"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." I Timothy 3:15
Bible Translation and Circulation
J. W. Porter, 1914
Baptists have, in spite of their poverty and persecution, led all others in their
efforts for translating and circulating the Scriptures. This is quite natural in
view of the fact that Baptists, and Baptists only, have ever held that the Scriptures,
and the Scriptures only, are an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. They,
and they alone, have never acknowledged any other source of authority for their religion
It will be readily conceded that William Carey has done more in behalf of Bible translation
than any other man in any age. Under his direction, and largely by his own labors,
the Serampore mission had up to 1832 (two years before his death) issued more than
two hundred thousand Bibles, or portions thereof, in about forty different languages
or dialects, besides a great number of tracts and other religious works in various
languages. He also published valuable grammars and dictionaries of Bengali, Mahratta,
Sanskrit and other languages. From 1801 to 1830 he was Oriental Professor at Fort
William College, Calcutta. His translations have never been displaced, but are still
the accepted standards of translation.
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was born at Malden, Massachusetts, and educated at the
Andover Theological Seminary. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
was organized as a result of his determination to become a missionary. He was sent
out under the auspices of this Congregational board, he being at the time a member
of a Congregational church. On his voyage to Calcutta, a closer study of the Scriptures
led him to become a Baptist. Being convinced that immersion in water, of a believer,
alone was baptism, he severed his connection with his denomination not knowing from
whence his support would come. His support was afterwards undertaken by the newly
organized American Baptist Missionary Union.
He translated the Bible into Burmese, and prepared a Burmese and English dictionary.
His was the first translation of the Bible into the Burmese language, and is yet
the best translation in existence. On completing his translation of the Bible, January
31, 1834, Mr. Judson added this touching and eloquent postscript:
"Thanks be to God, I can now say I have attained. I have knelt down before him, with
the last leaf in my hand, and, imploring his forgiveness for all the sins which have
polluted my labors in this department, and his aid in future efforts to remove the
errors and imperfections which necessarily cleave to the work, I have commended it
to his mercy and grace; I have dedicated it to his glory. May He make his own inspired
Word, now complete in the Burmese tongue, the grand instrument of filling all Burma
with songs of praise to our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ! Amen."
Surely his prayer was heard and has been answered in the redemption of a multitude
of men and women. What loud hallelujahs and everlasting hosannas will greet Carey
and Judson, from the thousands and ten thousands who, through their labors, have
been pointed to the Lamb of God for sinners slain. Certainly a debt of gratitude
is due a denomination that has made possible the labors of the Baptist worthies.
John Wycliffe (1320-84) was in his later life essentially a Baptist. He denounced
the Roman Catholic Church, and was in turn denounced by it. His opinions were condemned
by the University of Oxford, and his followers persecuted. He preached against infant
baptism and believed in immersion. The main characteristic of his preaching was his
antipathy to formalism, and an insistence on inward religion. His translation of
the Bible became very popular, and he organized a body of Lollards to spread his
teachings and circulate his translation of the Bible.
The opinions of Wycliffe were much nearer the Baptist position than that of any other
body, and he held with the Baptists in their contention for the translation and circulation
of the Scriptures. Bancroft says of him, "He gave England the Bible in the vulgar
tongue. A timely death could only place him beyond persecution; his bones were disinterred
and burnt, and his ashes thrown on the waters of the Avon. But his fame brightens
as time advances; when America traces the lineage of her intellectual freedom, she
acknowledges the benefactions of Wycliffe."
It was the Rev. William Hughes, a Baptist minister of England, who formulated the
plan that resulted in the organization of the British Bible Society. This society
was entirely his idea, and its institution the result of his labors. The London Christian
Guardian, in an editorial on his death, accords him the distinction of organizing
the first Bible society.
The millions of Bibles that have been circulated since the organization of the society
is, under God, due to William Hughes, and through him to the great denomination of
which he was an honored member. Had Baptists never done anything else for the world
but given to it millions of copies of the Word of God, surely they had not lived
and labored in vain.
While it is true that the British Bible Society is the oldest Bible society now in
existence, it is not true that it was the first Bible society. This honor belongs
to Morgan John Rhys, of Wales. This brother went to Paris in the summer of 1791,
for the purpose of preaching and circulating the Scriptures. "He was aided in this
work by the Rev. David Jones, formerly of Pontypool, and the Rev. Peter Williams,
in his Bible work in France. They prepared John Cann's Bible for him in Wales, that
he might print and distribute the same in France.
"When the Association met at Moleston, Wales, in 1792, we find him there acting as
moderator, and preaching from Matthew 18:18, and at this meeting the following resolution
was adopted, 'At the request of Mr. Rhys it was decided to urge the churches to take
up collections towards sending the Word of God to the French, and that the money
be sent to Mr. Williams, Holyhead, that he may send money to those who are to prepare
Bibles which are to be published in the language of that country.' The reader will
please note that this foreign Bible work was begun in Wales twelve years before the
organization of the British and Foreign Bible Society in England; but in the midst
of his great ideas respecting his work in France, disagreements broke out between
England and France, which compelled him to give up his work there and return to Wales"
(Morgan John Rhys, by J. T. Griffith, p. 14).
Yet, in spite of their time-honored contention, Baptists have not yet succeeded in
getting other denominations to translate the Bible. This they have refused to do,
and for the best of all reasons, that a literal translation would mean death to some
of their interpretations. It is nothing less than a mockery and a sin that the word
for baptism should be transliterated instead of being translated. A literal translation
of the New Testament literally means a Baptist book. We predict that the time will
come when, for the sake of sentiment, we will no longer refuse to translate the word
The Worms Bible
The following concerning the Worms Bible has been contributed by Dr. A. C. Osborn,
D. D., LLD., and is, so far as we know, the first time this very valuable information
has been made available to the American public. We are greatly indebted to Dr. Osborn
for his splendid contribution, and feel sure that it will be appreciated by all our
The first translation of the complete Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek was
given to the Germans by the Anabaptists. Ludwig Keller in his work, "The Reformation
and the Older Reform Parties," (page 432) says:
"The fact is by no means yet sufficiently recognized, that the first complete Bible
translation of the Reformation which we possess, namely, the so-called Worms Bible,
of the year 1529, had its origin from the Baptists."
This first gift to Germany of the full Bible translated directly from the originals
was by two Anabaptists, Ludwig Hetzer and Hans Denck, accomplished scholars, thoroughly
versed in Hebrew and Greek, as well as in Latin. Denck studied and received the degree
of Master at the University of Basel, under and with Erasmus. Hetzer was an alumnus
of Basel, and also of the University of Paris. The book was published at Worms, and
is hence known as the Worms Bible.
Hetzer and Denck first made and published a translation of the Prophets of the Old
Testament. The introduction to their first edition of the Prophets is dated April
13, 1527. Seventeen editions were published.
Ludwig Keller in his monograph, "Hans Denck, Ein Apostel der Wiedertaufer," (page
211) says: "This translation was the foundation on which both the Swiss and the Lutheran
translations of the prophets was built, but without due acknowledgment. . . . At
the time of its publication the approval of the Denck-Hetzer edition was unlimited
Within three years thirteen separate editions appeared in folio, quarto, octavo,
and duodecimo at Strasburg, Augsburg, Hagenau, and other places. The first edition
was printed five times in one year, and in the next year, 1528, eleven editions appeared.
The Augsburg edition was five times printed in nine months. In a word, in all Germany
the book of the despised Anabaptists was bought, read, and treasured."
Even Luther in a private letter to Link, given in his published correspondence, written
on May 4, 1527, less than a month after the book was published, wrote:
"The Worms translation of the Prophets is not to be despised, The authors have shown
industry; yet no one can accomplish everything. All the late reviews I have been
able to see give to the work unlimited praise." This was Luther's private opinion
of the work; but he was a relentless enemy of the Anabaptists and was in full sympathy
with their persecution. For the public, he wrote and published: "I hold that no false
prophet and factious spirit can truly translate, as appears clearly in the translations
of the Prophets, done at Worms."
Nevertheless Luther, in his translation, used liberally the Worms translation, many
passages in the two agreeing word for word.
In 1529, certain Protestants in Zurich published a translation of the Prophets. In
their introduction they denounce the Worms translation in the harshest terms, not
upon its merit or demerit, but solely because it emanated from the Baptists. They
say, "Who is there who would not be shocked and horrified by the translation that
has been issued, by those who are the ringleaders of the sect and rabble that causes
us today more trouble than the papacy ever has."
After the publication of their translation of the Prophets, Hetzer and Denck completed
the translation of the whole Bible, under the title given below. In the meantime
Luther was working at his translation of the Old Testament, and using in it expressions
and sentences taken word for word from the Worms Bible.
The Baptists were then suffering under a merciless persecution by the Catholics,
Lutherans, and Reformers alike. Denck, suffering with tuberculosis, under a decree
of banishment and outlawry, died in hiding, in Basel, in 1529, a little before the
Bible came from the press. Hetzer was arrested, condemned as a heretic, and beheaded
the same year at Constance. Everything emanating from the Baptists was under the
Every possible effort was made to suppress this "heretic Bible;" Printing offices,
places where the book was for sale, private houses and individuals were searched,
and all copies found were destroyed. Only three copies that are accessible to scholars
are now known to be in existence, one is in the library in the University of Bonn,
one in a library in Stuttgart, and one in the New York Public Library. The copy in
New York is of the first edition, a folio volume, heavily bound, printed in old German
black-faced letter. The title page reads: "Biblia beider Alt and Newen Testament.
Teuch. Worms. Peter Schoefer, 1529."
The Worms Bible has this peculiarity-that it has as one of the Pauline epistles the
epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, referred to in Col. 4:15.
This rare and precious memorial of our fathers from the days of persecution is accessible
in New York, and can be seen by persons interested.
Luther's translation of the New Testament appeared in 1522; his translation of the
Old Testament, and the complete Bible, appeared first in 1534. The Worms Bible was
published in 1529. Thus the full Bible was put into German by the Baptists five years
before Luther's Bible appeared.