Today in 1569, Myles Coverdale died. His translation of the Bible into English was the first complete Bible in English to be printed thanks to Gutenberg’s invention. Previous translations were hand copied.
While Coverdale was known as a translator, translation was his method, not his goal. Like many reformers of the time, he wanted wholesale changes in the church, in politics and in society. It was an era were church services and Bibles were in Latin, the language of education and the elite. Politics was controlled by a few. Coverdale wanted to break down the language barrier and give the Bible and all sorts of information to ordinary people in their ordinary language, English. When that happened, he believed that change would come from the grassroots.
It took decades to see the beginning of the changes he wanted, and longer to see their full conclusion. The flight of believers to the New World is a testament that the grassroots changes were underway and that there was opposition to them from above.
One Ghanaian researcher has noted that through Bible translation, biblical interpretation ceases to be the property of professional theologians. People begin to question prevailing teachings and practices in the light of the mother-tongue Scriptures. That is exactly what Coverdale wanted for England and what eventually happened. Through translation, people cease to be pawns in their religious and political systems.
In the end, Bible translation is not about translating the Bible. It is about creating an environment ripe for transformation – one rich in the information people need to decide for themselves, one where the Holy Spirit illuminates them individually and empowers them to produce changes. Evaluations have shown that where Bible translation and literacy has been carried out in Ghana, people take more individual initiative and start movements to undermine harmful traditional practices. In addition, church leaders have noted the emergence of a new level of local church leadership which is solidly grounded in the communities and in the cultures, but also solidly grounded in the Bible. The changes are slow, as some measure speed, but they tend to be permanent.
At the dedication of the Bible in Lelemi (Buem), as the new translation was being read. Dayle heard someone behind her exclaiming with deep emotion,
“Ooooooooooh, so sweet. (pause) So sweet!”
One speaker, Dr. Elias Kwaku Asiama, a lecturer at the University of Ghana, said:
The launch of the Buem Bible is a turning point in the history of the Buem people.
When translation is over, the sweet revolution begins! That’s why I’m in Bible translation.