A number of years ago I was given a copy of an old Spanish Bible that was translated in the heat and fervor of the Reformation (which was brutally put down in Spain by the Inquisition). It was 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. For this reason I began to investigate the unique circumstances of this Spanish translation by Casiodoro de Reina, published in 1569.
Have you ever come across footnotes in the Old Testament that say, “Hebrew obscure” or “Hebrew uncertain”? This is not due to any lack of content or clarity in the original text. Rather, it’s due to the fact that most of modern Hebrew scholarship simply does not know the precise meaning of many of the original idioms with any degree of certainty.
For hundreds of years, biblical Hebrew has been studied as a “dead” language (that is, 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 studying fossils or museum exhibits of long-extinct animals, versus studying living examples of the same species.
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 expelled from Spain in 1492, but it is estimated that only one-fourth of them left the Country 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 who spoke their own language to survive in Spain. Almost every Hebrew scholar since Casiodoro de Reina has learned Hebrew as a “dead” language, which was no longer spoken until the modern-day, ongoing resurrection of the Hebrew language, in Israel.
Fleeing from Persecution
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 so he 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, then 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. As with the Calvinists in Geneva, he had some words with the German Lutherans regarding this, then moved 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 local Consistory (the minutes of those meetings still exist).
Translations Born of Conscience and Adversity
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 – always staying just 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 a 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 these two translations have 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.