John Bradshaw - Ancient Wisdom, Present Power - Part 1
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. The Bible, the Word of God, the Good Book, Scripture, Holy Writ, it's the bestselling book of all time. It's said that about 100 million Bibles are sold or given away every year. It would be easy to take the Bible for granted. You can buy one for next to nothing. You can download it to your device. You can listen to the Bible. In most countries the Bible is ubiquitous; it's everywhere. But not very long ago, really, the Bible wasn't accessible. In fact, you could be, maybe would be, put to death for possessing even a fragment of Scripture. So how did we get from there to here?
We go back about half a millennium to the year 1517, a time when a young priest, approaching his mid-30s, felt that he had to do something to moderate the teachings of the established church. The issue Martin Luther found especially galling was indulgences, where the church claimed that for a sum of money or by doing some noteworthy act, a person could obtain forgiveness of sin. Of course, there's nothing correct about that, and Luther was witnessing the great amount of damage that this false teaching and others connected to it were doing. I met recently with Dr. Michael Hasel. He's an archaeologist, a university professor, a Bible historian, and the curator of the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Together we looked at a collection of rare Bibles and other Christian books, which combine to tell the story of the Reformation and help us understand how the Bible came to be widely available today.
Dr. Michael Hasel: In October 31, 1517, Martin Luther walked up to the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church and nailed the 95 Theses on the doors of that church. The 95 Theses were 95 statements that Luther made, arguments that he made concerning purgatory, the sale of indulgences, something that the Catholic Church was promoting at that time in their history, particularly for the building of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome and for the advancement, eventually, also of the Crusades and the financing of the Crusades.
John Bradshaw: Now, this one act of Martin Luther is widely credited with starting, initiating the Protestant Reformation. What was it about those two subjects in particular you mention that generated so much heat, ultimately light?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, I think, first of all, maybe Luther wasn't intending to start something that big. He placed these on the doors because this was the place where discussions got started on university campuses. But we also know that that same day he sent a copy of that to the archbishop of Mainz in Germany, who had sponsored a gentleman by the name of Johann Tetzel, sending him out to all the various, uh, countryside villages selling these indulgences.
John Bradshaw: So Tetzel was commissioned by the archbishop of Mainz, who was raising money for the building of what's now St. Peter's. Tetzel came to town and was capitalizing on the naivety and the ignorance of the poor people, who would give money, receive a piece of paper saying that they had absolution or something very similar to that. They'd go home with their piece of paper thinking, "We're good to go". They weren't.
Dr. Michael Hasel: That's right. Tetzel had a very famous saying. It says, "When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs". It's a great translation of the German. He talked about the fires of hell and the burning of hell, and he used that kind of intimidation to really get people to think about buying an indulgence. And Luther was incensed that the church was teaching that by the sale of an indulgence you could buy your way into heaven somehow.
John Bradshaw: The church really pushed back. How'd they push back and, and why?
Dr. Michael Hasel: One of the reasons they had to push back was the 95 Theses that were nailed here were taken down by some of the students, and they were taken to a printing press, and they were printed. What you see here is the first edition of that printing in Latin in 1517. So this was sent like a pamphlet, it's a small, little booklet, and they were sent all over Germany. And this began the wave, if you will, of concern over the sale of indulgences that caused that response by the Catholic Church.
John Bradshaw: What were some of these statements? And I don't mean verbatim necessarily, but what were some of the types of things Luther was saying in here?
Dr. Michael Hasel: One of the things he was, uh, criticizing, I think, somewhat carefully but also very straightforward, was that the pope's own reputation would be at stake here, that the pope needed to take maybe a different position than selling indulgences and taking advantage of the poor, who were giving money for something that biblically wasn't, uh, really feasible, and that he could, out of his own coffers, pay for a big church himself rather than on the backs of the poor peasants that Luther was ministering to on a daily basis. So that was one of the issues there were. But at the core of this was also the issue of salvation. How does one go about getting salvation? Is it through a piece of paper that you buy? Or is it through faith? And he spoke on going through tribulation and that tribulation actually was a better way to get, through grace, to heaven than buying a piece of paper from the pope.
John Bradshaw: Okay. In response, let's take a look here, because the church was livid.
Dr. Michael Hasel: They were livid. Eventually what happened was that Luther received a document, probably a scroll, with a huge stamp impressed in red, uh, wax, and this was in Latin, called a bulla, and here you can see bulla Leonis. Leo X was the reigning pope at that time, and he issued this in Rome, excommunicating Luther from the church.
John Bradshaw: Okay. He criticized the church. He took a position against some of the teachings and practices of the church. He got the boot. This is obviously not the original thing, but this is a, a, a printed copy of what Leo wrote telling Luther he was gone.
Dr. Michael Hasel: That's right. We're told, at least, Luther's account is that he threw that manuscript in the fire. That's what he thought of it. But the pope then printed these, just as Luther's friends had printed the 95 Theses, and a war started going back and forth in the printed press, in the printed documents and in the artwork as well.
John Bradshaw: Today, Luther might have tweeted or posted something on Instagram, and then this back-and-forth war would have begun.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Mm-hmm.
John Bradshaw: Speaking of back and forth, this is a fascinating document to me, written by Johann von Eck. Von Eck was a very learned church man who... I don't want to call him an attack dog for the church, but he kind of was. It indicates this wasn't small; it was really big. People on both sides were printing, publishing books and getting them out there. Speak about what Eck was all about.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Eck was one of the main antagonists and one of the major, uh, scholars that the Catholic Church used to debate with Luther. And he was sent in 1519; there was a famous debate that took place between Eck and Luther at Leipzig, where they, uh, hashed out some of these issues. And subsequently Eck published this book, the "Enchiridion". And this went through 91 printings. It was probably the most widely printed book in the 16th century during the time of Luther, attacking his positions on the Protestant Reformation and his hopeful reforms that the church would take.
John Bradshaw: We're not at the printing of the Bible yet. The Bible as a book, as a document, hasn't stepped onto center stage, but we're getting close, aren't we?
Dr. Michael Hasel: We're getting close. And this would lead towards that event.
John Bradshaw: Soon, the Bible would take center stage. People would be able to access Scripture for the first time in hundreds of years. And the world would never be the same. Back in a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. At a time when the Bible wasn't available in any meaningful way, when people couldn't read John 3:16, when the stories of David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lions' den, and the feeding of the 5,000 simply couldn't be known and read, a German priest named Martin Luther, frustrated by the inaccurate teachings of the church of which he was a part, wrote out 95 points expressing where he felt the established church was wrong. They became known as Luther's 95 Theses. The writing of these statements sparked the Protestant Reformation and led directly to the printing and the wide distribution of the Bible. Dr. Michael Hasel and I looked together at a collection of rare books that tell the story of the genesis of the distribution of the Bible. So just a few years after Luther nails the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church, he's standing in front of an, an august body, maybe the most august body of people ever assembled, and he's defending his faith, and this document tells us about this, so explain this one.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, this is his account of what happened at the Diet of Worms. Worms is a city in southern Germany. Luther was summoned there by the emperor, Charles V, and by the Roman prelates that were there, and, uh, he basically was called to give account of his writings and to denounce them, to recant from what he had written. And so all of Europe was focused on this event. People came from the surrounding villages as Luther was making his way from Wittenberg down to southern Germany. They were greeting him along the way. He had become a sensation already by that point in time. This was four years later. And he has been offered free passage by the emperor. In other words, no one was going to try any foul play. At least, that was the emperor's promise. And Luther arrives there, and on the first day he stands in front of this august assembly, and when he is asked to recant, he loses his determination in that moment. And he asks for time. And he is given a day. And he goes back into his room, and he pleads with the Lord, and he is upset with himself, and he is chastising the devil for making him weak at that moment and not allowing him to say what he wants to say and what he needs to say. And the next day he comes out, and he makes his declaration before all of those individuals.
John Bradshaw: Ending, apparently, with those famous words, "Here I stand. I can do no other".
Dr. Michael Hasel: "So help me God".
John Bradshaw: "So help me God".
Dr. Michael Hasel: That's right.
John Bradshaw: And that's, that's this. You know, we shouldn't rush past the fact that a theological dispute between the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant ruling church of Europe at that time, and an upstart made the news. It was the biggest thing anybody was talking about. What does that tell us about the role of Rome back then? Just how big and influential was the church?
Dr. Michael Hasel: The church was very influential. The church actually inaugurated kings and, uh, crowned kings, and so Charles V wanted to remain in good stead with the church. Charles V was only 21 years of age as he sat on the throne there at the church in Worms, Germany. And Charles was very anxious to resolve this, this problem. Um, what is interesting, though, is that when Luther took that stand, and he says, "Unless I am convicted by reason and by Scripture, I must stay true to my conscience". When, when Luther said those words, it, it shook all of Christianity. And it, it put a line in the sand. Luther, in that moment, became the figurehead, if you will, of the Protestant Reformation.
John Bradshaw: So, for someone to stand up in a picky denomination today and say, "Unless you can convince me by reason and the Scriptures," well, we'd expect nothing less than that from 90 percent of, of people who preach. That was revolutionary then.
Dr. Michael Hasel: It was revolutionary.
John Bradshaw: Why?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Because he was going against the tradition of the church. He was going against dogmas that had come in for centuries already and had become entrenched in the church. The whole concept of purgatory and the sale of indulgences was not only a doctrinal issue; it was a financial issue. It was a huge, huge issue for the church. What's interesting in this document as well is that if you look at the inside cover, Luther is depicted opposite of the emperor Charles V. They're both standing. Luther in his simple monkish robes with a dove on his shoulder, opposite of him is the emperor. And the emperor is outfitted in medieval armor from head to foot, holding a sword in one hand and the globe with the cross on the other. He is the one in charge, and he's a warrior king. So, even in Luther's account, this standoff was not only a religious standoff, it was a civil standoff, and it was a standoff proclaiming the conscientious right of individuals to believe, based on the Bible, what they were convicted of in their hearts.
John Bradshaw: We can't forget this. Basically we accept that today as a given. But several hundred years ago, it was not a given. Luther was boldly going where few had ever gone before in defending his right to believe what he wanted to believe based on how he read the Scriptures. It was revolutionary for that time.
Dr. Michael Hasel: That's right. Of course, Luther had been whisked off on the way back from that, that Diet of Worms. He was whisked off and thought at first probably he was, he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped by Frederick the Elector, his very good friend and his benefactor, who sponsored him to be a professor at the University of Wittenberg, and he placed him in safety in the Wartburg Castle. So Luther arrives in the Wartburg Castle, kind of on house arrest for his own protection. Nobody knows where he is. Many people think he's dead. And Luther, for a time there, is wrestling. He has a respite from all the crises around him. And then he says, "I must begin to write. I must begin to write. I must do something. Who will stand on the wall to defend Christianity now"? And God puts in his heart that the most powerful thing that he can do after writing his, his, uh, account here is to translate the Scriptures into the German vernacular. He based his work off of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had just brought together, some years earlier, the Greek texts. This is a very rare, uh, book here because it's also a third edition. Luther used the second edition for his translation of the New Testament. The third edition was used by Tyndale, by the translators of the King James Version, by the translators of all the other Protestant versions, including the French version. But, uh, the earlier version was used by Luther to translate the September Testament, which came out in September of 1522 and for the first time really, um, put the best language skills together in translating from the original Greek the German Bible. And this is for Germans today still the standard text. The Luther Bible is what the King James Bible is often for the English-speaking world.
John Bradshaw: So what did Luther translating the Bible do in the day? What was the reaction? How did that shift or alter or challenge or change society? What did it do for Christians?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, in 1229, there was the Council of Toulouse that met. Um, it wasn't a ecumenical, full council of the church, it was more of a local council, but it had outlawed the translation of the Bible into the vernacular languages of Europe.
John Bradshaw: It was illegal.
Dr. Michael Hasel: It was illegal, French, German, English. The Bible was supposed to stay in Latin as a vulgate, um, and as Jerome had translated it in 383. And so, for Luther to do what he did was illegal. Uh, it was, uh, daring. It was incredibly, uh, bold. But he believed that it was the Bible that would transform the hearts of people, and that without it, uh, Europe would stay in darkness, just as he as a monk had been in darkness before he began to read and understand Scripture.
John Bradshaw: On his way to the diet or before he got to the diet, he was promised safe passage by the church. Let's, let's be really frank about what that means. The church said, "We won't kill you".
Dr. Michael Hasel: Correct.
John Bradshaw: Which tells us something about the day in which Luther lived. This was a time when the church was very powerful and where the church routinely did kill people to defend itself and to defend its belief system and so forth.
Dr. Michael Hasel: They would go to war, you know, against various, uh, entities. So Luther was in a very, very serious situation. This simple monk in Germany began to turn things upside down.
John Bradshaw: Turn things upside down he did. What he started then reaches down to our day today. It's why you can freely hold a Bible in your hand. But Luther wasn't done. In fact, he was going to get even more pointed in what he was saying. I'll be back with that in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: It's easy to forget today that several hundred years ago people were not able to access the Bible. But that changed, thanks to the work of Martin Luther and others like him who risked their lives, and often gave their lives, to put the Word of God into the hands of people. I joined Dr. Michael Hasel recently at the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, where an exhibit of some very rare books told the story of the Reformation, of Luther's fierce battle with his church, and how that led to the advancement of the Word of God. So tell me about this document here, Luther's attack on purgatory.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Yes. So this is published in 1530. This is now quite some time after his 95 Theses in 1517. And Luther in this small, uh, booklet, pamphlet again, does not mince any words. He becomes even more direct than he was in the 95 Theses. This is now published in German. By this time Luther is publishing in German. He's no longer publishing in Latin and addressing his concerns to the church. He's moved beyond that; he's now addressing the people. And in this particular book he is going through, point by point, exposing the false claims of the church as regards to the doctrine of purgatory, this in-between state between heaven and hell, which is not really supported in Scripture. And he is, uh, beginning, this says, "the first chapter," and then each section that comes after that is, "the second lie," "the third lie," "the fourth lie". I mean, he is not using politically correct language. He is basically saying, these are lies that have been perpetuated for centuries by the church, and the Bible, in the book of Galatians, teaches a whole 'nother way of salvation, which is through Jesus Christ.
John Bradshaw: What did this do to the average believers? I mean, so, so Germany, the German states were Catholic. What happened as a result of, of this ministry?
Dr. Michael Hasel: The princes began to take a stand, and the princes actually at one point came at the Diet of Speyer, they came to the emperor, and there they were told to sign a document to basically go back to Catholicism, and they stood one by one in that particular location, and they said, "We want to read to you the document that we have written that expresses our beliefs based on Scripture". And in the most forthright and daring way, they stood up before the emperor and said, "We, we will, we will not go back. This is what we believe, and this is why we believe it". And the emperor had no choice; because it was all of them together, the emperor had no choice but to accept their declaration, um, or lose his, his kingdom because these were the leaders of his kingdom.
John Bradshaw: So this was not a battle of personalities, even though there were some large personalities involved. This was a matter of people saying, "We want to believe what the Bible says". This wasn't anti-Catholicism or hatred of the pope or anything like that. This was a matter of people saying this is God's truth, and we want to advance with the Bible. Is, is that accurate?
Dr. Michael Hasel: That's how it began. It began with Luther reading Scripture and realizing, hey, there is, there are things here in Scripture that don't correspond to what I've been taught as a theologian and as a monk and as a learned person in the church. This is teaching me something different. What do I do with this? As a result of that, with time, Luther, however, became more and more convicted that the pope was the antichrist, and he came out boldly, even more boldly as time went on, on that particular element. That is one element that really galvanized Protestantism as well. Um, we look back at it today and say, "Well now, those were daring words to speak". And yet, um, this was the conviction that was held because of the differences between the teachings, uh, regarding salvation that the church was teaching and the teachings that Scripture held.
John Bradshaw: Speaking about the teachings of salvation here, Luther's "Commentary on Galatians," how did this come about, and, and what was the motivation for, for Luther writing about Galatians?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Galatians was one of the books that really sparked Luther's interest in the whole concept of righteousness by faith. And he began to lecture on Galatians at the University of Wittenberg to his students. His students took copious notes of what he had been saying and what he was saying in class, and later on they took those notes, and they asked Luther permission to print those as a commentary, which they did with Luther's supervision. And what we see here is the English translation of that commentary of Galatians. This edition that we have here was printed in 1774, two years before the Declaration of Independence here in the United States. But the original was published in 1575. And what is interesting here is that Luther had a very high view of this work in particular. He says, "If I had my way about it, they would republish only those of my books which have doctrine, my Galatians, for instance". So he really saw this as one of the important works that he had produced in his lifetime.
John Bradshaw: Can you imagine living in a world where you could not possess a Bible? Where the Word of God wasn't taught and wasn't heard by the people? Well, that was this world, until Martin Luther came along. And it's the world today for a lot of people. Even though it's widely available, many people don't have the Bible in their possession. And, unfortunately, there are people with the Bible who are not reading the Bible. They're not accessing the promises of God. They're not reading the great stories or the accounts of the life of Jesus. I want to encourage you. Take this book, delivered to us at great cost by the shedding of blood, by the loss of life, take this book and read what it says. Discover the God of its pages. Yield your heart to the Savior to whom it points. This is the Word of God. Make the decision today to bring it into your life more and more, and let it guide you from this world to the world to come.
John Bradshaw: Let's pray together now.
Our Father in Heaven, today we thank You for the Bible. We thank You for the Word of God, and we thank You for Jesus, to whom sacred Scripture points. Lord, would you give us grace to hide Your Word in our heart, to live by its precepts, and to be guided by Your Holy Spirit, of whom Scripture speaks? We thank You for this Word. Let it be the foundation and fabric of our lives, I pray and ask You, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Thanks so much for joining me. I'm looking forward to seeing you again next time. Until then, remember: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"