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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "How the Bible Came to Us." To view all parts, click the link below.
The early church promoted the study of the word, because it was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ was the word made flesh, and the people were instructed to eat His flesh (John 6:53) in order to have life. The problem was that the liberty to study the word independently created the problem of disunity, because this brought about many disagreements.
The fourth century saw the rise of Constantine, who favored the church but wanted to unify the sprawling empire. In the early years of his reign, the Arian controversy arose, which divided the church between Trinitarians and Arians. Broadly speaking, the Trinitarians believed that the Father and Son were co-equal in both substance and authority; the Arians believed that Son was equal in substance but was subordinate to the Father in His authority.
Constantine sought to unify the church, even as he wanted to unify the empire as a whole. So he called for a church council to determine the truth by a consensus of bishops. This set the precedent that the church had the right to determine truth on behalf of ordinary believers, and that its view of truth would be enforced by the power of the state.
It was assumed that the consensus of bishops was also backed by the Holy Spirit, whether or not those bishops were truly led by the Spirit. Unfortunately, history shows that many of them were religious but carnally minded, more interested in imposing their views upon others than by seeking the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Power politics also got in the way, and many were bribed to secure votes.
Giving bishops the right to determine truth meant, in practice, that the people no longer had the right to discern truth for themselves. The only right they were given was the right to agree with the bishops. The Holy Spirit was ordered to work through the bishops but not through the people themselves. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience began to be eroded and finally eliminated altogether. The church began to enslave the people, violating the principles of life and liberty promoted by the law of God.
Not until the Protestant Reformation would Europe see the light of freedom. Not until the arrival of the printing press would the word of God, translated into the common tongues of men, be returned to the common people.
The Little Book
Revelation 10:1, 2 describes this historic event, saying,
1 And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. 2 And he had in his hand a little book which was open.
The angel, I believe, was Peniel, and the book was The Book, the Bible, which, up to the time of the printing press (1452) had been very large and closed to the common people. But the Mongol invaders had brought from China the technology of printing. China, however, lacked an alphabet, so they were forced to create thousands of individual words made of clay. Johannes Gutenberg, living in Mainz (Germany), had a small alphabet to use and made these letters out of metal. Thus, he printed the first Bible in “a little book.”
In 1462 the attack on Mainz by soldiers of the Archbishop of Nassau, forced printers to flee that city. In this manner their printing skills became spread over Europe. By the year 1500 there were over 1000 printing presses in 250 cities of Europe, including 60 in Germany. By that same year over 9 million copies of 30,000 different books had been printed.
In 1466 William Tyndale translated the New Testament directly from the Greek text now available to him. He also translated the Old Testament directly from the original Hebrew into English, and his New Testament was used in The Coverdale Bible in 1536.
Tyndale had said, “I will cause a boy that driveth a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the pope.” Again he asked, “By what right doth the pope forbid God to speak in the English tongue? Why should not the Sermons of the Apostles, preached no doubt in the mother-tongue of those who heard them, be now written in the mother-tongue of those who read them?”
Tyndale was finally burned at the stake. We read in the book, History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin, by J. H. Merle d’Aubigne,
“In August 1536 Tyndale appeared before the ecclesiastical court. ‘You are charged,’ said his judges, ‘with having infringed the imperial decree which forbids any one to teach that faith alone justifies.’ The accusation was not without truth. Tyndale’s Unjust Mammon had just appeared in London under the title: Treatise of Justification by Faith Only. Every man could read in it the crime with which he was charged.”
On October 6, 1536 Tyndale died joyfully as a martyr for the Word of God. J. H. Merle d’ Aubigne continues,
“The joy of hope filled his heart; yet one painful idea took possession of him. Dying far from his country, abandoned by his king, he felt saddened at the thought of that prince, who had already persecuted so many of God’s servants, and who remained obstinately rebellious against that divine light which everywhere shone around him. Tyndale would not have that soul perish through carelessness. His charity buried all the faults of the monarch; he prayed that those sins might be blotted out from before the face of God; he would have saved Henry VIII at any cost. While the executioner was fastening him to the post, the reformer exclaimed in a loud and suppliant voice, ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!’ They were his last words. Instantly afterwards he was strangled, and flames consumed the martyr’s body.”
The Bible rapidly became an open book. It was no longer merely a priestly book that was closed to the laity. All of this was a direct result of the “strong angel” sent by God to change the course of history.
In 1536 the king of England authorized the Coverdale Bible to be printed. It was Tyndale’s translation. It was presented to King Henry VIII to get permission to distribute it in England. Continuing, we read,
“Henry ran over the book: Tyndale’s name was not in it, and the dedication to his Majesty was very well written. The king regarding (and not without reason) Holy Scripture as the most powerful engine to destroy the papal system, and believing that this translation would help him to emancipate England from the Romish domination, came to an unexpected resolution: he authorized the sale and the reading of the Bible throughout the kingdom. Inconsistent and whimsical prince! At one and the same time he published and imposed all over his realm the doctrines of Romanism, and circulated without obstacle the Divine Word that overthrew them! We may well say that the blood of a martyr, precious in the eyes of the Supreme King, opened the gates of England to the Holy Scriptures….
“For centuries the English people had been waiting for such permission, even from before the time of Wycliff; and accordingly, the Bible circulated rapidly…. This great event, more important than divorces, treaties, and wars, was the conquest of England by the Reformation…. Whoever possessed the means bought the book and read it or had it read to him by others. Aged persons learnt their letters in order to study the Holy Scriptures of God. In many places there were meetings for reading; poor people dubbed their savings together and purchased a Bible, and then in some remote corner of the church, they modestly formed a circle and read the Holy Book between them. A crowd of men, women, and young folks, disgusted with the barren pomp of the altars, and with the worship of dumb images, would gather round them to taste the precious promises of the Gospel. God Himself spoke under the arched roofs of those old chapels or time-worn cathedrals, where for generations nothing had been heard but masses and litanies. The people wished, instead of the noisy chants of the priests, to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, of Paul and of John, of Peter and of James. The Christianity of the Apostles reappeared in the Church.”
The Coverdale Bible (1536) was followed by the Geneva Bible (1560) and later the King James Bible (1611). Just as important as their publications was the fact that they were “authorized” by the monarchs, so that it was no longer illegal to read the Scriptures. This is what truly “opened” the little book, as prophesied by John.
During the Philadelphia era, many great missionary societies were established in the 1790's and into the 1800's. In 1792 the Baptist Missionary Society was established. Three years later the London Missionary Society was founded. In 1797 came the Wesleyan Missionary Society. In 1800 came the Anglican Church Missionary Society. In 1804 came the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1806 came the Hibernian Bible Society of Ireland. In 1816 came the American Bible Society. In 1861 came the National Bible Society of Scotland.
This began the great missionary movements of the next 200 years, which spread the word of God into all parts of the world. This fulfilled the Word to the Church of Philadelphia, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation 3:8). He that had the key of David had opened a new door (Revelation 3:7), giving Christians of all denominations the opportunity to spread the Gospel to all parts of the world.
Up to that time, only Roman Catholicism had had opportunity to spread the gospel to other parts of the world, but they had spread their message primarily through conquest, rather than by love. Furthermore, they spread religion with very little understanding of the word. Their focus was to put men in submission to the pope, rather than to Christ, for they could see no difference. They did not comprehend—and still do not—the story of King Saul and how the people had rejected the rule of God, as we read in 1 Samuel 8:7.
Pope Leo XII (1823-1835) wrote of the Roman church’s attempt to stop the spread of Scripture. His words are recorded in Cormenin's Complete History of the Popes, Vol. II, pp. 426-427,
“There is a sect, my brethren, who, arrogating wrongfully to themselves the name of philosophy, have rekindled from their ashes the dispersed phalanxes of errors. This sect, covered externally by the flattering appearances of piety and liberality, professes toleration, or rather indifference, and interferes not only with civil affairs, but even with those of religion; teaching that God has given entire freedom to every man, so that each one can, without endangering his safety, embrace and adopt the sect or opinion which suits his private judgment.... This doctrine, though seducing and sensible in appearance, is profoundly absurd; and I cannot warn you too much against the impiety of these maniacs...
“What shall I say more? The iniquity of the enemies of the Holy See is so increased, that besides the deluge of pernicious books with which they inundate Europe, it goes so far as to turn the religion of the holy scriptures to detriment. A society, commonly called the Bible Society, spreads itself audaciously over the whole earth, and in contempt of the traditions of the holy fathers, in opposition to the celebrated decree of the council of Trent, which prohibits the holy scriptures from being made common, it publishes translations of them in all the languages of the world. Several of our predecessors have made laws to turn aside this scourge; and we also, in order to acquit ourselves of our pastoral duty, urge the shepherds to remove their flocks carefully from these mortal pasturages.... Let God arise: let him repress, confound, annihilate this unbridled license of speaking, writings, and publishing—.”
This ban on Bible translations remained in effect at least until the Roman Church officially gave up trying to suppress the Scriptures in the 1890's. Even so, it was not until Vatican II in the early 1960's that the Roman Church stopped trying to prevent Catholics from reading the Bible. The Church then simply stopped talking about those earlier “infallible” decrees banning the Scriptures and pretended that they had always advocated the study of the word. The Roman Church could not close this open door that God had opened, so they joined the crowd and pretended that the door had never been locked.
The Renaissance and Protestantism had risen at the same time. The Renaissance was begotten through the classical Greek literature brought to Europe after the fall of Constantinople (1453). Protestantism was begotten through the Greek Scriptures that had been brought to Europe at the same time.
The Renaissance, in turn, begat Socialism, which was a secular attempt to establish liberty without God. The goal of the Protestants was to establish liberty by the word of God. The Socialist principle was to take from the rich and give it to the poor by the principle of fairness. The Protestant principle was to establish the right to own one’s labor, based on the commandment, “You shall not steal” (Deuteronomy 5:19).
Inevitably, these two principles clashed philosophically in the 1800’s and violently in the 1900’s with the rise of Socialism’s ungodly son, Communism. Communism assumed the right to determine truth, much as the church bishops had done earlier. Hence, just as the bishops had removed from the common people the right to hear God for themselves and to read the word of God, so also did the Communists.
Whereas the church quarantined the Bible in churches and monasteries, the Communists banned it outright and sought to eradicate belief in God Himself.
Communism was discredited thirty years ago from an economic standpoint, but we now see the rise of the censorship and “cancel culture.” These are simply modern words for old problems. The right to free speech has been redefined as the right to agree with the official narrative of government and the mainstream press. But freedom is not the right to agree but to disagree.
The age-old goal is to unify the empire in the same manner as seen with Constantine and later with the unification of the church. The Bible establishes love as the foundation of unity. The alternative is to sacrifice love on the altar of unity. When love takes a back seat, we see persecution. The empires of this world did it. The church did it. The Communists did it. Now we see it in America through the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.
If we do not repent and return to the word of God (with understanding), we will again plunge into the darkness of past ages. For this reason, I am called to teach the word and to give clarity and understanding to the best of my ability. My best efforts will fail, however, unless the Holy Spirit is poured out in a big way. If signs do not follow the preaching of the word (Mark 16:17), if the power of the Holy Spirit remains hidden among the few, we will enter another time of tribulation that is comparable to what we have seen in past history.
But I am confident that the Holy Spirit will indeed be poured out soon, and that a Golden Era will emerge, where the word of God is proven by experience and by demonstration. The light of the word will shine brightly, and in the end the Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh (Joel 2:28 KJV).
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "How the Bible Came to Us." To view all parts, click the link below.