We all have English Bibles because of guys like Martin Luther who wrote the first complete Bible that was non-Latin/non Greek/non Hebrew form. In 1534, he translated it into German for all Germans to read.
If Germans wanted to read Luther’s German Bible, they all had to learn how to read German, they could no longer just rely on speaking it. Since Luther’s Bible was written in a specific dialect of the numerous dialects of the quite “tribal” Germany, there was now the one coveted dialect found, again, in Luther’s Bible.
In Luther’s Bible, we have the rise of the value for learning to read for all Germans so all Germans could read his Bible. There were numerous dialects in Germany but Luther only had one dialect printed. Thus began the organic emergence of a unified German language. It did not begin with those in power.
Having all people trained in reading was unheard of in the West before Luther came along.
Up until that point, for more than a millennium and a half, the Bible in Europe was only available to a select few: the Catholic priests who were trained in Latin and/or Greek and Hebrew.
Years after he made known his famous 95 Thesis from the small town in Wittenberg, Germany, to the archbishop of Mainz on October 31, 1517, word and awareness developed slowly among the populations concerning what Luther had begun.
The Catholic Church and Catholic governments that ruled nearly all of Europe at the time saw what Luther did and believed it to be dangerous, a threat to their order of life and governance. And for them, it was – for they would begin a slow and primarily grueling (particularly for the public) dethronement of their power, grip and exploitation of the masses never before seen.
The Protestant Reformation eventually won its recognition of “legitmacy” to exist, but originally, this new religious “freedom” was only granted to royalty, the princes, not the masses. Religious liberty would not come until much later.
Enter the rise of the “Puritans” of England.
William Tyndale made the first completed printed English Bible, finished by Myles Coverdale in 1535/6, using the Latin Vulgate along with Luther’s German Bible.
It was literally unlawful to have Tyndale’s Bible in England – possessing one could get you imprisoned, killed/burned at the stake. Yet, thousands of copies of his Bible managed to trickle in. In thought centers of England, such as Oxford and Cambridge, many monks, priests and theologians, got hold of Tyndale’s works and a critical mass of 20,000 “separatists” and “dissenters” within England emerged.
Luther’s Protestant Reformation led to the English Reformation which led to the Puritan Reformation.
From this group came the “Puritans.” They were bent on “purifying” everything through their new found lense of the Bible. Even the “Protestant” Christian religion of the British crown saw them as a threat. So, they were persecuted, killed or thrown in jail.
The Puritans fled England. Some went Holland, where the American pilgrims came from before they set sail on the Mayflower and arrived in America in November of 1620. The Pilgrims and the rest of the Puritans who followed them, came with their Tyndale bibles, not the King James Bibles (which was essentially the same, minus the controversial commentary and notes of Tyndale).
The defiance of Tyndale can not be underestimated, neither can his influence upon America and American Christians.
Tyndale said several years before completing his English translated Bible, highlighting even a more provocative vision for extending learning to children:
“I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”
Tyndale’s last prayer, before being burned at the stake, said: “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.”
Knowing what those in power knew about the truth and knowledge from God but still thinking and believing these independently from religious and government power is distinctly Protestant and Puritan.
16 years after the Mayflower Pilgrims settled Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Puritan, John Harvard, a Pastor, a “dissenter” from Cambridge, founded the first university of America in 1936, which is named after him. The school’s motto is: “Truth” (Latin: Veritas).
The Puritans saw truth as the lifeline to their new American civilization in the face of government and religious power who withheld truth and knowledge while exploiting and persecuting the public.
Most of the schools that would become “Ivy League” schools were started by Puritan/Protestant Pastors, their prayers and their simple visions of training and educating people in the Bible, the word of God, and in all truth beyond, for all truth is from God, not mortals.