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The Gospel in Spain

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Category Articles
Date May 30, 2018

Heroes of the Spanish Reformation

In the first part of the sixteenth century, Luther’s publication of the Ninety-Five Theses started a new movement across Europe which we know as the Reformation. By 1525, not only were Luther’s works translated into Spanish but Illuminist teaching was taking hold and subject to scrutiny and opposition.

Valera, from Andalusia, brought the gospel to Seville (one of the early centres) in the first part of the sixteenth century, after his conversion through reading a Latin Bible. He was a preacher imprisoned by the early form of the Inquisition (the body charged with maintaining the Catholic faith in Spain). He died confined to being held in a monastery, but not before a large number of people in Sevilla began to gather into what was in effect the beginnings of a Protestant congregation of around 800 people.

Three students in Alcala had a great influence in Seville: Vargas was a lecturer on Scripture; Egidio was the official cathedral preacher; Ponce de la Fuente was confessor and chaplain to Charles V, until he became the cathedral preacher after Egidio was condemned, but he died as a prisoner for Lutheran ‘heresy’. All helped in the growth and spread of biblical thinking.

Among other influences were two brothers: Alfonso Valdes was Charles V’s secretary and a great admirer of Erasmus. His death from the plague in Vienne saved him from the Inquisition. Juan, his brother, was an Illuminist at the home of the marquis of Villena. When he published a dialogue about Christian doctrine he had to go to Naples where he started a Reformed movement in Italy.

The work of the Spanish Reformation often resulted in death for its supporters, with many being burnt at the stake in Seville in 1560. However, their vision and commitment led to a change in Christian thinking and practice across the whole of Spain.

A Spanish Reformed Catechism was printed in Seville as early as 1550, Calvin’s Institutes were translated by Valera, and the work of the Spanish Reformers like Ponce de la Fuente, together with Enzina’s translation of the New Testament and Valdes’ Bible commentaries, were published in Antwerp.

The whole Bible in Spanish was completed long before other translations, such as the King James Version. It is considered a literary monument in Spain. And it is still the version most used by Evangelicals in Latin America. Through danger and opposition these Reformers and others like them brought change to Spain and paved the way for Gospel workers past and present to share God’s hope, truth, and love.

Pastor Jose de Segovia, Madrid

The Translation of the Bible Into Spanish

The greatest achievement of the Spanish Renaissance was the composition of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible which opened up new possibilities for understanding Scripture and spreading the gospel in Spain.

Words have their own unique character, and no revelation of them can entirely express their full meaning so that every student of Holy Scripture might have at hand the original texts themselves and be able to quench his thirst at the very fountainhead of the water that flows into life everlasting. . .so that the hitherto dormant study of Holy Scripture may now at last begin to revive.

It was Cardinal Francisco Jiminez de Cisneros (1436-1517) who wrote those words in his preface to the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, which was the first of its sort. It set out several languages side by side (polyglot) as an expression of the purpose and potential that this new work on Scripture offered to readers.

This man was confessor to Queen Isabella, he was Archbishop of Toledo, and Regent of Spain. In 1502 he began his work on this Bible and it eventually filled six large folio volumes. He had under him a team of editors and scholars working on valuable Hebrew, Greek, and Latin manuscripts from different sources.

The first volume to appear in 1514 was the fifth of the set. It contained the Greek text and the Latin translation of the New Testament, printed in two parallel columns. Had they put this volume into circulation then, it would have predated Erasmus’ edition of the New Testament by two years. However, they did not do this because they want all of the polyglot to be completed before official publication. Volume six, which contained glossaries, also appeared in 1514 but it took longer for the first four volumes to be completed. These included the Old Testament arranged with the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Greek text of the Septuagint (with the Latin translation between the lines), and the Latin Vulgate text in the middle. The first volume also contained the Aramiac translation of the Pentateuch known as the Targum Onkelos, as well as the Latin Translation.

The complete work was ready in 1517 but due to the fact that Cisneros was seeking papal approval, publication was delayed until early 1522. In total, 606 copies were made, six of which were on vellum. The Complutensian Bible paved for later editions of the Bible. Erasmus’ fourth edition of his New Testament in 1527 displays its influences, and it is also believed that Tyndale consulted the Hebrew text of the Complutensian. Other polyglots followed. There was the Antwerp Polyglot (or Biblia Regia) in 1572 with the Spanish scholar Arias Montanus overseeing its publication. The London Polyglot (or Waltoniam) did not appear until 1657.

Cardinal Cisnero’s work enabled more people to access the Bible, understand its words of hope and truth and to share its powers with others. Notable among them were some of the Spanish Reformers of the sixteenth century, such as Juan Perez de Pinenda, Francisco de Enzinas, Casiodoro de Reina, and Cipriano de Valera. They in turn translated the Bible into Spanish.

Jose Moreno Berrocal, Pastor in Alcazer de San Juan

Spain Today

Population: 46 million | Capital: Madrid | Professing Christians: 77% | Professing Evangelical: 1.35%

Like many countries in the western world, Spain is something of a paradox when it comes to religion — it is still very religious, but it is getting more secular every day. The cities of Barcelona and Madrid, and the 345 cities and towns of over 5,000 people where there is no evangelical church, all need our prayers.

Islam is growing and there are now over one million Muslims in Spain. Most of them are immigrants from North Africa but it is estimated that there are thirty thousand converts from the Spanish population too. Evangelical Christianity is also growing — albeit very modestly. Church congregations have been strengthened by many Spanish-speaking evangelical Christians coming to live and work in Spain from South America. There are also signs that local people are being converted and added to churches. Gospel churches have a real opportunity to proclaim the truth to a generation of people disillusioned with false religion and secularism.

Luis Cano, Ciudad Real

A Recent Encouraging Development

In April 2016, English missionary to Spain, Andrew Birch, attended the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky, meeting 10,000 Christians and hearing inspiring messages. He returned to Spain desiring to see something similar started in his adopted country. He contacted gospel Christians to consider the possibility of such a conference, but what developed is now a movement that came to be called Passion por el Evangelio coming out of a group of people with a common love for the Lord, his Word, the Gospel, and the doctrines of grace.

The first conference was held in the October of 2016. The main speaker was Sugel Michelen, pastor in the Dominican Republic, who is considered to be one of the best Spanish preachers in the world and around 450 people attended the conference. The second Passion for the Gospel conference was held in October 2017. The main speakers were Mark Dever from Capitol Baptist Church, Washington, and two Spain-based preachers, Will Graham and Israel Sanz. The theme on which the preachers spoke was ‘The Gospel Recovered, and Reformation Yesterday and Today.’ The same number came who had attended the year before and the conference is now sponsored by Editorial Peregrino and 9Marks; its bookstall displayed the best collection in the whole world of Spanish Christian books. The conference was attended by people from all over Spain as well as from several others countries, some of those were members of very small congregations. May this recent development strengthen the cause of Christ in the nation.

Geoff Thomas

Another Observation Concerning the Above

What is written about the confusion over the term ‘evangelical’ is very true in certain circles. There is a naivete among some Spanish Christians. How subtly liberalism can enter churches but they assume that if a church calls itself Protestant or claims to believe the Bible, it must be evangelical. They do not understand how the faith can be undermined by the neo-orthodox denials of the historic truthfulness of the Scriptures.

What is encouraging to see, however, is how the Lord is raising up in Spain a network of pastors, in regular contact with each other and deeply committed to the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. They are taking a firm stand against the drift toward liberalism in some churches and seminaries in Spain. They are passionate about the ‘solas’ of the Reformation, the supernaturalism of true, biblical Christianity, the sovereignty of God in salvation, the necessity of expository preaching in the churches, and the undiluted proclamation of the whole counsel of God. Many of these men have been deeply impacted by the writings of the Puritans and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose works they are discovering as they are being translated, little by little, into Spanish. It is truly encouraging how God is enlightening the eyes of a number of church leaders to see how liberal denials of the inerrancy of the Scriptures represent an assault on the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints,’ and they are taking a strong stand against the erosion of truth that comes by allowing human rationalism to sir in judgement on the Word of God.

Of course, some doctrinal differences of understanding remain among these pastors. Some are paedobaptist while most are Baptist. Some tend to embrace a ‘continuationist’ view of spiritual gifts — but more in the line of Lloyd-Jones than Asuza Street! Whereas others have no problem affirming a cessasionist position. Most are amillennial and embrace a covenantal understanding of Scripture, affirming the church to be the true Israel of God; while a few are premillennial and have been influenced in their eschatology by men like John MacArthur, whose study Bible has sold widely in Spain.

What is encouraging is to see how various churches which share in common a love for the central truths of the Reformation are making a concerted effort to organize conferences, retreats, and other events to foment fellowship among like-minded brethren who are in agreement about the foundational doctrines of the faith. I give thanks to God for this. Andrew Birch and others working with him organized that conference in Madrid which has been attended twice by more than 400 people from all over Spain. As was said, last year Mark Dever was the invited keynote speaker; this year, I believe Ligon Duncan is being invited to speak. Two years ago Sugel Michelen of the Dominican Republic came and spoke at the first conference. It was so moving to see and hear over 400 brethren who love the gospel of grace singing in unison  the great hymns of the faith, openly and publicly, in the capital city of the land of Torquemada! Charles V would turn over in his grave!

In southern Spain, where we live, there are a number of pastors who I am convinced would be very eager to attend such an event. Not long ago, a Baptist pastor in Cordoba organized a two-day meeting for pastors at a retreat centre just outside of Cordoba and as many as forty pastors from all over Andalusia attended — en strongly committed to the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. We are thinking about planning another such conference.

Martin Rizley, an American Missionary in Malaga with HeartCry Mission.

Six Things to Pray for Spain

1. The political, socio-economical situation is changing, creating tension even among believers and churches, e.g. the issue of the independence of Catalonia.

2. There is a lack of indigenous men called to preach. People see the need to evangelise and preach, but they don’t invest in that.

3. There is a great confusion about what it means to be an evangelical. People don’t distinguish between Reformed, Liberal, or Denominational Christianity.

4. There are initiatives among some churches and individuals that have led to good Christian literature in Spanish becoming available, an increase in expository preaching, and a growing appreciation for the doctrines of grace.

5. Each local church needs to be faithful to the Scriptures and to what God expects from us as a light for his kingdom. Pray for holiness in our lives.

6. Pray for the ongoing influence of the Passion for the Gospel conference, that it would challenge and edify those involved.


The information in this article is found in the January 2018 edition of Vision, the magazine of the European Missionary Fellowship.

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    Description

    Heroes of the Spanish Reformation In the first part of the sixteenth century, Luther’s publication of the Ninety-Five Theses started a new movement across Europe which we know as the Reformation. By 1525, not only were Luther’s works translated into Spanish but Illuminist teaching was taking hold and subject to scrutiny and opposition. Valera, from […]

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