The War on the Bible: A Historical Survey

Beginning in the mid seventeenth century, the enemy began waging a war on the Bible. This war would last for over two centuries and was foreseen thousands of years ago by the prophets of old (Rev. 11; Dan. 9:26). When it was all over and the smoke finally cleared, the once widely revered two testaments of the Holy Bible appeared to lay lifeless in the public square of the post-Christian Western secular culture (Rev. 11:8). At this sight the citizens of the world whose consciences had so long been tormented by the fiery testimony of God’s two witnesses rejoiced (Rev. 11:10). It appeared as though they had been proven to be nothing more than dead bodies of literature like unto any other writings of men. This collective conclusion conceived a spirit of unbelief which has permeated the intellectual atmosphere of our Western secular culture to the present day.

Given that the outcome of this Satanic war on the Bible is so crucial to understanding the present climate of our Western secular culture, I am of the opinion that all Christians should have at least a basic knowledge of it. In what follows I will attempt to give a very bare-bones historical survey of the war on the Bible framed in its proper historical context. Because this historical context can only be fully understood when analyzed against the larger backdrop of Church history, it is necessary that we begin our story from the beginning of the Church age.

I. The Church before the War on the Bible

The Apostolic age through late antiquity (ca. 33 AD – 380 AD)

The idea that God revealed himself to man in a record of written revelation was inherited by the Church from first century Palestinian Judaism (of which the Church was initially one of several different sects in existence at the time). The Church shared with the Pharisees the conviction that the written Word was the highest of all authorities in matters pertaining to doctrine and reproof (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). However, unlike the Pharisees (who believed that one was declared righteous before God by zealously keeping the Law to the letter), the Apostles believed that man was declared righteous before God by faith in Jesus, and that the primary purpose of the Hebrew Scriptures was simply to testify of Jesus so that they might believe in him once he had come and fulfilled the Scriptures through his death, burial, and resurrection (Luke 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; Acts 18:24-28; Acts 24:14; Acts 28:23; Rom. 3:21; Gal. 3:24-25; cf. Luke 9:28-36). To word that slightly differently, the Apostles believed that the Hebrew Scriptures found their ultimate fulfillment in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, which filled them with meaning and brought them to life.

Despite their reverence for the Written Word, during the Apostolic age the Gospel was disseminated mostly through the preaching and witnessing of the Apostles and their disciples. We must remember that the historical situation of the early church was radically different from that of today. There was not yet a “Bible” in the sense of a collection of all of the inspired books assembled into one readable volume. In fact, in the earliest days of the Church there was no New Testament. The Church inherited from Judaism its canon of Scripture, known then as “the Law and the Prophets,” which corresponds to the Old Testament found in Protestant Bibles today. It would take some time for all of the New Testament documents to be written, and even longer for them to acquire the status of Scripture by all of the Churches, so that we can’t really begin to speak of a “New Testament” until about the fourth century.

It is also important to keep in mind that all copies of the Scriptures at this time existed individually. What is more, there was also no printing press, which meant that all book manuscripts had to be manually copied by hand—a very time consuming and expensive process which made all books precious and very expensive commodities that few could afford. On top of that, there was no tax-payer funded public education system in the Roman Empire, which meant that the vast majority of people in the Roman Empire were illiterate, and wouldn’t have been able to read the Scriptures even if they had been able to afford their own personal copies of them.

Because of the historical reality just described, the Written Word did not play the same central role that it plays today in the dissemination of the Gospel message in the days of the early Church. The book of Acts makes it clear that the Gospel was in those days primarily spread orally through word of mouth and preaching, and was confirmed with signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 14:3; cf. Mark 16:20). In such a historical context as this, Satan had nothing to profit from focusing his energies on planting seeds of doubt in people’s minds with regard to the divine authorship and authority of the Holy Scriptures. Since most people could not read or afford copies of the Scriptures for themselves, their hearing of the Written Word was limited to the weekly readings during the Sunday morning worship services during the first few centuries of the Church age. Thus, rather than declare a war on the Bible by attacking the authority of the Scriptures, it was more in the immediate interests of the enemy to simply restrict access to it, and (insomuch as it were possible) control how it was interpreted. To this end, he devised a plan to infiltrate the Church and place his own ministers into positions of leadership (2 Cor. 11:13-15; cf. Acts 20:29-31; Jude 4-19; 1 John 2:18-19). These schemes would eventually culminate in a divinely forbidden marriage between the Church and Roman state (Mark 12:17; cf. Gen. 6:1-7), from which unholy union sprang a bastardized counterfeit version of the faith which was mainstreamed by the Roman emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. By 380 AD, this compromised version of the one true faith would be made the official religion of the Roman state. This meant that the practice of any form of Christianity other than the “orthodox” one controlled by the emperor was now technically illegal. At this point the true Church of Jesus Christ is forced underground, and completely disappears from the historical narrative.

Late Antiquity & The Medieval period (ca. 380 AD – 1300 AD)

It is beyond the scope of the present investigation to discuss in detail the series of events which led to the gradual transfer of ecclesiastical power from the Emperor to the bishops of Rome in Western Europe. Nor would it be appropriate here to attempt to trace in full the progressive ascension of the Papacy to the position of unbridled totalitarian power that it became invested with in the High Middle Ages. Suffice it to say that between the fifth through eighth centuries, due to multiple causal factors that time and space will not permit us to discuss here, the power and prestige of the bishops of Rome would increase dramatically in the West, until the Popes were essentially both the spiritual as well as temporal rulers of Western Europe. Through the authority of the Popes, the enemy would come to exercise full control of lay Christian’s access to the Holy Scriptures in the West.

Shortly after Romanized Christianity was made the official religion of the State in 380 AD, Satan immediately moved Pope Damascus I to lock the Bible up into Latin, rendering it inaccessible to the common people. Eventually, it would be made illegal to own or possess a copy of the Scriptures in any language other than Latin. It was taught that the Bible was an exceedingly difficult book that was far beyond the scope of the common man’s understanding, and that the Roman Church alone had the keys of correct interpretation. What is more, the Pope, as Peter’s successor and the self-proclaimed “head of the Church” (Rev. 13:5; Dan. 7:25; cf. Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18), was the Bible’s sole infallible interpreter. For 1,260 years, the yardstick of Scripture would be measured by the sackcloth of the theologians (Rev. 11:1-3; cf. Isa. 29:10-14),1 plunging Western Europe into a thick spiritual darkness that would permeate its intellectual atmosphere until the dawn of the Reformation (Heb. 9:10).

The Renaissance (1300s and 1400s)

The first beacon of light to penetrate the spiritual darkness finally came in the thirteenth century. While papal corruption was at its height, an intellectual movement known as the Renaissance began to spread from the Italian peninsula, and quickly swept over the continent of Europe. The spirit of the Renaissance was characterized by an intense interest in classical antiquity, specifically in the civilizations of Greece and Rome. The humanists of the Renaissance tended to distrust traditional authority, and also had a reverence for primary sources. This intellectual awakening would have important ramifications for the history of the Church.

As pertaining to the present discussion, the most important thing that the Renaissance did was it stimulated a collective interest in the Greco-Roman classics, and conceived the desire in many Churchmen to seek out Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts so that they might study the texts in their original languages. It was as if events were being guided by the hand of divine providence, who was preparing the way for the earthquake that was to ensue the following century.

As the Renaissance was reaching its peak, another event occurred which would have monumental consequences for the history of Western Civilization. In the year 1445, Johannes Guttenberg successfully developed the first moveable type—an invention that would prove to be a lethal weapon in the spiritual war that was to occur during the Reformation the following century. What the printing press did was it opened the door for the production of books and written literature on a scale that had not been possible before when all manuscripts had to be manually copied by hand. The growing desire to access the Bible in the original languages, in tandem with the invention of moveable type, set the stage for the momentous earthquake that was just around the corner. 

The Reformation (1517-1650)

Artistic portrait of Martin Luther, whose ministry would destroy papal authority and ultimately lead to Satan to declare war on the Bible.

Martin Luther could never have predicted the ideological revolution that would result from the publication of his 95 theses against papal corruption in 1517. The proclamation of the twin doctrines of Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, in tandem with Luther’s bold and public challenge to papal authority, set off a chain of events that would reshape both Christianity and Western Civilization forever. Luther’s boldness and defiance of the established secular and ecclesiastical order inspired other men of God (who were as fed up with papal corruption and the forced acceptance of the doctrines of men as he was) to take a stand against the great harlot, among them—Tyndale, Calvin, and Zwingli.

It is important to note that the Reformation would not have been possible without moveable type. The printing press allowed the ideas of the Reformers to be mass disseminated and spread like wildfire throughout Western Europe. Such literature only increased the common man’s burning desire to read the Bible for himself in his own language—a desire that could now be met thanks to the printing press, and the availability of many Hebrew and Greek manuscripts which had been sought out during the Renaissance. The fathers of the Reformation almost immediately went to work on vernacular translations of the Scriptures, so that by the latter half of the sixteenth century—both the Old and New Testaments were available in most vernacular languages of Western Europe. The ever-growing demand for these vernacular Bibles was likewise able to be met thanks to the printing press, which made their mass production and dissemination possible. After over a millennium of spiritual darkness, the common man finally had unrestricted personal access to the entire Bible. This was a very new thing in the history of the Church.   

The Protestant Reformation shook the established order of Western Europe to its very foundations (Ps. 18:15; cf. Rev. 10; Joel 3:16; Hag. 2:6, 2:21; Heb. 12:26). The papacy found itself powerless to do anything but stand back and watch the monopoly of ecclesiastical control it had enjoyed for so long slowly begin to unravel. Over the course of the Reformation, whole nations which had formerly pledged their allegiance to the Pope, would break away one by one and become Protestant nations. Yet the waning of the Pope’s power was not limited to the sphere of his temporal influence—his spiritual authority had also been dealt a mortal blow from which it has yet to fully recover (Rev. 13:3). The printing press had allowed the doctrines and ideas of the Reformation to spread throughout the continent. Moreover, the common man now had the measuring line of truth in his own hands, and no longer needed to rely on any man to interpret it for him (Jer. 31:34; Isa. 29:18; cf. 1 John 2:27; Heb. 9:8-9). He could see for himself that the light of God’s Word exposed the institution of the papacy and revealed it to be the seat of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1-10; Dan. 7:20-22; Dan. 8:23-25; Dan. 9:26-27). This in turn reinforced popular resistance to the Pope, and the collective rejection of his spiritual authority.

The Reformation had shaken the Western world to such an extent that the entire established order had been destroyed beyond recognition (Heb. 12:26; cf. Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). The Pope’s loss of temporal power and spiritual authority in the eyes of Western Christians meant that Satan would have to drastically alter his game plan. It was now clear that the tactics of control that had worked so well for so long would no longer suffice. The common people now had personal access to the Bible in their own languages, and there was no possible way of reversing that and going back to the way things were before. His new game plan would thus have to adapt to this unfortunate new historical reality. Since he could no longer prevent the multitudes from having access to the Bible, he would now need to convince them that it is not the divinely authored Word of God sent down from heaven. He would need to get them to believe that it was nothing but a book written by unlearned antiquated shepherds who didn’t even know where the sun went at night. Thus just as the holy remnant was enjoying their newly acquired spiritual liberty and celebrating what appeared to be the ultimate triumph of God’s people over the principalities of darkness—the enemy was already scheming behind the scenes, preparing to declare an all-out war on the Bible–that precious seven-eyed stone upon which the true Church of Jesus Christ was founded (Zech. 3:9; cf. Zech. 4:1-14; Isa. 28:16)

II. First shots fired: the war on the Bible begins

The European Enlightenment

The war on the Bible technically began in the middle of the seventeenth century, albeit it was one of small beginnings. It all began when a handful of carnal men, influenced by the spirit of the European Enlightenment which was just beginning to emerge, began to voice doubts (and eventually outright deny) the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Among these thinkers were men like Thomas Hobbes, Baruch D’Spinoza, and Pierre Bayle.2 While the publication of their views didn’t inflict immediate damage to the Bible, the seeds of unbelief that they were planting would begin to take root in the minds of men, and would also influence those who came after them. They were unknowingly laying the intellectual groundwork upon which later learned men with raging confidence in the power of human reason would begin to construct a massive fortress of doctrinal folly that still stands to this day. In unbelieving men of the world such as these, the enemy had managed to find a cracked spiritual door through which his army of deceiving spirits could begin to infiltrate and invade the intellectual atmosphere of the secular West (Rev. 9). Fully realizing the power of the pen, the deceiving dragon reasoned that he could attack Zion’s stone foundation using the very same battering ram that the Reformers had used against him the previous century. The Satanic war on the Bible had officially begun (Rev. 11:7; Dan. 9:26; cf. Gen. 3:1). 

The mantle of the seventeenth century philosophers fell to the rationalists and Deists of the early eighteenth century. Influenced by the ideas of the European Enlightenment, the rationalists of the eighteenth century fell into the error of trying measure the Bible with the broken reed of man’s carnal logic (Isa. 36:6; Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:9; Prov. 3:5). To the eighteenth-century rationalist, human reason was the holy criterion by which all true religion must be judged to be true. It thus follows that any purported truth that does not line up with the light of reason must therefore be deemed to be false and subsequently discarded. The rationalists thus began to doubt, and eventually reject, those parts of the Bible which defied natural law and human reason.3

The damage that the literary attacks of the eighteenth-century rationalists and Deists inflicted on the mainstream construal of the Bible were subtle but highly significant. Prior to the eighteenth century, every word of Scripture was presumed to be inspired by the breath of God, and was therefore presumed to be 100% true. This view was antithetical to the spirit of the rationalists—who argued that only those parts of the Bible which are in agreement with natural law and line up with the light of human reason should be taken to be true. Thus, the rationalists laid the doctrinal foundation which states that the Bible is not a record of absolute truth, from which flows the idea that one can simply pick and choose which parts of it to believe. In taking this position, they had completely rejected the infallibility, inerrancy, and divine authorship of the Bible. This marks a big turning point in the Satanic war on the Bible.

The literary attacks of the rationalists and Deists of the eighteenth century was a giant leap forward in the Satanic agenda to cast the Bible down from its heavenly throne (Dan. 8:12), and reduce it to an anthology of ancient literature like unto any other body of human writings. Another thing that the debates between the rationalists and the traditionalists did was it set a precedent whereby the Bible was no longer viewed as something so sacred that it was off limits to public debate and criticism.4 What is more, the very fact that so many Protestant ministers publicly debated the rationalists and deists in attempts to defend the traditional view of the Bible, only served to cause further harm to the already battered and bruised reputation of the very book they were seeking to defend. In the eyes of all those who resided outside the invisible walls of the heavenly Zion (Zech. 2:5), the fact that the Bible needed learned men of the faith to rush to its defense and contend for it did nothing but nourish the collective impression that the arguments of the rationalists must be very compelling.

As damaging to the Bible’s public image as the attacks by the rationalists and Deists of the eighteenth century were, the fatal blows would not be delivered until the following century, when the attacks would suddenly seem to come from all directions. It was during this century that the war on the Bible reached its ultimate climax.

The nineteenth century

In the nineteenth century, new methods in various fields of science (geology, archeology, biology, etc.) all gave birth to discoveries that seemed to conflict with the historical record of Scripture. Geologists had developed new methods for analyzing and dating terrestrial rock strata which seemed to point to the conclusion that the earth was billions rather than thousands of years old. Likewise, in the field of Biology, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) concluded that humans evolved over the course of millions of years from primates—an idea which was widely received by the scientific community and secular public, and quickly became the gospel of the new age. The conflicts between such new findings and the biblical timeline were increasingly becoming intellectual stumbling blocks for professed Christians who were not firmly rooted and grounded in the faith. 

At the same time advances were taking place in the fields of science, new methods of textual analysis were also being perfected and were beginning to be applied to the study of the Bible. On the one hand there was the science of what is known as Lower criticism,5 which seeks to reconstruct the original text of the biblical books by comparing and contrasting the thousands of biblical manuscripts now extant. The deception of Lower criticism was that it is founded on the erroneous dogmatic assumption that only the original autographs of the biblical books were inerrant and God-breathed, and it is this false assumption which drives the obsession to reconstruct the original texts of the biblical books. It is a demonically contrived body of doctrine that was designed to plant doubt about the authority and authenticity of the Written Word in the minds of men, and by and large it succeeded.

At the other end of the spectrum, the nineteenth century also saw the emergence of what is known as Higher criticism, which maintains that the books of the Bible can only be understood in light of the original motives of the biblical writers and the original historical context in which the books were written. Higher criticism thus achieves the same ends through different means. What it does is it denies the prophetic application of Scripture and attempts to restrict the meaning and application of all biblical passages to their earthly temporal level of meaning reflective of the conscious motives of the individual biblical writers at the time of composition. It also refuses to even leave open the possibility of divine inspiration, and does so cunningly under the guise of operating from a position of neutrality and objectivity. Accordingly, higher criticism blinds the minds of all men who accept its methods, rendering them incapable of realizing the true prophetic application and meaning of any given biblical passage (2 Cor. 3: 2 Cor. 4:4; cf. Rev. 12:9). Put another way, higher criticism crucifies the Scriptures and renders them powerless (Rev. 11:7-8; Dan. 8:12; cf. Dan. 12:7), and this is exactly what it was designed to do.

It was Western secular society’s collective faith in the infallibility of all of these new “scientific” measuring tools which arose in the post-Enlightenment intellectual atmosphere of the nineteenth century, which dealt the mortal blow to the already battered public image of God’s two testaments (Rev. 11:7-9). The new textual sciences of higher and lower criticism had successfully deceived the multitudes into believing what they had originally believed prior to the dawn of the Reformation, namely—that the Bible was an exceedingly difficult book that is far beyond the intellectual capacity and scope of knowledge of the common man, and can only be correctly interpreted with the help of learned experts and scholars (Isa. 29:10-14). In less than 200 years, the deceiving dragon had accomplished exactly what he set out to do at the beginning of the war on the Bible (Rev. 12:17; cf. Dan 7:21, 9:26). He had successfully deceived the majority of the general public into believing that the book that their ancestors had so long fantasized about one day having in their own hands, was nothing more than a randomly assembled powerless body of ancient near-eastern literature written by unlearned nomadic shepherds. Insomuch as these doctrines have continued to permeate and rule our Western secular intellectual atmosphere to the present day, the war on the Bible was by and large successful.

Ramifications of the War on the Bible

The war on the Bible had tremendous intellectual, cultural, social, and political ramifications that affect all aspects of our lives to this very day. Although it may seem like the Church’s enemies have triumphed over her, this story isn’t finished yet. Despite appearances to the contrary, God is the author of human history, and he is in full control of world events (Isa. 41:4, 42:9, 46:9-10; Heb. 11:3, 12:2). The enemy’s war on the Bible and his temporary triumph over God’s two testaments was foretold by the prophets thousands of years ago; it was of no surprise to God. In fact, Satan’s war on the Bible and the destruction of the public reputation of his two testaments has been a part of his divine plan since the foundations of the world were laid. This story has an exceedingly happy ending which has yet to be realized.

The Bible testifies that a day is coming when a massive intellectual awakening and outpouring of knowledge and biblical revelation is going to occur on a scale that has never been seen before (Joel 2:28-29; Rev. 10). This spiritual and intellectual awakening is going to overturn every idol and false doctrine of men that currently pervades the Western secular atmosphere (Hag. 2:21-23; Zech. 13:2; 1 Cor. 1:19; Heb. 12:26-27; Rev. 11:13). At that time Darwinism, Atheism, and every other currently prevailing pseudo-scientific theory and system of false doctrine which exalts itself against the knowledge of God and his everlasting Gospel is going to be violently thrown down suddenly and in and instant (2 Cor. 10:4-5; Obad. 1:7-9; Jer. 50:15; Rev. 18:21). At that time, God’s two testaments will be brought back to life in the eyes of all the world, and this book that the world has hated will be exalted to heavenly glory and acknowledged to be the highest of all authorities (Rev. 11:11-13; Ps. 119:89). All those who have placed their trust in the idols and false doctrines of men which are predestined to be overturned by this spiritual earthquake, will be left utterly bewildered and confounded by this global spiritual shaking (Isa. 37:27; 41:11, 45:16; Micah 3:7, 7:16; Zech. 10:2-5, 14:9; 1 Cor. 1:19). Not even the wisest among men will be able to deny or refute the seal of messianic authenticity which is to be revealed in due time (Zech. 4:1-14; cf. Hag. 2:23). Unbeknownst to the enemy and the world who blindly follows him (Rev. 12:9; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:26; Matt. 15:14), the war on the Bible will have a very public and unexpected ending.

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  1. This analogy is taken from the beloved William Tyndale’s “On The Obedience of a Christian Man.”
  2. It is ironic to note that the observations on which these men based their rejection of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch were by no means revolutionary new findings. For example, in his “On the Compilers of the books of the Old Testament”, Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) notes that the inclusion of the list of the kings of Edom in Genesis 36 means that this was a later inclusion that Moses could not have written, and concludes that it was likely inserted by Samuel, who probably redacted the five books of Moses during the time of the early monarchy. Yet, despite this acknowledgement, there is zero evidence to suggest that this observation put even the slightest dent in Newton’s conviction that Moses was the author of Genesis. What this shows us is that many Christians were already well aware of all of the textual peculiarities on which the seventeenth century philosophers based their denial of the Mosaic authorship of the Bible, yet they did not interpret those as conflicting in any way with the biblically affirmed tradition that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. And why would they? Even to this day we do not deny someone credit for a book they wrote just because some unknown individual at the publishing company edited and revised it, and helped organize and assemble it into its final form.
  3. We find a good example of the eighteenth-century rationalist mindset and its accompanying construal of the Bible exemplified in Thomas Jefferson—who is said to have gone through his own Bible and cut out all of the parts pertaining to miracles which defy natural law and human reason.
  4. Greenslade, S., 1975. The West From The Reformation To The Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 243.
  5. I am linking to this video merely for educational purposes. Note that the views and presuppositions articulated by the narrator with regard to methods of Lower criticism do not reflect the views of Beholdthestone.com.

By Zerubbabel

Zerubbabel is the pen-name of the founder of this ministry. He has an academic background in history, classical literature, and biblical studies; and possesses a peculiar gift for understanding and explaining the deeper mysteries of the Holy Bible.

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