Withholding the Bible?

Hi, I have an Evangelical Protestant friend who told me the reason (or one of them) for the reformation was because the church of Rome withheld the bible from it’s people and wouldn’t allow it to be translated into other languages. Is there any truth to this and does anyone have a link to more information? Thanks in advance, PT.




Hi PT!:wave:

I think I can help you with this. These two attachments are from
shop.catholic.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/small_image/135x/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/b/e/beginningapolo7.jpg[size=3] [/size]Beginning Apologetics 7: How To Read The Bible

It’s a great resource and dirt cheap so by all means invest in them.

Also you might do well to read Where we got the Bible

You’re hearing this from a Lutheran! No, the Church did not withhold the Scriptures from the people - you often hear that the Bible was chained in the sanctuary but the main reason for that was the printing press had not been invented quite yet and it was a very expensive and heavy book!

There is some validity of the language situation as the majority of the people at that time were illiterate and the services were in Latin so that was hard for the people to understand what was being said.

I’m not sure what happened in the case of the CC when the printing press did get invented - whether they printed out Bibles for the general population as well. And, as for Luther, he would not have gotten the recognition had it not been for the printing press. Followers took his sermons and printed them out as well as the Bible in the language of the people…

There are a lot of misconceptions about that particular era in Christian history…

Very good question!

God bless!!

In Christ,


Pure myth.

First question: if the Church had ‘withheld’ the Bible…what was Martin Luther translating, and why?

Second…go further back…Wycliffe and Tyndale…how did they get the bibles they were mutilate…'er…translating?

Third–not a question, rather a point: 2 words: printing press.

Year? 1500. Inventor: Gutenburg. Religion? Catholic. First book he sought to mass copy? The bible.

So…the Catholic Church was supposedly suppressing the Bible, before Martin Luther came along to save the world…buuuuuuuuuuuuutttttt, before his 95 theses and his DEformation movement…this no-name lay guy…got hold of the Bible…and was permitted to reproduce it.

The myth is complete nonsense. But don’t take my word for it; sink your teeth into little classic: Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church–on line, here:



You can reassure him/her that they are grossly misinformed.

The Church was the primary translator of the Old Testament and New Testament first to Latin and then to every language under the Sun.
The Catholic Priests that went about evangelizing learned the local languages of the places they went to. You can read about the Jesuits going to Japan and learning Japanese and translating the Bible into Japanese.

Prior to the invention of the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenberg (a Catholic) in 1440 Bibles and actually any text books had to be painstakingly hand copied, a Bible would cost the equivalent of a year salary of a very wealthy person. No peasant could afford to buy a Bible to keep at home. Also most peasants could not read nor write, but they went to church and there they were read from the Bible at mass.

If you dig deeper you will find often that the roots of the reformation were really pecuniary, the “nobility” of the lands were it most virulently spread went after the land and treasure of the Catholic Church.

The only instances where the Church (actually it was specific bishops in local dioceses) forbid reading the Bible was in response to faulty and dangerous translations that were being spread. It was never a universal restriction for the whole Church, and was in response to danger for the people.

A person who didn’t know better, reading a faulty translation can start to believe heresy and end up leaving the Church and put their immortal soul in jeopardy.

The most widely know example usually brought up is related to the Albigensian/Manichean heresy in France. There were Bibles and pamphlets (usually just single books of the Bible or sections of books) that were very faulty translations that were helping to spread the heresy.

This was a huge help!

No, that’s false.

Some folks speak as if they believed that the Sacred Books were first composed and set forth in the English tongue, and that they were afterwards rendered into languages such as Greek or Latin or Hebrew, for the sake of inquisitive scholars and critics. This is not correct; the original language, broadly speaking, of the Old Testament was Hebrew; that of the New Testament was Greek. Thus our Bibles as we have them today for reading are ‘translations’. Only those who are ignorant of the true history of the Sacred Scriptures — their origin and authorship and preservation — could pretend that there is any logic or commonsense in such a mode of acting.
There were not printing presses until the 16th century so every copy of Sacred Scripture was hand copied. Who made All of these copies and distributed them? The Catholic Church. Here is a list of the translations made by The Catholic Church and the dates that The Church made them.

end of 2nd century
mid 3rd century for Vetus Latina
around 407 for Jerome’s Vulgate

earlier versions 2nd century; Peshitta 4th century

First Century

383 by Ulifas or Ulfilas

by Saint Mesrop (translated from Syriac)

6th century


8th century

7th century

9th century

748, 1466 Mentelin

Freising Manuscripts (972–1039; contains the translation of Matthew 25:34)

There were also many hundreds of more translations into other languages, especially of the Gospels and Epistles.

A good reference is the book “Where we got the Bible” by Henry G. Graham.

Very cool… I will print this out for him as well:)


The bible was in parchments and scrolls. No printing press. Monks and priests spent countless hours translating those parchments with a plume and an ink well.

By the time the printing press was invented, it was also found that the bible had been translated into 20 different dialects.

Thanks everyone. I will share this link with him and pray that God removes the scales from his eyes. God Bless.

This is not unique to Bibles or sanctuaries. There were libraries, and every book was chained. Here’s a photo of the Chained Library at the (Anglican) Cathedral in Hereford, England. Notice the hardware on the ends of the shelves - steel rods or boards could be installed for additional nighttime security.


This is obvious historical revisionism. Bear in mind that, at the time of the Reformation, the great majority of people could not read and could not afford books in any case. Did Martin Luther or Henry VIII separate over Bible translations? Of course not.

Not to defend the Reformation, but it doesn’t help us when we make misrepresentations in our arguments. Martin Luther wasn’t a “no-name lay guy;” he was an Augustinian friar, a priest, and a theology professor. (In other words, his problem wasn’t that he wasn’t well-educated in Catholic faith; it was that he thought he knew the Bible & theology better than the Church did. :shrug:)

Even before the invention of the printing press, various inventions were making Bibles cheaper:

  1. Scribe factories in towns - Yup, laypeople who could write were hired to sit on stools and copy books en masse. Very useful for university textbooks. Employed a lot of women. If you paid extra, you could get a book with woodblock print illustrations.

  2. Woodblock prints or metal etched prints or lithography - If you were really insane, you could carve the entire page’s wording and illustrations. Problem was that woodblock wore out pretty quickly, and etching an entire page on metal was a pain in the butt. Movable type was the way to go for printing words, but the other printing methods turned out to be great for art, playing cards, book illustrations, etc.

  3. Poor Man’s Bibles - Paraphrases of all the important Bible stories through pictures, or with words and pictures. Made with woodblock prints, of course! If you couldn’t afford a breviary, you could use the Poor Man’s Bible, or one of the various simplified psalters and offices, to learn Bible and prayer stuff every day.

In keeping with the no-spin zone we can also say Luther was an apostate, incited revolt, attempted to overthrow the Church, attempted to do away with the Mass, attempted to change the bible, was suggested to be pathologically mad, had feces throwing contests with the devil, talked to strange apparitions, incited the pillaging of Catholic Churches, and monasteries, promoted polygamy ,was a liar, misrepresented the Catholic faith, was excommunicated, and, not the last by far, broke his own vows. It was that he was quite mad ~shrug~


I don’t think this is true. Once the Bible societies began, I suspect they were much more prolific in translating into various languages than the Church.

The Church had multiple priorities, including spreading the Gospel, administering the sacraments, building churches, etc. Translating scripture was an important part of that, but in a lot of locations they probably used a predominant local or regional language, which is still the approach today. In many cases they may also have translated just selected scriptures rather than the whole Old and New Testaments. Bible societies, on the other hand, had a much simpler goal: translating the Bible into as many languages as possible.

Looking it up now, the BibleSociety.org website states “Only 542 of the world’s 6901 languages have a Bible.” It would surprise me if the Church has translated anywhere close to half of those. Update: This blog says there are 135 translations with the deuterocanonical books.

With “…no name lay guy” (being permitted access to a Bible and being able to reproduce it), I was referring to Guttenberg, not Luther.

As in: Johannes Guttenberg, a lay gay without any particular clout in the Church, was able to access the Bible, in order to make a copy of it.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.