The Word Worth Dying For
By Marco Alonso
In the 1st Century BC, Publilius Syrus wrote that “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” And while its value is purely subjective, the ultimate price is always set by the highest bidder. In Genesis—the first recorded incident of a man who died and paid the price for obedience of the Word of God—is captured in the story of Cain and Abel. After Adam and Eve’s disobedience, their Creator gave them a ceremony that consisted of the sacrifice of a lamb—which presaged the ultimate price to be paid for and by the Word Himself—the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14, NKJV.
Adam and Eve had been given hope when God gave them a glimpse of the plan of redemption by guiding them through their first sacrifice of the lamb. These ceremonies of hope had been passed on verbally to their sons. However, Cain nurtured emotions of anger toward God. He simply couldn’t wrap his head around the curse that God had mercifully placed on the ground for man’s sake. This all led him to allow his thoughts and emotional state to run loose and take Satan’s path—thus, ultimately questioning God’s justice.
Inevitably, the time came when these two brothers had to take a stand. They were now to perform their own individual sacrifices and accept the future sacrifice that the Messiah would perform on the cross. However, Cain refused to obey the Word of God—offering instead an object of his own choosing. This in turn led to Abel’s death, as he had decided to obey God’s Word by sacrificing the lamb. Cain was enraged since Abel didn’t join in his defiance against God. Intolerance had reached its limit; Cain’s hands were soon filled with his brother’s blood. As a result, the martyrdom of Abel would mark the beginning of the struggle for obedience and the preservation of God’s Word. Thus, the first words of the Gospel would be dispersed throughout future generations by word of mouth and the written Word of God.
In the wilderness of Sinai
Flash ahead to about 2.6 thousand years1 after the creation of the world: God has just delivered His people through Moses and led them to the wilderness near Mount Sinai. Up until this point, God had spoken to them through thunders, lighting, and smoke—and now He is about to speak to them His Law in a clear audible voice.
“And God spoke all these words, saying…” Exodus 20:1.
In the hearing of all the people, God gives the precepts of His unchanging law. Amidst the thunder, lighting and smoke, the people became terrified. It was the first time that God’s people pled for their lives and asked to have someone else receive the message and transmit it to them. In one accord, “… they said to Moses, You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Exodus 20:19.
Sequentially, this experience paved the way for all the future prophets and messengers who would carry the Word of God to the people. Humanity had distanced themselves so much from God, that His voice which was supposed to be a privilege, became frightening.
Not long after, God’s people faced yet a greater test. Would they nobly stand and persevere, or would they quiver and fall? Their beloved leader, Moses, had gone to commune with God. Meanwhile, the people became very impatient. Forty days passed and Moses still had not returned. How swiftly they forget the mercies of God and what He had done through Moses and Aaron. In spite of all the miracles that they had witnessed from God, the people now began to doubt His power and questioned who had really delivered them from Egypt. While they hadn’t denied the miracles, they attributed the power of God to that of another god. Now, they were treading on dangerous grounds. Aaron tried to reason with them to no avail. They became violent and insisted on making a golden calf. In blatant defiance, they worshipped the golden calf, claiming that this was the god that had brought them out of Egypt.
When Moses returned from Mount Sinai, the people were in great confusion and degradation. What a scene! The people had gathered the jewelry they had received from the Egyptians and used it to build the calf god. Descending from the mountain, Moses was shocked to see their profane commotion and riotous behavior. After being in God’s presence and talking with Him, he was now face to face with the people and their celebration of the calf. God had just a few months ago communicated His word in an audible form to the people. How could it be that they had forgotten so quickly? What bold disregard toward the God that so lovingly delivered them from the hands of Egyptian bondage! After some corrective measures were taken, the people rededicated themselves to God. Moses chiseled two stone tablets like the first ones and God wrote His law on them. This would be the perpetual law to be observed from generation to generation.
“Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Deuteronomy 6:7 NLT
In Bible history, it is seldom the case that God’s word is received with a warm welcome. And logically so, according to the book of Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Reproof and correction are seldom pleasant. And this was no exception among God’s people in the generation of the prophet Isaiah. Often compelled to bring a message of reproof, correction and alarming warning of what would come, Isaiah’s message was highly unpopular. However, his love for the word of God led him to sacrifice his life for the words of life. In the book of 2Kings, chapter 21, the king massacred everyone who opposed him. Therefore, it was very likely that Isaiah must have been among those. To this, Jesus stated in Luke: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,” Luke 13:34.
Among the many prophecies that Jesus spoke, one stands out as a solid foundation throughout the years for us: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24:35. This promise assures us of the preservation of God’s Word until Jesus’ 2nd coming.
In the Dark Ages
Fast forward to the 12th Century in Europe, in the midst of the Middle Ages, where a small community of Christians began to rise on the northern part of Italy. Their motto; “A Light Shines in the Darkness.” It was during this time that the Bible was considered by the commoners and the Catholic religious authority of that time as selectively limited to an elite group.
Let’s Set the Stage
Usually when we think of the Medieval era, we romanticize the period and link it with romantic fairy tales of castles and fantasy in an idyllic world. However, this romanticized perception of the Dark Ages was not developed up until the post-Reformation era. The 800 years were largely filled with moral, scientific, and spiritual darkness. Early in the 4th and 5th centuries, barbarian tribes had invaded the western part of the Roman Empire. This had fragmented it into small feudal kingdoms, thus decentralizing culture, and scientific advancement.
By the end of the 2nd century AD., classical civilization had come to an end. The Roman Empire was on the decline—weakened by corruption, economic disintegration, and the ever-present threat of barbarian invasion. The emperors now became more despotic than ever—imposing military conscription and heavy taxes. Furthermore, they persecuted Christians periodically, as they had almost from the beginning.
It was now the 4th century, and Constantine’s government made a sharp turn in regard to the relationship between church and state. Maxentius and his brother-in-law Constantine were rivals in controlling the East and West of the Roman Empire. However, a night before the battle, Constantine received a vision where he was shown to place a Christian coat of arms on his men’s shields. This changed his life and policies toward Christianity forever. Up to this point, Christians had been persecuted but now, Constantine had won the war and he attributed his success to the merging of Christianity with the state. Consequently, his politics changed whereby he gave the church property and religious freedom. Moreover, he himself was baptized as a Christian toward the end of his life. This unexpected and apparent conversion took the church by surprise. Constantine relocated Rome’s capital to Byzantium, thus creating a void in Rome. This drastically changed the political control to shift to the now-religiopolitical seat in Rome; whereby, giving birth to the papal monarchy.
The Bible was now officially for a select few. This new form of power controlled both political and spiritual wellbeing. Strangely enough, it was a centralized power. This was the perfect recipe to usher in the Dark Ages and the suppression of the Bible.2
A century after the union of Christianity and Constantine in the epic battle of Milvian Bridge, Jerome’s translation of the Bible (Vulgate) had been finished. However, in comparison to its precursor, the “Old Latin” Bible; Jerome’s translation was leaps and bounds ahead. Sadly, religious Rome was now belligerent toward the Vulgate and argued that the Old Latin text was a purer translation.
Despite its lack of popularity in Italy, the Vulgate was more accepted in France, Germany, Spain and England. Some of the scribes here mixed some of the Old Latin text along with Jerome’s translation and radically changed the original translation. This sparked another effort to preserve the Vulgate text. Cassiodorus, a Roman statesman, attempted to standardize Jerome’s translation, though with an inaccurate one.
It would not be until the Reformation era arrived that a flame would ignite in Europe. The Reformers pioneered the work of providing the Bible in the common language and stimulating the commoners to become literate. This however, was not legal.
To the northern part of France—in the 12th Century—a businessman had the vision to market the Bible. His background certainly provided him with unconventional skills in its circulation. Having a passion for the Bible and its teachings, he gave all his wealth to charity and became the entrepreneurial preacher to the people of Lyon. He soon commissioned a translation in the Provençal language and handed the text of the Old Testament to the people. It was none other than Peter Waldo, who would evangelize in the streets of Lyon. This bold and unexpected change of business and marketing didn’t settle well with the now-religious Rome. Waldo’s actions inspired his followers—now called Waldensians—to adopt his entrepreneurial spirit.
The Waldensians would go to people’s homes selling jewelry, and would carry portions of the Old Testament and offer them to their customers. Many demands were given to them to stop such circulation of the Old Testament. However, their response was always that they would rather obey God instead of men. Such bold statements toward the established hierarchal church was intolerable to them. This led to the Waldensians being placed on the “most wanted list” by the Inquisition, which prompted them to flee and live as fugitives in Italy.
Around the 13th–14th Century, the population had been so greatly influenced that they openly demanded a complete Bible translation in their language. They argued that the Vulgate had been corrupted to such an extent that making a revision was hopeless. The time had come to go back to the original Hebrew and Greek to restart the translation of the Bible in the common language. This led scholars and scribes to aim high in revisiting the texts and translating the Bible.
Translation to the English Language
Born in 1449, William Tyndale was a translation genius. He was a natural polyglot. With 7 languages under his belt, he was proficient in both Hebrew and Greek. However, all his talents were used toward one goal in mind: to teach the English people the truth about how Jesus justifies the sinner—the message of justification by faith. Tyndale reasoned that the reading of the Word of God was vitally important in the development of such faith. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17.
Moreover, the only thing standing in his way was that the Bible had not yet been translated into the English language. So, in 1510, Tyndale started his studies in Oxford and later moved to Cambridge. Thirteen years later, in 1523, his dream had nearly come to fruition. He requested funds from London’s bishop, only to be turned down. He quickly realized that such a project would not be fundable in England, so he then decided to change jurisdictions and travel to Hamburg, Wittenberg, Cologne, and Worms, where Luther had already paved the way.
By 1525, Tyndale had already translated the New Testament from the Greek into English and then smuggled it back to England. However, he soon found out that the government was not fond of this already-accomplished project. Among its greatest opposers were King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Sir Thomas More. They called his translation “Tyndale’s Own Testament”. He was even labeled the “master Antichrist”.
This stir-up in England led Tyndale to move to Antwerp, where he could escape the English authorities and the Roman Catholic Church. However, the non-business-oriented authorities decided to buy up the copies of the translation in order to get the Bible off the market and cease its distribution. However, this actuated the promulgation of the word of God to a greater degree. It caused such a demand that it simply financed Tyndale’s work! This provided him with leverage to begin a revision of the New Testament translation and begin the Old Testament.
One day, as Tyndale was lured out of the safe place he was residing, the authorities seized and imprisoned him, rushing him to Vilvoorde’s Castle and finally to the state prison where he was then accused of heresy. But his trial in the Netherlands was led by none other than the commissioners especially sent by the Holy Roman Empire—the very ones that had opposed the project back in England. The outcome of such trial was purely obvious. The trial process was arduous and long. It was during these months that Tyndale took some time to reminisce over his work and teachings. From his journal, we find these inspiring words:
“Let it not make thee despair, neither yet discourage thee, O reader, that it is forbidden thee in pain of life and goods, or that it is made breaking of the king’s peace, or treason unto his highness, to read the Word of thy soul’s health—for if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us, be they bishops, cardinals, popes.”
Early in August of 1536, a verdict against Tyndale was given. He was charged with heresy, punishable by death. Later that year, on October 6, the faithful Reformer was brought to the town square and given a chance to take back what he had done and said. He was given some minutes to consider, during which time he prayed. According to John Foxe, Tyndale prayed: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105.
Tyndale’s words were so significant. The prayer was simply, Lord immortalize Your Word, so he can see.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37
The adversary of souls has had a high claim on the people of God, especially the youth. From the garden to the desert and all the way to the present time, the adversary has been diligently working. He very well knows that total eradication of the holy writ from the people will keep them in absolute ignorance of their source of strength and protection. Therefore, he invents cunning ways to allure both young and old from the knowledge of the truth. Amid the moral darkness, God’s word will stand as a light and guide for His people. Faithful stewards of the word are raised in every generation. A price was paid for upholding the authentic word, but this price was paid by the highest bidder. The price was not subjective at all. It has an inestimable value – Jesus’ blood. He paid it all. The question to be asked is, “Have I considered the Word worth dying for?”