Erasmus’ influence on evangelicalism

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the first great religious humanist. He translated the Textus Receptus and was hugely influential in the philosophy of the 16th century reformers. His ideas of the “freedom of the will” introduced new liberating ideas into the center of the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland and Wittenberg, Germany. You could say that his ideas even shaped many of the ideals of today’s evangelical theology. Due to Erasmus’ huge influence on Zwingli, religion is now understood as something spiritual and internal (i.e., faith is personal in each individual). Moral and ethical reform now becomes an important part of the believer’s life (i.e., being born again; regeneration by the Holy Spirit). Jesus is now someone we imitate (WWJD—What Would Jesus Do?). The early church fathers are valued (e.g., Origin, Jerome, etc.). Religion’s purpose is to inculcate piety within the believer. The philosophy of Christ becomes a philosophy from which we live by (i.e., Christians do good works). The life, morals, and doctrines of the church needed to be reformed. Religious education becomes an important component in the life of the believer and the church (i.e., biblical knowledge, Sunday school). These are all vital parts of the Reformation and have influenced evangelical theology. His belief in returning back to the original sources (ad fontes) lent itself to the humanist ideals of having access to the original Greek texts and also being competent in understanding the original Greek. Out of passion and conviction, Erasmus translated the New Testament into Latin (1505, 1516, and 1520 CE). If it wasn’t for Erasmus, we might not have the bible, as we know it today. We might not have had Luther and Calvin either, which means we wouldn’t have Ulrich Zwingli and Philip Melanchthon, which means we also wouldn’t have evangelical Christianity. We owe a lot to Erasmus.

2 thoughts on “Erasmus’ influence on evangelicalism

  1. Yes, it was in Latin. Thanks for spotting this incorrect info for me Suzanne. I’ve never read anything of Erasmus’, and definitely not in Latin. it’s a language I never learned but would love to someday.


  2. Didn’t Erasmus translate the NT into Latin? Somehow, I have never seen a copy of this translation. He certainly promoted the translation into the vernacular, that was his intent, but I am not aware that he did so himself.

    I certainly enjoyed Erasmus very much when I read some of his articles and prefaces this fall.


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