What would a small-town parish need with a man who had devoted twenty years of his life to theological training? In sixteenth-century North Wales, William Morgan quietly led a life of deep study, much more than necessary for his modest ministry post. His investment, however—years of learning Hebrew and Greek—was only appreciated in the centuries following his death.

The fruit of Morgan’s training was first seen in a book published in 1588, the year the Spanish Armada was defeated. From his humble study, Morgan produced the first full translation of the Bible into Welsh. This became a vital weapon in the spiritual battle for the Welsh nation.

There had been a New Testament in the language previously, but the translation was stunted and met with little success. Morgan, whose work encompassed a total revision of the New Testament and a complete translation of the Old, could not have known the impact he would have in centuries to come. For him, the logic was simple: The Welsh (who rarely understood English or Latin) should not be deprived of God’s Word. He believed that “unless religion is taught in the language of the people, there will be neither knowledge nor understanding of it.”

He also recognized that to reach a nation, much “behind the scenes” groundwork would have to be done— groundwork that he’d been trained for. He had been born “for such a time as this,” and he eagerly took up the lonely challenge of Hebrew and Greek vocabulary, interpretation, and translation.

The results of his labor not only saved the gospel from being lost in translation, it also strengthened the Welsh people. His Bible became a rich quarry from which the culture was built.

Slowly growing in influence over the seventeenth century, the Bible’s message was finally welded into the nation by the spiritual fire of the Methodist Revival, complete with scriptural preaching, hymn singing, and small group meetings. Moses, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, and Jesus himself now spoke Welsh—and not just in church, but in the open-air services of the Welsh contemporaries of George Whitefield and John Wesley.

The nineteenth century saw even greater advances, with the growing desire of the Welsh for more Bibles influencing the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. An eyewitness describes the enthusiasm of the Bible-hungry Welsh on receiving a fresh edition of the New Testament in 1806. They welcomed the cartload of Testaments as Israel did the ark of old, drew it into the town, and eagerly bore off every copy as rapidly as they could be dispersed. The young people were to be seen consuming the whole night in reading it. Laborers carried it with them to the fields.

William Morgan’s lifetime investment in study and tedious translation had paid off. The Bible had not only been translated into the Welsh language, it had transformed the Welsh heart.

 

Copyright © 2009 Revive magazine, Vol. 40, #3 “Bible Boredom,” by Life Action Ministries. Kevin Adams was born in South Wales and has authored two books and a film on Welsh revival history. He is the senior pastor of East Baptist Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.