The great reformation of the 16th century is known for being the rediscovery of biblical Christianity in many areas. As we look at this great century of reformation of biblical Christianity and its church, this is what we will be focusing on.

The rediscovery of the Scriptures in this century under discussion was sparked by Martin Luther who thought that the Scriptures had been side lined in matters of the Christian faith and church practices.

He sparked this whole issue when he nailed his 95 Theses stating the evils that the church had found itself in. The church gave congregants false hope unto salvation and the its’ leadership did not bother to teach or preach the truth that which Christ had called it to. It is worthwhile to note that the rediscovery of the Scriptures did not only happen during the 16th century, it had happened before during the biblical times. History very well affirms this truth.

There are some examples in the biblical times when the Scriptures were lost in Israel all because the kings that had ruled Israel just before king Josiah, were given to idol worship and lived wickedly before God. But when King Josiah became king of Israel he is said to have been given to walking right and sought to worship God aright in his temple. It was at this stage of preparing and repairing of the temple that the Book of the Law was discovered. Interestingly, when you read his response to the reading of the Book of the Law, you will see that he was convicted and tore his cloths as a sign of repentance and humbling of self before God (2 Kings 21:1-22: 13).  In this narrative, it comes out clearly that the Scriptures were lost because God and his word were no longer central in the people’s lives.

In a similar manner, the rediscovery of the Scriptures in the great reformation 16th century was because the church abandoned God and his word, in the first place. This can happen to us as well if we do not guard ourselves. In our time, we hear of people wanting to hear from God through the so-called prophets and not from the Scriptures because they say that the prophets of today speak of today’s needs and not Scriptures. Our prayer is that we may not turn our backs on God and his word if we are to live and serve him aright.

The great 16th century reformation men that God used to bring back the Scriptures to the fore realised that they could not preach God without his word and hence they pursued it to the letter. It must also be noted that they did not pursue the availability of the Scriptures as a final authority to life and faith for their own sake but for God’s glory and honour.

The forerunners to the rediscovery of the Scriptures in the 16th century

 It should suffice in the preamble to mention that this rediscovery did not begin and end with 16th century episodes. There were other men and women of God who laboured towards the reintroduction of the Scriptures in the church. They did not only labour in having the hard copy of the Scriptures, but also laboured that the Scriptures be in the language that was common to the users.

Amongst the noted are men like John Wycliff and John Huss who suffered death at the hands of their persecutors for insisting that the Scriptures should be made available in the church and in the language of common people. The insistence of these men came about because they saw that the church was not governed by the word of God as superior in matters of faith and Christian practice. Even though these men lived in different times and countries, the deficiencies that they saw were a common place.

However, both men did one thing that was common about them. They laboured to translate the Scriptures in the common language spoken in their countries. John Wycliff translated the Bible from Latin which was being used by the Roman church into English so that people could read, listen or learn the truth as God had it in his word. John Wycliff’s effort in presenting the word of God for the salvation of many and his translation of the Scriptures brought hatred against him such that 40 years after his death The Roman Catholic Church exhumed his body and burnt his bones which were scattered as ashes in the river Swift. It is said that the journeying of Wycliff’s ashes symbolised the spreading of his scriptural teaching and message of the Bible which the Roman Church had fought tooth and nail. Hence John Wycliff was known as ‘The Morning Star of the Reformation’ which was to commence in the 16th century.

As for John Huss, who was greatly influenced by the writing of John Wycliff. He was burnt alive at the stake. Wood and straw were piled up around him and set ablaze to consume him. Like John Wycliff his ashes were gathered and thrown in the Rhine river. These men suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church because they wanted God and his word to be the centre, rule and guide of the Christian faith.

Events leading to the rediscovery of the Scriptures in the 16th century reformation

 The 16th century is considered by historians as the awakening period of the Western Europe. It is during this period that Spain and Portugal explored the oceans and discovered the new world. On the religious front, the Roman catholic church had become very powerful. Political leaders yielded to the church’s powers and vices. The church at this stage had grown in power such that the political arena could not function without its voice. As it had happened to John Huss, the Roman church had power to recommend one’s execution if they found such a one to be a threat to their belief and practice.

The providence of God in using Martin Luther cannot be ignored in the rediscovery of the Scripture during the reformation period. He was born in 1483 in Germany. He grew us a young man of extraordinary intelligence and his father wished him to be a lawyer but as things turned out to be, he joined the priesthood order of the Augustinian at the age of 21 years. It was at this stage that he read the bible for the first time and it is said that the story of Hannah and Samuel fascinated him. He read this bible in Latin since it was the language in which the priest conducted their church services.

Apart from this experience of reading the bible, Luther had a troubled heart on how he was to be at peace with God. He saw himself as a sinner needing God’s forgiveness. In his pursuit of peace with God, he did what his church recommended, but still could not find the peace that comes with the forgiveness of sin as it taught by the church. Some of the things he did in the process of looking for peace were:

  1. Confession of sin before the priest: He confessed his sins regularly before the priest but could not find the inner peace of heart with God. He felt that his confessions did not bring him any closer to peaceful righteous living relationship with God.
  2. Humble habits: He subjected his body to torturous exercises in order to find peace for his soul. He fasted as many times as he could, and it was said that he only gained some weight when he got saved. He practiced what he considered to be humble habits in serving God in order to gain peace with God but to no avail.

However, history records that Luther only came to be at peace with God when he rediscovered from the Scriptures that the peace of God can only come to a person by faith when God justifies such a one. This realization came upon him, when he read from the Scriptures that the just shall live by faith. Romans1:17 was one of such Scriptures that made sense to him on how one can be at peace with God.

Having come to peace with God through the scriptural teachings, Luther rediscovered that the justification of one by God is by faith alone. The rediscovery of this truth led Luther to a more resolved biblical teaching of God’s salvation. In this case, we can say that for Luther’s rediscovery of the true biblical means of salvation was the initial rediscovery of the Scriptures in this great reformation century.

Other than having rediscovered the means of grace well-articulated in the Scriptures, Luther was also on the line with John Wycliff and others who followed after him that the Roman church under the pope had departed from the Scripture in belief and in practice. The salvation of Luther and his reading of the Scriptures gave him a full understanding that the Roman church and the pope were wrong when they said that the pope was supreme power on earth in relation to the Christian faith. As Luther continued to read the Bible he rediscovered that the teaching of the Scriptures was on the priesthood of all believers. The Scriptures did not give authority to one man as being greater than others but that all people must serve God.

The other thing that made Luther sit up as he rediscovered the Scriptures was when the pope and the Roman church said that no one else was allowed to interpret the Scriptures apart from The Pope. This stance by the pope and the Roman church had led to the reading and teaching of the Scriptures in Latin. (Latin was a language which the common unlearned person could not understand). It was to this that many other reformers rose and insisted that the Bible should be written and taught in the common language of the listeners. The position by Luther and other reformers in Europe to have the Bible read and taught in the language of the people led to the persecution and the death of many who stood opposed to the pope and the Roman church.

On the other hand, when it had become clear that Scriptures were meant for all to read, hear and teach it led many to start writing the Bible and other Biblical teachings in the language of the people. People like John Calvin who wrote the “Institute of Christian Religion”. These institutes are still in circulation and form a collection of sound teaching. In England, William Tyndale is known as the father of the English Bible, having written the bible.

He was motivated to write the Bible because it had shocked him when he discovered that many of the clergy were ignorant of the Bible. Apart from the writers the rediscovery of the Scriptures also saw the rise of fervent preacher of the gospel such as William Farel in Geneva and Hugh Latimer in England. As for Latimer he was burnt at the stake for the faith. As Latimer was being burnt together with his Christian companion it is said that he called out to his friend and encouraged him with these words, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust never to be put out.”


 As we look at the Scriptures we must be grateful to the Lord that He has preserved them for us throughout history. As we express our gratitude to God we must also show gratitude to those that He used as instruments in the preservation of his word.

We however, need to be warned that these Scriptures can also be lost in our time if we do not guard them and their teachings jealously. In our day and age we have people who want God to speak to them through the so called man of God and not through the Bible. If that becomes a trend then we ought to sit up and see to it that Scriptures are not replaced by “papa” speak to me or “man of God prophesy in my life”. May the Lord continue to preserve and make available his word, and may we be the instrument that He will use to that end.


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Berry W. G. 1994. Foxes Book of Martyrs. London: The Wakeman Trust

Hammond, P. 2006. The Greatest Century of Reformation. Cape town: Christian Liberty Books