The Bible—Cherished and Suppressed
“I would desire that the sacred books should be translated into all languages,” wrote Desiderius Erasmus, acclaimed Dutch scholar of the 16th century.
ERASMUS’ fondest hope was that everyone could read and understand the Scriptures. The Bible’s opponents, however, fiercely rejected such an idea. In fact, Europe at the time was an exceedingly dangerous place for anyone even remotely curious about the Bible’s contents. In England a parliamentary statute was enacted, which ordered that “whoever read the Scriptures in English should forfeit land, chattels, goods, and life . . . and that, if they continued obstinate, or relapsed after being pardoned, they should first be hanged for treason against the king, and then burned for heresy against God.”
On the European mainland, the Catholic Inquisition ruthlessly hunted down “heretical” sects, such as the French Waldenses, and singled them out for persecution because of their habit of preaching “from the gospels and epistles and other sacred scriptures, . . . since preaching and exposition of holy scripture [was] completely forbidden to laymen.” Countless men and women suffered excruciating torture and death because of their love for the Bible. They risked the severest penalties just to recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Ten Commandments and to teach them to their children.
Such devotion to the Word of God continued to live in the hearts of many pilgrims who sailed to colonize North America. In early America, “reading and religion were inextricably intertwined, defining a culture based entirely on familiarity with the Bible,” says the book A History of Private Life—Passions of the Renaissance. In fact, a sermon published in Boston in 1767 recommended: “Be diligent in reading holy scripture. Every morning and every evening you must read a chapter of your Bible.”
According to the Barna Research Group in Ventura, California, more than 90 percent of Americans own an average of three Bibles. A recent study shows, though, that while the Bible is still highly regarded there, “spending time reading it, studying it and applying it . . . is a thing of the past.” Most have only a passing acquaintance with its contents. One newspaper columnist observed: “The thought that [the Bible] still might have an urgent bearing on current problems and concerns seldom occurs.”
The Tide of Secular Thinking
A popular belief is that we can make our way in life solely through reason and human cooperation. The Bible is treated as just one of many books about religious opinions and personal experiences, not as a book of facts and truth.
So how do most people deal with the increasingly complex and troubling issues in life? They operate in a spiritual vacuum, with no solid moral and religious guidelines and direction. They have become like ships without rudders, “tossed backward and forward and blown about by every breath of human teaching, . . . by the trickery and the craftiness of men.”—Ephesians 4:14, The Twentieth Century New Testament.
We must ask, then, Is the Bible just another religious book? Or is it truly God’s Word, containing practical and essential information? (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Is the Bible worthy of our consideration? The following article will address these questions.
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From the book Deutsche Kulturgeschichte
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The Waldenses were singled out for persecution because of their preaching from the Scriptures
Stichting Atlas van Stolk, Rotterdam