Without the printing press, the protestant reformation might never have gotten off the ground – at least not so quickly and with such geographical reach. This observation has been made by many scholars over many years. No doubt, the press helped to disseminate reformation ideas far and wide in a short period of time. Likewise, the ability to mass-produce new bible translations in the languages of ordinary people should be seen as one of the great, positive outcomes of the reformation era. The reformation enabled much higher levels of biblical literacy among some christians and generated a deep and rich tradition of hymnody – perhaps the surest sign of genuine reformation. These aspects of the protestant legacy should, most certainly, be celebrated.
However, the printing press transformed the way christians interact with the bible in other, perhaps more problematic, ways – ways that the original reformers would have never wanted. Namely, prior to the mass-production of bibles beginning in the 15th century, all christians encountered sacred scripture as, first and foremost, a liturgical script. They understood themselves as participants in a great drama authored and directed by the Triune God – the God in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Prior to the printing press, the bible was conceived in sacramental terms – as the very fabric, so to speak, of a sacramental order where God ‘s presence (both his grace and judgment) is mediated by material things.