I did a High Council talk on the 8th Article of Faith. This page contains information that I used for that talk. In the talk, I spent more time explaining some points and skipped presenting a lot of the information given here.
What are the scriptures? Are they just ink on the page, or just words in a book? More years ago than I would care to admit, I served a mission in Brazil. I don't know if they do it the same why now, but then when we came to a scripture in the discussion we would have the investigator read it out of their own bible. Most everyone we taught had a bible. Some of the bible, particularly the Catholic Bibles, were truly beautiful with pictures and illuminations (decorations around the edges of the pages). However, when we would open them up, they would creak like they had hardly ever been opened. It is hard to see how a bible on the shelf has much of an effect on our life.
I doubt any of us have scriptures that have never been used, but do we really appreciate what we have? During the middle ages, if you wanted a bible you would have to copy it yourself. That would be a lot of work! Technology has dramatically changed all that. Printed copies of the scriptures are so cheap that anyone who wants them can have them. In addition to printed scriptures, you can put a copy of the scripts on your PDA or read them online at www.lds.org. There you can find the scriptures as well as the Church magazines and other reference materials, in addition they are all totally searchable.
In the middle ages it was actually much more difficult to get a copy of the bible than simple coping it. Having a copy of the bible in English, French, or any language other than Latin was a serious crime. People lost their lives for possessing and teaching from the bible.
There is an excellent series of articles entitled "How the Bible Came to Be" by Lenet H. Read in the Ensign running from January to September 1982. Most of the information and the quotes that follow comes from that source unless otherwise noted.
In the early Christian Church, studying the scriptures was a big part of their worship service. The Jews have also always spent a large part of their worship in studying the scriptures. In the early days of the Church, the scriptures were not compiles into a a single volume, but were instead separate scrolls. Later these sacred writing were translated into Latin and compiled into a single volume to become the bible. There was a Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint and most if not all of the New Testament was in Greek, but I don't know if it was ever compiled into a full Greek bible. As the Church sank into apostacy the scriptures became less important to the Church. Church scholars decided that the bible wasn't to be interpreted literally, but instead was to be interpreted allegorically (I guess the scholars were too sophisticated for simple truths). The scriptures were still revered if not interpreted correctly. In the process of time as the wealth of the Church increased, very beautifully ornamented scriptures were produced complete with inlaid gold and beautiful binding. The scriptures became "treasures of art" but not of knowledge.
With the fall of Rome, Latin became a language for scholars only and unknown by the common people. The Catholic Masses continued to be celebrated in Latin, but since they were not understood by the common people, the pageantry became all important while the words became secondary. However, the scriptures were still occasionally read, but always in Latin.
In the Southern France city of Lyon around the year 1170:
A certain rich man of the city [Lyons], called Waldo, was curious when he heard the gospel read [in Latin] since he was not much lettered, to know what was said. Wherefore he made a pact with certain priests, the one that he should translate to him the Bible: the other, that he should write as the first dictated. Which they did; and in like manner many books of the Bible which when the said citizen had often read and learned by heart, he sold all his goods, and despising the world, he gave all his money to the poor, and usurped the apostolic office by preaching the gospel, and those things which he had learned by heart.
Waldo's preaching among the people consisted mostly of reciting passages from the scriptures in the common tongue. Evidently he did not set out with the intent to oppose the church, but merely to enlighten the people.
Here is a little side note: In the middle ages the priests were generally almost as illiterate as the people. In "The Age of Faith," The Story of Civilization vol. 4, p. 770. Will Durant says Waldo "engaged some scholars to translate the Bible." Durant gives Waldo's first name as Peter. In checking on the Internet, historians have now about decided that the name Peter was given to Waldo after his death by his followers to try and make a connection back to Peter the Apostle and head of the ancient church.
One of the things that we learn from the story of Waldo is that the scriptures have the power to change lives. This was not just true anciently but is true through all ages. There are many many stories of how the scriptures change lives. Here is just a couple of examples from an Ensign article by LaRene Gaunt: "The Book Changed My Life", Ensign, Feb. 1991, p. 18.
As an investigator, I came across an old copy of the Book of Mormon. Yellowed and musty with age, its jacket was stiff, like it had never been touched, says Janet Spear of South Glens Falls, New York. But as I picked it up, I was filled with tremendous joy, and a peaceful feeling of relief washed over me. That day I began to read the Book of Mormon for the very first time. My soul was starving for spiritual food, and I began to feast upon the words.
The passage cried out to me as I read Alma 13:27: Cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance. Driven to my knees, I poured out my soul in prayer. In my heart the Holy Spirit said, This journey has ended. It's time to begin another.
I arranged to have the missionaries teach me the gospel. It was wonderful. I'd never known such joy! Since the day I was baptized, the Book of Mormon has been my constant companion. It encourages me, inspires me, and teaches me. Its words have shown me how to live, not simply to exist. I truly experienced a metamorphosis.
Another story from the same article:
Have you ever had the feeling that your life is like an erratic sewing machine? asks Gwen Legler of Arlington, Washington. You zig when it zags! You feel you should have control of your destiny, but you don't, so you spend your time worrying about it. Such was my life a few years ago. I constantly worried and felt anxious about our future.
One day I was reading the Book of Mormon and came to 2 Nephi 4:27 Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Lightning could not have pierced my soul more deeply than did those words. I realized that worry and anxiety were temptations of the devil and were destroying my peace. This scripture did not change our circumstances, but it did change my attitude. I gained peace of mind as I put my faith in my Heavenly Father for our future.
Now jumping back to middle ages again, the Medieval Church wouldn't tolerate any challenge to it's authority. Letting people have the scriptures certainly was a disruptive power for the Church. When the people could see how far the practices of the Church had departed from the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, it brought dissatisfaction with the Church. The availability of the scriptures to the people was probably the biggest influence in bringing about the reformation and the splitting up of the Catholic Church in Europe. Waldo was eventually arrested and brought to trial. The following is from his trial:
"Shall not therefore the Word given to the unlearned be as pearls before swine, when we know them to be fitted neither to receive it, nor to give out what they have received? Away with this idea, and let it be rooted out."
The Waldensians suffered because of their desire for knowledge. They were tried by the Inquisition, excommunicated, imprisoned, and burned as heretics. Their books were banned and when found, burned. At their trials and in the tracts written against them, their great crime as stated was that they translated the New and Old Testament into the vulgar tongue and this they teach and learn. For I have heard and seen a certain unlettered countryman who used to recite Job word for word, and many others who knew the whole New Testament perfectly.
Many other people worked to bring the Bible to the people. A respected scholar and theologen, John Wycliffe worked on translating the Bible into English. He published his manuscript version of the Bible in English and it was spread around England, but because copies had to be made by hand, the authorities were largely successful in suppressing it.
However, times were changing. In the 1430's Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. The first book that he published was a Latin version of the Bible. The printing press made a tremendous difference in the spreading of ideas.
The first person to publish an English version of the Bible was William Tyndale. He was born in the early 1490s in England. He first tried to convince the Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstal, that it would be a worthy project to publish an English Bible. Even though he failed to convince Tunstal, he started work on the translation.
Because of opposition to his project, Tyndale found it necessary to leave England and flee to German where thing were a little safer. This was the same time period as Martin Luther was working to publishing a German version of the Bible. However, even in Germany Tyndale had to move around to keep ahead of the authorities. He was eventually able to finish the translation of the New Testament and publish it. Copies were sent back to England where it was very popular.
Having failed in keeping the books from being printed and from entering England, the church took strong measures to at least prevent them from being read. To demonstrate their opposition, church authorities built a bonfire where they publicly burned any books they found. Tunstal and others, including Sir Thomas More, publicly attacked the accuracy of the translation itself, claiming it contained thousands of errors. Tunstal also ordered that anyone coming into possession of these New Testaments must relinquish them for burning or face excommunication.
Tunstal tried to buy up all the copies of Tyndale's New Testament before they could be shipped to England. Instead of suppressing the English New Testament, this helped finance the publishing of a second addition that could now be sold at a lower cost using the profits made from the first publication. Public burning of bibles also helped to build resentment among the people for the authorities in England and of the need to change the policy of not letting the common people have bibles. Later Tyndale, with the help of several other people, also translated and published the Old Testament.
The authorities in England were eventually able to catch Tyndale and put him in prison.
Finally, on October 6, 1536, twelve years after he left England, he was led from prison to the stake. There he was strangled, then his body burned. He had time to utter one last cry: Lord, open the King of England's eyes.
Although Tyndale and others had to gave their life for the cause, the English Authorities were unable to stop the spread of the Bible. Even people in high position started to realize that it didn't make sense that the people couldn't have God's word as found in the bible? Not very long after Tyndale's death, the king of England changed the law and made it legal to have and study the bible in English.
As time went on, Protestantism increased in England. Through a great struggle, the Puritans came to power in England. Unfortunately, the Puritans proved that they could be just as oppressive to the Catholics as the Catholic had been to them. Largely because of the excesses of power and the cruelty of the Puritans, Catholic kings was allowed to come back into power.
King James, a Catholic, found himself ruling over a kingdom torn by religious strife. Since the different religions all believed in the Bible, why not make a bible that all his subjects could agree on? Representatives from the different religious groups and scholars with a knowledge of Latin and Greek were gathered and they all worked together on a bible. They also gathered together all the existing translations of the bible and used them as they worked to get the most accurate and linguistically beautify translation of the Bible possible. It has been said that the King James Bible must have been inspired, since it is generally impossible to get a committee to agree on anything, let alone anything as beautify worded as the King James translation. Although the King James Bible was a tremendous success, the religious strife in England was to continue for years to come.
Hopefully, this didn't turn out to be too much of a history lesson, but I think it is useful to learn about the sacrifices that people went through so that we could have a bible. In the Church, we know about the sacrifices that Joseph Smith made to bring us the truth, but we don't know as much about the history of the bible. In a sense, Joseph Smith also gave his life that we could have the modern day scriptures: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
We have the scriptures, but have they become a part of our lives? Have we taken Christ's words in the scriptures and applied them. Anyone who has every tried to translate knows that you can't just translate word for word from one language into another language. The ideas have to be understood, and then these same ideas can be expressed using the words and word order of the new language. In an analogous way, we must first study and learn the doctrines and ideals taught in the scriptures, then we work to apply them to the circumstances and situations we each face in our lives. So what is the most important translation of the Bible for each of us? Not the King James version (even though it is the Bible we use in the Church) but the translation we each make of Christ's teaching into a Christen life, our own lives.
Before we can apply the scriptures into our own life, we first have to learn them. How should we study the scriptures? There are many different ways, but the most important is that we make it a habit to do a little bit each day. Probably the easiest way to study the scriptures is simply to read a little bit each day. Several years ago the President of our Stake, President David Huntington, challenged us to read 9 pages of the Book of Mormon each day. It doesn't take long to read the Book of Mormon if you read 9 pages a day. Reading rapidly through the Book of Mormon helps to learn the story and how all the pieces fit together. That also got me in the habit of spending a little more time studying the scriptures than what I had been used to. More recently President Huntington has challenged us to study the scriptures by topics. Over the years, I have tried to study the scripture by topic a few times. It usually starts out well, then after a while my scripture study sort of degenerates into haphazard wandering through topics. It seems like I have to add a written part to keep me organized. Even though writing things down is much more work, at least for me, it works much better. Being on the High council I have also had the "opportunity" to give frequent talks. I know the subjects and schedule of my talks well in advance, so for my scripture study, I have been looking up scriptures on the topic of my upcoming talks. Also President Huntington has ask us to study about the Proclamation on the Family so I have been looking up scriptures that relate to the Proclamation on the Family as well. For the written part, I have been writing up talks and making web pages with lists of scriptures and commentary about the scriptures.
It is easy to question why should I be in effect writing my own scripture commentary? Wouldn't it make more sense to just read Bruce R. McConkie's, or Joseph Fielding Smith's, or one of the other excellent published commentaries on the scriptures. I am not sure that I have the full answer to that question, but I believe it is a little bit like having one's own testimony. We gain tremendously from hearing other people's testimony, but no matter how many testimonies we hear, it doesn't take the place of building our own testimony. In the same sense each of us need to build our own personal knowledge and relationship with the scriptures.
Does all that sound like just too much work? Sometime life just gets too busy for that much in depth study of the scriptures. I liked this little story from the Ensign article by LaRene Gaunt: "The Book Changed My Life", Ensign, Feb. 1991, p. 18.
Spend at Least Fifteen Seconds a Day
When I was challenged in Relief Society to spend fifteen seconds a day reading the Book of Mormon for one month, I knew I had to accept the challenge. As busy as I was, even I had fifteen seconds to devote to the scriptures, says Carol Lorange of Sandy, Utah. At the end of one month, I was in the habit of reading my Book of Mormon and, of course, I always ended up reading far more than fifteen seconds.
Of course if your are going to make the fifteen seconds a day work, you have to do a little bit of preparation. You can't go looking for your scriptures, or that will take far longer than the fifteen seconds. You have to have your scriptures right by your desk or maybe your bedside with the bookmark in place, so that your can reach down pick them up and read a verse.
I have seen the power of the priesthood in my own life. I remember one particularly discouraging time that I had on my mission. I felt inspired to read a couple of section in the Doctrine and Covenants. The one section related directly to the problem of the moment, the other was D&C 122. That is one that Joseph Smith received while in the dungeon of Liberty jail. Joseph Smith asked the Lord if He had forgotten him? The Lord tell Joseph of further trails that he could be asked to endure, but in the end of verse 7 the Lord says: "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for they good." I decided that my trials weren't so bad after all.
I have a testimony that the scriptures truly have the power to change lives. They make possible a true conversion to the gospel. Through reading and studying the scriptures we feel the power and guidance of the Holy Ghost. The scriptures teach us the true doctrines and commandments of God. They give us hope and faith. They comfort us and give us answers to our questions and problems. Our lives can be transformed with the knowledge that we are living our lives in accordance with God's will.
After giving my High Council talk, someone mentioned to me I am sure glad that I didn't live back in Medieval days. The more I thought about it, the more I think the reason that modern time aren't like Medieval days is because of people like William Tyndale and Martin Luter. Of course the translating of the bible into the languages of the people isn't the only thing that brought an end to the dark ages, but it played a big part. The publishing of the bible helped in the more general process of spreading knowledge and power away from a few powerful elite out to more members of the society.