The Influence of The English Bible

By Paul Billington

The purpose of God to "restore again the kingdom to Israel" under the reign of Messiah (Acts 1:6), is a work that has a practical aspect—and this is especially so in a world that has demonstrated a centuries-long hostility to the Jewish people. God has declared His purpose, that of raising back to national life—and then to spiritual life—a people that had been politically as well as spiritually dead for almost 2000 years. How, and on what practical basis, would this be achieved?

Two Stages

Scripture reveals that the work of restoring Israel involves a two-stage process. If we examine the details given in passages such as Jeremiah 3:14-17 or chapter 23:3-5, we shall see that there is first a return of Jews to the Holy Land, and that this is then followed by instruction. Other parts of the word give the same pattern. The first stage—that of a Jewish presence in the Land—is a practical and necessary step providing as it were, the raw materials out of which the second stage—the spiritual restoration of the nation—may be implemented, and the long-promised kingdom established.

Our concern here is to consider one particular feature of this first stage in the process of Israel’s restoration.

Two historical events stand out as being primary impulses developing the favourable circumstances for the Return. One event was the French Revolution which brought liberty and emancipation for the Jew. The other event was the translation of the Bible into English—for it was the influence of this Book that led the British Government to view with favour the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. It also led to the American support for Israel that we have witnessed in more recent years.

Translation Required

Jeremiah chapter 31 concerns the latter days (note the connection between chapter 30:24 and chapter 31:1). The subject matter of this 31st chapter is, clearly, the restoration of Israel.

Now it is in this context, and for this time, that verse 10 says:

"Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock."

Here is a message, addressed to Gentile nations who are to "hear the word of the Lord." To these nations, the Hebrew Scriptures (as well as the Greek New Testament) would be "an unknown tongue" or language: so Paul says in a different context "except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?"

If these Gentile nations are to hear the word of the Lord, then as a practical necessity, translation of the Scriptures is required—c/p Psalm 19:3,4 with Romans 10:18. The nations then, are here called upon to hear the word of the Lord—but it is to be "declared" (Strong # 5046, brought to light or manifested) in:

"The Isles Afar Off"

The phrase is not specific (see Genesis 10:5). These "isles" are, according to Gesenius, habitable land as opposed to water, the sea or rivers.He says that it denotes "maritime land, whether the sea coast of a continent, or an island." The Companion Bible suggests "maritime countries". The sense is clear enough—the word of the Lord was to be declared or brought to light in remote maritime lands, or lands beyond the sea.

Whereas the lands indicated in this passage may appear to be somewhat vague, the message to be declared is not. "He that scattered Israel will gather him" is an unambiguous statement. So the regathering of Israel is the substance of the message that is to be brought to light, manifested or declared in far off maritime lands in the latter days. Now what is the point of bringing this message to light in these far off lands unless it has some relevance there? And how could it be declared there unless it were first translated?

Let There Be Light

When the word of God is sent forth it does not return to Him void. This is what we learn from Isaiah 55:11.

" shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."

This principle is applicable to the case before us—that of the word of the Lord being brought to light in far off maritime lands. It would accomplish a work and a purpose.

One work, of course, is that it would enlighten some in those far off parts, with the message of salvation in Christ—See Isa. 49:1-6, 42:6. This has been an exceedingly important work as it was in ancient times also. For some three centuries before the time of Christ the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the so-called Septuagint—prepared an environment in the ancient world for the true gospel taught by the apostles—This, we believe, is confirmed by Paul in Romans 10:11-18 (and especially verse 18).

The influential English Bible has accomplished a similar work, the results of which are seen today in a people called out of the Gentiles for God’s name (Acts 15:14), and who witness to His Truth in the modern world. This important work however, is not the focus of our attention in this article. Only very few were enlightened with the true gospel of salvation.

The purpose to be accomplished by the word of God, according to Isaiah 55, is the establishment of the kingdom of God—as may be seen from verses 12 and 13. This work involves restoring again the kingdom to Israel—for this is to be the Scriptural kingdom of God. It is in the first and preliminary stage of this work—the return of Jews to Palestine—that we find that the influence of the English Bible has fulfilled such a remarkable role. In the words of historian Barbara Tuchman in the preface to Bible and Sword: "It is a curious irony that the Jews retrieved their home partly through the operation of the religion they gave the Gentiles."

Maritime Lands Specified

We have seen that Jeremiah addressed Gentile maritime lands of the latter days, and that God’s purpose to regather Israel would be declared and brought to light in these far off parts. History demonstrates that this has in fact happened—and the influence of this message prompted, first the British Isles and then other English-speaking nations, to become instrumental in bringing about the Jewish return. Not only so but as we shall see shortly, these nations have provided a degree of necessary protection for the developing Jewish presence in their ancient homeland.

From Jeremiah’s prophecy we would not be able to identify "the isles afar off" with any certainty at all. Yet, in the light of history, it would be difficult to find a more fitting candidate for the object of these words than those nations who have been influenced by the English Bible and who have contributed in various ways to Israel’s latter-day presence and survival in the Holy Land.

That this is the correct identification, is confirmed further by Isaiah 60:9 where we read: "Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far..." We have explained the Tarshish-Britain relationship on previous occasions (see Guardians of Israel and Arabia and Vol. 6, Issue No. 4) and will not repeat that here. We would draw attention however to the expectation of others in regards to these things long before Jews began returning. For example, George Stanley Faber writing in 1806 said:

"...the Jews will begin to be restored by the great maritime power of the age...The isles of the sea, and the ships of Tarshish, must begin the great work of the restoration of the Jews."

Faber then quotes at length Isaiah 60:4-16. He follows the Scriptural quotation with this comment:

"Since then some great maritime power is destined to begin the work of restoring the Jews in direct opposition and defiance to the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the Latin earth, we may naturally conclude that they will not all return to Palestine together. Accordingly we are expressly informed by Zechariah, that they will be brought back in two great distinct bodies. "The Lord also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David, and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah." If Judah then is to be saved first, and if the isles and the ships of Tarshish are to bring, his sons from far first, it is evident that the division, which Zechariah terms Judah, will be restored by the maritime power before the other division, which he terms the house of David and Jerusalem..."—A Dissertation on the Prophecies. Vol. II

During World War One (1914-18) Britain began this work of restoring Jews to Palestine in opposition to, and in defiance of Catholic Europe. The history of this century has fulfilled the requirements of these expectations based on prophecy.

Now, how were Gentile powers influenced and moulded so that they would be willing to undertake such a task as this? The answer is found in the influence of the English Bible upon British history, and upon that wider group of English-speaking countries throughout the world.

A Controversial Book

The Bible has always been—and still is today—a highly controversial Book. It is in fact a sword of the spirit. In Isaiah 49:1-2 we read:

"Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb: from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me..."

These words are unques-tionably those of the spirit of Christ speaking in the prophet (see 1 Peter 1:10,11; Luke 1:31; Matt. 10:34; Eph. 6:17; Rev. 1:16). The sense of the prophecy of Isaiah 49 is that when the word of Christ would go forth as "a light to the Gentiles", it would be as a sword—and this is what happened when the New Testament, and then the complete scripture, was translated into the language of Gentile peoples. The result was a controversy that produced what is known in history as the Reformation. Many different lands were involved, but it was in the British Isles that the most far-reaching effects were seen.

A spineless and insipid presentation of God’s word does not alter the course of history, build empires—or even convert ordinary men and women. It never has and never will. We do well to remember this, "for the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword..." says Hebrews 4:12. This is why it overcame the mighty Roman Empire—it is why it has had such an impact upon the English-speaking world. In other instances, where it has not had the same result, we see that it was compromised and rendered "of none effect" (Mark 7:13; 1 Cor. 1:17).

The Course of History

In order for a Gentile state to undertake the work of restoring Jews to their homeland in the Middle East, it would be necessary for the hand of God to be providentially active—as it was in raising up Cyrus in order to bring about the return from the Babylonian exile—see Isaiah 44:26 through to 45:6 also Ezra 1.

In order to restore Jerusalem and return the exiles, it was first necessary that the Medo-Persians conquer mighty Babylon. Similarly, in preparing the way for the latter-day restoration of Jews to Palestine, it was necessary that Britain not only become sympathetic to the Jewish cause, but that she contend with those who ruled the Land of promise, or who would oppose the divine purpose. In the practical context of things, this meant that Britain would have to become willing to oppose Catholic Europe—the age-long persecutor of Jewry—and, when the time arrived for it, expel the Ottoman Turk from the Holy Land. Our chart (left) illustrates the remarkable influence of the Bible upon British history, shaping that nation—and then her empire—in a way that would prepare it for the work. Once the restoration of Jews had been accomplished to the required extent—and in order that events may move towards the second stage of restoration—Britain and then her allies, would be found in decline and retreat. The Jewish national home was not to be a subject of the British crown—but rather, after being instructed and refined by "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan. 12:1)—it would become subject to the rightful heir of David’s throne (Luke 1:32,33), the Lord Jesus Christ returned.

Now let us consider the sections on our chart in more detail:

The Word Sent Forth

Wycliffe translated the Bible into an early English dialect from the Latin Vulgate (Roman Catholic Version) about 1380 A.D. It had a limited circulation—mostly among a group known to us as Lollards. Even this early version stirred considerable controversy and was opposed by Church authorities. This was but a foretaste of what would come when Greek manuscripts arrived after the fall of Constantinople (1453) and Greek (Byzantine) believers fled west from the Turks. This event, coming hot on the heels of the invention of printing, brought together circumstances which were destined to reshape Christendom.

William Tyndale, a young priest in Gloucestershire, England—knowing that it would probably cost him his life—determined to translate the Bible into English from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. His translation of the New Testament (from the Greek text of Erasmus) appeared in print in 1525—and most of it was promptly burnt (one copy survives today). Another edition appeared in 1534.

Tyndale appreciated the fact that the Bible was a controversial Book. Using Christ’s allegory concerning salt (Matt. 5:13; Mark 9:49-50 etc) he wrote:

"The nature of salt is to bite, fret, and make smart...True preaching is a salting that stirreth up persecution...If salt have lost its saltness, it is good for nothing but to be trodden under foot of men—That is, if the preacher, which for his doctrine is called salt, have lost the nature of salt, that is to say, his sharpness in rebuking all unrighteousness... he is con-demned of God..."

Tyndale clearly saw it as a duty to "salt" a corrupt church:

"...all that is corrupt must be salted: and those persons are of all others most corrupt, and therefore may not be left untouched. The pope’s pardons must be rebuked; the abuse of the mass, of the sacraments, and of all the ceremonies, must be rebuked and salted..."

In turning people to the Scriptures, Tyndale was also turning them away from the Church of Rome. In 1536 Tyndale’s "salting" brought the persecution he had foreseen. The translator of the Bible into English was taken to the stake, strangled and burnt—but the word of the Lord had gone forth and would not return unto Him void; it would accomplish that which he pleased.

John Foxe wrote:

"These books of William Tyndale being compiled, published, and sent over into England, it cannot be spoken what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the whole English nation, which before were many years shut up in darkness."

Separation from Rome

For over 70 years after Tyndale’s death an epic struggle continued in England between the authority of the Bible and that of the Roman Church. The nation was violently jolted one way, and then the other. There were plots and counter-plots; plans for invasion from Catholic Europe, plots for assassination and kidnap. As the struggle continued, Bibles came forth from the printing presses—Coverdale’s, Matthew’s Bible, The Great Bible, the Geneva, and translators were burnt—John Rogers at Smithfield (London 1553), Thomas Cranmer (Oxford 1555)...and so the battle waged on. This is a period of history that we do well to reflect upon, and ask: "How much did our Bible cost?" The price we may pay for a copy today in no way reflects the priceless heritage of the English Bible!

Hearing the Word

Michael Pragai, an Israeli writer, gives us the following account in his book Faith and Fulfillment:

"The growing importance of the English Bible was a concomitant of the spreading Reformation, and it is true to say that the Reformation would never have taken hold had the Bible not replaced the Pope as the ultimate spiritual authority. With the Bible as its tool, the Reformation returned to the geographic origins of Christianity in Palestine. It thereby gradually diminished the authority of Rome. The year 1611 saw the publication of the King James version, and with that the "adoption" of the Bible was complete. The family and tribal history of one nation became the "national epic" of another."

As the word of the Lord was brought to light in these "isles afar off" men began to become aware of God’s declared intention to regather his people Israel. For example, Thomas Brightman wrote a book about the restoration of the Jews in 1615. He wrote: "What! shall they return to Jerusalem again? There is nothing more certain: the prophets do everywhere confirme it and beate upon it." John Prideaux of Oxford whose work was published in 1648, reported that some looked for the restoration of the Jews "after the end of the Turkish kingdom, to commence in precisely 350 years" (which is an interesting observation from our position today!). A contemporary of Prideaux was Joseph Mede whose work was translated into English from Latin in 1649. He wrote:

"For so long ago, it was foretold to Daniel, that the fourth Beast being slain, the king of the saints should rule through the whole world (c. 7) and withall, that glorious promise of restoring Israel, should be fulfilled (chap. 12)."

In Powell’s Concordance (1673) the return and re-establishment of the Jews is set forth with abundant references to the prophetic Scriptures. So one could go on multiplying instances—but the point is that as Bible knowledge spread, so people were made aware of the purpose of God to restore His ancient people.

A Protestant Constitution

King James I (1603-1625) "authorized" the 1611 version.

Another result of the Bible’s influence was the growth of anti-Catholic sentiment. The preface and "translators remarks to the

Reader" in the King James Authorized Version of 1611 gives a glimpse of this. The reference to "that man of sin" and "Popish Persons" still appears in many editions of that version. One paragraph in the translators’ remarks is devoted to explaining how the Church of Rome had opposed the translation of the Scriptures into English. The Roman Church is said to have admitted having been forced into producing a translation of their own—which they then refused to license for public reading.

Cromwell (left) laid the foundation of Britain's Protestant constitution, established by Parliament and William of Orange (right).

In this atmosphere the country moved further away from Catholicism. Events brought the monarchy into collision with parliament when the former was perceived to be collaborating with, or in sympathy with papists. Civil war, the execution of Charles I, the growth of Puritanism and Scottish Presbyterianism brought Oliver Cromwell to power as "Lord Protector." An attempt to restore the monarchy revived the former problems with Charles II. Later, the ruling Whig Party deserted James II when he married a Catholic and began appointing Roman Catholics to positions of power. In 1688 William of Orange (son-in-law to James II) was invited to occupy the throne as a Protestant monarch. The Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement (1689) ensured that, from then on, the British crown would be reserved for Protestants only. The act reads as follows:

"Whereas it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any King or Queen marrying a Papist.... Every person who is or shall be reconciled to, or shall have communion with, the See or Church of Rome, or shall marry a Papist, shall be excluded and be for ever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Crown or Government of this Realm and Ireland; and in every such case the people of these Realms shall be and are hereby released of their allegiance."

Britain now had a Protestant constitution. She would now have to maintain an independence from Catholic Europe.

A Protestant Empire

An expanding influence took the English Bible to the ends of the world.

By 1700 Britain was busy establishing colonies throughout the world. Cook’s voyages of discovery opened up new opportunities—and with an eye to trade and commerce rather than acquiring an empire—Britain’s interests spread across the face of the globe. so did the English language—and so did the influence of the English Bible. An important area of development was North America where the Puritan influence was particularly strong. Michael Pragai says:

"To understand America one has first to understand Puritanism, which in turn has its origins in the legends, images, morals, legal codes and prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. America’s roots are embedded, as it were, in the fertile soil of the Bible, and from there they derive their life-sustaining vital fluids. When the Puritans adopted the Bible, especially the Old Testament, it became their principal spiritual authority."

The Daily News in 1903 reported the following from Dean Farrar about Queen Victoria (above):
"On one occasion, one of her chaplains, in preaching before her at Windsor, had made the second advent of Christ the subject of his discourse. After the service, the Queen, always a most attentive listener, spoke to him on the topic which he had chosen, and said: `Oh, how I wish that the Lord might come during my lifetime!' `Why,' asked the preacher, `does your Majesty feel this very earnest desire?' The Queen replied with quivering lips, and her whole countenance lighted by deep emotion, `I should so love to lay my crown at His feet."
The dialogue quoted by the Dean was one that passed between himself and Queen Victoria.

By 1800, the English-speaking world had developed a spiritual and cultural outlook which was favourable to the Jews but deeply suspicious of Catholicism and of Europe. The influence of the English Bible had produced this state of things, but it is important to realize that the Reformation—as important as that was—did not go far enough. Many traditions of the Roman Church as well as her doctrines, remained in the fabric of the English Church. This was to form a basis for ecumenical activity which we have seen in more recent times. Just as ancient Israel failed to rid Canaan of pagan idolators (see Deut. 7:16 and Judges 2:2,3) with the result that their gods became a snare to Israel, so the doctrines of Rome which should have been erradicated have now ensnared Britain and other English-speaking countries. Nonetheless, the dawn of the 19th Century saw Britain preparing for her mission.

Containing Europe

The French Revolution of 1789 and the military success of Napoleon in Europe afterwards, deprived the papacy of much of its power. The Holy Roman Empire was dismembered and the Catholic Church was in trouble—at least as far as its temporal power was concerned.

The Napoleonic threat and the general chaos in Europe was sufficient reason for Britain to seek, and gain, supremacy at sea in order to safeguard her interests both at home and abroad. In effect, Britain was containing Europe and preventing its rulers from penetrating through to the Middle East and the Holy Land. From the time of the Napoleonic wars and Trafalgar (1805) this is clear. The Crimea war (1854) kept Russia out of Turkey and the Middle East. The path that had been marked out for Britain—that maritime power of the latter days—had become unavoidable. On the back cover of Barbara Tuchman’s Bible and Sword we read:

"From early times the British people have been drawn to the Holy Land through two major influences: the translation of the Bible into English and, later, imperial need to control the road to India and access to the oil of the Middle East."

These two major influences also combined to cause Britain to contain Europe—the home of anti-semitism.

The Time of The End: The Jews Return

Britain’s entry into Egypt at the beginning of the 19th century qualified her for the temporary, yet Scriptural title of "king of the south" (Daniel 11:40). That Britain fulfilled that role during the period termed "the time of the end" is, simply, a matter of historical fact.

The phrase, "the time of the end" is Daniel’s description for a period which dates from the French Revolution, and which in the book of Revelation is covered by the seventh trumpet (Rev. 10:7; 11:14,15). This last trumpet sign concerns the period of resurrection—the resurrection of the Jewish nation as well as ultimately, the resurrection of God’s saints. This is a long period of time from our mortal perspective and involves over 200 years. It began with Jewish emancipation and was contemporary with the resurrection of the apocalyptic witnesses (Rev. 11). It included the "resurrection" of the true gospel. It will yet include that resurrection to which Daniel refers in chapter 12:1-3 which he says will take place "at that time," that is "the time of the end."

Now Daniel tells us that during this period "the king of the south" will push at one—who "shall magnify himself above all" (11:37; 2 Thess 2:4). As we understand 2 Thess chapter 2 to be referring to "a falling away" from the Christian faith in the first century, and fulfilled in the rise of the Roman Church with its papal figurehead—and as Paul is basing his remarks on the prophecy of Daniel 11—this "king of the south" who pushes (or more correctly contends) against him, must be anti-catholic.

That is one side of the picture; the western or Catholic side. Daniel’s "king" who Paul says becomes manifest as the result of a Christian apostasy, had an eastern or Byzantine aspect as well—and when Constantine moved the seat of his "Christian" empire to Constantinople, that became the focus of the military and civil dictatorship. In 1453 the Moslem Turks gained control of this seat, from which they ruled as the Desolator of the Holy Land.

It was a remarkable set of circumstances therefore, which brought together Catholic and Moslem interests in World War I. Germany, Austria, Hungary and Turkey (termed the Central Powers) became allies —see map left. Britain and her English speaking colonial empire literally contended with these central Powers of Europe, so fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy.

In these events we can see that various threads of history now combined to form a life-line with which to bring into being a national Jewish Home. The influence of the English Bible had cast Britain in her Protestant mould and had impressed many with the concept of a mission—that of bringing Israel’s sons from far after an absence of almost 2000 years. Michael Pragai says:

"Generation after generation of Englishmen studied the Book. As it was often the only book in the house, it was read over and over again. Its sayings became household words. Its stories, heroes, kings and prophets were as familiar as neighbors. Many chapters were known by heart; whole verses and passages were cited in everyday speech. In 1914, Lloyd George recorded in his first meeting with Dr Weizmann, who later became the first President of Israel, that place-names crept into the conversation which were "more familiar to me than those on the Western front." The biographer of Lord Balfour observed that his interest in the idea of Zionism flowed from his early childhood study of the Old Testament. John Ruskin related that he had to read the entire Bible "every syllable through, hard names and all, aloud, from Genesis to Apocalypse, about once a year...and (at the end) began Genesis the next day!" He goes on to say that this was "the most precious and on the whole the one essential part of my education."

Thus it was, that while the English-speaking nations contained Catholic Europe and the successors of Byzantium (in Turkey and Russia), the Jews began to return to their ancient homeland, under their protection.

Decline and Retreat

The roots of Britain’s decline can be traced back to early in the 19th century—but we cannot discuss that here. Suffice it to say that Britain retained sufficient power, and for long enough, to accomplish the purpose that was assigned to her. We believe that the major influence in all of this was the Bible. It was the Bible that moulded both Britain and her closest allies to prepare them for their role in history.

After laying the foundation, as it were, for the Jewish national home—and therefore for the modern State of Israel—Britain’s decline as a world power was rapid. Yet, even in the Second World War she was seen—perhaps unintentionally—containing a fiercely anti-semitic Europe. Looked at from the perspective of the Middle East and the developing Jewish homeland, the Allies were protecting the defenseless infant settlement. This latter-day "king of the south" from its foothold in Egypt frustrated the design of Rommel at el-Alamein. Had Rommel succeeded in North Africa and moved into Egypt and Palestine, one can only imagine the fate of the Jews and their homeland. There can be no doubt of these facts: the British king of the south was "contending" with him, just as Daniel had foreseen.

Since the end of World War II—and since the influence of the Bible has been undermined—Britain has been in decline and retreat. The first statement in Daniel 11:40 has been fulfilled—we now move on to the next, which describes the whirlwind invasion by "the king of the north".

Since World War II it has been the United States which has borne the burden of protecting Israel—again, the influence of the English Bible having prepared her for that role. Europe, having licked its wounds and received from a naive United States incomputable aid and protection, now builds up its strength in preparation for her part in the future development of things.

We now approach the time when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth and take control of things himself. In that day there will be a humbling of all nations—and that will include Britain and her allies.

"For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon everyone that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low...And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day"—Isa. 2:12-17.

Today, the isles have ceased to hear the word of the Lord, they have rejected the counsel of the Most High and shut their eyes to the Light. When the king of the north ascends like a storm and comes "against him", there will be a very great humbling. Britain will be a land of neither hope or glory in that day, but one of despair and utter shame for their unfaithfulness to the lively oracles of God.

The humbling of the English-speaking world is necessary—it is essential in order that the Lord may reveal his mercy. When Christ comes to judge the earth, all nations must serve and obey him as the King of Israel. This will be a matter of national survival and existence—Isa. 60:12.

The Canon of Scripture, Vol. 8 #4.

Top of Page Magazine Contents Bible Magazine Front Page Feedback