The Bible as a weapon of war

The Bible is an enduring tool of salvation; it might also have been a tool of war. Photo: Donald L. Brake

FLOWER MOUND, Tx., August 29, 2011—A small squad of Minutemen broke into the clearing, rushing for a hedge just below Church Ridge. The forest to the west of the ridge belched clouds of smoke from a barrage of musket fire of a full Regiment of the British Army.

The smell of gunpowder hung in the air that balmy fall morning. The Minutemen trembled as the thunder of guns pounded the positions of the ragtag American army. The fear was not so much for the fierceness of the Redcoats as that they were nearly out of gun wads for their muskets.

Gunpowder was plentiful, but the lack of wads rendered their weapons useless. As they huddled beneath the hedge, bracing for a charge from the fully armed Redcoats, one of the enlisted men sent word to the officer in charge that there was a church just over the ridge where they could take cover. The self-appointed leader of the group motioned for three of the men to head for the church.

Shedding their backpacks, with muskets in hand and powder horns flapping, three men ran weaving and darting amidst a hail of gunfire. Bursting into the sanctuary, they saw a few German Bibles and some hymnbooks on a rough oak table. The young private saw immediately that the paper from the Bibles and hymnbooks could be used for making gun wads.

With Bibles and hymnbooks under their arms, they bolted back toward the hedge as bullets whistled past. Their comrades’ eyes were fixed on the brave soldiers. They had a deep admiration for their courage but couldn’t help wondering, “why in the world are they toting Bibles and hymnbooks?”

Even in this life-threatening situation, this was not the time for a church service!

As the men cleared the hedge with a single bound, they hurriedly began passing the Bibles along the line. Each soldier ripped out a page and began tearing the pages into small pieces for gun wads. Reloading their well-worn flintlock muskets and with a renewed sense of empowerment, the revived Americans returned fire on the surprised British unit. (From: Donald L. Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible, Baker Books, 2008)

While this story is apocryphal, it has long been handed down as Revolutionary war lore that the leaves of Bibles and hymnals provided gun wads for the soldiers’ muskets. The Bible is a book that saves men’s lives spiritually; on this day, it may have saved men’s lives literally.

The German Bible that was so sweet to one army’s taste and yet bitter to the other’s was a 1776 Christopher Sauer German Bible, today called the “Gun Wad Bible.”

Eliot Indian Bible leaf (Photo: Donald L. Brake)

Eliot Indian Bible leaf (Photo: Donald L. Brake)

Sauer was a deeply religious man. Some suggest he was a member of the German Baptist Church. Even if he was not, he certainly was in sympathy with it. Two German Bibles were in use in Sauer’s day: the Berlegerg and Luther Bibles (both printed in Germany). The Berlegerg Bible was in four volumes and very expensive, out of the reach of most poor German Americans. This led Christopher Sauer to advocate the printing of Bibles in America.

The German Baptists raised money for the purpose of providing religious books and a printing press for their friends in America. The incompetence of their printer, Jacob Gaus, in the business end of printing led to failure; the business was suspended.

Christopher Sauer purchased the press and began printing books. In 1743 he published an issue of 1,200 copies of the first Bible printed in America in a European language. The Elliot Indian Bible in Algonquin language of 1663 was the first Bible printed on American soil.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It gives us opportunity to reflect on the tradition the Bible has given to America. The Bible is not just a “religious book,” it is woven into the fabric of our culture and society.

It has fallen on hard times in our modern age of freedom of speech and separation of Church and state. Nevertheless, it remains a powerful weapon for good in our society.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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