Bible and the Protestant Reformation

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The 15th and early 16th centuries were a time of significant intellectual change throughout Europe. This change directly affected the Bible’s availability in the vernacular language to the average reader. A significant 15th-century development was the printing press, which sped both the transmission of ideas and the production of texts. During the early years of printing, the Latin Bible was pretty popular. But after the Gutenberg Bible was printed in Germany’s Mainz around 1455, more than 90 other editions of the Vulgate, including some that had commentary, originated from presses across Europe.

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation aimed to return to a faith and practice that was more aligned with the Bible’s teachings. According to them, allegiance to a church wasn’t necessary to understand God. Instead, they argued that individual study of scripture was needed. This triggered a surge in the creation of new editions of the Bible. These Bibles printed during the Protestant Reformation were just as vital as the individuals who directed and drove the movement. Given below are some notable Bibles of the era.

The Erasmus Bible

Erasmus of Rotterdam was a renowned scholar of his age. This priest from the Netherlands believed the church needed reforms. He targeted the Vulgate, the Bible’s Latin version, translated in the fourth century, which was widely used during his time.

According to Erasmus, the Vulgate had numerous errors. He found more than 6,000 mistakes himself. Since the New Testament was initially written in Greek, not Latin, he published a New Greek translation by drawing upon multiple sources. Scholars could use his version to compare the church’s Vulgate with the original Greek scripture. Erasmus’s Bible was the first translated version to have editor’s notes regarding the meaning of the text, which proved to be enormously influential for later Protestant translators.

In his New Testament’s preface, Erasmus urged others to carry on his work by translating the word of God into their native languages. Several reformers, including Martin Luther, went ahead to do just what Erasmus had advised. Erasmus’s translated Bible didn’t just serve as the textual foundation for Luther’s German translation (1522). It was also the basis for Bible’s English translation by William Tyndale (1526) and the King James Version (1611).

Luther’s German Translation

As an act of defiance, Martin Luther posted 95 criticisms against the church on the door of a Wittenburg-based church. This is believed to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Since he refused to recant what he posted, Luther was taken away to a Wartburg Castle in 1521. During this period, he chose to translate the New Testament into German. He finished the job in eleven weeks. In September 1522, his translation saw the light of day and became popular as Luther’s September Testament.

Luther’s translation consisted of his critical interpretation and explanation of the New Testament. However, Luther found the Old Testament’s translation an uphill task. Personal ill health, wars, and inadequate expertise in Hebrew slowed him down. It took Luther and a diverse team of scholars to translate and publish the whole Old Testament in twelve years. It was released in installments. The Pentateuch, the Bible’s first five books, wasn’t released until 1523.

The Tyndale’s Bible

Emboldened by Erasmus and Luther, work started on a new Bible in England. But like several places in Europe, working to produce a local-language Bible in the British Isles was perilous. This was because the law of the land handed death to anyone found to have an unlicensed possession of scripture.

William Tyndale started work to produce the first English Bible by translating directly from the original Hebrew and Greek. In 1526, Tyndale published his New Testament and followed it up with the Pentateuch (1530). An English adaptation of the Book of Jonah was also published by Tyndale, but his other Old Testament translations never got published. Tyndale’s Bible translation was regarded as such a massive act of dissent that he was strangled to death and then burned at stake.

Tyndale is frequently called the Father of the Protestant Reformation. His work impacted subsequent translators of the Bible significantly as they adopted a great deal of his style and choice of words in their translations, including the KJV (King James Version).

Final Words

The Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible are other notable Bibles published during the Protestant Reformation, if you want to know more about Protestant Reformation, click here. The publication of these and several other Bibles made the church realize that it could no longer suppress the will of God. Thus, God’s word became available in the English language as well as other vernacular languages.


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