The story behind the popular English version of this classic hymn is both complicated and amazing. The first two verses were just a part of a poem (O Store Gud) written in Swedish by Carl Boberg in 1886. These verses were later combined with a traditional Swedish folk melody. Next O Store Gud was translated into German and then Russian where it became popular in protestant hymnals in the early twentieth century. This may seem surprising to those of us raised on this hymn assuming it to have been written in English. (Some people assume Elvis Presley to be the author). In fact the first English translation done by E Gustav Johnson survives to this day titled “Great God” in the Covenant Hymnal with all nine verses of Boberg’s original poem!
Our familiar version was translated by English missionary Stuart Hine who heard it in its Swedish version while travelling in the Ukraine. He used the Swedish melody, translated the first two verses then added verses three and four completing our now familiar four stanzas. To me the inspiration of this hymn now translated into most of the languages in the world is nothing short of miraculous and a testimony to God’s greatness just as the chorus says. I pray you will be blessed to know a small bit of the story and to share again the music and words with your family.