By John Pierce

Bethlehem is best known for a baby of great significance who was born there. With many festivities we celebrate that event this time of year.

But can you name a lesser but important soul who died there?

Beneath the rambling buildings that make up the Church of the Nativity, the Church of St. Catherine and related facilities is a series of caves — including one that “tradition” (that’s code word for nobody knows) regards as the birthplace of Jesus.

However, there is no guesswork in knowing that in those caves a significant step toward making the Bible more accessible occurred. There St. Jerome, recognized widely in Christendom for his work, translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.

The Latin Vulgate, completed by 405, provided the first version of the Bible in the vernacular of the masses. It is from the Latin Vulgate that the earliest English translations came.

His was a massive task that kept Jerome holed up in a two-room Bethlehem cave for three decades of devoted work.

Jerome died in Bethlehem in 420. Reportedly, he was buried in one of the caves there but later his remains were moved.

For a large chunk of the Church’s history, the Bible was unavailable to individual disciples. It required the passing along of biblical stories orally and interpretations of the texts from the few who had access to them.

Having the Bible available in the languages of the people, and having copies in the hands of individuals, has allowed for personal study of Holy Scripture. Of course, like all good things, there is room for abuse.

Some treat the Bible as the object of their faith rather than a means that leads to greater faith in a living God.

Others make claims about the Bible’s authority that the scriptures do not make for themselves. Then they equate such authority of scripture with their own interpretations of scripture.

And history is replete, sadly, with evil carried out in the wrongful name of biblical truth.

Yet when the Bible is read humbly, carefully, prayerfully and thoughtfully for inspiration, insight and conviction, such good things can and do occur.

However, when selectively choosing texts to justify one’s predetermined positions and arrogantly advancing them with supposed divine authority, the results are often ugly and abusive.

Bible reading and preaching are wonderfully important — when done in the spirit of the One born in Bethlehem, who is the fullest revelation of God and through whom all scripture is best interpreted.

Thank God for faithful and determined Jerome and others who labored (and some who still do) long and hard to get the Bible into so many languages and hands.

God help us to not abuse such a gift that has a far greater purpose than being wrongly used to assume divine endorsement of our personal opinions and ingrained prejudices. That greater purpose is to change us for good, not to provide a means for our attempts at changing others to be like us.

I’ve often asked myself as well as others a piercing question: When is the last time you read the Bible and changed your mind about something?


The January issue of Baptists Today, just sent to press, is choked full of writings by Tony Cartledge, Bruce Gourley, Steve Pressley and myself about Israel — from its history to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Articles include: “SEE ROCK CITIES: Indeed, these stones can talk?,” “WHERE WAS JESUS? Historical evidence vs. holy hype,” “NARRATIVES: Voices from both sides,” “Politics, peoples and prophecies,” and “PILGRIMAGE: Images and Reflections.”

Those interested in a closer look at these issues and others may subscribe (print or digital subscriptions) at or by calling (478) 301-5655. Also, gifts subscriptions make wonderful Christmas presents that continue all year. Thanks!

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