Johannes Gutenberg created the first Bible with movable type, called, the “Gutenberg Bible” in the 1450’s. The accomplishment of this was that Bibles simply could be mass-produced, and it represents a fundamental change for a society that was used to hand-copying texts.
The process of copying the Bible by hand was actually fairly intricate, reliable, and passed on the word of God for thousands of years. However, it was not nearly as fast as the process of printing. The Gutenberg Bible was in Latin, and was derived from the old Latin version translated by Jerome almost a thousand years before, around 400 A.D.
This precedes another major event in church history, which is the Reformation. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the following documents were fueled by the affordability of printing, since information could be disseminated quickly and effectively. Though not the first printed book ever, this invention accelerated the study of Scripture.
By the time Martin Luther was born, 1483, it is likely that every large country in Europe had at least one printing press. Though the process of printing had been around in Asian countries for many years (even as early as 800 A.D.), Western languages were particularly suited to the press because they were largely phonetic, with abstract letters, rather than pictographic, and therefore Europe simply was primed for such invention.
For today, print helps the church in the sense that it allows people to follow along in the text of Scripture itself. The concept of sermons and ‘Bible Study’, where each person brings his or her collection of the Scriptures (now often electronic versions), was unheard of for years and years. Books have gotten smaller, more efficient, portable, and are widely available. Of course, people’s well-being often depends upon what they read, how frequently, their ability to understand and think through what is written, and is more than just simply access to the Bible.
Plenty of people have access to the Scriptures and do not read them, or read well. Those magnificent Medieval cathedrals with stain glass windows, or even with other displays of art, may not have been close, direct access to the text we now have, but a medieval peasant may have known far more about God’s working through Scripture simply because they could visualize, and remember, and retrace the logic of what was said in God’s Word, the Bible.
All this to say, handling the Scriptures: reading them, teaching them, observing them, is a high responsibility. And, though access to the Bible is often anywhere and everywhere we want it, we are to treat the Scriptures still with particular reverence and with precious regard, that God would intervene lovingly into humanity and provide for us a message that changes and saves.