The Lord inspired a monumental step in preparing the world for the Restoration of His saving gospel when a German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg, adapted printing technologies first introduced in China to produce the printing press in 1439 or 1440. (See Diana Childress, Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press (2008). Gutenberg was an instrument in the Lord’s hand to increase knowledge, understanding, and religious faith in the world. (“The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign, May 2007)
His invention ignited a printing revolution that changed the world forever by facilitating the wide circulation of ideas and information that became “agents of change.” (See Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change 1980, 703.)
Scholars estimate that about 30,000 books existed in Europe at the time Gutenberg published the Bible on his printing press. Within 50 years after his invention, more than 12 million books were found in Europe. The Protestant Reformation utilized Gutenberg’s invention to spread its ideas and to bring the Bible to the common people in ways that no one of an earlier generation ever could have imagined.
Literacy and the printing of Bible
The printing revolution fed an increase in literacy and a growing thirst among the common people of Europe to read the sacred words of scripture in their own languages. The Latin Bible, translated from Greek and Hebrew in the fifth century AD, had been the official Bible of the western Catholic church for 1,000 years. (See James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper, eds., The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol. 1, From the Beginnings to 600 (2013); see also vols. 2–4.)
Martin Luther, born in 1483, was one of the leaders in publishing the Bible in the language of his day. His German translation was published in 1534—a pivotal year in the history of western Christianity. (This fourth-century Latin translation became the Catholic church’s official version; see Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death 1999). Luther’s belief in the power of the scriptures helped fuel the Reformation. Other reformers promoted universal education so that everyone could have the opportunity to read the scriptures for themselves. Some religious leaders were concerned that widespread reading of the Bible would lead to heresies, the undermining of the church’s authority, and even civil unrest. They responded by imprisoning, torturing, and even putting to death many who were discovered translating the Bible into the common language of the day or owning common-language translations of the scriptures.
William Tyndale, born about 1494, came upon the scene during Martin Luther’s courageous work on the German translation of the Bible. While still a young man, Tyndale conceived the idea of making a new and better English version of the Bible based on the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. About 1523 he sought help and encouragement from the Catholic bishop of London to produce such a version but was vigorously rebuffed. Because a prohibition against translating the Bible had been passed by the convocation of Oxford in 1408, Tyndale needed official permission to proceed without interference. Dedicated to the task of translating the Bible into English, Tyndale secretly began his work and finished translating the New Testament in 1525. Printed in Cologne, Germany, Tyndale’s translation was smuggled into England, where it was being sold in early 1526.
Many reformers were put to death
Tyndale, like many other men and women who were put to death for wanting the common people to have access to the scriptures in their own language, was strangled while tied to the stake in early October 1536 and Tyndale’s dead body was then burned at the stake. Nevertheless, his English translation lived on as his words and phrases and entire sections of his translation were incorporated into the King James Version.
King James version of the Bible
The King James Version, published in 1611, was officially adopted by the Church of England and later influenced the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today 2011).
The political and communication revolutions
The printing, translation, and literacy revolutions prepared the way for political and technological revolutions that swept across Europe and the Americas between the 17th and 19th centuries. The changing political climate in Europe and America gave people greater freedom to choose their own religious path. Religious freedom was one of many results of the political revolutions that occurred during this period.
The Savior will proceed to do a marvelous work and wonder
The Lord also began to “pour out [His] spirit upon all flesh” (see Joel 2:28 in the Bible), including on those who were prepared to dream of new transportation and communication technologies that would move His Restoration forward in dramatic ways. He inspired men and women to invent technologies, such as canals, telegraphs, railroads, steam engines, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, computers TV and many other communication channels so the gospel could go forth to all the world. In countless other ways, the Lord prepared the world for the Restoration of His gospel to bless individuals, families, communities, nations, and the world. “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” (Isaiah 29: 14 in the Bible). The apostle Peter said, “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3: 20-21 in the Bible). In our day the Savior has said, “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.”(Doctrine & Covenants 4: -2)
Will we be part of preparing the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?
The great restitution and marvelous work of the Lord is now underway. Will we be willing to obey the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the two great commandments to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and look for and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives. The Lord is now preparing the world for His Second Coming. His hand is visible not only in the events of historical change but also in the lives of individuals. Become part of this great preparation.
Dallas Jones, local leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Part of the article and references were from an article by M. Russell Ballard, January 2020 Ensign. For a more detailed discussion call (231) 383-8359 or send an email to [email protected]