The Cost of Dedication
Like many of the great men who had a part in producing and translating the Bible (including Tyndale), Erasmus sacrificed his material needs and lived in poverty while preparing to contribute enormously to the growth and spread of the precious biblical texts. Yet he did menage to travel to Italy where he was able to enhance his knowledge of Greek by reading Plato and Plutarch, among other great Greek classicists.
Erasmus also had a practical side to him. He started Tyndale's view that the bible should be made available to the common man and woman. Notice the wording in his preface to the Greek New Testament of 1516: 'I totally disagree with those who are unwilling that the Holy Scriptures, translated into the common tongue, should be read by the unlearned. Christ desires His mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible....
'I would that they were all translated into all the languages of all the Christian people.'7 Clearly, especially for the average man an woman, a Greek New Testament was not an end in itself. A modern version, however, was indispensable for a proper translation into English.
As Erasmus himself said:' My mind is burning with indescribable eagerness...to acquire a certain limited competence in Greek, and thereby go on to devote myself to sacred literature' 8 (emphasis ours). On March 1516 Erasmus' Greek Testament was the first to be printed in Europe.
We should not imagine that his efforts were universally applauded. In many places he had enemies in monastic orders, including the Sorbonne. Some felt threatened by this democratisation of the Bible. His Greek New Testament was burnt in public at Bois-le-Duc in France.
Erasmus' Enormous Contribution
However inadequate Erasmus' Greek Testament might be when judged by our standards today, this Dutch scholar used what Greek sources he could access and got on with finishing he job. We must judge him by the scholarly standards of his day. Interestingly enough, he could find no manuscript at all for the last six verses of the Bible's last book, so he made his own private Greek translation of Revelation 22:15-21 from the Latin. The last page of an old source book was often apt to be missing.
It is Erasmus' linguistic contribution to the growth and spreading of the New Testament message that primarily concerns us in this article. In his own unique way Desiderius Erasmus takes his place with William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Miles Coverdale and others in their heroic accomplishments of bringing the Bible to men and women in the English language. To render the knowledge of the few to the service of many.
Sources: 1 The English Bible, F.F. Bruce, p.26;2 op.cit.,p. 25; 3 Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance, Mann Phillips, p. 40; 4 Erasmus, James McConica, p.33; 5 Erasmus and th Northern Renaissance, Mann Phillips, p.46; 6 Erasmus - A Critical Biography, Leon-E. Halikn, p. 49; 7 The English Bible, F.F. Bruce, p.29; 8 Erasmus as a Translator of the Classics, Erika Rumel, p.13.