How Much Does A Bible Really Cost?

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Johannes Wiclef by Johann Simon Negges, 18th century

You can buy a copy of the Bible at Walmart for $6. Pay a little more and several other versions or formats are available there.

The Bible Societies in Canada and the United States go Walmart one better. They distribute hundreds of thousands of free Bibles every year in places where people yearn for the Sacred Scriptures. The Gideons also offer Bibles free for the asking.

Whether purchased or received as a gift, to add up all the monetary expenses involved in producing a Bible is one way to determine its cost. That gives one a dollar figure.

Perhaps a more meaningful way to think about “cost” is to trace the personal sacrifice some of the Lord’s special servants throughout the centuries have made to make the Bible available to ordinary people like you and me.

Let’s start with Jesus’ Apostles — fishermen, tax collectors, zealots — all common men who responded without reservation to Jesus’ call to follow him as teacher and Lord.

They walked with him for three years, witnessed his miracles, heard his matchless parables, let him down seriously a time or two, and ended up believing from their hearts that, as their leader, he was the Son of God; he spoke the words of eternal life.

After his death they witnessed his resurrection and shared in his living presence for forty days. Two of them, Matthew and John, later took great pains to set down in writing what they had seen, heard, and come to believe about him. But the truth they believed put the rest of their lives at risk.

Ten of the original twelve suffered a martyr’s death. They would rather die than renounce their faith in their Lord. This apostolic faithfulness and consequent suffering must be factored into the hidden cost of the Bibles we own today.

After many generations of expansion, the developing church entered into a period often referred to as the dark ages – roughly 500 AD to 1500 AD. During that period church authorities determined that the Bible should be kept out of the hands of the laity and be reserved only for the eyes of the clergy. The laity, they said, could not be trusted to read and understand it correctly.

Into that atmosphere toward the end of the 14th century came a number of men — highly educated and devout Oxford scholars — who did not share such distrust of the laity. Led by the Holy Spirit they preached the Gospel and developed portions of the Bible in printed form. Foremost among these men was John Wycliffe.

With the aid of scholars around him, Wycliffe produced the first Bible in the English language. For doing so he suffered resistance and scorn. The reproach he bore must be added to the real cost of the Bible we read daily.

More than 100 years later, in the fifteenth century William Tyndale came on the scene at a time when the common man’s yearning to have in hand a copy of the Bible had grown even stronger. Pressures against distribution of the Bible increased as laws were passed forbidding private ownership.

William Tyndale, an Englishman, had to work in disguise on the continent of Europe to translate and print the results of his work. He had Bibles printed and shipped to England in bales of hay or loads of corn. The excellent translation produced as a result of his work was to some degree reflected in the King James Version.

But his identity was uncovered in Holland, and in a public execution he was strangled and his body burned at the stake. At tremendous cost, he too contributed to the placing of the Bible in the hands of the common English man or woman.

What causes this book to weather such storms and continue to hold a solid place in the minds and hearts of Christians around the world? It has the marks of sacrifice on it, and the glow of divine truth on its pages, illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

It is good for us from time to time to review these facts as we sit in the comforts of our home or dorm room, Bible in lap. The cost of that Bible when properly reckoned would be beyond anything we could pay. In those moments, we read from a priceless treasure.

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4 thoughts on “How Much Does A Bible Really Cost?

  1. How much does a bible really cost? This is such a valid point and one very close to my heart.I’m very pleased the early translators of the Bible into English are part of the subject of this weeks ‘Just Call Me Pastor’.

    Although a few English monks translated parts of the Bible into English,from Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate bible,there was no complete New Testament til the Wycliffe bible.

    In the 7th century the venerable Bede began to translate the Bible into old English,also known as Anglo Saxon.This bears very little comparison to modern English,being almost as close to Norse.In the same century Aldhelm translated the book of Psalms into old English.

    The famous Lindisfarne Gospels of the 900s or tenth century, contained a line by line old English translation of the complete Gospels,between each line of Jerome’s Latin text.This is the earliest complete translation of the Gospels into English,at least extant.Viking invaders to our shores destroyed some Lindisfarne gospels, and may have destroyed even earlier translations.We will never know.

    The Wessex Gospels of 990 ,in the West Saxon variant of old English were the first translation into English of the Gospels ,without the Latin text.Alfred the Great,King of Wesse, learned to read and write at his mother’s knee ,a rare feat for a king in those days,I believe .I’ve read a few parts of the Bible that Alfred translated into old English,with the spelling modernized by an editor.

    In the 11th century,before the Norman invasion,Abbot Aelfric translated the first 6 books of the Old Testament into English ,the Pentateuch and book of Judges.This is known as the Old English Hexateuch.It is a beautiful and lavishly illustrated iluminated manuscript

    The 12th century Ormulum is a Bible commentary in English which includes just 40 lines from the wedding at Cana.

    Richard Rolle ,born in 1290,wrote a complete English psalter,used by the Lollards,the followers of John Wycliffe.John Wycliffe’s Bible,known as Wyclif’s Bible is the first complete English translation.It is in middle English,the English of Chaucer and far closer to modern English than Anglo Saxon.There are two Wycliffe translations.The first is in middle English but using Latin word order and grammar.The second is thoroughly English in diction,word order and grammar,at least the English of the 14th century.It is beautiful down to earth English,the language of the common man and woman.

    This is the period of the invention of printing so for the first time printed Bibles appear.For some time hand copied Bibles also exist.Many Wycliffe Bibles were hand copied and passed around secretly.

    From this point on English bible translations come thick and fast ,culminating in the first official ,state approved Bibles – first the Great Bible of Henry V111 ,one chained in each parish church.Then the early 16th century Authorized Version ,also known as the King James Bible.

    But in the 14th band 15th century ,when Bibles were considered bad for the laity,Bibles,especially in the common tongue were forbidden the population at large.There was an atmosphere of fear in England.

    Soon after,brave men like William Tyndale gave their life to get the Bible into ordinary folks hands.These are heroes of the Reformation and pre Reformation. Pastor,you tell their story vividly so that our hearts wa\rm with gratitude and affection for these great brave scholars and servants of Christ.

    When we consider the price our Saviour paid for our sins and the price these early translators like William Tyndale paid to get Christ’s story into our hands ,in our own tongue ,one thing’s clear.The Bible’s cost is astronomical,

    • Francis, you are wonderfully knowledgable about all the contributors to the Bible in early English and later. I marvel at you. Some facts you state I had never run across. I hope you are keeping well. I know you are keeping your mind and soul alive. Blessings from across the waves. Don Bastian

  2. Thankyou Pastor Don. I love reading the middle English Wycliffe bible and bibles in English previous to the King James.

    I particularly remember how Christians like Wycliffe risked their life to give us a bible in English and Tyndale did give his life.

    As well as the 1388 Wycliffe bible,I have the 1526 Tyndale,the 1537 Matthews and the 1560 Geneva.

    On a trip to Hereford Cathedral,in June,in their old chained library ,I saw the 1539 Great Bible and the 1568 Bishops’ bible.

    Harvard University Press brought out a 7 volume Douai Rheims bible in it’s Dumbarton Oaks series of medieval classics. I got the final volume ,the New Testament ,which the university press brought out in 2013.It’s an edition of the the first Roman Catholic bible published in English, completed in 1610.

    So the first complete Roman Catholic English bible came out just a year before the King James.But the New Testament came out 29 years before the King James, in 1582, in Rheims,published by the English press ( exiled English Roman Catholics),in response to all the protestant bibles that had come out in English.

    So like the Anglican church,the Roman church at first resisted a bible in the native tongue,then accepted the idea.Though in the end it wasn’t the Pope who sanctioned the first printing of the Douai Rheims Roman Catholic bible in English,but three Roman Catholic professors at the English College in Europe.

    Like many English protestants,English Roman Catholics seem to have been in exile and on the run from the Church of England,for their doctrines,throughout the European continent,in cities sympathetic to their particular doctrinal positions.

    I’m reading the 1582 Rheims New Testament currently .It has the Latin Vulgate of St Jerome on the left hand pages and the 1582 English translation from Jerome’s Latin on the right hand pages.The speech rhythms of the English translation are almost identical with Jerome’s Latin.

    So John opens ,on the left.

    ‘In principio erat Verbum,et Verbum erat apud Deum ,et Deus erat Verbum.Hoc erat in principio apud Deum.’

    and on the right

    ‘In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God,and the Word was God .The same was in the begining with God.’

    Previously I hadn’t even realized there was a Roman Catholic bible in Englsh earlier than the Anglican King James.Of course back then the Church of England called itself the one true Catholic church,calling the Roman church the Papish church.I think the Roman Catholics called the Church of England the Heretic church.

    Thankyou for asking after my health,Pastor Don.Over summer I’ve been very tired ,one of the 3 main symptoms of arthritis. Of the other symptoms I don’t get any pain now and my stiffness is manageable.10 days ago my consultant changed one of my medications which relieved alot of my tiredness and last Monday at the hospital I received joint injections of cortisone and my tiredness dissapeared altogether by Tuesday.

    I hope both you and Kathleen are in good health.You are in my prayers always.

    Thankyou for your blessings.God bless you and Kathleen and your family. Francis.

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