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The Reformation Continued...

In 1455, came one of the most momentous inventions in history: Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. Now books could be mass-produced instead of being individually hand-written. The first book ever printed was Gutenberg’s Bible in Latin. According to the Gutenberg Museum, 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible exist today, out of a possible 180 copies originally printed.

1455 Gutenberg

Replica of the title page to the book of Acts, from a Gutenberg Bible, 1455

In 1517, almost exactly 100 years after John Hus’s prophecy about God raising up a reformer, a monk named Martin Luther nailed his famous “95 Theses of Contention against the Heretical Theology and Abuses of the Roman Church” to the Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Incidentally, Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” records that in that same year, 1517, seven people were burned at the stake for the crime of teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin. In 1522, Luther translated the New Testament into German. His desire was to make the Word of God accessible to the commoners and to erode the influence of the priests. By 1537 he had translated the entire Bible.

Hand painted illustration of Samson tearing a lion, from Martin Luther's First Edition Combined Bible. Printed in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1534

The Protestant Reformation was now underway. In 1526, William Tyndale, the spiritual leader of the Reformation, published his New Testament. Tyndale desired that every plough boy be able to read the scriptures. It was the first New Testament printed in the English language. His New Testament was immensely popular in England, where it was smuggled in in large quantities. The new English Church desperately tried to buy up every copy and destroy them. The money, however, went back to the continent and funded more printings. For his “crime,” Tyndale was hunted all over Europe. He was finally betrayed and burned at the stake in 1536 in Belgium. His dying prayer was, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

1552 Tyndale a

This unadorned leaf was salvaged from the remains of a Tyndale New Testament printed by Richard Jugge, in London, in 1552.

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