October 31, 2015
The Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Wittenburg Church door. ( see The Knock Heard 'Round The World) The first settlers and pilgrims brought the religious freedom obtained because of the Reformation to America's shores and used it in the formation of American governance from the very beginning. (see Jamestown: A City Upon A Hill and Thanks Be To God) These events could not have been as impactful or even possible if it had not been first for the invention of the printing press.
During the 13th Century, Chinese "block-printing" reached Western civilization and was eagerly embraced. It was effective and allowed for multiple copies of documents to be made at the same time. But since each new print needed to be carved out of wood, which usually split after some use, the practice was very time consuming and extremely expensive.
In the early 15th century, former stonecutter and goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg decided there had to be a more productive, cost effective way to print material. Adapting the concept of block-printing, Gutenberg first developed a sturdy material that would cast well and be durable in a press. Instead of molding full pages or even words, Gutenburg reduced the blocks to one letter each that could be easily rearranged as needed. Words and sentences could be quickly edited without having to re-block the entire page. This allowed the letters to have a much longer printing life than the limited use wooden blocks advanced by the Chinese. In addition to discovering a more efficient way to set type, Gutenberg had to also develop printing ink, the setting of type, the press itself, binding for the books and putting all these steps together.
Since he was using borrowed money and knew his first project needed to be his most important, as it may be his only one, Gutenberg chose the Bible. The first Gutenberg Bible consisted of two volumes of which around 200 copies were made. He first sold them at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1455 for the cost of three times the average clerks salary.
Over the next 50 years, acquisition of the printing press spread across Europe. By the turn of the century, about 2500 cities had one of the coveted machines. The advancement, disbursement, and ease of obtaining information because of the printing press has only been equaled by the invention of the internet.
Yet, for his efforts, Gutenberg died in poverty. His financial backer and business partner, Johann Fust, lost patience with Gutenberg, complaining he was just spending money and not producing the promised Bibles. Fust sued Gutenberg for the return of his investment. The court sided with Fust and ordered the printing press, equipment and half of the completed Bibles be turned over to Fust. Gutenberg eventually began a second printing shop but all financial gains from his most prized project were gone.
By the time Luther came along the effectiveness of the printing press was immeasurable. When Luther posted his 95 theses, it received little more than a quick glance from those who read the local "bulletin board," possibly because the document was written in Latin. Several of Luther's friends recognized the importance of his statement and translated it into German. It was because of the printing press, though, that the translated pamphlet was able to spread across Germany in two weeks and throughout all of Europe in two months. The printing press allowed for Luther's arguments to go from a local, confined discussion to a European wide movement.
As I stated in "The Knock Heard 'Round The World," Bibles at the time were primarily written in Latin. Before the printing press, Bibles were hand written which took years to produce just one. Even though Gutenberg's Bible was a little more accessible, it was still in Latin. Luther realized this fact helped give the church the power they had over the people in their spiritual knowledge. Just as he was able to examine the Bible and understand God's word through personal study, Luther wanted to give that same opportunity to the German people. While in exile, Luther translated the Bible into German using the original Greek and Hebrew as his sources.
There were earlier translations in German, but even with the printing press there were other obstacles in their way of widespread distribution. One main hindrance was Archbishop Berthold of Mainz. He claimed it was not possible to accurately convey the proper meaning of God's word from Greek or Latin into German. He also proclaimed laymen and women were not able to understand the Bible anyway. Because of this on January 4, 1486, he prohibited the unauthorized printing of any sacred or scholarly books, specifically the German Bible, in his diocese.
There were prints made of the other Bibles, but with the Reformation and Luther's ability to pull together High German and Low German language, his translation spread across Germany as quickly as his 95 theses. (see Here I Stand) Hans Lufft, a German printer and publisher in Wittenberg, began printing Luther's first complete edition of the Bible in 1534. It is estimated about 100,000 copies were printed over the next 40 years, which was an extraordinary amount for that time. This does not include the immeasurable number of copies from reprints. The Gospel was delivered to millions of people through God's written word at a rate never before experienced in history.
Johannes Cochlaeus, a German humanist, champion of Romanism, and leading opponent of Luther, offhandedly complimented Luther's translation when he lamented that "Luther's New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity."
This statement highlights how the Bible and Gospel was "spread by printers", a notion not reasonably obtainable before the printing press.
While Luther ministered to the Germans, other reformers such as John Calvin, were leading the English Protestant Reformation. Just as Luther had to go into hiding in Germany, English reformers were forced to flee to Geneva, Switzerland, for protection from the church and crown. Several English scholars gathered and like Luther, returned to the original texts for their translation. The result was the Geneva Bible that was first printed in 1560. This Bible was extremely significant because for the first time it included chapters and verses. This allowed the reader to cross-reference one verse with other related verses. The Geneva Bible also included scriptural study guides, book introductions, maps, tables, illustrations and comments from reformers. To include all these features was just not practical before the printing press. Because of all these attributes, the Geneva Bible became known as the very first Study Bible.
England began printing the Geneva Bible in 1575 and it was the first Bible ever to be printed in Scotland beginning in 1579. That same year Scotland passed a law requiring every household that was able to buy a copy. By that time the printing press had made the cost so low that even the lowest-paid laborers could obtain one for less than a week's wages.
All this had to take place as it did so when Captain John Smith came to the New World in 1607, he would be able to bring his copy of the Geneva Bible with him. Ministers, such as Rev. Alexander Whitaker, who came to witness to the Native Americans were able to easily bring their Bibles as well. (see The Apostle Of Virginia)
Years later the pilgrims, under the leadership of William Bradford and his 1592 Geneva Bible, built their civilization around God's instructions. This is very evident in the Mayflower Compact as illustrated in "Thanks Be To God."
Liberty, when studying history it is evident that God's will is always being done. God's timing is perfect. The printing press had to be invented and established before Luther posted his 95 theses. His actions would have been completely insignificant if his friends had not started distributing his words with the help of the printing press. Once that Pandora's Box was open, Europe began to spread the Gospel in various languages. By the time the first settlers, as well as the pilgrims, ventured to the New World, sometimes the only possession they brought was their copy of the Bible.
We can not always expect visible results of our efforts in our lifetime. The process from the invention of the printing press until the Geneva Bible hit the shores of America took over 150 years. Furthermore, Gutenberg and many of the reformers died poor men. Our mission is not about money, though, it is about souls. And just like Gutenberg, Luther, Calvin, Smith, Whitaker and Bradford, we all have our parts to play. You were born at this time for a purpose. Just remember to keep your focus on His glory and not yours.
That’s my 2 cents.
ALL IN DUE TIME