By Evan D. Burns
I just returned from Myanmar a few days ago where I was teaching an intensive class to MA students (who are mostly pastors). Because I am researching the spirituality of Adoniram Judson, I took time to travel with a guide to most of the identified Judson sites. Some are still there and others are covered with buildings. But the most impressive aspect of the Judson legacy was not the historical/archaeological places to be seen, but it was the superlative place that the Judson Bible still held in the minds and hearts of the Burmese people. In my quest to discover the heart of Judson’s piety, I have found that the Burmese Bible stands unrivaled as the gold standard for contextualized theological translation theory, and for evangelicals in Myanmar the Bible is their daily food. They speak of it as though it were just handed to them hot off the printing press for the very first time in their language. It’s amazing how the Judson Bible translation is still revered today, and even among the Buddhists and secular scholars. In some ways and to some extent, the Judson Bible has become for Burmese what Tyndale’s Bible was to the English language and what Luther’s Bible was to the German language.
I preached on July 13 in a Baptist church not too far from the jetty where the Judsons first landed 201 years earlier on July 13. I spoke of the doctrine of justification by faith and the rediscovery of the Word of God during the Reformation. Luther’s rediscovery of the centrality of the Scriptures became the ground in which the modern missionary movement grew and the ground upon which Judson and evangelical Bible translators have stood. Judson himself said it well:
Modern missions have been distinguished from the Roman Catholic, and, indeed, from all former missions since apostolic times, by honoring and sounding out the Word of God; and I do believe that those missions which give the highest place to the Divine Word will be most owned of God, and blessed with the influence of the Holy Spirit. There is only one book in the world which has descended from heaven; or, as I tell the Burmans, there is only one golden lamp which God has suspended from heaven to guide us thither.
Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 318-319; Wayland, Memoir, 2:126-127. For a very similar statement, consider Judson’s address at the ninth annual meeting of the American and Foreign Bible Society, held May 15, 1846; see: Middleditch, Burmah’s Great, 388-391; Wayland, Memoir, 2:235-238.
Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons. They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.