Little Wolf’s Bible

The Little Wolf’s Bible is a Bible translation by an early church figure named Wulfila, whose name means “little wolf.” He was born in 311 and died and 383. His main legacy to church history is his translation of the Bible into the Gothic language.

By birth, Wulfila was a Cappadocian, but he was raised as a Goth. There are conflicting stories about his life, so we are not sure how he came to be among the Goths; either his mother was taken captive by the Goths before he was born or he was captured shortly after he was born.

Early on, he converted to Christianity, and he became a leader in the church; in fact, he was appointed as a bishop among the Gothic peoples. However, Wulfila was part of a sect we call Arianism. Arians were followers of Arius, who taught the early church heresy that denied the deity of Christ. This was the issue at the fourth-century councils of Nicea and Constantinople. Arianism was answered in the Nicene Creed and was declared a heresy and ruled out of bounds.

While Wulfila was serving as a bishop, the Roman Emperor Constantius II was on the throne, and he favored the Arian position and the Arian bishops. Wulfila’s group was facing some persecution from other Gothic tribes, so Wulfila petitioned Constantius for some land to escape the trouble. Constantius granted his request, so Wulfila moved his group to a location near modern-day Bulgaria.

While there, Wulfila recognized that his people needed the Bible in their own language. So, he set about the work of translating the Bible into the Gothic language. But Wulfila faced a challenge: there was no written Gothic language. It was a spoken language only. It didn’t even have an alphabet. So, before he could translate the Bible, he first had to invent the Gothic alphabet. And then, he invented the written Gothic language. And only then could he set about translating the Bible.

Something curious about the Little Wolf’s Bible, however, is that there are a few books missing. Wulfila left out the Chronicles and Kings. Of course, some of the chapters in those books recall the military exploits of Israel, recalling those times when the kings would go out to war. Wulfila knew his own people very well, that they were fond of war. He didn’t want to encourage them in that regard, so he tried to keep those books away from them. Wulfila’s efforts were not entirely successful, as the Goths continued their warlike ways and soon brought an end to the Roman Empire.

And so, Wulfila comes to us in church history with a contested legacy. We are saddened that he held to the heresy of Arianism, but we are grateful for his commitment to bringing the Bible into the language of his people so that they could hear and understand God’s Word.

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