Wednesday, May 17, 2023

How the Bible Went Viral in the 1500s / Martin Luther

Big Idea: Martin Luther desired every person to read the Bible which he called “the clear pure Word of God,” and people snatched up his German Bible in great numbers.

Larger-than-life World Changer

There are thousands of books and articles on the larger-than-life, bold world changer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) who inadvertently kicked off the Protestant Reformation.

This Scripture Spy’s greatest effort was getting the Bible into the hands of average citizens.

Law student, Martin Luther, became a monk as a vow while in peril.

“St. Ann, if you deliver me from this storm I’ll become a monk!”

Six Simple Words

In monastic studies he read Wycliffe’s and Hus’ writings who desired to get the Bible to the people, have less worldly power to church hierarchy and stop selling salvation for money (Indulgences).

Selling indulgences to grant a pass out of hell for anyone dead or alive infuriated him.

He didn’t intend to leave the Catholic Church. He wanted to reform the insane hold the Church had in that era on money, power and truth.

However six simple words changed him forever.

The just shall live by faith. Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:7, Galatians 3:11

His obsession to earn God’s favor melted away in simple faith. He became obsessed for others to read and know Biblical simple truths to live by.

Critical dynamics for Luther’s German Bible Success

1. Hidden in a Castle

When Luther wrote the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” he was most likely visualizing the Wartburg Castle where he was hidden almost 3 years.

Luther nailed 95 Challenges (Theses) against the Catholic Church on the door of a German Church. The incensed Pope responded to stand down or be excommunicated. Heresy penalty: burned at the stake.

Incorrigible Luther burned the Pope’s bulletin. He was ordered to a major hearing (The Diet of Worms).

The meeting was intense. His final statement was “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me, Amen.”
The room and desk where Luther worked

A hood was thrown over his startled head, and he was “kidnapped” to a Castle arranged by a worried benefactor.

He was an outlaw now of church and state with a death threat. Like a spy he was given the alias "Sir George" during seclusion at the Castle.

With time on his hands he translated the Bible into German.

Unexpected time sometimes gives busy people the opportunity to do what’s important.

2. Straight from the Source

John Wycliffe’s English Bible translation was based on the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jan Hus did the same with the Czech Bible.

Desiderious Erasmus (1466-1536), a Dutch priest, also wanted the Bible to be understood and useful. His skill was languages, philosophy and theology; a Renaissance man.

He made the Greek New Testament user friendly for scholars. He corresponded often with Luther.

Luther used Erasmus’ Greek New Testament to translate it into German. He used Hebrew for the Old Testament. This crafted a more reliable translation since it was from its’ original source.

3. The Printing Press

Only a few years prior to the completion of Luther’s New Testament, Guttenberg created the movable type printing press. It allowed mass production of books, articles and announcements.

Luther’s 95 theses got translated to German and printed copies were distributed among the people before the Pope ever saw it. 

It went viral (spreading very quickly).

People could not get enough of Luther’s writing!

Luther’s German New Testament, then the entire German Bible was mass produced. It got into German homes everywhere. It changed people creating longing for the Bible.

Luther’s most popular book next to the Bible, Indulgences and Grace was reprinted 22 times in his lifetime.

Coming out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance Period, people were ripe for truth and power given to the average person to gain knowledge and understanding. 

It was the 1500s and it was time for the Bible to go viral.

Got Questions: Who Was Martin Luther?
Several movies
Luther (2003) Full length
Martin Luther  Full length


Up next: The James Bond of Scripture Spies / William Tyndale
Previous post: The Goose is Cooked / Jan Hus


1. Did you have extra time on your hands during the Covid lockdown? What did you do with this unexpected time?

My times are in your hands; deliver me… Psalm 31:15a NIV

2. Consider a new appreciation for the Bible in your language. What would it be like to receive it for the first time?

When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight. Nehemiah 15:16 NLT



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