The Reformation: The Printing Press

“It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible reading people. The principles of the Bible are the                             groundwork of human freedom.”

Horace Greeley (1811-1872)


 Both John Wycliffe and Jan Hus would have agreed wholeheartedly with Greeley. In fact, this statement could (at least in part) summarize the Reformation. Two key ideas (doctrines) drove the reformation: The First was the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone and the second was the conviction that the sole authority for the Christian was God’s Word and not the pope. It was theologian and historian John Murray who referred to the reformation as the “greatest revival of faith since the days of the apostles.” Not all would agree with Murray’s statement, however the translators of the King James Bible did. In the preface to the “Authorized Version” they refer to the Protestant Reformation as “our blessed Reformation.”

The most significant religious change that drove the Reformation was that of authority. The authority of Rome was replaced by the authority of the Bible, which every individual was to be allowed to read freely.

The year was 1440, and Johannes Gutenberg presented his gift to the world. His gift was the printing press. Think about this. There was about to be massive shifts in Europe. The shift of authority from the papacy to the Scriptures AND the shift that the bible was not the sole property of the Clergy for teaching and study. These shifts would have never happened without the work of Johannes Gutenberg.

By 1500 the printing presses throughout Europe had already produced more than 20 Million copies. In the next 100 years that number rose tenfold. Just one example is the works of Erasmus (Dutch Theologian). His most important work was the preparation of the Greek New Testament for print. Of the works of Erasmus 750,000 were printed before 1536. From 1518-1524 the publication of books in Germany alone rose sevenfold. Between 1518 and 1520, Martin Luther’s tracts and booklets were distributed in 300,000 copies. The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe.

To the reformers the Bible was more than a book of information on morality and doctrine. For the reformers, the Bible was a means of grace and communion with God. It was a source of comfort and spiritual food for every believer. The reformers translated the Bible in the language of the people, gave it to the people, and taught them to read it. Without the work of Johannes Gutenberg this would have been seriously hindered.

Hear Martin Luther on the importance of the scripture:

From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.

Or John Calvin:

We owe to the scripture the same reverence, which we owe to God because it proceeded from Him alone, and has

nothing belonging to man mixed with it.

As I have been reflecting on the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Genesis 45. Here Joseph is reconciling with his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. Joseph is now in authority over them (because of his position under Pharaoh), and is analyzing his time in Egypt and the hand of God in His life when he states in verses 4-8:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.

I couldn’t help but notice a Sovereign God at work behind the scenes to carry out HIS purposes.

In1440 a German blacksmith, goldsmith and printer invented movable type printing. Less than 100 years later a revolution began to get God’s word into the hands of God’s people … the Printed Word! How can that possibly happen? How, indeed?

See You Sunday,

Pastor Byron