Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Bear Bible

A few years ago while on a business trip to New England I had some time to visit the historical society in the small town of Windsor, CT.  I had discovered this place on a previous trip and was back to take a few pictures. Taking the pictures was something I had worked out...you see most museums prohibit the taking of photos of very old artifacts due to the deterioration caused by the momentary, but intense light produced by a camera flash.  But I just had to have a photo of one particular item. I had written the society curator a few weeks before and of course had laid it on pretty thick about how much I loved history and had really enjoyed visiting their museum on my previous visit and that I really wanted a photo of one particular item. I must have hit a heartstring, or maybe she sensed I was was a "historical" kindred spirit, or maybe she was just thrilled that someone from out of town was so excited about their small historical society. Anyway, she agreed to let me bring my camera and take a photo.

The item, shown in the photo above...was the object of my photo quest that day, an almost 400 year old Geneva Bible (circa 1625). This was the family bible of the Jonathan Gillete family who came over to America on the ship "Mary and John" in 1630 as part of the Puritan congregation that settled Windsor in 1634. It is known as the "Bear Bible" from the scratches on its ends, which, according to family history, was made by a bear clawing at a window propped open by the bible.

So, why the fascination with an old bible you ask? Well, I'd be lying if I didnt admit that I am fascinated by objects and artifacts from early colonial America, and having a nearly 400 year old bible just inches from my fingertips was really cool...but what really made an impact on me was the realization that this bible represents much more. The Geneva Bible was the bible produced by the Reformers in the late 16th century and indeed if one was privileged enough to own a copy of an english translation in early colonial New England, it would have been the Geneva edition. This Bible had a huge influence upon the founding of America as did the Reformers that translated it. Long before America declared its independence, many of the Reformers defended principles that birthed liberty in the modern world.

Recently while studying Calvins "Institutes on the Christian Religion", I was struck by the fact that Calvin had so much to say about civil government. John Eidsmoe, a noted scholar on the impact of Christianity on the United States Constitution writes that scholars on both sides of the Calvin "theological" divide agree that he might be the father of modern liberty as well as the intellectual founding father of America. John Adams, agreed with this sentiment and issued this pointed charge: “Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect”. The Reformers wrote about and modeled many of the principles of liberty later embraced by our own Founders: Anti-Statism, the transcendent principles of law as the foundation of an ethical legal system, the principle that man must be ruled by a system of law higher than himself, free market economics, decentralized authority, and an educated citizenry as a safeguard against tyranny. You see, the cause of American self government did not begin in 1776, but rather it began with the Protestant Reformation, indeed one could argue it began with the scriptures themselves!

So, in essence this bible that I was priveleged to photograph is a mark of time gone by, but that mark bears the indelible fingerprint of the Providential hand of Alimighty God as he orchestrated events in the founding of our country.  Give Him glory today!

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