Guest / Limited Access /

October 31, 1517 is the date most people think of as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation—the date that changed Western Christianity forever, when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. But at the time, the publication of Erasmus of Rotterdam's New Testament in the spring of 1516 might have seemed more important.

Today we would call Erasmus's work a "study Bible." It had three parts: the Greek text, which Erasmus edited; his new Latin translation, a more elegant and accurate alternative to the traditional Vulgate; and brief scholarly comments on exegetical issues. Erasmus prefaced this monumental work of scholarship with an exhortation to Bible study. The New Testament, he proclaimed, contains the "philosophy of Christ," a simple and accessible teaching with the power to transform lives.

In words that would become prophetic, Erasmus declared his disagreement with those who wanted to keep the Scriptures from the common people: "If only the farmer would sing something from them at his plow, the weaver move his shuttle to their tune, the traveler lighten the boredom of his journey with Scriptural stories!" Ironically, Erasmus's work was unintelligible to plowmen, or to anyone outside a small intellectual elite: Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin.

Born in Rotterdam, Erasmus spent his life traveling throughout Europe, living in such cultural centers as Paris, Basel, and the university towns of Italy. Between 1499 and 1517, he spent about five years in Cambridge, England, doing much of the work on his New Testament. In England he found many of his warmest admirers. Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, persecutor of Protestants, and future Catholic martyr, was a close friend, and English ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedThe Lost World of Adam and Eve
The Lost World of Adam and Eve
Old Testament scholar John Walton affirms a historical Adam—but says there are far more important dimensions to Genesis.
TrendingWhat Christianophobia Looks Like in America
What Christianophobia Looks Like in America
New Study: Champions of religious freedom tell Christians, 'Keep your faith to yourselves.'
Editor's PickHow Not to Listen to the New Sufjan Stevens Album
How Not to Listen to the New Sufjan Stevens Album
Can we avoid turning the Brooklyn-based artist and Christian into a poster boy?
Comments
Christianity Today
Erasmus's Revolutionary 'Study Bible'
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.