Desiderius Erasmus: Reformer, Iconoclast, Biblical Scholar and Hero of the Faith

Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch scholar, philosopher and priest, was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on October 28, 1466. Despite being illegitimate, he received an excellent education in a series of catholic schools, which at the time, were the most prestigious pre-university academic institutions in Europe. He ultimately entered the catholic priesthood as a means to provide for himself, but there is little evidence that he was active in the church outside of his scholarly pursuits. He was a staunch critic of ecclesiastical abuses and pushed hard for reform inside the catholic system from his earliest days as a priest.

Erasmus is, without dispute, the father of the modem Greek biblical text used by Martin Luther’s German Bible; and the Tyndale, Geneva and King James Bibles. He was considered to be one of the most brilliant scholars of his age, and he was sought after by kings and intellectuals around Western Europe. He is frequently attacked for being Catholic, but his multitude of written works prove him to be the least Catholic Catholic of the 16th century, outside of Martin Luther, whom he influenced greatly, as I will discuss in detail.

Erasmus was a “humanist” but in the classical sense, meaning that he was a student of history, literature and languages in the tradition of Ancient Greece and Rome. He was NOT a secular humanist, as the term implies today. He is intentionally labeled a “Catholic humanist” in order to slander him and mislead the masses about who he truly was as THE major force behind the biblical Greek text we call the Textus Receptus today. He truly was the match that lit the fuse of the Reformation.

As proof of his discontentment with Rome, Erasmus publicly criticized a recently deceased Pope (Julius II) in 1514, and constantly attacked the corruption of the Catholic Church publicly and through thinly veiled anonymous tracts. He despised indulgences and any type of “pay for pray” scheme, and most importantly, he rejected and exposed as a fraud, Jerome’s fabled Latin vulgate. Few realize that Jerome stole the name vulgate from the Vetus Latina, the original Latin vulgate, circa 147 AD-420 AD, which used the Textus Receptus Greek and was (along with its progeny), wildly popular outside of Catholic circles for 1000 years. Over 10,000 of still exist today.

Erasmus was indeed the spark that ignited the Reformation via his 2nd edition Greek text(and corresponding Latin Biblical text across the page),which proved that Rome had intentionally mistranslated the Greek word “metanoia” as “doing penance” rather then what it truly means: “to repent.” I will discuss this error and others, further along.

Luther, while reading Erasmuses 2nd edition Greek New Testament(which he privately referred to as his “wife,” due to his devotion to it), in direct violation of papal decrees, came across the line in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” He immediately realized that everything he had learned about salvation via the Catholic machine, was a lie. He knew that, in order to be true to the God of Scripture he must vigorously oppose his Catholic masters. He did…and the Reformation was born. A popular saying of the era was that Erasmus laid the eggs and Luther hatched the chickens of the Reformation. Luther even used Erasmuses Greek New Testament biblical text as the foundation for his 1522 German New Testament, commonly known as the Luther Bible.

Erasmus ultimately authored 5 editions of his Greek New Testament text between 1516-1535. His 1519 2nd edition (the one used by Luther) is the one that consisted of a Greek translation on one side of the page with a corresponding Latin translation on the page next to it(side by side). Erasmus made his Greek and Latin texts using the Antiochan Greek manuscripts that came to the west after the fall of the Byzantine empire to the Ottomans in 1435. These manuscripts, and other similar manuscripts that had also originated from Antioch, Syria, were appropriately labeled the “Byzantine text.” (Today this manuscript family is also referred to as the Traditional Text, the Majority Text, the Syrian text or the Textus Receptus)

The 1519 Greek/Latin New Testament of Erasmus was designed to prove that the Catholic Latin vulgate was full of intentional doctrinal errors in favor of Rome. I previously noted the outrageous change in meaning given to metanoia, the Greek word for repentance.

Few people of the day, outside of the most educated scholars, could read Greek, but they could read Latin, and thus, were limited by Rome to Jerome’s vulgate. Due to Erasmuses Latin translation, all literate laymen were finally able to see, first hand, the corruption of the Jerome’s Catholic vulgate by Rome. “Vulgate” means “common” thus, all early Latin translations which were made for the general public (like the Vetus Latina, circa 147 AD)were called “Vulgates” since they were used by the common people. They ALL used the Antiochan family of Greek manuscripts(the Byzantine Text) as their foundation, which Rome despised since there were many verses and passages which directly convicted Rome of high treason against God.

** Please See the links at the end, which address the textual differences

As a result, Rome cleverly stole the term and created their own common Latin text, often called Jerome’s Catholic vulgate, which contained much doctrinal error since it was built on the foundation of very few, highly corrupt, heavily edited(by gnostics Origen, Philo or Marcion) Alexanderian Greek texts. Rome called it “vulgate” so that your average reader would assume it was from the same source text as the original Latin vulgates. Interestingly, few seminaries even mention the real Latin vulgate(even though 10,000 exist today!), and quickly skip to their beloved catholic fraud.

Several examples of intentional, pro Catholic, doctrinal errors contained in Jerome’s Latin vulgate are: the Greek word “metanoia” should be translated “repentance” but Rome translated it “penance.” “Repentance”from a heart belief in what Jesus did on the cross to pay for our sins, is what saves our souls. “Penance” is a catholic “work” assigned to the people by priests, in order for them to pay for their sins themselves, under the supervision of Rome,since the blood of Christ wasn’t good enough. It was often free labor for the church, or money paid by the sinner to the church for absolution. They obviously changed it to maintain control over the people,rather then have them go directly to Jesus, our high priest and savior, for absolution.

Also, in Luke 1, Jerome’s faux Latin Vulgate says “Mary full of grace,”thereby, making her a source of God’s grace, and justifying prayer to her. Erasmus translated that same passage, “hail one who has found God’s grace.” Once again, the goal is to get the peoples eyes off of Jesus and into a Catholic fable. Bible believers should know, without doubt, that Jesus alone is full of grace and truth. As we know, Mary even calls God her Savior in Luke 1:47, proving that she too was a sinner.

Jerome’s Latin Vulgate also claims that Jesus went to purgatory to help pay for our sins. Erasmus proved that the verse in question should say that Jesus “purged” our sins. That…is an outrageous heresy, minimizing His work on the cross, and ignoring three of the greatest words ever spoken on earth: “It…Is…Finished.”

The catholic priest, martyr and brave Bible warrior William Tyndale, used Erasmuses 1522 Greek New Testament text to create his legendary English bible. 83% of the KIng James Bible lines up with Tyndale’s text, proving Erasmuses monumental influence on English Bibles even today. The Matthews and Geneva Bibles also relied heavily on his work.

Later in life Erasmus made it clear that he rejected many key Catholic doctrines such as infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, and he, like Wycliffe and Tyndale, strongly believed that all Christians should have direct access to the scriptures. He was a bitter critic of the inquisition, and as previously noted, he despised the sale of indulgences.

As obvious as it sounds, Erasmus was also a strong proponent of freewill and ended up in a long and bitter feud with Luther over doctrine. He died in Basel Switzerland (a stronghold of the reformation) with his anabaptist friends in 1536. To further prove his disconnection with Rome,The council of Trent banned all of his writings (that ban is still in effect today!), and he was not permitted to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Any claim that he was a lifelong catholic ignores the reality of his life. Some, like Luther, attempt to create change from the outside. Erasmus believed that he could be a more effective agent of change inside the catholic machine.

In my ten year study of the Bible version issue, I can think of no single person who has had more of a positive impact on proliferating the word of God in its purest form, unedited by gnostics or Rome, then Desiderius Erasmus. He is slandered, misrepresented and maligned by many, but I believe we will all understand his brave and under appreciated labor for the Lord when we cross over to the other side. I’ll see you there…hopefully, soon.

** Below is a link to my primary Bible version article establishing, with great clarity, why the Greek Text used by the: Luther, Tyndale, Great, Bishop’s, Matthew’s, Geneva and King James Bibles is vastly superior to the Greek text used by the ESV, NASB, NIV, and all other new version bibles:The Bible Version Controversy: The Tale of Two Greeks

Another article explaining why the version issue matters: Another Reason for the KJB: the tale of one man’s torment at the hands of the NASB

My Evangelization trip to Key West, Florida:Piercing the Darkness: Preaching the Gospel in Key West, Florida


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