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The Reformation first secured a foothold in Germany and Holland. England was next, although at first this was motivated more by King Henry’s political dispute with the pope than by a desire for biblical teaching. In fact, although he had broken away from Rome and had become the head of the Church of England, he had taken with him all of Rome’s doctrines and practices.
Nonetheless, the king saw that it was virtually impossible to keep the Bible out of the hands of the common people, so he allowed English translations of the Bible to be placed in every parish.
These were times of upheaval, especially on the main continent of Europe. Henry read Tyndale’s 1528 book, The Obedience of a Christian Man, and thought that Bible study would make the people docile and obedient. In actuality, it turned every tavern into a house of debate, where everyone questioned the traditions of both church and state. The ideas of rulers’ rights and people’s liberties were front and foremost on their lips.
The general consensus among the people was that rulers were stewards who remained under God and were responsible to rule responsibly and righteously. If not, they had no right to rule. From the king’s point of view (derived from papal doctrine), the ruler was to be obeyed regardless of his righteousness, because God had appointed him king or pope, and this meant he had absolute authority, for better or for worse.
Henry soon issued a second edict forbidding people to read the Bible. Yet it was too late, for although he had penned the edict in his own handwriting, it was never issued or published. King Henry died in 1547, and his ten-year-old son Edward VI took the throne. Under his rule England’s break from Rome was solidified, and the council took steps to ensure a succession of monarchs who would remain Protestant.
More often than not, however, the monarchs thereafter were Roman Catholic inwardly while Protestant outwardly. Hence, the struggle persisted but was largely hidden in the background. Perhaps more to the point, the kings of England never renounced their view of the divine right of kings, which they had received through papal doctrine. In this, they were opposed by the Puritans who arose with their more biblical view of the divine right of King Jesus to establish or depose His steward monarchs.
Mary I reigned a short time from 1553-1558. As a Roman Catholic, she tried to reverse course and return England to submission to Rome, burning more than 300 Protestants in the course of five years. It was a time of great religious turbulence. Protestants called her “Bloody Mary.” After her death in 1558, her younger half-sister, Elizabeth took the throne, and her long reign is known as the Elizabethan Era.
The Geneva Bible
A year after Elizabeth took the throne in England, the Geneva Bible was published in 1559 in Switzerland. It was the first to be translated by a committee of English-speaking Calvinist scholars who had been exiled during the reign of “Bloody Mary.” Their notes reflected the conditions and events that were current in their time. Papal sovereignty had been fully ingrained in the minds of Roman Catholics since Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303). In his Unum Sanctum, he had written:
“Furthermore we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
Protestants contradicted that, insisting that all must be subject to Christ to receive salvation.
Within a generation, this Bible, with its footnotes and explanations, transformed the thinking of the common people. However, it had been published in Switzerland, and its distribution in England was somewhat limited. Yet it was the Bible that was used by the Pilgrims who later came to America in 1620.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the Geneva Bible was the most significant catalyst of the transformation of England, Scotland, and America from slavish feudalism to the heights of Christian civilization.” (The History and Impact of the Geneva Bible, p.1)
But the Geneva Bible was not without its critics, the chief of which was King James I of England, who objected to its notes that denied the divine right of kings. For example, we see the time preceding the birth of Moses, when the Pharaoh had ordered all of the male Israelite children to be cast into the Nile. Exodus 1:17-21 says,
17 Notwithstanding the midwives feared God, and did not as the King of Egypt commanded them, but preserved alive the men children. 18 Then the King of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done thus, and have preserved alive the men children? 19 And the midwives answered Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the women of Egypt; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come at them. 20 God therefore prospered the midwives, and the people multiplied, and were very mighty. 21 And because the midwives feared God, therefore he made them houses.
In the footnotes, the Geneva Bible comments on these verses, saying,
1:19 Their disobedience herein was lawful, but their dissembling evil.
1:21 That is, God increased the families of the Israelites by their means.
1:22 When tyrants cannot prevail by craft, they burst forth into open rage.
The King James Version
The Geneva Bible was revised and reprinted in 1599. King James I became king of England in 1603. He was furious with these notes in the Geneva Bible, which made disobedience lawful and calling the King of Egypt a “tyrant.” Hence, in 1604 he authorized the translation of a new Bible to replace the Geneva Bible. Published in 1611, the King James Version was first called the “Authorized Bible,” in 1814.
The 1611 Bible used the English letters that were standard at the time. Their “S” looked more like an “f.” Further, there was no letter “J” at the time, so Jesus was spelled “Iesus,” and Jew was spelled “Iewe.” The first use of the “J” was in the 1629 Cambridge revision, which also corrected about 1600 misprints, including the commandment, “Thou shalt commit adultery!” For that infraction, the earlier misprinted Bible was called “The Wicked Bible.”
The King James Version of today, though still somewhat antiquated in its language, is actually an update from 1873, known as the Cambridge Paragraph Bible, modernized and re-edited by F. H. A. Scrivener.
Although the KJV utilized much of the Geneva Bible translation, it left out the notes and simply gave the people an English text. Even so, nine years later the Pilgrims were still using the Geneva Bible when they came to America. Gradually, however, the KJV replaced the Geneva Bible and soon standardized the English language.
In the secular field of literature, we should also give credit to the final editor of the King James Bible, Sir Francis Bacon, the founder of two secret societies: Rosicrucianism for the upper class, and Freemasonry for the working class. He believed as well that good works should be done in secret, as Jesus suggested, so he wrote many great works of literature under the name of William Shakespeare, giving him credit for his plays.
He had a fine sense of humor and so in the middle chapter of the Bible (Psalm 46) he translated verses 3 and 9:
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder. He burneth the chariot in the fire.
This was a subtle signature of “Shakespeare,” who was 46 years old in 1610. At any rate, the literature of Shakespeare also shaped the language of literature and standardized the English vernacular.
Intellectual and Spiritual Skills
The Bible and Shakespeare’s plays not only provided motivation to become literate but also aided the development of cognitive skills. The tavern debates over the divine right of kings created an intellectual and spiritual revolution that previously had been limited mostly to academia. Protestantism had let the genie out of the bottle. Once men began to taste the freedom of thought and conscience, they took the responsibility upon themselves to learn the truth. No longer was truth determined by the pope or even by King Henry VIII.
They learned that all men were authorized to discover truth and to seek God for themselves. They learned that God wanted to have a personal (direct) relationship with each individual. Men did not have to know God indirectly from a distance through priests. Neither did salvation come through church membership or submission to men.
Of course, all authority comes with an equal level of responsibility. Protestantism gave authority to every individual to know truth. Catholicism had followed the earlier philosophies of the Greeks, which had come from the tradition that ultimate knowledge (truth) was not attainable. Hence, the church solution was to set apart a class of priests under a single head who presumably stood above ignorance and untruth. A thousand years of history, however, had produced only the Dark Ages, along with intellectual and spiritual oppression and bondage.
By restoring the right of individuals to seek God directly and to receive revelation directly from the word of God, the entire culture was turned on its head. But this new-found freedom was a mixed bag, because people were then free to believe lies as well as truth. True freedom, after all, is not the freedom to believe truth but to believe a lie. True freedom is not only the freedom to act wisely but also to act foolishly. Each person must take personal responsibility to the extent of his level of authority.
Papal authority was never eliminated because Catholics continued to revere their popes. But they could not help but be influenced by the new-found freedom, especially as Rome gave up ground as time passed. In the Vatican II Church Council, it officially gave up its attempt to stop Catholics from reading the Bible.
Today, many Catholics, having been given much freedom, have less reason to be Protestant, although now there is a rising groundswell of opposition against Pope Francis’ refusal to deal with pedophilia in the priesthood. If the pope does not do something about these clear abuses, he will have another Protestant Reformation on his hands.
More broadly speaking, European culture took two paths: secular and religious. The rise of Secular Socialism in the 1800’s blossomed in the 1900’s. Protestantism as a movement lost its spiritual roots as it embraced Socialism. The Evangelical and Pentecostal movements replaced Protestantism as the carriers of the gospel of Christ, though not without internal disputes.
The success of Socialism has finally alarmed these Christians, beginning primarily with the legalization of abortion in 1973, followed by America’s bicentennial (1976), which began to create a nostalgia to reestablish the Christian roots of the American Republic. This, I believe, was the beginning of the next (third) Great Awakening, which is now erupting and causing consternation among the Socialists who claim that their latest version of “American values” is the valid one.
The current struggle has its roots in the two different paths of knowledge and truth that opened up to the common people during the Protestant Reformation. Those who sought the knowledge of God developed science in order to understand God through His creation. Those who sought knowledge as a secular matter sought to disprove the existence of God through Darwin’s theory.
Secularism won the battle in the past century, because over all, the beast systems of government, beginning with the fall of Jerusalem in 604 B.C., were still empowered by divine contract to bring judgment upon the world. The beast dominion, however, ended in October 2017, as I have explained so often previously. We now stand at the beginning of a major spiritual shift that will bring the next Great Awakening.
We now prepare for that seismic shift, for it will usher in the Kingdom of God in a greater manifestation than has ever been seen in past history.