John Calvin and Lamin Sanneh on Giving the Bible to the People

My book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible, amounts to an argument for vernacular Bible translation—applied to one specific set of objections in one specific historical circumstance.

I find myself repeating myself as I promote the book on podcasts and radio shows, and I also find other writers who agree that vernacular translation is of the utmost importance. Here are two quick arguments/quotes/what-have-yous on vernacular translation. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a good idea worth defending.

The first is brilliant, and so simple I’ve missed it all these years. It comes from Lamin Sanneh, by way of one of the very best “opponents” to my book that I’ve run into, a pastor who strongly prefers the KJV but listened to my argument and engaged it intelligently and courteously. What a gift. Sanneh (HT: aforesaid pastor) made the simple point (and I can’t seem to track this down precisely in the video; working on that) that the Jewish “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites” at Pentecost most likely spoke the lingua franca of the region, namely Greek. But the miraculous work of the Spirit through the disciples enabled them to hear God in their respective heart languages.

“How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:8–12 ESV)

I’ll tell you what it means: God cares to bless all families of the earth through Abraham’s seed. And he meets them where they are, linguistically speaking. He doesn’t make them learn an older version of their languages; he doesn’t make them cock their heads and say, That’s a rather funny version of Cappadocian.

The second comes from Calvin in his comments on Psalm 25:

It is no wonder that there is here made a distinction between those who truly serve God, and to whom he makes known his secret, and the wicked or hypocrites. But when we see David in this confidence coming boldly to the school of God, and leading others along with him, let us know, as he clearly shows, that it is a wicked and hateful invention to attempt to deprive the common people of the Holy Scriptures, under the pretence of their being a hidden mystery; as if all who fear him from the heart, whatever their state or condition in other respects may be, were not expressly called to the knowledge of God’s covenant.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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