The Bible – Masonic

The Bible is properly called a greater light of Freemasonry, for from the center of the Lodge it pours forth upon the East, the West, and the South its refulgent rays of Divine truth. The Bible is used among Freemasons as a symbol of the will of God, however it may be expressed.

Therefore, whatever to any people expresses that will may be used as a substitute for the Bible in a Masonic Lodge. Thus, in a Lodge consisting entirely of Jews, the Old Testament alone may be placed upon the altar, and Turkish Freemasons make use of the Koran. Whether it be the Gospels to the Christian, the Pentateuch to the Israelite, the Koran to the Mussulman, or the Vedas to the Brahman, it everywhere Masonically conveys the same idea-that of the symbolism of the Divine Will revealed to man.

The history of the Masonic symbolism of the Bible is interesting. It is referred to in the manuscripts before the revival as the book upon which the covenant was taken, but it was never referred to as a great light. In the old ritual, of which a copy from the Royal Library of Berlin is given by Krause (Die drei �ltersten Kunsturkunden der Freimaurerbr�derschaft, or The Three Oldest Art Documents of the Masonic Fraternity, 1, 32), there is no mention of the Bible as one of the lights. Preston made it a part of the furniture of the Lodge; but in monitors of about 1760 it is described as one of the three great lights. In the American system, the Bible is both a piece of furniture and a great light.

The above paragraphs by Doctor Mackey may well be extended on account of the peculiar position occupied by the Bible in our Fraternity. No one goes through the ceremonies and participates in Masonic activities uninfluenced by the Bible.

Studies of the Ritual necessarily rest upon the Scriptures and of those inspired by Bible teachings and language. One good Brother earnestly and faithfully labored to have certain ceremonies freely edited but when he, devout Churchman as he was, understood that sundry peculiarities of language followed the example of the Bible, he gladly gave up his purpose to alter that which abides equally typical of age as the Scriptures.

What had seemed to him mere repetition was meant for weighty emphasis, as in James (x, 27) “Pure religion and undefiled;” Hebrews (xii, 28) “with reverence and godly fear;” Colossians (iv, 12) “stand perfect and complete,” and also in the Book of Common Prayer, the word-pairs “dissemble nor cloak,” “perils and dangers,” “acknowledge and confess,” and so on.

These may well be mentioned here as the tendency to change ceremonies is seldom curbed by any consideration of the peculiar merit, other than their quaintness, of the old expressions.

The Scriptures, the Holy Writings, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Bible, this word Bible from the Greek, the (sacred) books; the two parts, Old and New Testaments, the former recording the Covenants, attested by the prophets, between the God of Israel and His people, Christ the central figure of the latter work speaks of the new Dispensation, a new Covenant, and the word Covenant in the Latin became Testamentum from which we obtain the word commonly used for the two divisions of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. These divisions are further separated into the books of the Bible, sixty-six in all, thirty-nine in the Old Testament, twenty-seven in the New.

We must remember that Old and New refer to Covenants, not to age of manuscripts.

Earliest Hebrew writings of, the Old Testament only date back to the ninth century after Christ, several centuries later than the earliest New Testament Scriptures.

There is also another method of division in which the books of the Old Testament are counted but as twenty-four, First and Second Kings, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and then the minor prophets, as they are called, being grouped as one for several hundred years by the Jews and then divided into two in the sixteenth century. Roughly we may divide the books into the law according to Moses; the historical books of Joshua, Samuel, and the anonymous historians; the poetry and philosophy; and the prophecies, of the Old Testament.

These standards the books contain are known as the canon, originally a measuring rod or rule. The canon to some authorities admits none of the books of the Apocrypha, which are of value for the insight they afford of Jewish religious life. There are the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, and the Latin Old Testament, the Vulgate (Septuagint, a translation traditionally made by seventy persons, from the Latin septuaginta; and the Vulgate, another Latin expression, applied to the Saint Jerome version and meaning what is common) which in these works include the Apocrypha, usually held uncanonical by Protestants, and then there are certain other books that both Roman Catholics and Protestants consider as having even less authority. Apocrypha comes from two Greek works krypton, to hide, and apo, meaning away. There is also an Apocrypha of the New Testament. Many Christian writings are of this class. Some add much light upon the early Church.

The New Testament was written at various times, Saint Matthew being followed about 64-70 A.D, by the work of Saint Mark at Rome. Saint Luke treats the subject historically, and claim is made that this writer was also responsible for recording the Acts of the Apostles. Saint John probably wrote his gospel near the close of the first century. His style is distinctive, and his material favored in formulating the Christian Creed.

The early Hebrew text of the Bible was wholly of consonants. Not until the sixth or eighth centuries did the pointed and accented lettering, a vowel system, appear, but before the tenth century much devoted labor was applied upon critical commentaries by Jewish writers to preserve the text from corruption. The Targum is practically a purely Jewish version of the Old Testament dating from soon before the Christian Era. The Septuagint is a Greek version used by the Jews of Alexandria and a Latin translation of the sixth century by’ Jerome is the Vulgate. These three are leading versions.

The history of the several translations is most interesting but deserves more detail than is possible in our limited space. A few comments on various noteworthy editions, arranged alphabetically, are as follows:

Coverdale’s Version. Known as the “Great Bible,” translated by Miles Coverdale, 1488-1568, a Yorkshireman, educated with the Augustine friars at Cambridge, ordained at Norwich, 1514, becoming a monk.

By 1526 his opinions changed, he left his monastery, preached against confession, and against images in churches as idolatry. He was on the Continent in 1532 and probably assisted Tyndale in his task. His own work, the first complete Bible in English, appeared in 1535, the Psalms are those still used in the Book of Common Prayer. He was at Paris in 1538 printing an edition, when many copies were seized by the Inquisition, but a few got to England where the Great Bible was published in 1539.

Coverdale was Bishop of Exeter in 1551. An exile later, he had part in the Geneva edition, 1557-60.

Douai Version. Sometimes it is spelled Douay. A town in northern France, formerly an important center for exiled Roman Catholics from England.

Here the Douai Bible in English was published anonymously, translated from the Vulgate and doubtless by refugees at the Seminary at Douai and the English College at Rheims, the New Testament first appearing in 1582, the Old Testament in 1609–10.

Sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church the text has undergone several revisions, notably in 1749–50.

Genevan Bible. Called also the Breeches Bible from its translation of Genesis iii, 7 “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches.”

Printed in a plainly readable type, this 1560 edition improved the former black-letter printing and was a complete revision of Coverdale’s “Great Bible” in a bandy form.

Following the plan of a New Testament issued at Geneva in 1557, a Greek-Latin one in 1551, and the Hebrew Old Testament, this Bible had the text separated into verses and there were also marginal notes that proved popular.

King James Version. Known also as the Authorized Version, a task begun in 1604, the work was published in 1611, the actual revision requiring two years and nine months with another nine months preparing for the printing. Doctor Miles Smith, Bishop of Gloucester, 1612, tells in the old preface of the style and spirit of his associates.

They went to originals rather than commentaries, they were diligent but not hasty, they labored to improve and (modernizing the good Bishop’s spelling) “lid not disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered, but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.”

Mazarin Bible. Notable as the first book printed from movable metal types, about 1450, probably by Gutenberg in Germany, but this is also credited to other printers, as Peter Schoffer. The name of this Latin reprint of the Vulgate is from that of Cardinal Mazarin, 1602-61, a Frenchman in whose library the first described copy was discovered.

Printers Bible. An early edition having a curious misprint (Psalm cxix, 161), the “Princes have persecuted me without a cause,” reading the word Printers for Princes.

Revised Version. A committee appointed in February, 1870, presented a report to the Convocation of Canterbury, England, in May of that year, that it “should nominate a body of its own members to undertake the work of revision, who shall be at liberty to invite the co-operation of any eminent for scholarship, to whatever nation or religious body they may belong.”

Groups of scholars were formed shortly afterwards and similar co-operating companies organized in the United States, the Roman Catholic Church declining to take part. Ten years were spent revising the New Testament, submitted to the Convocation in 1881, the Old Testament revision in 1884, the revised Apocrypha in 1895. After this conscientious labor had calm, not to say cool, reception, changes were made in favorite texts, alterations upset theories, for some, the revision was too radical and for others too timid, even the familiar swing and sound of the old substantial sentences had less strength in their appeal to the ear and to many the whole effect was weakened. Yet this would naturally be the result of any painstaking revision, especially so with a work of such intimacy and importance.

Later revisions have appeared. One from the University of Chicago is a skillful edition of the New Testament by Professor E. J. Goodspeed, whose attempt to reproduce the spirit today of the conversational style of the old originals is praiseworthy as a purpose, though we shall probably all continue to prefer that best known.

Tyndale’s Version.. William Tyndale, 1490-1536, was born in Gloucestershire, England, on the Welsh border, went to the Continent, first to Hamburg, then to Cologne, to translate and print the Bible. This publication forbidden, he and his secretary escaped to Worms where an edition of the New Testament was completed in 1526. His pamphlets indicting the Roman Church and the divorce of the English king, Henry VIII, were attacks without gloves and powerful influence was exerted in return. His surrender was demanded.

But not until 535 was he seized, imprisoned near Brussels, tried for heresy and on October 6, 1536, strangled to death and his body burnt. His translations are powerful and scholarly, his literary touch certain and apt, experts crediting him with laying the sure foundation of the King James Version of the Bible.

Vinegar Bible. A slip of some one in an edition of 1717 gave the heading to the Gospel of Saint Luke xx, as the “Parable of the Vinegar,” instead of Vineyard.

Wicked Bible. An old edition,1632, which omits by some accident the word not from the seventh commandment (Exodus 14).

Wyclifle’s Version. Spelled in many ways, John of that name, 1320–84, an English reformer, condemned to imprisonment through the Bulls of Pope Gregory XI, the death of the king and other interferences gave him some relief, but his attacks did not cease and his career was stormy. Dying in church from a paralytic stroke, his remains, thirty years later were, by a Decree of the Council of Constance and at the order of Pope Martin V, dug from the grave and destroyed by fire. Wycliffe’s personal work on the translation of the. Bible is in doubt, be it much or little, though there is no question that his main contribution was his earnest claims for its supreme spiritual authority and his success in making it popular, his devotion and ability paving the way and setting the pace for the pioneer English editions known by his name, the earliest finished about 1382, a revision of it appearing some six years later.

The reader desirous of studying the Bible will get great help in locating passages by any Concordance, listing the words with their text references, Cruden’s of 1737 being the basis of English editions. A Bible Dictionary and the Encyclopedias assist in unearthing many details of consequence. Several special treatises on various important persons and places are available, the scientific publications of the Palestine Exploration Fund, established in 1865, very useful. The study of the life of Christ is readily pursued through the New Testament with what is called a Harmony of the Gospels, an arrangement to bring corresponding passages together from the several documents, a convenient exhibition in unity of the isolated but closely related facts. Books on the Book of all Books are many.

Reason and Belief, a work by a well known scientist, Sir Oliver Lodge, is not only itself worthy but it lists others of importance for study. Appeal of the Bible Today, Thistleton Mark, shows how the Bible interprets itself and how it bears interpretation, a book listing freely many other authorities and itself also of great individual value.

These are typical of many excellent treatises.

Of the literary values, two books in particular show clearly the influence of the Scriptures upon pre-eminent writers, George Allen’s Bible References of John Ruskin, and The Bible in Shakespeare by William Burgess, the latter treating a field which many authors, Eaton, Walter, Ellis, Moulton, and others, have tilled. Listen to John Ruskin (Our Fathers have told us, chapter iii, section 37) on the Bible. It contains plain teaching for men of every rank of soul and state in life, which so far as they honestly and implicitly obey, they Will be happy and innocent to the utmost powers of their nature, and capable of victory over all adversities, whether of temptation or pain.

Indeed, the Psalter alone, which practically was the service book of the Church for many ages, contains merely in the first half of it the sum of personal and social Wisdom.

The 1st, 8th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 24th psalms, well learned and believed, are enough for all personal guidance; the 48th, 72nd, and 75th, have in them the law and the prophecy of all righteous government ; and every real triumph of natural science is anticipated in the 104th.

For the contents of the entire volume, consider what other group of history and didactic literature has a range comparable with it. There are:

I. The stories of the Fall and of the Flood, the grandest human traditions founded on a true horror of sin.

II. The story of the Patriarchs, of which the effective truth is visible to this day in the polity of the Jewish and Arab races.

III. The story of Moses, with the results of that tradition in the moral law of all the civilized world.

IV. The story of the Kings-virtually that of all Kinghood, in David, and of all Philosophy, in Solomon: culminating in the Psalms and Proverbs, with the still more close and practical Wisdom of Ecclesiastics and the Son of Sirach.

V. The story of the Prophets-virtually that of the deepest mystery, tragedy, and permanent fate, of national existence.

VI. The story of Christ.

VII. The moral law of Saint John, and his closing Apocalypse of its fulfillment.

Think, if you can match that table of contents in any other-I do not say ‘book’ but ‘literature.’

Think, no far as it is possible for any of us—either adversary or defender of the faith-to extricate his intelligence from the habit and the association of moral sentiment based upon the Bible, what literature could have taken its place, or fulfilled its function, though every library in the world had remained, unravaged, and every teacher’s truest words had been written down.

As to Shakespeare we are reminded by the mention of his name of the monitorial item on the wasting of man (from Henry viii, iii, 2), “Today he puts forth the tender leaves, tomorrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honors thick upon him,” and so on, a selection seldom adhering closely to the original words.

This is the Shakespeare in whose works we have so much biblical connection that Sprague, in his Notes on the Merchant of Venice, says “Shakespeare is so familiar with the Bible that we who know less of the Sacred Book are sometimes slow. to catch his allusions.” Green’s History of the English People tells graphically and convincingly of the power of the Bible at the Reformation when the translation and reading of it in the common tongue was no longer heresy and a crime punishable by fire, no more forbidden but almost the only, book in common reach.

Had Shakespeare any’ book at all, that book was the Bible.

Brother Robert Burns ( The Cotter’s Saturday Night) poetically describes the evening worship, and the reading of the Bible:

The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or, Moses bade autumnal warfare wage
With Malek’s ungracious progeny ;
Or, how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
Or Jacob’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire ;
Or other sacred seers that tune the sacred lyre.
Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heaven the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
How His first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land :
How he, who lone in Pathos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand, ,
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounced by
Heaven’s command.

– Source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry