Have you ever come across footnotes in the Old Testament saying, “Hebrew Obscure” or “Hebrew Uncertain”? This is not due to any lack of content or clarity in the original text, but rather to the fact that most modern Hebrew scholars simply do not know the precise meaning of many of the original idioms with any degree of certainty. For hundreds of years, Hebrew was studied as a “dead” language (a language that was not spoken in everyday life). The difference between studying a “living” versus a “dead” language could be compared to the difference between the study of fossils or museum exhibits of long extinct animals, versus the study of living examples of the same species.
A number of years ago, I was given a copy of an old Spanish Bible translated in the heat and fervor of the Reformation (which was brutally put down in Spain by the Inquisition) during a time when it was common practice to burn Bibles along with their owners. I immediately began to notice a depth and clarity to this translation that brought forth a clear witness of the Spirit of God as to the meanings of many seemingly unfathomable passages (mainly in the Psalms, Proverbs and Prophets) that had intrigued me for years. I began to investigate the unique circumstances of this Spanish translation by Casiodoro de Reina published in 1569.
Casiodoro de Reina was born in 1520. He learned Hebrew in Spain as a young man, apparently from Jews who still spoke Hebrew as a “living” language. The Jews had been officially expulsed from Spain in 1492, but it is estimated that only one-fourth of them left at that time (some of those who remained did their best to blend in with the Christians). Eventually, the Spanish Inquisition made it impossible for any Jewish people to survive in Spain speaking their own language. Almost every Hebrew scholar since Casiodoro de Reina has had to learn Hebrew as a “dead” language, which was no longer spoken, until the modern day ongoing resurrection of the Hebrew language in Israel.
Casiodoro began a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Spanish and was forced to flee from Spain in 1551. Several Jewish translations of the Old Testament were published in Spanish about this time (such as the Biblia de Ferrara of 1553) to which Casiodoro had access. He also built on a translation of the Psalms that was published by his friend Juan Pérez de Pineda in 1557. He went to Geneva and was there until the government of Geneva under John Calvin burned Miguel Servet at the stake over differences on points of doctrine. Casiodoro had some strong words about this. He said that Geneva had become a “new Rome” and left for England. The Queen of England (Elizabeth I) allowed Casiodoro to preach to Spanish speakers in the Church of St. Mary Axe and gave him a monthly income. Casiodoro continued his Bible translation until the Inquisition found out about it and sent agents from Spain, who brought false charges against him and undermined his support from the Queen.
Casiodoro fled to Germany just in time to witness a war between Lutherans and Catholics. He had some words with the Lutherans regarding this and went on into the Low Countries. There he was given a place to preach in a Congregational Church where he spent quite a bit of time in conflict with the Consistory (the minutes of those meetings still exist). Casiodoro seemed to always maintain an open mind to truth and refused to go along with any given school of doctrine or thought believing that everyone must be responsible before God for their own conscience. After more than twenty years of working on his translation while fleeing with his wife and children, one jump ahead of the Inquisition, which was always sending agents to attempt to kill or hinder him, his Bible was finally printed. The Inquisition set up a ring of retenes or checkpoints all along the borders and for many years carefully searched every person and/or cargo that entered Spain, making an all-out effort to not let even one single Bible into the country. They searched for Bibles with the same intensity that our modern countries search passengers for weapons and drugs! Casiodoro was last heard of at age 70, still one jump ahead of the Inquisition, and it is not known for sure whether they got him in the end or not.
Casiodoro de Reina, although younger, was contemporary with William Tyndale. I have noticed many similarities between the translations of both men (William Tyndale in English and Casiodoro de Reina in Spanish). Studying these two Bibles (they basically agree, yet each brings out unique facets of truth from a slightly different perspective) has been the equivalent of getting the truth of the Scriptures of the Reformation in stereo. The power and clarity of their translations has a much sharper edge than the work that was done in either language even a generation later when the intense heat of the Reformation had died down, and Bible translation had to be officially approved by ecclesiastic and/or secular governments.
It is recognized that the Authorized Version (by King James) in English is basically a revision of Tyndale’s work (in many key passages the wording of the AV is ninety percent or more Tyndale’s) with the exception of the last half of the Old Testament (from Ezra to Malachi). This portion of Tyndale’s work is believed to have been lost at sea in a shipwreck (only the book of Jonah survived). Unfortunately, William Tyndale was burned at the stake before he could redo the books that were lost. This disaster has, in my opinion, placed these books of our English AV Bibles on a foundation less than equal in terms of clarity and consistency of translation with the rest of the AV which draws so extensively from the work of Tyndale.
When we edited a recent edition of the Spanish Bible (Las Sagradas Escrituras, Version Antigua, published March of 1998) based on the original text of Casiodoro de Reina, I checked much of it against the work of William Tyndale and against the Authorized Version. This strengthened the Spanish Bible in many areas and also tended to confirm the opinion that I gave in the preceding paragraph. Then I decided to diligently compare and align the work of Casiodoro de Reina with the books of the Authorized Version that did not receive the heritage of William Tyndale. The first fruit of that endeavor is this rendition of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.
Over the years there have been many revisions of the Authorized Version; some of these under the guise of modernizing the language have watered down the message and introduced errors proceeding from deviant manuscripts, from doctrines of men, and from over simplification of the English language. The same is true regarding the Spanish Bible. Instead of revising “forward” towards modernism and employing modern scholarship, textual criticism, and the like; it has been our intention to revise “back” and return as close as possible to the roots of the pure message and pure language. I believe we are at a place where brilliant scholarship and linguistics alone cannot discern between all the possible variations of meaning, or among what are all being presented as ancient and worthy manuscripts in the original languages. We must have the witness of the Holy Spirit. I have chosen to go with the Hebrew scholarship of Reformers such as William Tyndale and Casiodoro de Reina whose translations of the Received Text (Textus Receptus) shined the light of the truth into the spiritual darkness of their day and changed the church and the world for the better, rather than to rely on the modern scholarship which has a penchant for removing the fear of the LORD from among the people of God in this Laodicean hour.
Let us allow the Spirit of Truth to have the last word regarding this matter. We must always bear in mind that even if we were to all learn Hebrew to perfection and could obtain a flawless manuscript of the original text, there would still be a humanly insurmountable language barrier between us and the Truth that can only be bridged by the Spirit of God.
– Russell M. Stendal, Editor