Word of God to Words in Print: English Bible Pt. 2

Posted by Aaron Lewendon  ·  Be the first to comment

In this second part of “English Bibles: Word of God to Words in Print”, English Bible translation moves into a golden age of Bible 'firsts'; an age of radical new ideas in religion, poitical change, scientific discovery and social revolution.

With Protestantism boiling through Europe and simmering just below the surface in Britain, conservatives and radicals fought to assert their own interpretation of the Word of God.

The First 'Authorised' Version?

In 1534 Henry VIII broke with Rome and promoted the first officially sanctioned English language Bible. The Great Bible of 1539 was installed in all of the country's newly Protestant churches. But not everyone was happy about it.

For one thing, the Great Bible was translated from the Latin vulgate, not the original languages. For another, the imposition of this conservative translation was viewed more as an act of political control than religious liberation.

The First Study Bible with Footnotes

From 1560, religious and political radicals began to smuggle into England copies of the Geneva Bible. This was not only the first English translation from the more scholarly Greek texts, it was the first mechanically printed Bible, first with the now familiar numbered verses and first with 'study aids'.

It was the study aids - and the fact that, in more than verses, the Geneva Bible replaced with word 'king' with 'tyrant', which drew the disproval of the royal houses of Britain and Europe. May of the footnotes openly encouraged the reader's loyalty to a just God over and above any loyalty to an unjust king:


When tyrants cannot prevail by craft, they burst forth into open rage," (Note i, Exodus 1:22 – The Geneva Bible)

First Bible 'Bestseller' War

The establishment’s response was to burn seized copies and persecute its importers. Yet the Geneva Bible would persist, grow in popularity and become the Bible of the puritans and anti-royalists in the English Civil Wars of the 1640s.

To counter the success of the Geneva Bible, Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, promoted his 1568 Bishop's Bible for church use.

Though more eloquent in tone, it still wasn’t a completely new translation and failed to displace the Geneva Bible as the bestseller for home and private reading.

And in 1582, the Catholic Church responded with an English Translation (Douay-Rheims) of its Latin Vulgate Bible. Begun at the English College in Douai, France, and continued in Reims, Spain, an entire English Text Catholic Bible wasn’t available until 1609.

Ovr Father which art in heauen, sanctified be thy name. (Douay – Rheims)

First International English Bible

Reacting to demands for an accurate Bible in English, but also determined to reassert the divine right of kings, King James I commissioned a college of translators to produce what would become, in 1611, arguably the world's most influential work of literature: The King James or Authorised Version Bible.

For the next 150 years, the King James Version Bible would be the sole and unchallenged English language Bible. In 1750, even the Catholic Douay-Rheims was revised to bring it more in line with its authorised cousin.


Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." (King James Version)

First Paraphrase Bibles

The great spiritual revivals of the mid 1750s created a demand for readable and understandable Bibles among a growing literate - though uneducated, industrial class. Many tried their hands not so much at translation, but at revising and even paraphrasing the KJV,

Notable among the largely amateur, though talented and dedicated, translators are Daniel Mace for his 1729 New Testament based on his own revised Greek manuscripts, Edward Wells for his Bible Paraphrases, his somewhat liberal though wordy rendition of the Lord’s prayer in English:



"O thou great governor and parent of universal nature (God) who manifestest thy glory to the blessed inhabitants of heaven, may all thy rational creatures in all the parts of thy boundless dominion be happy in the knowledge of thy existence and providence, and celebrate thy perfections in a manner most worthy of thy nature and perfective of their own! May the glory of thy moral development be advanced and the great laws of it be more generally obeyed. May the inhabitants of this world pay as cheerful a submission and as constant an obedience to Thy will, as the happy spirits do in the regions of immortality."

Further Firsts to Come...

New Bibles in the King James tradition inlcude the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and English Standard Version (ESV), with readable, relevant English language Bibles; The New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT) and The Message that give you the Word in the words of today's English speakers.

Look out for 'Word for Word or Thought for Thought?' - part 3 of "English Bibles: 'Word of God to Words in Print".

3rd May

May 3rd, 2013 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon

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