Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone A Book to Die For
Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2009 11:49 am
The Messenger, October 22, 2009
By REUBEN KENDALL
Special to The Messenger
I own three Bibles in the English language.
Five hundred years ago, I could have been burned alive for owning just one.
The Roman Catholic Church of the 1500s fought violently to prevent the Bible from being translated en masse into the languages of the people. Courageous European reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin risked their lives to translate the Bible into German and French.
In England, church officials were not content to strangle and burn Bible translator William Tyndale; they even dug up and burned the skeleton of his long-dead predecessor, John Wycliffe.
This all changed when King Henry VIII formed the Church of England, briefly ending Roman Catholic control.
Both Henry and his successor, Edward VI, decreed that all English churches must contain at least one English Bible for the people to read. But when “Bloody” Mary, a devout Roman Catholic, became queen in 1553, anyone who even owned an English Bible was in serious danger.
Many English Reformers ended up roasting over an open fire. Many more fled to Europe. From among these refugees, a group of about 10 Bible scholars met in Geneva, Switzerland, and joined efforts.
Following the example of John Calvin (who had helped translate the Bible into his native language of French), William Whittingham and a handful of other scholars began work on a Bible especially designed for ordinary, English-speaking men and women.
Scholar Lloyd E. Berry writes, “A need remained … to provide a Bible for the people, and it was to the people that the translators of the Geneva Bible addressed themselves.”
There had been English translations of the Bible before. But none of them compared to the work that Whittingham’s team first published in 1560, quickly known far and wide as the Geneva Bible.
Complete with study notes “vpon all the hard places,” 25 illustrations, five maps, a concordance of all the key events “conteined in the Bible, after the ordre of the alphabet,” and more, the Geneva Bible was an instant success. Later editions of the Geneva Bible would contain study diagrams, charts and John Calvin’s Catechism.
More than anything else, though, it was the clearly written and well-placed study notes that made the Geneva Bible so wildly popular with ordinary people like you and me. With the help of these notes, people found that they could understand difficult passages of Scripture easily. Soon, even pastors were using the Geneva Bible’s notes to prepare their sermons.
King James I felt that these notes struck a little close to home when they condoned the opposing of ungodly rulers. He promptly ordered the “Authorized,” or King James, Version to be published. This Bible lifted extensive text from the Geneva and other English Bibles but had no study notes.
Understandably, the Geneva Bible remained the most popular English Bible for well over half a century, printing more than 120 editions.
In 1620, the Pilgrims brought Geneva Bibles to Plymouth on the Mayflower, bringing an excellent tradition of Reformed Bible study to the New World. These Bibles would impact generations of our founding fathers, shaping our country into the great nation it is today.
Editor’s note: Reuben Kendall is a sophomore biology student at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone