The following is from International Standard Bible Encylopaedia which covers the versions before the Authorized or KJV of the Bible.
English Versions of the Scriptures.—The battle for vernacular Scripture, the right of a nation to have the sacred writings in its own tongue, was fought and won in England. Ancient VSS, such as the Syriac and the Gothic, were produced to meet obvious requirements of the teacher or the missionary, and met with no opposition from any quarter.
1. Introductory: The same was the case with the efforts of the Anglo-Saxon church to provide portions of Scripture for the use of the people. Even in later times the Latin church seems to have followed no consistent policy in permitting or forbidding the translation of the Scriptures. In one country the practice was forbidden, in another it was regarded with forbearance or permitted under authority (Addis and Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, London, 1884, article “Bible”); and so it came about that the different nations of Europe came by the inestimable boon of an open Bible in different ways. Germany, for example, after the attempts of numerous translators who seem to have been quite untrammeled in their work owed, under Providence, to the faith, the intrepidity and the genius of Luther the national version which satisfied it for more than three centuries, and, after a recent and essentially conservative revision, satisfies it still. In England, as related below, things took a different course. In the Reformation period the struggle turned mainly on the question of the translation of the Bible.
2. The Bible in Anglo Saxon and Norman Times: The clergy and learned men had always of course access to the Scriptures in the Vulgate, a translation of the original Scriptures into Latin completed by Jerome at the very beginning of the 5th century; and from this version—the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.)—practically all further translations were made till the days of Luther. Within a century or little more after the landing of Augustine in England and his settlement at Canterbury (597 AD) Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, produced (670) his metrical version of the Bible, hardly indeed to be reckoned a version of the Scriptures in the ordinary sense, though it paved the way for such. Bede of Jarrow (672-735) translated the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and, according to the beautiful letter of his pupil, Cuthbert, breathed his last on the completion of his translation of the Gospel of John into the language of the people.
Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne in the county of Dorset (died 709), translated the Psalter in another translation with which the name of King Alfred is associated; and the other efforts of that ruler to spread the knowledge of the Scriptures among his people are well known. Notice, too, should be taken of the glosses. “The gloss,” says Eadie (English Bible, I, 14, note), “was neither a free nor yet a literal translation, but the interlinear insertion of the vernacular, word against word of the original, so that the order of the former was really irrespective of idiom and usage.” The finest example of these is seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written in Latin about the year 700, and provided with an interlinear translation about 950 by Aldred, the priest. These with a version of a considerable section of the Old Testament by Aelfric, archbishop of Canterbury about the year 990, comprise the main efforts at Bible translation into English before the Norman Conquest.
In Anglo-Saxon there is no proof of the existence of any translation of the complete Bible, or even of the complete New Testament. The sectional VSS, moreover, cannot be shown to have had any influence upon succeeding versions For nearly three centuries after the Conquest the inter-relations of the different sections of the people and the conditions of the language prevented any real literary progress. The period, however, was marked by the appearance of fragmentary translations of Scripture into Norman French. From some Augustinian monastery, too, in the north of the East Midland district of England, about the year 1200, appeared the Ormulum, a curious metrical work of some 20,000 lines, consisting of a paraphrase of the Gospel of the day and an explanatory homily for 32 days of the year. Like the work of Caedmon the monk, it was not exactly Bible translation, but it doubtless prepared the way for such. Three versions of the Psalter, naturally always a favorite portion of Scripture with the translator, are assigned to the first half of Wycliffe’s century. The reformer himself in one of his tracts urges a translation of the Bible to suit the humbler classes of society, on the plea that the upper classes already have their version in French. It was only in the long and splendid reign of Edward III (1327-77), when the two races that had existed in the country since the Conquest were perfectly united, that the predominance of English asserted itself, and the growth of the power and of the mental activity of the people instinctively demanded a new form of expression. The century of Wycliffe, it is to be remembered, was also that of Langland, Gower and Chaucer.
3. John Wycliffe: Born in Yorkshire about the year 1320, Wycliffe was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, of which he soon became a Fellow and was for a short time Master, resigning the latter position in the year 1361 on his presentation to a living in Lincolnshire. He died at Lutterworth in Leicestcrshire in 1384. It was during the last quarter of his life that he came forward as a friend of the people and as a prolific writer on their behalf. Notwithstanding the external glory of the reign of Edward III, there was much in the ecclesiastical and social circumstances of the time to justify popular discontent. The Pope derived from England alone a revenue larger than that of any prince in Christendom. The nobles resented the extortion and pretensions of the higher clergy; and, according to Green, “the enthusiasm of the Friars, who in the preceding century had preached in praise of poverty, had utterly died away and left a crowd of impudent mendicants behind it.” The Black Death, “the most terrible plague the world ever witnessed,” fell in the middle of the century and did much further to embitter the already bitter condition of the poor. In France things were no better than in England, and the Turk had settled permanently in Europe. It is not wonderful that Wycliffe began, as is said, his version of the New Testament with the Book of Revelation. With his social teaching the present article is not specially concerned. It probably involved no more than the inculcation of the inherently democratic and leveling doctrines of Christianity, though some of the Lollards, like the Munster peasants in the German Reformation, associated it with dangerous socialistic practice. In any case the application of Christianity to the solution of social problems is not in any age easy to effect in practice. His tracts show (Eadie, I, 59 ff) that it was from what Wycliffe had felt the Bible to be to himself that there sprang his strong desire to make the reading of it possible for his countrymen. To this was due the first English version of the Bible. To this also was likewise due the institution of the order of “poor priests” to spread the knowledge of the Bible as widely as possible throughout the country.
4. How far Was the Translation Wycliffe’s Work?: There is some uncertainty as to the exact share which Wycliffe had in the production of the 14th century version. The translation of the New Testament was finished about the year 1380 and in 1382 the translation of the entire Bible was completed, the greater part of the Old Testament being the work of Nicholas Hereford, one of the reformer’s most ardent supporters at Oxford. The work was revised on thoroughly sound principles of criticism and interpretation, as these are explained in the prologue to the new edition, by John Purvey, one of Wycliffe’s most intimate friends during the latter part of his life, and finished in 1388. “Other scholars,” says Mr. F. G. Kenyon, of the British Museum, “assisted him in his work, and we have no certain means of knowing how much of the translation was actually done by himself. The New Testament is attributed to him, but we cannot say with certainty that it was entirely his own work” (Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 200, 3rd edition, London, 1898).
This entirely corresponds with the position taken up by Forshall and Madden, the editors of the great Oxford edition of Wycliffe’s version issued in 4 large quarto volumes in 1850. That work was undertaken to honor Wycliffe and in some measure to repay England’s indebtedness to the reformer. The editors were men of the first literary rank; they spent 22 years upon this work; and it is recognized as a credit at once to the scholarship and research of Oxford and of England. Its honest and straightforward Introduction answers by anticipation by far the greater part of the criticisms and claims put forth by Dr. Gasquet (Our Old English Bible and Other Essays, London, 1898; 2nd edition, 1908). The claim is made that the work published in Oxford in 1850 is really not Wycliffe’s at all but that of his bitterest opponents, the bishops of the English church who represented the party of Rome. Gasquet’s work on this subject is mainly worthy of notice on account of his meritorious research in other departments of the English Reformation. His arguments and statements are met by Kenyon (op. cit., 204-8). The controversy is further noticed in The Age of Wycliffe, by G. M. Trevelyan (2nd edition, London, 1908), a work which cannot be too highly praised for its deep research, its interesting exposition and its cordial appreciation of the reformer and his works. “Nothing,” says Trevelyan (Appendix, 361), “can be more damning than the licenses to particular people to have English Bibles, for they distinctly show that without such licenses it was thought wrong to have them.” The age of printing, it is to be remembered, was not yet.
The Wycliffe Bible was issued and circulated in copies each of which was written by the hand. About 170 copies of this manuscript Bible are still in existence. They form a striking proof of what England and the world owe to the faith, the courage and the labor of John Wycliffe and his “poor priests.”
5. From Wycliffe to Tyndale: It is a remarkable fact that before the year 1500 most of the countries of Europe had been supplied with a version of the Scriptures printed in the vernacular tongue, while England had nothing but the scattered copies of the Wycliffe manuscript version. Even Caxton, eager as was his search for works to translate and to print, while he supplied priests with service-books, preachers with sermons, and the clerk with the “Golden Legende,” left the Scriptures severely alone. Nor was there a printed English version, even of the New Testament, for close on half a century after Caxton’s death, a circumstance largely due to the energy of the Tudor dictatorship and the severity of the Arundelian Constitutions enacted by Convocation at Oxford in the year 1408 against Wycliffe and his work. These enactments forbade “upon pain of the greater excommunication the unauthorised translation of any text of the Scriptures into English or any other tongue by way of a book, pamphlet, treatise or the reading of such.” Meanwhile the study of the new learning, including that of the original languages of Scripture, though generally resisted by the clergy, was greatly promoted by the invention of printing.
6. William Tyndale: Erasmus, perhaps the chief representative name of the new age in the domain of learning, was professor of Greek at Cambridge from 1509 to 1524, and in the 2nd year of his professorship William Tyndale, an Oxford student in the 26th year of his age, migrated to Cambridge to study Greek. Ten years later Tyndale returned to his native county—Gloucestershire—to take up a private tutorship and there formed the determination which became the one fixed aim of his life—to put an English translation, not of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) but of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, into the hands of his countrymen. “If God spared him life,” he said, “ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope did.” Erasmus at Cambridge had uttered a similar aspiration. “He boldly avows his wish for a Bible open and intelligible to all. .... `I long for the day when the husbandman shall sing to himself portions of the Scriptures as he follows the plow, when the weaver shall hum them to the time of his shuttle, when the traveller shall while away with their stories the weariness of his journey’” (Green, History of the English People, 1st edition, 308).
In 1522 Tyndale went to London to try to find a patron for his work in Tunstall, bishop of London, who had studied Greek with Latimer at Padua and was one of the most noted humanists of the day. To show himself capable for the work, Tyndale took with him to London a version of a speech of Isocrates. But the Bishop of London’s service was full; and after spending a year with a friendly alderman in London, “at last,” he says in the Preface to his Five Books of Moses, “I understood not only that there was no room in my Lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England.” He left the country and never returned to it. He spent the remaining twelve years of his life in exile and for the most part in great hardship, sustained by steady labor and by the one hope of his life—the giving to his countrymen of a reliable version of the Holy Scriptures in their own tongue.
He went first to Hamburg, and there, as it seems, issued in the year 1524 versions of Mt and Mk separately, with marginal notes. Next year he removed to Cologne, and arranged for the printing of the complete New Testament, the translation of which he accomplished alone, from the study of the Greek text of Erasmus in its original and revised editions and by a comparison of these with the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and several European vernacular versions which, as already stated, had anticipated that of England. The story of the interruption by Cochlaeus of the actual work of printing, and of his warning the King and Wolsey of the impending invasion of England by Lutheranism, reads like a romance. His interference resulted in the prohibition by the city authorities of the printing of the work and in the sudden flight of Tyndale and his assistant, Joye, who sailed up the Rhine with the precious sheets already printed of their 3,000 quarto edition to Worms, the city of the famous Diet in which Luther four years before had borne his testimony before the Emperor.
The place was now Lutheran, and here the work of printing could be carried out in security and at leisure. To baffle his enemies, as it seems, a small octavo edition was first printed without glosses; then the quarto edition was completed. The “pernicious literature” of both editions, without name of the translator, was shipped to England early in 1526; and by 1530 six editions of the New Testament in English (three surreptitiously) were distributed, numbering, it is computed, 15,000 copies. The unfavorable reception of Tyndale’s work by the King and the church authorities may in some measure be accounted for by the excesses which at the moment were associated with the Reformation in Germany, and by the memories of Lollardism in connection with the work of Wycliffe. So vehement was the opposition at any rate to Tyndale’s work, and so determined the zeal in buying up and burning the book, that of the six editions above mentioned there “remains of the first edition one fragment only; .... of the second one copy, wanting the title-page, and another very imperfect; and of the others, two or three copies which are not however satisfactorily identified” (Westcott, History of the English Bible, 45, London, 1868).
Meanwhile Tyndale took to working on the Old Testament. Much discussion has taken place on the question whether he knew Hebrew (see Eadie, I, 209 ff). Tyndale’s own distinct avowal is that it was from the Hebrew direct that such translation of the Old Testament as he accomplished was made. Very early in 1531 he published separately versions of Gen and Dt, and in the following year the whole of the Pentateuch in one volume, with a preface and marginal glosses. In 1534 appeared the Book of Jon, with a prologue; and in the same year a new version of the New Testament to counteract one made by Joye from the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) This has been described by Westcott (op. cit., 185) as “altogether Tyndale’s noblest monument,” mainly on account of its short and pregnant glosses. “Bengel himself is not more terse or pointed.” A beautifully illuminated copy of this edition was struck off on vellum and presented to Queen Anne Boleyn; and an edition of his revised New Testament was printed in London—”The first volume of Holy Scripture printed in England”—in 1536, the year of the Queen’s death. Tyndale had for some time lived at Antwerp, enjoying a “considerable yearly exhibition” from the English merchants there; but his enemies in England were numerous, powerful and watchful. In 1534 he was betrayed and arrested; and after an imprisonment of nearly a year and a half at the castle of Vilorde, about 18 miles from Brussels, he was strangled and then burned in 1536, the same year as that of the death of the Queen. The last days of the hero and martyr may have been cheered by the news of the printing of his revised edition of the New Testament in England.
7. Miles Coverdale: Miles Coverdale, who first gave England a complete and authorized version of the Bible, was a younger contemporary of Tyndale. Tyndale was a year younger than Luther, who was born in 1483, and Coverdale was four years younger than Tyndale. Born in the North Riding of Yorkshire, he found his way to Cambridge at the time when Erasmus was professor of Greek, and appears at an early date—how is not known—to have got into the good graces of Crumwell, the “malleus monachorum,” factotum and secretary to Wolsey, and later on the King’s principal abettor in his efforts to render the Church of England thoroughly national, if not to an equal extent Protestant. Adopting the liberal party in the church, he held Lutheran or evangelical views of religion, east off his monastic habit, and, as Bale says, gave himself up wholly to the preaching of the gospel. He is found in 1527 in intimate connection with More and Crumwell and probably from them he received encouragement to proceed with a translation of the Bible.
In 1528 he was blamed before Tunstall, bishop of London, as having caused some to desert the mass, the confessional and the worship of images; and seeking safety, he left England for the Continent. He is said by Foxe to have met Tyndale at Hamburg in 1529, and to have given him some help in the translation of the Pentateuch An uncertainty hangs over Coverdale’s movements from 1529 to 1535, a period during which much was happening that could not fail to be powerfully changing opinion in England. The result of the Assembly held at Westminster by Warham in May, 1530, and of the Convocation held under his successor, Cranmer, in December, 1534, was that in the latter it was petitioned that “his Majesty would vouchsafe to decree that the sacred Scriptures should be translated into the English tongue by certain honest and learned men, named for that purpose by his Majesty, and should be delivered to the people according to their learning.”
Crumwell, meanwhile, who had a shrewd forecast of the trend of affairs, seems to have arranged with Coverdale for the printing of his translation. However this may be, by the year 1534 “he was ready, as he was desired, to set forth” (i.e. to print) his translation; and the work was finished in 1535. And thus, “as the harvest springs from the seed which germinates in darkness, so the entire English Bible, translated no one knows where, presented itself, unheralded and unanticipated, at once to national notice in 1535” (Eadie, I, 266). It is declared on the title-page to be “faithfully and truly translated out of Douche and Latyn into Englishe: MDXXXV.” Coverdale’s own statements about his work leave the impression that he was a conspicuously honest man. Unlike Tyndale who regarded himself as, in a way, a prophet, with his work as a necessity Divinely laid upon him, Coverdale describes that he had no particular desire to undertake the work—and how he wrought, as it were, in the language of these days, under a committee from whom he took his instructions and who “required-him to use the Douche (i.e. the German) and the Latyn.” He claims further to have done the work entirely himself, and he certainly produced a new version of the Old Testament and a revised version of the New Testament. He used, he says, five sundry interpreters of the original languages. These interpreters were, in all probability, the Vulgate, Luther’s version, the Zurich or Swiss-German Bible, the Latin version of Pagninus, and he certainly consulted Tyndale on the Pentateuch and the New Testament. He successfully studied musical effect in his sentences and many of the finest phrases in the King James Version are directly traced to Coverdale. His version of the Pss is that which is retained and is still in daily use in the ritual of the Church of England. Two new editions of Coverdale’s version were issued in 1537 “with the King’s most gracious license,” and after this the English Bible was allowed to circulate freely. Certain changes in the title-page, prefaces and other details are discussed in the works mentioned at the end of this article.
8. Matthew’s Bible: Convocation meanwhile was not satisfied with Coverdale’s translation, and Coverdale himself in his honest modesty had expressed the hope that an improved translation should follow his own. Accordingly in 1537—probably at the suggestion of, and with some support from, Crumwell and certainly to his satisfaction—a large folio Bible appeared, as edited and dedicated to the King, by Thomas Matthew. This name has, since the days of Foxe, been held to be a pseudonym for John Rogers, the protomartyr of the Marian persecution, a Cambridge graduate who had for some years lived in intimacy with Tyndale at Antwerp, and who became the possessor of his manuscript at his death. Besides the New Testament, Tyndale, as above mentioned, had published translations of the Pentateuch, the Book of Jonah, and portions of the Apocrypha, and had left a manuscript version of Joshua to 2 Chronicles. Rogers, apparently taking all he could find of the work of Tyndale, supplemented this by the work of Coverdale and issued the composite volume with the title, “The Bible, which is all the Holy Scriptures, in which are contayned the Olde and Newe Testaments, truely and purely translated into English by Thomas Matthew. Esaye I, Hearken to, ye heavens, and thou earth, geave eare: for the Lord speaketh. MDXXXVII.” After the banning and burning of Tyndale’s New Testament on its arrival in England 11 years before, it is not easy to account for the royal sanction with which the translation appeared. It was probably granted to the united efforts of Cranmer and Crumwell, aided perhaps by the King’s desire to show action independent of the church. The royal sanction, it will be noted, was given in the same year in which it was given to Coverdale’s second edition. That version became the basis of our present Bible. It was on Matthew’s version that for 75 years thereafter all other versions were based.
9. Richard Taverner: Matthew’s first edition of 1,500 copies was soon exhausted, and a new edition was issued with some revision by Richard Taverner, a cultivated young layman and lawyer who had in his early years been selected by Wolsey for his college at Oxford. He was imprisoned in its cellar for reading Tyndale’s New Testament; but he was soon released for his singular musical accomplishments. He was an excellent Grecian, of good literary taste and of personal dignity. For the Old Testament curiously enough he made, good Grecian as he was, no use of the Septuagint; but throughout aimed successfully at idiomatic expression, as also at compression and vividness. Some of his changes are kept in the King James Version, such as “parables” for “similitudes” and in <Mt 24:12>, “The love of the many shall wax cold,” and others. He also does greater justice to the Greek article. His dedication to the king is manly and dignified and compares most favorably with the dedications of other translators, including that of the King James Version. The book appeared in two editions, folio and quarto, in 1539, and in the same year two editions, folio and quarto, of the New Testament. The Bible and the New Testament were each reprinted once, and his Old Testament was adopted in a Bible of 1551. But with these exceptions Taverner’s version was practically outside of influence on later translations.
10. The Great Bible: The next Bible to appear was named from its size. Its pages are fully 15 inches long and over 9 inches broad. It was meant to be in a way a state edition, and is known as the Great Bible. As sufficiently good type, paper and other requisites could not be found in England, it was resolved that it should be printed in Paris. Coverdale and Grafton, the printer, went to Paris to superintend the printing; but the French church authorities interfered and the presses, types and workmen had to be transferred to London where the work was finished. It was the outcome of the Protestant zeal of Crumwell who wished to improve upon the merely composite volume of Tyndale and Coverdale. Its origin is not very accurately known, and authorities such as Hume, Burnet and Froude have ventured upon statements regarding it, for which there is really no proof (Eadie, I, 356 ff). The duty of editor or reviser was by Crumwell assigned to Coverdale who, as a pliant man and really interested in the improvement of the English version, was quite willing to undertake a work that might supersede his own.
The rapidity with which the work was executed and the proofs of the minute care devoted to it by Coverdale may appear remarkable to those who are acquainted with the deliberate and leisurely methods of the large committee that produced the King James Version in the reign of King James or the Revised Version (British and American) in the reign of Queen Victoria. Of course Coverdale had been over all the work before and knew the points at which improvements were to be applied; and a zealous and expert individual can accomplish more than a committee. Luther translated the New Testament and, after revising his work with Melanchthon, had it printed and published in less than a year. The printing of the Great Bible began in May, 1538, and was completed in April, 1539, a handsome folio, printed in black letter, with the title, “The Byble in Englyshe, that is to say, the contents of all the holy scripture, bothe of the olde and newe testament, truly translated after the veryte of the Hebrue and Greke textes, by the dylygent studye of dyverse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tongues. Prynted by Rychard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum. 1539.”
The elaborate notes for which asterisks and various other marks are provided were never supplied; but the actual translation shows devoted attention to the work and much fine appreciation of the original languages and of English. In the New Testament the version derived assistance from the Latin version of Erasmus, and in the Old Testament from Munster and Pagninus. Variations in the text could of course be got from the Complutensian Polyglot. The Great Bible shows considerable improvement upon Tyndale in the New Testament, and upon Coverdale in the Old Testament. “So careful,” says Eadie (I, 370), “had been Coverdale’s revision and so little attachment had he to his own previous version, that in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah the Bible of 1539 differs in nearly forty places from his version of 1535.” The clergy of course had no love for Crumwell and still less for his work, though to avert clerical prejudices, Coverdale had made concessions in his translation. The work was cordially welcomed by the people, and a copy was ordered to be printed for every parish church, the cost to be paid half by the parson and half by the parishioners. A further revision of this version was carried out by Coverdale for a second edition which appeared in April, 1540, and is known as Cranmer’s Bible, mainly from the judicious and earnest preface which the archbishop wrote for it. “It exhibits a text formed on the same principles as that of 1539, but after a fuller and more thorough revision” (Westcott, 254). Two other editions followed in the same year and three more in the year following (1541).
11. Reaction, 1541-57: After the publication of the Great Bible (1539-41) no further advance took place for many years. The later years of Henry VIII indeed were marked by serious reaction. In 1542 Convocation with the royal consent made an attempt, fortunately thwarted by Cranmer, to Latinize the English version and to make it in reality what the Romish version of Rheims subsequently became. In the following year Parliament, which then practically meant the King and two or three members of the Privy Council, restricted the use of the English Bible to certain social classes that excluded nine-tenths of the population; and three years later it prohibited the use of everything but the Great Bible. It was probably at this time that there took place the great destruction of all previous work on the English Bible which has rendered examples of that work so scarce. Even Tunstall and Heath were anxious to escape from their responsibility in lending their names to the Great Bible. In the midst of this reaction Henry VIII died, January 28, 1547.
12. Edward VI: No new work marked the reign of Edward VI, but great activity prevailed in the printing of previous versions Thirty-five New Testaments and thirteen Bibles were published during his reign of six years and a half; and injunctions were issued urging every person to read “the very lively Word of God” and for a copy of the Great Bible with the English paraphrase of Erasmus to be set up in every church. By royal order a New Testament was to be sold for 22nd, a sum representing as many shillings of present value.
13. Mary: Less repressive work regarding the translation and diffusion of Scripture than might have been expected occurred in the reign of Mary, though in other directions the reaction was severe enough. According to Lord Burghley, during the three years and nine months of Mary’s reign, the number of 400 persons perished—men, women, maidens and children—by imprisonment, torment, famine and fire. Among the martyrs were Cranmer and Rogers; Coverdale escaped martyrdom only by exile and the powerful intervention of the king of Denmark. The copies of the Bibles in the churches were of course burned; and—though individual translations were not specified—proclamations were issued against certain books and authors. Still the books were not, as formerly, bought up and confiscated; and so the activity of Edward’s reign in the production of Bibles left copies widely distributed throughout the country at the close of Mary’s reign. At this time a New Testament was printed at Geneva which had great influence upon future versions of the Bible.
14. The Geneva Bible: This New Testament was issued in 1557 and was most probably the work of West Whittingham, an English exile who had married Calvin’s sister. It was translated from the Greek and compared carefully with other versions It had also a marginal commentary which was more complete than anything similar that had yet appeared in England; and it was the first translation that was printed in roman letter and in which chapters were divided into verses. Calvin wrote for it an introductory epistle, and it had also an address by the reviser himself. A few months after its publication the more serious task of the revision of the whole Bible was begun and continued for the space of two years and more, the translators working at it “day and night.” Who the translators were is not said; but Whittingham, probably with Gilby and Sampson, stayed at Geneva for a year and a half after Elizabeth came to the throne, and saw the work through. It was finished in 1560, and in a dignified preface was dedicated to Elizabeth. The cost was met by members of the Congregation at Geneva, among whom was John Bodley, father of the founder of the great library at Oxford. Its handy form—a modest quarto—along with its vigorously expressed commentary, made it popular even with people who objected to its source and the occasional Calvinistic tinge of its doctrines. It became and remained the popular edition for nearly three-quarters of a century. The causes of its popularity are explained in Westcott, 125 f. Bodley had received the patent for its publication; and upon his asking for an extension of the patent for twelve years, the request was generously granted by Archbishop Parker and Grindly, bishop of London, though the Bishops’ Bible was already begun.
The “Breeches Bible.”—The Geneva version is often called the “Breeches Bible” from its translation of <Gen 3:7>: “They sewed figleaves together, and made themselves breeches.” This translation, however, is not peculiar to the Genevan version. It is the translation of perizomata in both the Wycliffe VSS; it is also found in Caxton’s version of the “Golden Legende.”
15. The Bishops’ Bible: Queen Elizabeth, the beginning of whose reign was beset with great difficulties, restored the arrangements of Edward VI. A copy of the Great Bible was required to be provided in every church, and every encouragement was given to the reading of the Scriptures. The defects of the Great Bible were admitted, and were the not unnatural result of the haste with which—notwithstanding its two revisions—it had been produced. These became more apparent when set beside the Geneva version, which, however, the archbishop and clergy could hardly be expected to receive with enthusiasm, as they had had nothing to do with its origin and had no control over its renderings and marginal notes. Archbishop Parker, moreover, who had an inclination to Biblical studies, had at the same time a passion for uniformity; and probably to this combination of circumstances may be traced the origin of the Bishops’ Bible.
Parker superintended the work, which was begun in 1563-64; he was aided by eight bishops—from whom the version received its name—and other scholars. It appeared in a magnificent volume in 1568, without a word of flattery, but with a preface in which the revisers express a lofty consciousness of the importance of their work. It was published in 1568 cum privilegio regiae Majestatis. A revised and in many places corrected edition was issued in 1572, and another in 1575, the year of the archbishop’s death. The general aim of the version is a quaint literality, but along with this is found the use of not a few explanatory words and phrases not found in the original text. More exact notice also than in previous versions is taken of the use of the Greek article and of the particles and conjunctions. It bears marks, however, of the hand of the individual translators by whom the work was done; and of the want of the revision of each translator’s work by the rest, and of some general revision of the whole. The Genevan version was the work of collegiate labor, to which much of its superiority is due. Though Parker did not object to the circulation of the Genevan version, Convocation after his death made some unsuccessful attempts to popularize the Bishops’ Bible; but the Genevan translation was not easily thrust aside. “It grew,” says Eadie (II, 35), “to be in greater demand than the Bishops’ or Cranmer’s. Ninety editions of it were published in the reign of Elizabeth, as against forty of all the other versions Of Bibles, as distinct from New Testaments, there were twenty-five editions of Cranmer’s and the Bishops’, but sixty of the Genevan.”
16. Rheims and Douai Version: The production of an official version of the sacred Scriptures for English Roman Catholics was probably due more to rivalry with the Reformers than to any great zeal of the authorities of the Roman church for the spread of vernacular Scripture; though, according to the Arundelian Constitution above mentioned, it was only to the printing and reading of unauthorized translations that objection was then taken by the Roman authorities. But if there was to be a special version for Catholics, it was clearly reasonable that the work should be done by Catholics and accompanied by Catholic explanations. This was undertaken by some English Catholic scholars who, on the success of the Reformation in England, had left the country and settled at Douai in the Northeast of France, with a short transference of their seminary to Rheims. The version was probably produced under the influence of (Cardinal) Allen and an Oxford scholar, Gregory Martin. It was made from the Vulgate, the Bible of Jerome and Augustine, and not, like the Protestant VSS, from the Hebrew and Greek originals. The New Testament was issued from Rheims in 1582 and the Old Testament from Douai in 1609. The main objection to the version is the too close adherence of the translators to the words of the original and the too great Latinizing of the English, so that their translation “needs,” as Fuller said, “to be translated.” Still they have a few words which along with a few Latinisms were adopted by the translators of the King James Version, such as “upbraideth not,” “bridleth his tongue,” at his own charges, and others; and they have the special merit of preserving uniformity of rendering. The translation met with no great success and the circulation was not large.
International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, “English Versions, Pre-King James” Electronic Database Copyright (C) 1996 by Biblesoft.