Over the last couple of weeks my nine-year-old son was working on a project for “History Club,” which meets at Belle Meade Mansion in Nashville. His mission? Find a great inventor who flies under the radar when we consider famous inventors.
Therefore, Ben Franklin, the Wright Brothers and others were out. His choice? Johannes Gutenburg, who gave us the printing press.
Reading over my son’s notes, he zeroed in on Gutenberg’s Bible, published about 1450 or a few years after. “Before this,” he pointed out, “monks had to copy the Bible by hand.”
It’s not like I didn’t know this, but it is so easy to forget that we—the average Joe Schmos (Jane Schmos, too)—are “new” to reading the Bible, when we consider 2000 years of Christianity.
Until Gutenberg, only the intelligentsia and religious leaders had the opportunity to read the gospels, Paul’s letters and the rest of scripture. Regular people—who were largely illiterate anyway—had little or no opportunity to see these truths for themselves.
Our friend Gutenberg changed all of this. His invention made mass production of books—such as the Bible—possible, and no doubt helped to raise literacy rates along the way.
Only a few hundred copies of Gutenberg’s Bible were originally printed, so we’re not talking hundreds of thousands here, but the die was cast. Within a couple of hundred years, the Bible would move from only being available to the wealthy or the religious leaders, to where anyone could read the Bible for themselves.
This has everything to do with a 1st Faith. Jesus brought the gospel to everyone, and chose to do so through fishermen and “sinners” such as Matthew, the tax collector. The letters of Paul were read to everyone who could listen in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Colossae and other venues.
Thanks to Gutenberg, we—you and me—can read and interpret these same letters for ourselves. We can read the gospels; eye-witness accounts of what Jesus said and did. And because of Gutenberg, there is no one between us and these words to tell us, “This is what you are to understand from this passage.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with someone who has studied Paul’s letters or one of the gospels giving his or her commentary; we should welcome this. But in the end, understanding the Bible is between us and God. I must give an account for God for what I believe, not for what someone told me to believe.
Think about it. In the first century, the New Testament was written but almost everyone received their insights on Jesus verbally from those who knew him, or from those who knew someone who knew Jesus.
After this the church gradually became more institutional and we had about 1400 years where those who did the reading and the study told us what to believe. This isn’t a criticism; just a fact.
But today we are new world, where the words of Jesus and the apostles are for us – again. And if we consider literacy rates, this ability to capture God’s word for ourselves is just a few hundred years old. Less than that, for many families and cultures.
And in the last decade or so? We have the internet, where anyone can put a commentary on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a blog and take their ideas to the world for all of us to consider.
While the internet can be a mess at times, it can also be an incredible powerhouse of information.
As we go forward with a 1st Faith, we’ll be throwing out a lot of ideas. None are meant to tell anyone what to believe, but to allow us to consider Jesus and his message in a fresh way–with an eye to those who followed Jesus first and what they believed.
A 1st Faith can be a powerful faith. And as we walk through this journey, we can thank one Johannes Gutenberg for opening the door for us.