THE THREAT: Many political and religious leaders pursued an agenda contrary to the Bible’s message. Often, they used their authority to stop people from owning, producing, or translating the Bible. Consider two examples:
About 167 B.C.E.: Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes, who sought to force Greek religion on the Jews, ordered all copies of the Hebrew Scriptures to be destroyed. His officials “tore and burnt the rolls of the Law whenever they found them,” wrote historian Heinrich Graetz, “and killed those who were found to seek strength and consolation in their perusal.”
Middle Ages: Some Catholic leaders, upset that the laity were preaching what the Bible teaches rather than Catholic dogma, branded as heretics any laymen who possessed Bible books other than the Psalms in Latin. One church council enforced the command by directing that their men “diligently, faithfully, and frequently seek out the heretics . . . by searching all houses and subterranean chambers which lie under any suspicion. . . . The house in which any heretic shall be found shall be destroyed.”
If the Bible’s enemies had succeeded in stamping it out, its message would have disappeared.
HOW THE BIBLE SURVIVED: King Antiochus focused his campaign on Israel, but the Jews had formed communities in numerous other lands. In fact, scholars estimate that by the first century C.E., over 60 percent of Jews lived outside Israel. In their synagogues, the Jews kept copies of the Scriptures—the same Scriptures that were used by future generations, including Christians.—Acts 15:21.
During the Middle Ages, lovers of the Bible braved persecution and continued to translate and copy the Scriptures. Even before the movable-type printing press was invented in the middle of the 15th century, portions of the Bible may have been available in as many as 33 languages. Thereafter, the Bible was translated and produced at an unprecedented pace.
THE RESULT: Despite threats from powerful kings and misguided clergymen, the Bible is the most widely distributed and most translated book in history. It has shaped the laws and languages of some countries, as well as the lives of millions.