The Bible holds a central position in Freemasonry for Christian members, just as holy texts of other faiths are integral to their Masonic traditions. Freemasonry draws extensively on biblical imagery, characters, and principles to convey its values and teachings. As the provided article outlines, the connections between Freemasonry and the Bible run deep throughout history.
The Roots of Freemasonry in Scripture
Freemasonry has its roots in the Bible. Masonic rituals reference biblical events, and many central Masonic symbols derive their meaning from scripture. For instance, Jacob’s Ladder connects heaven and earth in Genesis, representing for Masons the bridge between the divine and mortal realms. The Masonic lambskin apron symbolizes innocence and purity, inspired by aprons of fig leaves donned by Adam and Eve in Genesis.
Masonic degrees also interweave biblical verses into their ritual teachings at key moments. Examples include Ecclesiastes 12 for the Entered Apprentice, Amos 7 for the Fellow Craft, and 2 Thessalonians 3 for the Master Mason. The wise King Solomon, builder of the First Temple in Jerusalem, features prominently as a model of leadership for Freemasons to emulate. Legends around the building of King Solomon’s Temple form the backdrop for several Masonic degrees.
Biblical Characters as Masonic Exemplars
Certain biblical figures hold symbolic importance in Masonic ritual as paragons of Masonic virtues. For instance, the builders of Solomon’s Temple represent honor in one’s work. Hiram Abiff, the master builder who oversaw temple construction, exemplifies integrity until death. After being attacked by three ruffians for refusing to reveal Masonic secrets, his faithfulness unto death provides an aspirational model for Masons.
Another pivotal biblical figure in Freemasonry is St. John the Baptist. Masonic lodges carry his name, and he represents the syncretic nature of Masonry in drawing wisdom from diverse traditions. The Gospel of John focuses on light and dark, themes that run throughout Masonic teachings. St. John the Evangelist, attributed as the author of the Gospel of John, also holds an important place in Masonic symbolism for spreading spiritual light.
The Prominence of the Bible in Masonic Rituals
The Bible occupies the central position on the Masonic altar in lodges. It represents the Volume of Sacred Law for Christian Freemasons, who must vow their faith upon the holy book of their tradition. Even in lodges with members from multiple faiths, the Bible remains on the altar alongside their other sacred texts. As Masonic rituals proceed, the brothers circumambulate the altar in a show of reverence to the Volume of Sacred Law.
In many lodges, the King James Bible serves as the standard Masonic Bible. Masonic Bibles often include passages important to Masonic teachings and history. But at its core, the Masonic Bible contains the familiar text known to Christians outside of Freemasonry. Rather than altering scripture, Masonic Bibles provide context on the biblical foundations of Masonic ritual.
The Bible’s Origins and History of Translation
To appreciate the role of the Bible in Freemasonry, it helps to understand the book’s origins and evolution over centuries. As the provided overview describes, the earliest biblical texts emerged between 1300-100 BC, first on scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic. Much of the Old Testament took shape during this time period, though some books came later.
Around 250-50 BC, the Hebrew Bible got translated into Greek. This Septuagint version made the scriptures accessible to Jews outside Israel who knew Greek better than Hebrew. The Septuagint translation also facilitated the spread of biblical ideas to the non-Jewish world in the early days of Christianity.
Between the 7th-9th centuries AD, a group of Jewish scholars called the Masoretes edited and standardized the Hebrew biblical texts. This became the authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible for the next millennium. The Masoretes added vowels to the text since early Semitic languages like Hebrew wrote only consonants.
In 400 AD, St. Jerome translated the Greek and Hebrew scriptures into Latin as the Vulgate bible. This made the Bible readable for the Roman Empire and eventually all of Western Europe. The Vulgate served as the standard Christian bible for over a thousand years. This Latin translation held prominence when the first Old Charges of Freemasonry emerged in the 14th century.
The year 1455 marked a major milestone with Johannes Gutenberg’s printing of the Vulgate Bible using revolutionary movable type. This enabled mass production of the book for the first time. Prior to the printing press, bibles had to be painstakingly copied by hand, resulting in errors creeping in over centuries.
William Tyndale published the first printed English translation of the Bible from Hebrew sources in 1525-1530. Persecuted for his work, Tyndale showed commitment to spreading scripture in the common tongue. Subsequent pioneering English translations mentioned in the overview include the Coverdale Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Douay Bible.
The most widely recognized English translation emerged in 1611 with the King James Bible. Drawing on the preceding translations, it became the standard Protestant Bible for centuries and heavily impacted English literature as a whole. The King James Bible’s eloquent language resonated with Freemasons, making it a natural choice for Masonic lodges in the English-speaking world.
Later translations into English strove to incorporate advances in archaeology, textual analysis, and linguistics. These include the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version. However, the King James Bible endures as the preferred Masonic Bible for its timeless elegance. Its verses feel familiar from centuries of use, preserving the traditional feel of Masonic ritual.
The Interwoven History of the Bible and Freemasonry
As this history shows, the Bible traces an intricate path over thousands of years. Its journey has intertwined with the origins and evolution of Freemasonry for centuries. The English translations familiar to the early Freemasons also entered America with the first colonists. Even the first book printed in America was the Algonquin Bible, translated for Native Americans.
This highlights how Freemasonry is fundamentally rooted in the Bible and its transmission across cultures. Masons rely on biblical imagery, stories, and ethics to impart their principles of morality, charity, and service to humanity. The myriad translations of the Bible have made its ideas accessible across continents, languages, and faiths. In a similar ecumenical spirit, Freemasons embrace members of all religious backgrounds. For Christian Masons, the Bible provides the foundation for Masonic teachings of light overcoming darkness through faith, wisdom, and righteousness.
Understanding the ancestry of the Bible helps illuminate its importance to Freemasons. The Bible serves not just as a Volume of Sacred Law, but as a source of timeless symbols and morals enacted through Masonic ritual. Study of biblical history and symbolism can grant Masons a deeper appreciation of their craft by tracing its lineage back through the ages. Just as the Bible has passed through generations in a succession of forms, Masonic traditions live on through the initiation of new members into the ancient fraternity. In this way, Freemasonry endures as a “handmaid of religion” promoting faith, moral truth, tolerance, and service.