It’s well-known that Luther translated the Bible into German, and it’s often thought that he was the first one to do so. But that’s not true at all. In fact, there were 17—that’s right, 17—other translations of the Bible into German before Luther’s! . . .
Gutenberg’s Bible was the first book printed in the West using movable type. But while the technology was new, the social system was still old. We have in the Gutenberg Bible a classic product designed for the nouveaux riches. His Bible promised to up-and-coming classes the same access to written culture afforded previously only by ecclesiastics and nobility.
We can see that in even in its style. Gutenberg’s work left the intial letters unprinted with space left for illumination. His printed Bible was meant to simulate the great illuminated Bibles owned by the nobility and rich monasteries, but for a bargain-basement price. That’s not to say they were cheap. Gutenberg’s Bible would have cost the average worker a fortune. It was still a prestige piece, not meant for study but to decorate the collections of those who wished to be identified with book culture.
What we see in Luther’s work is an entirely different kind of thing. Here was a whole Bible meant for study, for reading. It was designed to be printed en masse, to be bought and distributed to many people below the nobility, used in churches and schools for catechesis. We can see the difference in the design. Older Bibles were large, folio-sized objects, printed in small numbers. Luther’s was was small, mass-produced, and affordable.
The Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest extant copy of the Bible, has been digitized by the Codex Sinaiticus Project, and can now be viewed online here. The manuscript contains the entire New Testament, and most of the Old Testament, all in Greek (the original language of the New Testament). The physical manuscript is divided unequally among four locations in Britain, Germany, Russia, and Egypt, so the online version marks the first time the Codex can be viewed in its entirety in 100 years, when the first part was taken from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.
The Rosetta Project Language Archive includes a Greek Septuagint translation of the first three chapters of Genesis. This landmark Greek translation holds great historical significance, since it was the preferred translation of most Early Christian writers, including Paul, and is the text quoted throughout the New Testament.
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Then stop developing city and region. Yes, more than one world language. Reverse direction in this area.
The book of Leviticus, graveyard of so many good intentions to read straight through the Bible, is in fact an instruction manual for the creation of a distinct people in the context of the Ancient Near East. By observing its commands and prohibitions—both the broadly ethical, such as “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and the narrowly specific, such as keeping meat and milk separate in Israel’s diet—Abram’s descendants will be shaping their own distinctive cultural identity. Even the most puzzling, and seemingly arbitrary, features of the Levitical code require Israel to consciously depend on the God who revealed them, rather than simply absorbing and imitating the cultures that surround them.
—Culture Making, p.128
There is nothing tidy about the cultural project of Israel. When we read it as a whole, rather than plucking selected passages to justify our culture wars or cultural withdrawal, the story is profoundly humbling. If God’s chosen people experienced such frustration and failure in creating and cultivating culture, how can followers of Christ, scattered among the nations, expect to do better?
—Culture Making, p.132
God’s intervention in human culture will be unmistakably marked by grace—it will not be the inevitable working out of the world’s way of cultural change, the logical unfolding of preexisting power and privilege. Wherever God steps into human history, the mountains will be leveled and the valleys will be raised up. “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isa. 40:5)—the glory of a God who confounds even his own people’s expectations of how culture changes.
—Culture Making, p.130
The whole of the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis 12 to Malachi 4, can be seen as a record of Israel’s education in faith—not “faith” as a purely spiritual or religious enterprise, but as a cultural practice of dependence on the world’s Creator that encompasses everything from military strategy to songwriting.
—Culture Making, p.131
If the rest of the congregation were to learn from our experiment, they had to be able to observe it beyond just hearing about it in sermons. Therefore, each participant opened a Facebook account and joined a Facebook group we named “Living Leviticus.” Participants posted journal entries, photos, comments, and videos. Daily online activity reminded us that we each were part of a (virtual) community of obedience. Because Facebook is a social networking site, a couple hundred people also joined the group and many more from all over the world logged in to read and comment. A cluster of Messianic Jews even got ahold of our page and began offering their own advice on how to keep Torah.
Among the many lessons from the month, rising to the top was the realization of how much we take God’s grace for granted. Because holiness can be difficult, we default to simply admitting we’re miserable sinners, get our grace, and then get on with living our lives the way we were going to live them anyway. As one participant put it, “I never before realized just how good I am at detaching God from my day-to-day life.” But if reading Leviticus only succeeds in making you feel bad for being a lousy Christian, you’ve missed its point. Leviticus isn’t in the Bible merely to show you your need for grace. It’s in the Bible to show you what grace is for. The ancient Israelites were already chosen people before God gave them the Law. The Law’s purpose was never to save anybody. Rather, its purpose was to show saved people how to live a saved life.
[S]ometimes Mark’s Gospel has been called the first Christian book, in large part based on the reference in Mk. 13.14 where we find the parenthetical remark, “let the reader understand”, on the assumption that the ‘reader’ in question is the audience. But let us examine this assumption for a moment. Both in Mk. 13.14 and in Rev. 1.3 the operative Greek word is ho anagin?sk?n, a clear reference to a single and singular reader, who in that latter text is distinguished from the audience who are dubbed the hearers (plural!) of John’s rhetoric. . . . [N]ot even Mark’s Gospel should be viewed as a text, meant for private reading, much less the first real modern ‘text’ or ‘book’. Rather Mark is reminding the lector, who will be orally delivering the Gospel in some or several venues near to the time when this ‘abomination’ would be or was already arising that they needed to help the audience understand the nature of what was happening when the temple in Jerusalem was being destroyed. Oral texts often include such reminders for the ones delivering the discourse in question. So in fact it is not likely the case that the reference to ‘a reader’ in the NT functions like it would in a modern text. The reader in question is not the audience of the discourse or document, but rather its presenter who knows the text in advance and can appropriately and effectively orally deliver its content to the intended audience or audiences.