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  • Writer's pictureDean Thompson

What the Museum of the Bible Taught Me

My wife and I had the grand opportunity of visiting the nation’s capital in September of 2019. Our adventures on this trip included a tour of the White House, a visit to the National Mall, and a couple Smithsonian museums. The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to the Museum of the Bible. This extraordinary exhibit “exists to invite all people to engage with the Bible.” Everyone who played a part in making this museum come to life truly made it engaging, informative, and interactive. I was enthralled by almost every facet of the museum—from exhibits of the Bible’s history to a kid’s playroom that features games about David and Goliath and Samson. There’s something for everyone at the museum. Rather than give you all the insights into the museum and what it has to offer, I’m going to share what the museum taught me. Hopefully this will inspire you to make a trip for yourself one day.

The Bible Was Used as an Oppressive Tool

If you’ve ever heard of “The Slave Bible” then you probably already know where I’m headed with this. For the first time, my eyes were opened to a piece of history that I wasn’t aware of. The museum has this Bible on display for only a select period of time. Thanks to the research at Fisk University, I learned that slave masters on Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies introduced ”The Slave Bible” to enslaved Africans in 1807. It was published in London and was used to teach Africans how to read and be “saved.” But there was something distinctive about this missionary Bible: its publishers only included select parts from the original biblical text. The Bible is missing 90% of the Old Testament and 50% of the New Testament. This, unfortunately, was done by design (Rev. 22:18-19). For instance, the book of Exodus was excluded because slave masters did not want to instill hope in Africans. We read in Exodus that the Israelites were liberated from the Egyptians and eventually found the promised land after 40 years in the wilderness. Not only that, the entire book of Revelation is missing from “The Slave Bible,” and scriptures that mentioned obedience to masters or slavery in general were kept to manipulate the enslaved (Eph 6:5; Col. 3:22).

The fact that men used select portions of the Bible as a manipulative tool reeks as the work of Satan (John 8:44). It breaks my heart that most of the enslaved probably never had a chance to hear the totality of scripture. God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). Unfortunately, slave owners had a motive that completely went against God’s will (2 John 9). I’m thankful that Fisk University and the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the National Museum of African American History and Culture has helped me understand such an unfortunate part of history.

Noteworthy Men Worked Tirelessly to Make the Bible More Accessible

All throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, there were a number of brave men who risked their lives to make the Bible more accessible to the common man. The museum helped me develop a deeper understanding of how these men went about their work. Take William Tyndale (1494-1536) for example. This English scholar played a vital role in the Protestant Reformation. He is most notably known for being the first person to translate the Hebrew and Greek texts of scripture into English, although it was left incomplete. Before Tyndale could finish his work, he was convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and burned at the stake. But his efforts would not go unnoticed. In 1611, the scholars who produced the King James Bible drew significantly from the Matthew Bible, Tyndale’s own work. Secondly, you have the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546). This man is known for many things, but some people probably don’t know that he successfully translated the Latin Bible into German so that the common people could access God’s word for themselves. While locked away in hiding at the Wartburg castle from 1520 to 1521, Luther began translating the NT from Greek. This work was completed in 1522. His complete version with the OT and some apocrypha was completed in 1534. These two men, as well as countless others, helped translate the Bible for the everyday man so that he could be subject to his own spirituality without having the Catholic Church determine their own spirituality for them.

The Bible Has Shaped Humanity in Various Ways

Whether or not some people would like to admit it, God’s inspired word has helped transform humanity over the centuries (2 Tim. 3:16-17). More specifically, the Bible has played a pivotal role in shaping this great nation. When English immigrants landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, they did so with the goal of finding religious freedom. Many members of the English Separatist Church wanted to break away from the Church of England, so they decided to take off for the New World on the famous Mayflower Compact in hopes of escaping religious persecution. The museum taught me that new churches were formed soon after pilgrims nearly traversed the shores safely to the New World. It was a place that was inhabited by Native Americans for a millennia. I learned that religious leaders successfully converted some Natives to “Christianity.” I also was taught that religious tolerance was ubiquitous in the New World—people were free to interpret the Bible anyway they wanted to and worship God as they saw fit (much like today). The museum did a great job pointing out that this nation was founded off of Christian principles. What’s more, every single one of America’s Ivy League schools uplifted God’s word at their inception. The museum also does a great job of informing the public about the Bible’s impact on the entire world. God’s word has been translated into thousands of languages, and there are some nations that are still working to have God’s word translated into their native tongue. The museum has an exhibit on display that showcases this fact. It’s something that you’ve got to see for yourself!

You’ve Got to Experience It For Yourself!

To say that I enjoyed the museum and all it had to offer would be a huge understatement. Not only did I learn the things mentioned above, but the museum signifies that God’s word transcends time (Matt. 24:35). The museum truly does live up to its mantra: “It exists to invite all people to engage with the Bible.” I am very happy that I was able to learn more about the Bible’s history and the impact that it has had on society. I am convinced that you will too if you decide to make the trip. It’s an experience that you will not regret! Best of all, the exhibit is free—you just have to find a way to get there.

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