchichel Bible Conference and invited a speaker from the US who he’d been told was a ‘lively’ evangelist:

‘Once Leonard Legters arrived for the conference, Cam decided the word lively was an understatement! L. L., as everyone called Leonard Legters, was a fireball of activity. He preached day and night, using anything he could get his hands on to illustrate his sermons. The only thing he complained about was having to stand still while his words were translated first into Spanish by Cam and then into Cakchiquel from the Spanish.’ (From Cameron Townsend: Good news in every language by Janet and Geoff Benge)

Sixty people, including a tribal leader, chose to follow Jesus that week, but Legters had a glimpse of how fantastic it would be for the people to hear a preacher in their own language. He saw more of the need in Guatemala and returned to the US promising to return the following year and to tell others about what he’d seen.

LL and his wife Edna, with Townsend

In 1933, when visiting the Townsends in California, Legters convinced Cam that there was a need in Mexico too, ‘at least 50 languages!’ On November 11th that year, the two men stood on the border of Mexico and prayed, until God answered by opening the door for them there.

Legters set up and ran the Pioneer Missionary Agency to support the growing work, especially as Townsend began running Wycliffe summer school in the US to teach linguistics for Bible translation work. In 1942, this became Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International (Wycliffe’s linguistic partner).

But even outside of his involvement with Wycliffe, Legters had worked phenomenally hard for God, serving Native American peoples in the southern USA as well as being a prominent speaker and writer. As we thank God for the work he did through Legters’ life, we continue to look ahead, to the 1,967 people groups still waiting for God’s word in their language. Find out what you can do to help.

Celebrating the past: William Cameron Townsend

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 by Hannah

For the last forty years, Wycliffe has been privileged to have our offices at The Wycliffe Centre in Buckinghamshire. We’re moving next month – only about 10 minutes down the road – and it seemed a good time to celebrate some of the quirks of our long-time home, like the fact that all the buildings are named after missionaries. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing some of the names that have not only designated our rooms but have shaped our organisation.

Townsend watchesKenneth Pike, a renowned linguist of whom we will find out more in a couple of weeks, said of William Cameron Townsend (known affectionately as Uncle Cam) that, “Not since the third century has there been a man like Cameron Townsend who attempted so much, and saw so many dreams realised in his lifetime.

It was when he was just 21 that he felt called to take the Bible to the indigenous peoples of South America, and came up against his career defining discovery: many couldn’t read Spanish. It sounds obvious, but Townsend’s realisation set off sparks. Within a few years, he and his wife were living with the Cakchiquel people of Guatemala, studying their language and beginning to help them to translate the Bible so they could understand it.

He became ill, and had to return to the US, but that didn’t stop him. In 1934, he ran the first Wycliffe Summer School. Within 10 years, this had become the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), one of Wycliffe’s key partners, and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Townsend greetsHe worked, travelled and knew everyone, including more than 40 heads of state. He received an honorary doctorate, was decorated by five Latin American governments and was declared ‘Benefactor of the Linguistically Isolated Populations of America’ by the Inter-American Indian Congress. What people commented on, though, was his humility: when the president of Mexico visited an Aztec village, a local man said of Townsend, “He treats us just like he does the President. If President Cárdenas comes, he leaves his dinner to talk with him. If one of us comes, he leaves his dinner to talk with us, too.”

As we thank God for his heritage in providing The Wycliffe Centre, we thank him too for providing William Cameron Townsend. When he began his work, he estimated that maybe 1,000 languages needed God’s word. We now know that to be nearly 2,000 without any Scripture at all, and many more with only portions or work in progress. Help to get the Bible to them!

For more about William Cameron Townsend, visit SIL or Wycliffe USA. Photos: Wycliffe USA.

Bede, buildings and historical significance

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 by Hannah

One of the quirks of the Wycliffe Centre, where Wycliffe in the UK is currently based, is the building nomenclature: most buildings take the name of someone who has been involved in Bible translation somewhere in the world. In light of the close of the Centre, it seems appropriate to look around and be reminded of our cloud of Bible translation witnesses that surround us. Today – the venerable Bede, who died on this day* in 735.

James Doyle Penrose: Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed.Bede is the earliest of those remembered as the name of a Wycliffe Centre building – not surprising, really, as he is also one of the earliest English Bible translators. Not that he ever managed to translate the whole Bible. In fact, it was on the same day he died that he finished his translation into English of the Gospel of John.

His assistant Cuthbert recorded this about the last words of that Gospel:

Then the boy of whom I spoke, whose name was Wilberht, said once again: ‘There is still one sentence, dear master, that we have not written down.’

And he said: ‘Write it.’

After a little the boy said: ‘There! Now it is written.’

And he replied: ‘Good! It is finished…’

(From ‘Cuthbert’s letter on the death of Bede’ in Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English People)

As well as not really being a whole Bible translator, he also didn’t really translate it into English. The ‘English’ of Bede’s day was much closer to today’s Danish than English. Furthermore, Bede is not primarily remembered as a Bible translator – far more famous is his The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which earned him the epithet ‘The Father of English History’.

Both English and Danish now have Bible translations, and more than one at that. But many languages still don’t. In fact, if Bede’s history had caught up to the present day, it would show that until the last hundred years, the vast majority of the church had never even considered Bible translation an issue – or at least not a positive one!

More than 1,900 languages still spoken in the world today don’t have even the Gospel of John in their languages, and we’ve had that for over 1,000 years. But it’s changing. Be part of it.

*probably – it was a long time ago, and no one remembers!