Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



From Tyndale to the Authorized Version.

Between Tyndale`s version and the publication of the Authorized Version there were many attempts to translate the Bible, but mostly they were revisions of Tyndale`s. No fresh MSS became available and no fresh methods were discovered for finding the exact text. Nothing more can be attempted than a mere mention of the main versions and remarks on any important or interesting points in them.

i. Coverdale.

During the latter years prior to Tyndale's martyrdom on the continent the climate in England had begun to change. Henry VIII had split with Rome and in 1530 had proclaimed the necessity of having the Bible in the English tongue. Latimer and Crammer encouraged him but nothing definite was done. Encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, Miles Covordolo (1488-1568) took the initiative and produced a complete translation of the Bible.

He published it in 1535, without authority but with a dedication to Henry VIII. This was the first complete Bible in English. Coverdale's translation was not in the direct succession from Tyndale to the Authorized. While acknowledging his indebtedness to Tyndale, he relied largely on Luther's German translation and the Latin Vulgate.

While a great deal of Coverdale was not retained in later versions, his translation of the Psalms has remained intact in the Prayer Book Version. Coverdale has his own collection of quaint and interesting renderings e.g. Jer,8:22 "Is there no triacle in Gilead?"; Ps491:5-"Thou shalt not nede to be afrayed for eny bugges by night"; Gen,8:ll-"The dove bare an olive leafe in her nebbe"; Judges 9.-53-"And brake his brain-panne"; Acts 11:8.-."Ther widowes were not looked upon in the daylie handreaching".

ii. Matthew.

Two years later,in 1537,appeared another version which is the foundation of all later English versions of the Bible. While published under the name of Thomas Matthew, it was really the work of one John Rogers. He was a friend of Tyndale and was later martyred in the reign of Mary. While praised by Crammer as the best yet it was actually no more than a mixture of Tyndale and Coverdale.

The Pentateuch is Tyndale's and so is the New Testament. The Apocrypha and Ezra to Malachiare Coverdale's. The remainder, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, was also almost certainly based on a MS left by Tyndale. There was more introductory matter in this Bible than in any previous version.

This consisted of "the Kalendar and Almanack for XVIII yeares from 1538"; an "Exhortacyon onto the Stody of the Byble"; the "Summe and Content of all the Holy Scripture both of the Old and New Testament"; a dedication to Henry VIII, signed "Thomas Matthew"; a "Table of the pryncypall matters conteyned in the Byble"; (this was a combination of concordance, dictionary and commentary and contained such controversial matter as,"Abhonynacyon before God are Idoles and Ymages, before whom the people do bowe themselues and "Cursynge - God doth curse the blessynges of the preastes and blessoth their cursynge); the names of the books of the Bible; a "brief rehersall of the yeares passed since the begynnynge of the worlde unto 1538".

iii. The Great Bible.

By this time there was strong feeling among many that there should be a version of the Bible having behind it the weight of authority, so that it could be placed for reading in the parish churches as a Bible authorized by the king to be read. The first Bible of this nature was the Great Bible.

It was also the first Bible to be printed in England. Both Cromwell and Crammer were eager for an authorized edition of the Bible and it was through their efforts that the Great Bible was published. There were seven editions in all— one under the patronage of Cromwell in 1539, three under the patronage of Crammer in April, July and November 1540, and three others in May, November and December 1541.

Cranmer`s editions of the Bible were the first over to bear on the title page the words "This is the Bible appointed to the use of the churches". It was called the "Great Bible" because it was ordered to be "of the largest size". A copy was ordered to be placed in every church in the land and the copies were chained to the lectern.

The title page was 14"x 9" in measurement and is said to have been designed by Hans Holbein. The following description of it is taken from Harrison's "The Bible in Britain". At the top Christ hands to the kneeling king a copy of the new Bible. Below, the king, now enthroned and crowned, hands copies to Crammer for the bishops and clergy and to Cromwell for the laity.

These in their turn hand the copies to those whom they represent. At the foot of the page a preacher reminds his listeners of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving on behalf of kings, while the people hail the new version with cries of 'Vivat Rex' and 'God save the Kynge.' In the lower right hand corner prisoners in cells look out on the scene perhaps typifying the unhappiness of those who, not having their liberty, are cut off from the blessings of the open Bible."

Froude in his "History of England" gives a different interpretation of the picture of the prisoners. He says they are joining in the cry of delight as if also delivered from a worse bondage. While the printing of the Bible was carried out in this country, it was actually commenced in Paris, but the Inquisitor—General ordered the printing to cease. The completed sheets were smuggled out of the country before they were destroyed and the printing was completed in England. The translation was entrusted by Cromwell to Coverdale and was really not a new translation.

It was virtually a revision of Tyndale, Covordalets previous translation and Matthew. The revision was, though affected by the Latin of Erasmus in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament by the literal translation of Pagninus and by a new literal translation by Sebastian Muuster, Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and Basel.

For the first time the words of Tyndale were true that even a "boyo that driueth the plough" was able to read and hear read the Word of God, There was tremendous excitement and John Foxe bears witness to the joy with which the reading was recieved. He said that even the boys and girls went to hear the Bible read.

One who lived at the time wrote - "Englishmen have now in hand in every church and place and almost every man, the Holy Bible and New Testament in their mother tongue, instead of the old fabulous and fantastical books of the Table round, Laneelot du Lac...and such other, whose impure filth and vain fabulosity the light of God has abolished utterly."

Another ecclesiastical historian (John Strype 1643-1737) wrote, "It was wonderful to see with what joy this book of God was received not only among the learneder sort and those that were noted for lovers of the reformation but generally all England over among all the vulgar and common people; and with what greediness God`s Word was read and what resort to places where the reading of it was.

Everybody that could, bought the book or busily read it or got others to read it to them if they could not read themselves and divers more elderly people learned to read on purpose. And even little boys flocked among the rest to hear portions of the Holy Scripture read."

The situation got so bad that the crowds needed controlling in some instances and in others, the church services still being in Latin and so lacking in meaning to the ordinary people, the habit grew of reading the Scriptures aloud while the service was on to let it be known that the Scriptures were more important.

In the words of Cranmer "the Word of God hath got the upper hand of thou all."This caused somewhat of a reaction from the Bishops and clergy and people were prosecuted for "disturbing the service of the church, with brabbling of the New Testament".

In 1543 there was even any edict from parliament forbidding unrestricted reading of the Bible, "Every nobleman and noblewoman, being a householder, may read or cause to be read, by any of his family, servants in his house, orchard or garden, to, his own family, any text of the Bible; and also every merchantman,  being a householder, and any other persons, othor than womcn, apprentices etc., might read to themselves alone, and no artificers, apprentices, journoymien, servingn men of the degrees of yeomen, husband men or labourers were to road the New Testament to themselves or to any other, privately or openly, on pain of one month` s imprisonment."

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©2008 Church Education Trust