“The Peril of Owning a Bible”

By Akin Ojumu

Throughout the history of Christianity, deliberate and concerted efforts have been made to conceal the truth of the Word of God from those who believe. Early in its history, the hierarchy of the Church feared the potential impact that a personal knowledge of God’s commands would have on the believer who reads the Bible on his own. They were afraid of what would happen when a believer comes to a personal understanding of God’s precepts gained through personal study of the Bible and not merely what they heard preached from the pulpit.

According to William Tyndale, one of the foremost leaders of the Protestant movement, “the Church forbade owning or reading the Bible to control and restrict the teachings and to enhance their own power and importance.” In the minds of these leaders, an educated Christian is a dangerous Christian who would one day rebel against the excesses of the Church fathers. They knew that an informed believer is one who would someday rise up in protest against the wanton debauchery of the Church establishment.

In order to prevent this feared rebellion against their authority, the Church hierarchy embarked upon a strategy that would keep the average Christian ignorant of God’s truth and thereby tethered to a leash of ignorance. At various Councils and Synods of the Church, authorities, laws and edicts were enacted that prohibited the believer from owning a personal copy of the Bible.

Decree of the Council of Toulouse of 1229 CE
“We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.”

Ruling of the Council of Tarragona of 1234 CE
“No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Roman language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned...”

Proclamations at the Ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 CE:
Oxford professor, and theologian John Wycliffe, was the first (1380 C.E.) to translate the New Testament into English to “...helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.” For this “heresy” Wycliffe was posthumously condemned by Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury. By the Council’s decree “Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and publicly burned, and the ashes were thrown into the Swift River.”

What these various decrees, rulings, and proclamations did was to criminalize personal Bible ownership. The violation of any of these laws carried severe punishment including but not limited to, strangulation, burning at the stakes (e.g., William Tyndale, was strangled and then burned at the stakes in 1536 CE), hanging, banishment, ostracization, and being declared insane and consequent forceful interment in psychiatric institutions.

There are those who would want to believe the events described above happened in the days of ignorance that have long passed, and many there are of the opinion that such things can’t happen in this modern age. Even for those willing to concede that these things may still be happening today, they are quick to point accusing fingers at Communist China where the government regulates the number of Churches, Islamic nations where ISIS exercise dominion, or Islamic controlled regions where Boko Haram wreak havoc. 

As such, Church folks are wont to raise prayer points for Christians facing persecution in Islamic Republic of Iran and Communist China but are often oblivious of the systemic self-persecution and re-education going on in their own backyard.

With the subtlest of subtleties and sleight of hand, the Holy Bible has been stripped from the hands of individual Christians and have been made into a bonfire to appease the gods of ignorance. In a modern age, the devil has adapted and taken on modernity. The barbarism of the 1st Century has given way to the modernity of the 21st Century, and the brute force of the early ages has been replaced with the sophisticated discombobulation of the modern era.

Tune in next time.


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