The Geneva Bible

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The Geneva Bible is one of the earliest translations of the Bible into the English language, predating the King James translation by 51 years. It was the primary Bible of the 16th century protestant movement and was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress. It was one of the Bibles taken to America on the Mayflower, was used by many English Dissenters, and by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the time of the English Civil War.

Because the language of the Geneva Bible was more forceful and vigorous, most readers preferred this version strongly over the Bishops' Bible, the translation authorised by the Church of England under Elizabeth I. In the words of Cleland Boyd McAfee, "it drove the Great Bible off the field by sheer power of excellence".



During the reign of Queen Mary I of England (15531558), a number of Protestant scholars fled from England to Geneva in Switzerland, which was then ruled as a republic in which John Calvin and Theodore Beza provided the primary spiritual and theological leadership. Among these scholars was William Whittingham, who would come to supervise what would become the effort to create the translation now known as the Geneva Bible, in collaboration with Myles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, and Willian Cole – several of whom became prominent figures in the proto-Puritan Nonconformist faction of the Vestments controversy. Whittingham was directly responsible for the New Testament, which was complete and published in 1557,[2] while Gilby oversaw the Old Testament.

The first full edition of this Bible, with a further revised New Testament, appeared in 1560,[2] but it was not printed in England until 1575 (New Testament[2]) and 1576 (complete Bible[2]). Over 150 editions were issued; the last probably in 1644.[2] The very first Bible printed in Scotland was a Geneva Bible, which was first issued in 1579.[2] In fact, the involvement of Knox and Calvin in the creation of the Geneva Bible made it especially appealing in Scotland, where a law was passed in 1579 requiring every household of sufficient means to buy a copy.[3]

Some editions from 1576 onwards[2] included Tomson's revisions of the New Testament. Some editions from 1599 onwards[2] used a new "Junius" version of the Book of Revelation, in which the notes were translated from a new Latin commentary by Junius on Revelation.

Like most English translations of the time, the Geneva Bible was translated from scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures that comprise the Christian Old Testament. The English rendering was substantially based on the earlier translations by William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale (80-90% of the language in the Genevan New Testament is from Tyndale). However, the Geneva Bible was the first English version in which all of the Old Testament was translated directly from the Hebrew (cf. Coverdale Bible, Matthew's Bible).

The annotations which are an important part of the Geneva Bible were Calvinist and Puritan in character, and as such they were disliked by the ruling pro – government Protestants of the Church of England, as well as King James I, who commissioned the "Authorized Version," or King James Bible, in order to replace it. The Geneva Bible had also motivated the earlier production of the Bishops' Bible under Elizabeth I, for the same reason, and the later Rheims-Douai edition by the Catholic community. The Geneva Bible remained popular among Puritans and remained in widespread use until after the English Civil War. The Geneva notes were surprisingly included in a few editions of the King James version, even as late as 1715.[2]

It has been stated by some that the Geneva Bible was the Bible present at the signing of the U. S. Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, because it was the Bible that the Puritans brought with them to America. However, the U. S. Library of Congress and the Independence National Historical Park both state that they do not know what version/translation of the Bible was present at these signings (Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania being the location of both of the signings).

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