The Word for the World UK Update – Nov 23: Bibles in Bethlehem

Over the past few months, I have focussed on two men from the 16th century who were very influential in the world of Bible translation; William Tyndale and his financial supporter, Humphrey Monmouth. This month I want to travel back even further to the end of the 4th century to focus on another translation ‘giant’, who was dedicated to translating the Bible, whilst actually living in the land of the Bible. In fact, it is quite possible he did all of his work within a stones throw of where the New Testament actually began!

At the beginning of October, I had the privilege of leading an Oak Hall trip to Israel, and our first few days were based in the ‘not-so-little’ town of Bethlehem, situated in the West Bank. We visited the Church of the Nativity, which is said to be built over the site where Jesus was born. I chose not to join the long queue of tourists waiting to see the traditional site of his birth, and instead wandered into a nearby courtyard. At its centre, high up on a large column, stood the statue of a man holding a quill and a book, and whose name I didn’t recognise – Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus. Who was he, and why was he there?

He is actually better known as Saint Jerome! Born in Slovenia in 342AD, he became the leading Bible scholar of his day, and was commissioned to produce a version of the Bible in Latin, and so he set to work translating from the Greek and the Hebrew. In the year 405AD, 23 years after he had begun, he finally finished his translation! This became known as the Latin Vulgate and was later adopted by the Catholic Church as the authorised Latin version. This Bible, together with other theological works of his, profoundly influenced the early Middle Ages. Much of that translation was done in a cave in Bethlehem, now beneath the Church of the Nativity, hence the statue in the courtyard.

During our trip, despite the Hamas attack which happened three days after we arrived, we were able to visit many biblical sites, and spend much time in our Bibles. In Bethlehem we visited the only Christian bookshop in the West Bank, and were able to pray for the manager, who has free Arabic Bibles on offer to those who might be seeking. Several days later in Jerusalem, surprisingly given the situation, we were able to visit the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temple once stood. It is now the site of a large mosque and a golden-roofed shrine, said to be Islam’s third holiest site. As we queued up to enter the site, the x-ray machine at the security check point did its job in locating my Bible, which was inside my backpack! No Bibles allowed on the site of so much biblical activity!! Into a locker it went, for retrieval on exit!

We were able to spend a wonderful day around the shores of Galilee – this time with our Bibles fully open! But that evening we received news that our return flights out of Tel Aviv had been cancelled due to the worsening situation in the country. The next day we decided to ‘escape’ across the border into Jordan, where we stayed in Amman for a few days, whilst organising flights for the guests. On one of our days there, having visited the old city of the Ammonites, we somehow stumbled across a Christian bookshop run by the Bible Society of Jordan. In a country of 11 million people, and where less than 8000 are considered to be evangelical Christians, sadly, it wasn’t the busiest shop in the street – but we were able to pray with the folks running the shop, asking that God would protect them, and that more and more people would be led to this Bible oasis! We thank our God for people dedicated to translating His Word, and for those involved in distributing it, especially in lands where persecution isn’t far away.

Diary Dates:

  • Fri 3rd Nov:  Key meeting with grant-writing organisation in Corsham (AM)
  • Sun 5th Nov:  Preaching at Hesket Newmarket Evangelical Church, Cumbria (AM)
  • Sun 5th Nov: Castle Sowerby Chapel, Cumbria (PM)
  • Tues 14th Nov:  IllumiNations leadership meetings in Manchester (all day)
  • Tues 21st Nov:  Presenting TWFTW at cross-agency online meeting (afternoon)
  • Thurs 30th Nov: Supporters event at Woodland Manor, Clapham, Bedford (PM)    
  • Fri 1st Dec:  TWFTW Board Meeting in Clapham, Bedford (AM)
  • Sun 3rd Dec:  Preaching at Morley Community Church, Leeds (AM)
Praise & Prayer Points:

Please pray for our small team of translators in Albania working on the Aromanian translation project, which started a few months ago. Pray that we can increase the number in the team; for ongoing progress, and for more funding to become available.

Our teams in Myanmar have told us that it is no longer safe for them to leave their homes due to the ongoing civil war, and close monitoring. Checking translation work amongst the community is therefore a much harder process. Please pray for peace in this country, and that our translators would be strengthened to continue with their tasks, whenever and wherever they can.

Praising God for the way in which God enabled me and the Oak Hall groups to evacuate from Israel last month. A number of things came together to make it a smooth process. Whilst we did experience some of the tension in the land, and had to alter our tours to some extent, we were far away from the main troubles in Gaza, and were able to leave the country when we needed to. Please pray for both bookshops in Bethlehem & Amman; that people would be led to them, and that there would be an increase in those seeking God’s Word in their own language. Pray too for peace in these troubled lands of Israel & Palestine.

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