I have at least three Bibles on my bookshelf, all in English, the language I’ve spoken since I could talk. And I have the YouVersion Bible app on my smartphone, giving me access to countless translations of the Bible in English and other languages. I can read the Bible anytime, anywhere.
But 501 years ago, this wasn’t the case.
Today marks the 501st anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which Martin Luther kicked off when he nailed 95 concerns about the Roman Catholic Church to the door of a local church building.
In Luther’s day, most people never read the Bible. Typically, only monks and church leaders had access to a Bible, and even then it was usually in Latin — a language for educated people, not commoners. The expense and rarity of the Bible kept it out of the hands of most of the population, and many of the common people likely couldn’t even read their own language, much less Latin.
According to some sources, Luther (a monk) probably studied a Bible that was chained to a desk, a common practice of the time to keep rare and valuable books from being stolen. Luther would have hammered out his important, world-changing ideas about Christianity while reading a Bible he had to leave at the desk.
Churches of this time encouraged the townspeople to simply follow their church leaders and let those leaders worry about reading and studying the Bible. The people were expected to trust whatever the church told them. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the church of the Middle Ages created extra rules and burdens for the people, but none of them knew that because they couldn’t read the Bible for themselves.
All that changed with the Reformation.
Yes, the Bible is a book for me
The Reformation ignited a love for Scripture and commitment to it, spreading the idea of “sola Scriptura,” or Scripture alone as our authority. As part of that conviction, the Reformers championed the spread of a Bible in the common language the people could understand. Eventually, that same idea led to the translation of the Bible into English, which is why I can have three Bibles translated in my language, sitting on my bookshelf.
Before the Reformation, countless people never had the opportunity to read the Bible. Even today, according to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are 1.5 billion people who speak a language that does not have a complete Bible translation in their “first” language, and for 110 million of them, not even one verse of the Bible exists in their language.
But I can have as many copies of the Bible in my language as I want. Hardback or leather-bound. ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV. Study Bibles or compact Bibles. Journaling Bibles, reference Bibles, devotional Bibles. And I could download enough Bible apps to fill my home screen.
This I know, for the Bible tells me so
With all this access, I know I take the Bible for granted. There are days I don’t read one verse of Scripture. Other days, I read a few verses, maybe even a chapter or two, then mentally check it off my list and hurry on to my day.
Yet the Bible is central to the Gospel. It tells us of God’s promises, our need for forgiveness and Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that bring us eternal hope. There is no book more important than the Bible.
I think Martin Luther understood that. The Reformation reminds me that I shouldn’t take my access to the Bible for granted and that any time spent reading Scripture is time well-spent.