Was Martin Luther a revolutionary?
No, he nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church on Oct. 31, 1517, to invite participation in an academic debate regarding the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church.
Yes, Martin Luther wanted church members to read the Bible in their own language, instead of depending upon clerical interpretations of the Vulgate Latin Bible. That desire was possible following the invention of movable type by Gutenberg circa 1440.
Between 1522 and 1534, Luther completed the translation of the New Testament from Greek and the Old Testament from Hebrew. Luther’s dream of placing a Bible in people’s hands was realized in 1534 when the entire Bible was available in German.
The Bible is the most widely sold and read book in the world. According to writer James Chapman, more than 3.9 billion copies have been sold in the last 50 years.
Five-hundred years later, the world’s most technologically advanced museum takes Luther’s dream to a new dimension. On Nov. 17, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. is set to open so countless visitors may explore the Bible, its history, message and impact through interactive venues.
According to its website, the Museum of the Bible was founded as a nonprofit in 2010. It is “non-sectarian, non-political, and claims it will not proselytize.” According to museum President Cary Summers, “Hopefully, we will present the Bible in such a creative way that it will generate in people an interest to read it and pursue further understanding of it.” External advisers work with Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and other religious and secular groups.
The museum, two blocks from the National Mall and three blocks from the Capitol, encompasses eight floors, each with a distinct theme. The 430,000-square-foot facility makes it one of the five largest of the more than 200 museums in D.C.
The grand entrance of the refurbished 1923 red-brick building is 40 feet high and is flanked by bronze panels recreating the printing bed of the first page of Genesis from the Gutenberg Bible.
A 140-foot digital LED canvas of Biblical images on the ceiling welcomes visitors into the grand lobby. Visitors personalize tours via a tablet. The first floor houses two libraries, a children’s area and gift and coffee shops.
The second floor focuses on the biblical impact on world culture and history in fields other than religion — every area of life outside of religion. One item is the replica of the Liberty Bell; another, Julia Ward Howe’s original manuscript of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
On the third floor, visitors explore the narrative from Abraham through the creation of Israel and further to the ministry of Jesus and the early church via hologram technology. Visitors experience a facsimile of Nazareth in the first century. A section on the Jewish Bible is also on this floor.
The fourth floor presents information on biblical history and archeology.
A 500-viewer amphitheater is on the fifth floor. In addition to dramas, the museum will sponsor scholarly lectures and multimedia performances in this area. Exhibit spaces on this level accommodate displays from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Louvre and private collections.
The sixth-floor restaurant features dishes from the Bible. Visitors view stained glass exhibits and enjoy viewing areas overlooking the National Mall and U.S. Capitol and gardens with plants named in the Bible. A gathering room on this floor seats 1000 guests.
Two subterranean floors house research labs, libraries and space for temporary exhibits.
Among the 40,000 objects and biblical artifacts are biblical papyri, Torah scrolls, rare Bibles, Jewish artifacts and contemporary treasures of Christian and Jewish origin. Steve Green has donated 13 fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Some have concerns about the purpose of the museum. Charles Colson summarized the Bible in a few words: “The Bible — banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history…”
Just as Luther 500 years ago, modern visionaries at the Museum of the Bible bring the book to the people to study for themselves.
For more information on the museum, visit https://www.museumofthebible.org/museum.