TOWARDS AN ENGLISH BIBLE #5
Continued from previous page:
It seems odd that an English Bible should have the word
Geneva in its title, yet that is what happened. Here is the story
behind it. In 1543 an Act of Parliament for the "Advancement of
True Religion," took away permission for the use of any Bible
other than the Great Bible. The Act specifically outlawed the
writings of Tyndale, and a later Act added Wycliffe and
Coverdale. Tyndale's Bible was "clearly and utterly abolished and
forbidden to be kept or used." But Henry VIII died on January 28,
1547, and the young Edward VI's coronation brought a reversal of
attitude. At his coronation, when he was given the three swords
symbolizing the countries under his dominion, he asked the
whereabouts of the fourth. His nobles asked him what he meant.
"The Bible," he responded, "the sword of the Spirit, and to be
preferred before these swords." During Edward's reign, there were
at least thirteen editions of the whole Bible and thirty-five of
the New Testament. It was during his reign that the Book of
Common Prayer was introduced, and the Church of England's
doctrinal standard appeared in the Forty-Two Articles, later to
be reduced to the Thirty-Nine Articles.
But as we have seen, "Bloody Mary" came to the throne in
July 1553 and her husband, Philip II of Spain, was a fanatical
champion of the Inquisition. When Mary forbade the public use of
Scripture, a migration to Europe began, especially to Calvin's
city; deans and bishops of England and Scotland, including Miles
Coverdale and Scotland's John Knox, made a European London out of
Whittingham's New Testament
A new translation of the New Testament in English came out
of Geneva in 1557. It was the work of one man, William
Whittingham, who was married to Calvin's sister-in-law and who
succeeded Knox in the pastorate of the English congregation in
Geneva in 1559. His New Testament was a revision of Tyndale's,
with an introduction written by Calvin, and was addressed to
"simple lambs which partly are already in the fold ... and partly
wandering, through ignorance." It aimed to use everyday
Anglo-Saxon language rather than literary words derived from
Latin. Thus a parable was a "biword," regeneration was
"gainbirth," and crucified became "crossed."
Whittingham's New Testament had two unique features. First,
it used verse divisions for the first time in an English Bible.
While traveling between Paris and Lyons in 1551, the printer
Robert Estienne had hastily marked up the verses for one of his
editions of the Greek Testament. Some of his divisions are
questionable: "I think it had been better done on his knees in a
closet," said one Bible historian. But though these divisions are
criticized, they remain in universal use.
Whittingham's second innovation was the use of different
type to indicate words added in translation which are not in the
original text - a practice which was to be followed by the King
James version of 1611. So extensive are Whittingham's analyses
and notes that the edition has been called "the first critical
edition of the New Testament in English."
While the reformers in Geneva waited for political change to
come at home, they "could think of nothing which could be more
acceptable to God, and as comfortable to His Church, than in the
translating of the Scriptures into our native tongue." The Bible
they produced was called the Geneva Bible, and was printed in
The group who produced the Geneva Bible included John Knox,
Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham and other less well known
authorities. They were, to use their own description, "so many
godly and learned men." John Calvin and Theodore Beza were at
hand when they needed scholarly help, and they had access to
other translations in several foreign languages. In fact, their
source material was greater than that afforded to any previous
translator. They painstakingly worked over every minute detail of
the text, giving a faithful translation and achieving agreement
between all the collaborators. They prided themselves on their
accomplishment: the text proved to be so good that a complete
revision was never needed, and the method of translation worked
so well that it was later adopted by the committees who worked on
the King James Version.
The Bible became known as the Breeches Bible because of its
translation of Genesis 3:7, which says that Adam and Eve sowed
fig leaves into "breeches." The translators also included
marginal readings. Though some were biased in favor of Calvin's
theology, and some were strongly anti-papal, the majority were
simply explanatory notes. The Bible was intended for personal use
rather than for reading in church and therefore it was issued in
a moderate quarto format which made it easier to carry.
Though it was never sanctioned for public use in England,
its convenient size quickly made the Geneva Bible the "household"
Bible. When the 1644 edition appeared in England, thirty-three
years after the publication of the Authorized Version, it had
already passed through more than 140 editions. It was
particularly the puritans' Bible, and became the Bible of the
Commonwealth army. Soldiers did not carry a full Bible, but they
did have a pocket-sized reader, which quoted from the Geneva
version. It was the Bible exclusively used by the Pilgrim
Fathers. The Geneva text was also used for the first Bible
printed in Scotland, named the Bassandyne Bible after its printer
(1679). Parliament required every householder having a certain
income to possess a copy. In June, 1580, a man called John
Williamson was commissioned to visit and search every house, "and
to require sight of their Bible and Psalm-book, if they have one,
to be marked with their own name." The name was to stop anyone
trying to get away with borrowing a copy from a neighbor!
The Bishops' Bible
As Elizabeth's coronation procession wound its way through
the streets of London, a man appeared with a scythe and wings,
representing Father Time, leading his daughter, representing
Truth. She carried an English Bible, bearing the inscription The
Word of Truth, and presented it to Her Majesty. Queen Elizabeth
graciously received it and pressed it to her breast, having
promised that she would "oftentimes read over that book."
In 1559 Elizabeth pleased her citizens by originating an Act, as
Edward VI had done before her, which stated that "one book of the
whole Bible of the largest volume in English" should be set up in
every parish. The following year she allowed an English printing
of the Geneva Bible to be dedicated to her.
The next Reformation Bible appeared in 1586. Sometimes
called the fourth revision of the Tyndale translation, it came
into existence through the insistence of Matthew Parker. He had
been Anne Boleyn's chaplain, and by 1544 had been elected the
master of Corpus Christi College, at the recommendation of Henry
VIII. When Anne Boleyn was executed, she surrendered her young
daughter Elizabeth to his care; and on August 1, 1559, Elizabeth,
now the reigning queen, appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury.
Parker believed that a new Bible was needed because the success
of the Geneva Bible not only undermined the prestige of the Great
Bible, England's official Bible, but also weakened the authority
of the bishops. In 1564, he organized a committee of some eight
or nine bishops whom he considered to be the bestqualified men
among the clergy, and they determined to make another revision of
the Great Bible, re-establishing its prestige. Their revision
became known as the Bishops' Bible.
Parker divided "the whole Bible in to parcels," and told his
translators to "peruse and collate" the text. They were, he said,
to "follow the common English translation used in the churches,
and not recede from it, but where it varieth manifestly from the
Hebrew or Greek original." They were to "make no bitter notes
upon any text," nor were they allowed to "set down any
determination in places of controversy."
The bishops' version followed the Great Bible in the
historical sections, but elsewhere it showed the distinct
influence of the Geneva Bible. Some scholars contend that the
translators purposely limited the number of times they used the
Geneva version-after all, they could not show too much
indebtedness to the very version they were attempting to replace.
It was claimed by others that this reduced its accuracy. The 1574
version marked certain passages in "places not edifying ... so
that the reader may eschew them in his public reading."
To improve the quality of the production, the thickest paper was
used, together with the best printing facilities available. The
Bible included a number of woodcuts, a description of the Holy
Land, and a chart of St Paul's journeys. The front page contained
the simple title, The Holie Bible, with the words of Romans 1:16
written in Latin beneath the title. The title page had an
engraving of Elizabeth, and there were portraits of the Earl of
Leicester and the Earl of Cecil at the beginning of the Book of
Joshua and the Book of Psalms.
Its many woodcuts made the book costly and cumbersome.
Moreover, scholars did not find the translation satisfying.
Different sections were translated in a variety of styles by
scholars from different fields of study, and nobody attempted to
co-ordinate and harmonize the finished product.
The English Bible: Chronology
THE BIBLE IN MANUSCRIPT
1384 Wycliffe's translation (from the Latin)
1396 Purvey's revision
THE BIBLE IN PRINT
1525 Tyndale's New Testament
1530 Tyndale's Old Testament
1534 Tyndale's New Testament (revised)
1535 Coverdale's Bible (from the Latin, Luther and Zwingli)
1537 Matthew (based on Tyndale)
1539 Taverner's revision (based on Matthew)
1539 Great Bible (based on Matthew)
1557 Whittingham's New Testament
1560 Geneva Bible
1568 Bishops' Bible
1582 Rheims New Testament (based on Latin)
1610 Douai Bible (Old Testament based on Latin)
1611 Authorized Version
1881 Revised New Testament
1885 Revised Old Testament
1901 American Revision (of the Revised Version)
Parker assumed that he would obtain royal favour for his
efforts. On October 5, 1568, a copy of the completed translation
was ready for presentation to the queen. It was to be presented
by Sir William Cecil, Secretary of State, and Parker wrote to ask
him to get the queen to licence it as the sole edition for public
reading in churches. This, he said, would achieve uniformity. But
despite the favor Parker enjoyed with Elizabeth, she never
granted him his desire. The Constitutions and Canons of 1571
stated that "Every archbishop and bishop should have at his house
a copy of the Holy Bible of the largest volume, as lately printed
in London." But the Bible referred to here was the Great Bible.
The decree of 1573 that the Bishops' Bible should be read
publicly in the churches came from Parker himself, without royal
The Bishops' Bible was never officially accepted. Though it
survived for forty years, and went through twenty editions, the
last being in 1606, it was considered to be the weakest of all
the Reformation Bibles.
So was the life and death of many dedicated people, to bring the
Bible into the English language, so we today can read it from cover
to cover, as I trust you will do. It is the word of LIFE to those
who will believe and obey, who will "trust and obey", as one famous
hymn is called, "for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey."
For you that will live into the final 42 months of the end of this age,
the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, may you be inspired
by the lives of those who have gone before, who were willing to stand
up and be counted, willing to not save their life, but put it down
in death, even for the glory of the Lord, and for the faith once
delivered to the saints.