Dumitru Cornilescu: Former Priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church

Dumitru Cornilescu was born in 1891 in the village of Slasoma in the Mehedinti province. His father was a teacher, and his grandfathers both on his mother’s and father’s side were priests.  He felt the call to enter the priesthood and went to Bucharest to study theology.

Dumitru was unhappy with the formalism and rituals.  He desired to undertake serious study in order to gain a proper understanding of Christianity.  The director of the theological seminary saw his desire and gave him a list of foreign religious literature.  He proposed that he obtain and read them.  This began the process for Dumitru of becoming a true believer.

He read books in English, French, and German.  He determined that they all described one specific form of Christian living completely distinct from the religious life that he witnessed in his country.  Soon he got the idea to translate these books and bind them into a modern journal.  He produced an entire volume of these works from translations of authors such as Frank Thomas, F. Bettex, R.A. Torrey, S.D. Gordon, J.H.M. Conkey, George Muller, C.H. MacIntosh, and others.

During the years of his theological study, Dumitru Cornilescu attached himself to the church of

St. Stefan in Bucharest, which at that time was called “the Stork’s Nest”.  The priest at that church was Tudor Popsecu, a youth with strong moral conduct and a talented gift of speech.  His sermons attracted many people, among whom were renowned intellectuals from major cities.  Tudor Popescu appointed Cornilescu as deacon and gave him the authority to publish books under the church’s name.

Among other books that he read and translated carefully, Cornilescu paid special attention to passages from the Bible.  Specifically, he tried to read the Bible in the Romanian language, but he was unable to do so.  Even though he did not understand these pages, he had a strange affection for the authors of the Bible.  Gradually, he realized the problem was not with the Bible, but rather the Romanian translation.  The idea came to the passionate translator: why not create a new translation of the Bible, one that the common man could understand?  He also realized, though, that such a task would require many years of work.  He could not afford such an effort himself.

However, God was working in many areas at the same time.  Just in time, a lady from the upper class of Romanian society named Princess Raluka Kalimaki was in Switzerland with her husband Kantakuzin Pashkanie.  He was chairman of the Conservative Chamber of Romania at that time.

The Princess attended religious fellowships in Geneva and repented through personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  She realized the great value for her nation in understanding the Bible.  She had just received a large inheritance from her mother and decided to invest it in printing the Bible in Romanian.

Once she returned to Romania, she began negotiations with several church officials to realize this project.  Some of them told her that a new Bible translation into Romanian from the existing Old Church Slavonic translation was unnecessary.  They told her she should consider funding an entirely new Bible translation from the original Hebrew and Greek languages into modern Romanian language.

The Princess began her search for a translation and found Dumitru Cornilescu.  He had finished college in 1916 and was ordained as a celibate priest in Husa.  According to the agreement between Princess Kalimaki and Bishop Nicodemus, two days after his ordination, Cornilescu moved to the village of Staucesti in the region of Botostani.  There he began to translate the Bible.

After continuous work for four years, he was ready to release his translation of the Bible.  In the year 1920, he published in Bucharest Psalms, or “Psalms of King David”, under the auspices of the Romanian Evangelical Society under Gutenberg Publishing.  He published the entire New Testament in 1921 and a complete Bible later that same year.

While working on the translation of the Bible, Cornilescu read other books to help him understand the biblical test.  This reading brought Cornilescu to an understanding of the work God has done through His Son Jesus Christ for our salvation and how this salvation can be made available.

Fortunately for us, Cornilescu later wrote a book in which he describes how he came to the knowledge of divine truth.  Here are some quotes from his book How I Turned to God and Told Others About It:

“I studied in school to become a priest.  I did not know what it meant to have a personal Savior.  I had love for Him, but I did not know Him.  One day, the director of the school gave me a catalog with many religious books from abroad.  I was shocked to see how many titles of Christian books existed, when at that time we had access to very few.

I ordered them and began to read them.  As I read them, I saw that all discussed one special way of Christian living which was quite different from the religious life around us.  More and more, I got excited about this life and told myself, ‘This will be my ministry when I become a priest: to make known this life to our people.’  But how?

I could not wait to become a priest, so I immediately began to translate passages and sometimes even whole books and sent them to all the religious journals in our country.  I waited to see the life of which they had spoken, but this life did not come.  I began to read and think deeply.  I

became aware that these spokes spoke of a single book: the Bible.  They said that everyone should have a Bible, to read it daily, and to live according to its teachings.  Up to that time, I had done this and began to read the Bible on a daily basis.  After several days, I did not enjoy the Bible.  The Bible translation which I read was very awkward and difficult to understand.  But when I began to read it in another language, I began to understand and truly enjoy it.

I said to myself that if my people need to learn the Christian way of life from the Bible, then they should be able to read a translation they can understand.  So I started to think that I should translate it myself.

I began to translate the Gospel of Matthew for myself.  Quickly it became apparent that I did not have enough money to publish it.

At that time, I constantly did translations and printed a little booklet.  I printed one such calendar with a Christian devotional for each day.  Someone sent the calendar to Princess Kalimaki in Geneva, and she was very excited.  When she returned to Romania, she asked me to visit her.  I told her that I was considering making a new translation of the Bible.  ‘That is exactly what I was thinking about,’ she responded.  She had inherited a large sum of money that she was devoting toward exactly this goal: spreading the Bible throughout our country.

When I was working on the translation of the New Testament, I was supposed to look up the meaning of every word in the Greek dictionary.  Then I came to the conclusion that my ideas of the simplest spiritual terms were changing.  For example, I discovered that the Bible says very much about sin.  I recognized that sin is something very terrible in the eyes of God since He says so much about it.

I had always believed that sin was something bad in the eyes of God, but I did not know exactly what.  I thought murders were sinners who belonged in jail.  But then I read in the Bible: ‘But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother [without a cause] shall be in danger of the judgment.’  (Matthew 5:22)   I was stunned for I knew that everyone was angry with someone every day.

When I came to the verse in Romans which states that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), I was not able to reconcile myself with it.  I said, ‘I do not understand why the Bible says that all have sinned.  Even if I do not know someone else, I know myself.  I have never killed anyone, nor have I been in prison, so I cannot consider myself a sinner.’  I did not understand that verse and moved on.

Then I came to the verse: ‘No one is righteous…  There is no one who does good.” (Romans 3:11a, 12b)  I was a little bit angry at the verse.  ‘I cannot believe this,’ I said.  I know many people who have done many good things.  And if you do not know someone else, I know myself.  I myself have done many good things, such as sharing books, contributing charity on behalf of God, and others.  And now, I am doing one very good work: translating the Bible into the language of my people.  Why then does the Bible say, ‘No one does good’?

I did not understand, so I moved on.  Later I reached the verse that states ‘the wages of sin is death’.  I smiled and responded, ‘It is impossible to believe such things, for the whole world is dying: both good and evil people.  What sort of wages do the good receive?’  Only when I came to the verse in Revelations 20:14 that mentions ‘the second death’, in other words the Lake of Fire, I understood: this is the death for the wages of sin.  It was frightening.  I wanted to know who was included in the Lake of Fire.  When I saw that it included murderers (Revelation 20:8),

I said, ‘Very well, murderers deserve to be there because they are sinners.’

I took another look and, to my great surprise, there were also liars.  So is lying such a great sin that it merits the same punishment as murder?  But everyone tells a lie every single day, and not only one lie, but many different lies.  If that is the case, well I have told many lies in my life.  Now I was firmly convinced that I was a sinner, but I was not such a sinner who deserved to go the Lake of Fire.  Fear seized me and I kept saying, ‘I do not want to go there.’

At that time, I did not know the way to salvation.  I did not know what to do to escape the Lake of Fire.  I investigated further.  When I came to the verse in Romans that states ‘being justified freely’, I thought to myself: bizarre!  This book is full of contradictions.  So far, I see that all are sinners, condemned to death, and now suddenly they are ‘justified freely’.  I wondered: what is going on here?

I read the verse very carefully and noted a difference.  Yes, ‘justified freely by His grace – on the basis of the redemption of Jesus Christ, whom God sent forth as propitiation by His blood.’

(Romans 3:24b-25)   I said to myself, ‘Did Jesus Christ die for sin?  I was taught in school that He died for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2)!  But what benefit do I have if I am a sinner and my sins are not forgiven?  However, if He died for the sins of the whole world, then He also died for my sins.  I see in this book that there is forgiveness of sin if Christ died for me.’  This was the first step.

The second step was the revelation that we do not have a dead but a living Savior with whom we can have contact.  He died for our sins, but He also resurrected to justify us.  And now He is the living Savior.  I encountered the greatest joy in knowing that He is not only a living friend with whom I could converse, but with the power of the living Savior, I have the power to conquer sin, for He broke the power of my enemy through His resurrection.

I thought about our sinful nature, that we cannot be otherwise, we want to sin, but I experienced my joy when it was revealed to me that there exists such a strong force to conquer sin.  I accepted Him as my living Savior.

Finally, I realized that He is Lord.  Lord means master.  He is the Master, and I am His slave.  No longer belonging to myself, but everything I have and am belongs to Him.  So I accepted Him as Lord and personal Master, whose commands I should obey and listen.  He is such a wonderful Lord and Master in whom you can completely trust!

In this manner I came to God!  Now I knew that I was born again, that I was a child of God.  I no longer read the Bible with the doubts I had earlier: Is it possible?  Is it true?  Now the questions were utterly different: ‘Do I live up to what this Book requires of me?  Do I share the motives that this Book teaches?’

However, there was one difficulty.  I was the only person who dedicated his life to the new way.  I read other books which confirmed all of this.  But all of it was – books.  I began to think, ‘This way of life is very nice.  But perhaps it is just my imagination, for I only received this life through reading and studying the Bible?’

However, now I started to look at verses in a new light.  Immediately one verse came to mind in Philippians 4:6: ‘But in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God.’  I said, ‘Lord, I cannot say that I am an unbeliever.  I believe everything You say.  But I do not know if I am on the right path.  Please give me a chance to see some soul who comes to you in the same way, so that I can be convinced that I am on the right path.’

I prayed.  After three months, one morning, two young men from military school came to ask me how to prepare best for death.  They went to the front and did not know whether they would return dead or alive.  Truthfully, they were ready to die!  As a priest, I needed to know that they were ready for death.  I answered, ‘Yes, it is good that you have come now, for if you had come three months ago, I would not have known how to answer you.  Christ died for your sins, and if you believe in Him and accept Him for yourselves, if you surrender your hearts and lives into His hands, you will have forgiveness sins and be saved.  If you go to the front and die, the Savior will await you and receive you unto Himself.  But if you return alive, you will have the obligation to tell others so that they too might be saved from death.’

They received the news with joy.  They accepted it, returned to the barracks, and told others they were saved and their sins were forgiven.  Some of them laughed, but others wanted to hear more.  The following week, they brought other men, and I told them about the truth.  Some of them decided to follow the Lord.  After some period of time, a good number of souls were chosen for the Lord…”

The Bible translation of Dimitru Cornilescu today is the most popular translation used among Protestants and Neoprotestants.  This translation is not approved by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church because Cornilescu had left the church and became one of the founders of the Romanian Evangelical Church.  The popularity of this translation is demonstrated by its large number of republications (1931, 1942, 1946, new revision in 1989 with republications in 1990, 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2005).

The translation of the Bible into modern Romanian language, the same language spoken in the first quarter of the twentieth century, was done by Cornilescu because of the difficulty of the other existing Bible translation at the time.  The existing translation was in archaic Romanian in Old Slavonic letters.

After major doctrinal disputes with people of higher theological circles at that time, Cornilescu was advised by Patriarch Miron Kristea himself to flee Romania.  For this reason, Cornilescu moved to Switzerland in 1923 and remained there until his death in 1975.

Cornilescu devoted his whole live to preaching and writing about the need to return to God.  Pastors and believers from many churches in Romania and the US wrote him letters with deep gratitude to God.  They expressed great appreciation for the blessings brought into their lives and the lives of the Romanian people by his Bible translation.  Believers expressed their respect for the one who put into the hands of the Romanian people in the homeland and diaspora the Bible, the Book of Books, God’s Word, in the clearest and most beautiful Romanian language.

Millions of copies of Cornilescu’s Bible translation have been printed.  It is present everywhere in the world where the Romanian language is spoken.

For this reason, Cornilescu became known as “the Luther of Romania.”