The Old Deluder Satan
Education lays the foundation for the next generation in each society. In early America, the Bible was the key to education, even in how children learned their ABCs. The Puritans set the tone for this and ended up creating a society which was among the best-educated societies in the history of the world.
The first law passed in America related to education was an act in the Puritan colony of Massachusetts in 1642 and revised in 1647. It is known as the Old Deluder Satan Act because it states that one of the chief projects of that old deluder Satan is to keep people ignorant from the knowledge of the scriptures. Therefore, schools were to be systematically established throughout the colony.
That’s why wherever the Puritans went, they put a high premium on making sure that their children were well-educated. The Old Deluder Satan Act is an example of that.
Dr. Peter Lillback:
As America was being settled by the pioneers and the pilgrims, the one book that was brought with them was the Bible. Typically, it was the Geneva Bible. That’s the Bible of the Puritans of England, but the Anglicans had brought the King James Bible too and other versions of the English translation. It was very important. The first book to be printed in the new world was the Bay Psalm Book. In other words, they wanted people to sing the scriptures. That’s how important it was.
Literacy for the sake of reading the Bible went hand in hand. When children were taught their ABCs in Puritan New England, they were also taught a great deal of theology. Beginning in the 1690s, thousands of New England children were taught basic reading skills through a small blue book, the New England Primer. This book was quite influential and all the founding fathers from New England and even some beyond were weaned on biblical principles in part through this little book. This would include Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.
Dr. Daniel Dreisbach:
We find that many in the founding generation would have learned to read with a Bible open in front of them. There were others who learned to read with excerpts from the Bible. Think, for example, of the New England Primer which is sometimes called the little Bible of New England. Why? Because it was filled with passages from scripture and here was a text specifically designed to teach people how to read. So we lived in a culture at the end of the 18th century that knew the Bible and knew it well.
The New England Primer taught biblical truths to generations of early Americans. It included basic spiritual instructions like the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.
Rev. Travis Witt:
Ultimately, the Bible and the New England Primer which specifically talked about the things of the Bible in some kind of condensed form through catechisms were the two major books that were used to teach people to read, to teach people to understand how truth could be used purposefully to make society better.
Even the ABCs taught in the New England Primer taught Bible lessons. For example, “A, in Adam’s fall, we sinned all. B, heaven to find, the Bible mind. C, Christ crucified for sinners died.” And moving ahead to the end of the alphabet, “X, Xerxes did die and so must I. Y, While youth do cheer, death may be near. Z, Zaccheus he did climb the tree our Lord to see.”
Many of our founding fathers first learned their ABCs through biblical principles as taught in the New England Primer.
Dr. Peter Lillback:
The New England Primer is one of the classic earliest forms. Millions of copies were used of this book and it included a few of the Westminster shorter catechism, it’s variation. It had all kinds of biblical training in it. So the Bible was important for education in America. It was, if you will, the core of what America to be America.
Overall, the children of New England were weaned on the Bible, including biblical lessons in the New England Primer. The result was a literacy that has never been matched since. The Puritans took to heart the Bible verse that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
The Bible wasn’t just a mantelpiece ornament or a coffee table prop. In the homes of the early Americans, this book played a major role in education as we have seen and the results were so phenomenal that around 1800, John Adams said that to find an illiterate man in New England was as rare as a comet. Let us pray for a greater love for the scriptures today and a return to greater literacy as a result. For Providence Forum, I’m Jerry Newcombe.