Episode 073 Mark Noll, The Bible in Early America

Noll In the Beginning

What role did the Bible play in the development of British North America and early United States?

How did the settlement of numerous religious groups in the thirteen American colonies affect the politics and religion of both the colonies and early United States?

Today, we address these questions by exploring the place of the Bible in early America. Our guide for this exploration is Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and the author of In the Beginning Was the Word The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Mark A NollIn this episode, we explore the place of the Bible in early America with Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and the author of In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783.

During our exploration, Mark reveals the role the Bible played in the lives of British American colonists; Details about the bibles Europeans brought to North America; And, how the settlement of different religious groups in British America affected the politics and religion of the thirteen colonies and early United States.

What You’ll Discover

  • The role the Bible played in the lives of American colonists
  • How Americans in different regions interpreted and used the Bible
  • The bibles European immigrants brought to and used in North America
  • Details about the Geneva Bible
  • The separation of church and state and why it happened in the United States
  • Religious pluralism of the thirteen British American colonies
  • How colonists adapted biblical scripture to fit their North American environment
  • The role the Bible played in the public lives of Puritans and Pilgrims
  • How American Protestants’ reliance on the Bible affected American literacy rates
  • How historians measure literacy rates in early America
  • Protestant groups that settled in North America
  • How religious pluralism affected how colonial Americans interpreted scripture
  • The First Great Awakening
  • Participation in the Great Awakening by African Americans and Native Americans
  • African American interpretations of scripture
  • Women and scripture
  • How early American men incorporated the Bible and scripture into their lives
  • How the Bible fit within Americans’ conceptions of the British Empire
  • The American bishop controversy


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion what might have happened if England had not had a monopoly on the publication of the King James version of the Bible? Would colonial Americans’ ability to print their own bibles have changed the role and place of scripture in early American society?

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1 comment
  • Great episode. It is hard to lay claim to being an educated person without some knowledge of the Bible and other scriptures including the Book of Mormon, Koran, etc., and the role they played and continue to play in shaping American and world history. Whenever a Bible or religion category comes up in Jeopardy on tv, I have noticed it generally is the last category chosen and few questions are corrected correctly. One does not have to believe in God or be religious to understand the importance of studying religion. Our failure to study Islam and the Koran has jeopardized our relations in the middle east, and it has driven policy decisions that were not in our best interest.

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