The Bible’s False Friend
In this chapter, we discuss the major reason why many from non-Christian lands refuse to accept the Bible as the Word of God. Historically, Christendom has claimed to believe in the Bible and to be its guardian. But the religious organizations of Christendom have been associated with some of the most appalling horrors of history, from the Crusades and pogroms of the Middle Ages to the Holocaust of our own time. Is the conduct of Christendom a good reason to reject the Bible? The truth is, Christendom has proved to be a false friend of the Bible. Indeed, when Christendom emerged in the fourth century C.E., the Bible’s fight to survive was by no means over.
1, 2. (Include introduction.) (a) Why do many refuse to accept the Bible as the Word of God? (b) What good work was accomplished during the first and second centuries, yet what dangerous development was under way?
BY THE end of the first century, the writing of all the books of the Bible was completed. From then on, Christians were in the forefront of copying and distributing the complete Bible. At the same time, they were busy translating it into the most common languages of the day. While the Christian congregation was busy with this admirable work, however, something was beginning to take shape that would prove very dangerous to the survival of the Bible.
2 This development was foretold by the Bible itself. Jesus once told a parable of a man who sowed his field with good quality seeds of wheat. But “while men were sleeping,” an enemy sowed seeds that would produce weeds. Both types of seeds sprouted, and for a while the weeds hid the wheat from view. By this parable, Jesus showed that the fruitage of his work would be true Christians but that after his death, false Christians would infiltrate the congregation. Eventually, it would be difficult to distinguish the genuine from the false.—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
3. According to the apostle Peter, what would be the effect of weedlike “Christians” on belief in the Bible?
3 The apostle Peter frankly warned of the effect of these weedlike “Christians” on the way people would view Christianity and the Bible. He warned: “There will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.”—2 Peter 2:1, 2.
4. How were the prophecies of Jesus and Peter fulfilled even during the first century?
4 Even during the first century, the prophecies of Jesus and Peter were being fulfilled. Ambitious men infiltrated the Christian congregation and sowed dissension. (2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Peter 2:21, 22; 3 John 9, 10) During the following two centuries, the purity of Bible truth was corrupted by Greek philosophy, and many mistakenly came to accept pagan doctrines as Bible truth.
5. What policy change did Constantine inaugurate early in the fourth century?
5 In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine adopted “Christianity” as the official religion of the Roman Empire. But the “Christianity” he knew was very different from the religion preached by Jesus. By now, the “weeds” were flourishing, just as Jesus had foretold. Nevertheless, we can be sure that during all that time, there were some who represented true Christianity and labored to follow the Bible as the inspired Word of God.—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Bible Translation Opposed
6. When did Christendom begin to take shape, and what was one way in which Christendom’s religion differed from Bible Christianity?
6 It was in Constantine’s time that Christendom as we know it today began to take shape. From then on, the degenerate form of Christianity that had taken root was no longer just a religious organization. It was a part of the state, and its leaders played an important role in politics. Eventually, the apostate church used its political power in a way that was completely opposed to Bible Christianity, introducing another dangerous threat to the Bible. How?
7, 8. When did the pope express opposition to the translating of the Bible, and why did he do this?
7 When Latin died out as an everyday tongue, new translations of the Bible were needed. But the Catholic Church no longer favored this. In 1079 Vratislaus, who later became king of Bohemia, asked the permission of Pope Gregory VII to translate the Bible into the language of his subjects. The pope’s answer was no. He stated: “It is clear to those who reflect often upon it, that not without reason has it pleased Almighty God that holy scripture should be a secret in certain places, lest, if it were plainly apparent to all men, perchance it would be little esteemed and be subject to disrespect; or it might be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning, and lead to error.”1
8 The pope wanted the Bible to be kept in the now-dead tongue of Latin. Its contents were to be kept “secret,” not translated into the languages of the common people.a Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5th century to make the Bible accessible to all, now became a means of keeping it hidden.
9, 10. (a) How did Roman Catholic opposition to Bible translation develop? (b) What was the purpose of the Church’s opposition to the Bible?
9 As the Middle Ages progressed, the Church’s stand against vernacular Bibles hardened. In 1199 Pope Innocent III wrote such a strong letter to the archbishop of Metz, Germany, that the archbishop burned all the German-language Bibles he could find.3 In 1229 the synod of Toulouse, France, decreed that “lay people” could not possess any Bible books in the common tongue.4 In 1233 a provincial synod of Tarragona, Spain, commanded that all books of “the Old or New Testament” be handed over to be burned.5 In 1407 the synod of clergy summoned in Oxford, England, by Archbishop Thomas Arundel expressly forbade the translating of the Bible into English or any other modern tongue.6 In 1431, also in England, Bishop Stafford of Wells forbade the translating of the Bible into English and the owning of such translations.7
10 These religious authorities were not trying to destroy the Bible. They were trying to fossilize it, keep it in a language that only a few could read. In this way, they hoped to prevent what they called heresy but what really amounted to challenges to their authority. If they had succeeded, the Bible could have become just an object of intellectual curiosity, with little or no influence in the lives of ordinary people.
The Bible’s Champions
11. What resulted when Julián Hernández smuggled Spanish-language Bibles into Spain?
11 Happily, though, many sincere people refused to follow these edicts. But such refusals were dangerous. Individuals suffered terribly for the “crime” of owning a Bible. Consider, as an example, the case of a Spaniard named Julián Hernández. According to Foxe’s History of Christian Martyrdom, Julián (or, Juliano) “undertook to convey from Germany into his own country a great number of Bibles, concealed in casks, and packed up like Rhenish wine.” He was betrayed and seized by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. Those for whom the Bibles were destined “were all indiscriminately tortured, and then most of them were sentenced to various punishments. Juliano was burnt, twenty were roasted upon spits, several imprisoned for life, some were publicly whipped, many sent to the galleys.”8
12. How do we know that the religious authorities of the Middle Ages did not represent Bible Christianity?
12 What a horrible abuse of power! Clearly, these religious authorities were by no means representative of Bible Christianity! The Bible itself revealed to whom they belonged when it said: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”—1 John 3:10-12.
13, 14. (a) What remarkable fact about the Bible during the Middle Ages shows its divine origin? (b) How did the situation change as far as the Bible was concerned in Europe?
13 How remarkable, though, that men and women were willing to risk such shocking treatment just to possess a Bible! And such examples have been multiplied many times over right down to our day. The deep devotion that the Bible has inspired in individuals, the willingness to suffer patiently and to submit uncomplainingly to terrible deaths without striking back at their tormentors, is a strong evidence that the Bible is the Word of God.—1 Peter 2:21.
14 Eventually, after the Protestant rebellion against Roman Catholic power in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church itself was forced to produce translations of the Bible in the everyday languages of Europe. But even then, the Bible was associated more with Protestantism than with Catholicism. As Roman Catholic priest Edward J. Ciuba wrote: “One would honestly have to admit that one of the more tragic consequences of the Protestant Reformation was a neglect of the Bible among the Catholic faithful. While it was never completely forgotten, the Bible was a closed book for most Catholics.”9
15, 16. Why is Protestantism not free from blame as far as opposition to the Bible is concerned?
15 But the Protestant churches are not free from blame as far as opposing the Bible is concerned. As the years passed, certain Protestant scholars mounted another sort of attack on the book: an intellectual attack. During the 18th and 19th centuries, they developed a method of studying the Bible known as higher criticism. Higher critics taught that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth. Some even said that Jesus never existed. Instead of being designated the Word of God, the Bible was said by these Protestant scholars to be the word of man, and a very jumbled word at that.
16 While the more extreme of these ideas are no longer believed, higher criticism is still taught in seminaries, and it is not unusual to hear Protestant clergymen publicly disavow large sections of the Bible. Thus, one Anglican clergyman was quoted in an Australian newspaper as saying that much that is in the Bible “is just wrong. Some of the history is wrong. Some of the details are obviously garbled.” This thinking is a product of higher criticism.
“Spoken of Abusively”
17, 18. How has the conduct of Christendom brought reproach on the Bible?
17 Perhaps, though, it is the conduct of Christendom that has posed the greatest obstacle to people’s accepting the Bible as God’s Word. Christendom claims to follow the Bible. Yet, her conduct has brought great reproach on the Bible and on the very name Christian. As the apostle Peter foretold, the way of the truth has been “spoken of abusively.”—2 Peter 2:2.
18 For example, while the church was banning Bible translation, the pope was sponsoring massive military efforts against the Muslims in the Middle East. These came to be called “holy” Crusades, but there was nothing holy about them. The first—termed the “People’s Crusade”—set the tone for what was to come. Before leaving Europe, an unruly army, inflamed by preachers, turned on the Jews in Germany, slaughtering them in one town after another. Why? Historian Hans Eberhard Mayer says: “The argument that the Jews, as the enemies of Christ, deserved to be punished was merely a feeble attempt to conceal the real motive: greed.”10
19-21. How did the Thirty Years’ War, as well as Europe’s missionary endeavors and colonial expansion, serve to bring reproach on the Bible?
19 The Protestant rebellion in the 16th century dislodged Roman Catholicism from power in many European lands. One result was the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48)—“one of the most terrible wars in European history,” according to The Universal History of the World. The basic cause of the war? “The hatred of Catholic for Protestant, of Protestant for Catholic.”11
20 By this time, Christendom had begun to expand beyond Europe, carrying “Christian” civilization into other parts of the earth. This military expansion was marked by cruelty and greed. In the Americas, the Spanish conquistadores quickly destroyed the indigenous American civilizations. Noted one history book: “In general, the Spanish governors destroyed the native civilization, without introducing the European. The thirst for gold was the principal motive that drew them to the New World.”12
21 Protestant missionaries also went out from Europe to other continents. One of the results of their work was the promotion of colonial expansion. A widespread view today of the Protestant missionary effort is: “In many instances the missionary enterprise has been used as a justification and a cover for the domination of people. The interrelation between mission, technology, and imperialism is well known.”13
22. How has Christendom brought reproach on the name of Christianity during the 20th century?
22 The close association between Christendom’s religions and the state has continued down to our day. The last two world wars were fought primarily between “Christian” nations. Clergymen on both sides encouraged their young men to fight and try to kill the enemy—who often belonged to the same religion. As was noted in the book If the Churches Want World Peace: “Certainly it is no credit to [the churches] that the war system of today grew up and has worked its greatest havoc among states devoted to the cause of Christianity.”14
The Word of God Survives
23. How does the history of Christendom indicate that the Bible is God’s Word?
23 We recount this long, sad history of Christendom to highlight two points. First, such events are a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It was foretold that many claiming to be Christian would bring reproach on the Bible and the name of Christianity, and the fact that this has happened vindicates the Bible as being true. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that the conduct of Christendom does not represent Bible-based Christianity.
24. What identifies true Christians and thus clearly condemns Christendom as unchristian?
24 The way genuine Christians can be recognized was explained by Jesus himself: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Further, Jesus said: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) On both counts, Christendom betrays itself as clearly not representing Bible Christianity. It claims to be the Bible’s friend, but it has been a false friend.
25. Why did the Bible survive all its tribulations down to our time?
25 The second point is this: In view of the fact that Christendom as a whole has acted so much against the interests of the Bible, it is remarkable, indeed, that the book has survived until today and still exercises a good influence on many people’s lives. The Bible has survived bitter opposition to translating it, onslaughts from modernistic scholars, and the unchristian conduct of its false friend, Christendom. Why? Because the Bible is unlike any other written work. The Bible cannot die. It is the Word of God, and the Bible itself tells us: “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God endures for evermore.”—Isaiah 40:8, The New English Bible.
a A few translations into vernacular languages were made. But they were often laboriously produced in very ornate manuscripts and were definitely not for popular use.2
[Blurb on page 34]
The mainstream Protestant churches have shared in a major intellectual assault on the Bible
[Picture on page 26]
The history of Christendom really began when Constantine legalized the “Christianity” of his day
[Pictures on page 29]
Popes Gregory VII and Innocent III were prominent in the Catholic Church’s struggle to prevent the Bible from being translated into the everyday language of the people
[Picture on page 33]
The shocking conduct of Christendom has led many to doubt that the Bible is really the Word of God
[Picture on page 35]
During the first world war, these Russian soldiers bow to a religious icon before going out to kill fellow “Christians”