What is the Gutenberg Bible?

The Gutenberg Bible was the first Bible printed with the moveable-type printing press. It gets its name from the inventor of the printing press—Johannes Gutenberg who lived in Mantz, Germany. Not much is known about Johannes Gutenberg; no one knows whether he was married or had children, where he was born, what he looked like, or where he was buried. What is known, however, are the improvements Gutenberg made on the printing process.

The moveable-type printing press was different from previous printing presses in various ways. It used metal letters that could be reused and rearranged, as opposed to the previous wooden stamps painstakingly carved out specifically for each page, saving a lot time in the process. Gutenberg minimized the spaces between lines, allowing for forty-two lines per page. He printed double folio: each sheet of paper had four columns of text on each side, making four pages per sheet. He also created an oil-based ink that he used over a water-based ink, that would adhere better to the metal letters. Gutenberg rubricated the sheets of paper by passing the sheet through the press twice, once using black ink and again with red ink, creating headings and chapter breaks. The Gutenberg Bible was printed in this manner in the 1450s, one of the first mass-produced books using this style printer.

Gutenberg Bibles often came bound in three to four volumes, and were quite expensive. Because of their value, they were rarely purchased for personal use—most of the time they were used communally in monasteries and convents. Only forty-nine copies of the Gutenberg Bible have survived, and of those only twenty-one are complete copies. While the Gutenberg Bible was printed in Latin rather than the language of the people and was quite expensive, it was a major step in bringing access to the Bible closer to the common people. As the moveable-type printing press made books available to a wider variety of people, more people were motivated to be literate. Knowledge was spread through the Western world as more books were printed.

It is no coincidence that the Protestant Reformation happened a little over fifty years after Gutenberg's printing press. Reformers used the moveable-type press to produce the Bible in the language of the common people, giving broader access to the gospel. God's Word spread and history was forever changed. As Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Luke 21:33). God is always working to bring His Word to each and every person.

Related Truth:

The Latin Vulgate Bible — What is it?

The Protestant Reformation — What was it?

Why should I believe the Bible?

Why should we study the Bible?

I want to start reading the Bible. Where should I begin?

Return to:
Truth about the Bible

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is a ministry of