New Edition of the Cambridge History of the Bible


James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper (eds). The New Cambridge History of the Bible From the Beginnings to 600. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xxvi + 979pp (cloth) $190.00.

Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter (eds). The New Cambridge History of the Bible From 600 to 1450. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xxii + 1045pp (cloth) $190.00.


The original Cambridge History of the Bible (CHB, three volumes, 1963–70) has long been the standard reference work on the history of the Bible from the initial writing and collection of individual manuscript pieces, through the 1960’s, when the great explosion of Bible translations that has marked the last 50 years was igniting. The creation of this new edition was driven by the “considerable advances in scholarship made in almost all biblical disciplines during the previous forty years and respond to the new scholarly concerns of the twenty-first century” (2:xv). A broader and more inclusive editorial policy is also noted,

The volumes respond to shifts in scholarly methods of study of the Old and New Testaments, look closely at specialized forms of interpretation and address the new concerns of the twenty-first century. Attention is paid to biblical studies in eastern Christian, Jewish and Islamic contexts, rendering the series of interest to students of all Abrahamic faiths (1:ii).

As planned the series will expand the original three volumes to four:

  • From the Beginnings to 600 (edited by James Carleton Paget and Joachim Schaper)
  • From 600 to 1450 (edited by Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter)
  • From 1450 to 1750 (edited by Euan Cameron)
  • From 1750 to the Present (edited by John Riches)

The volumes under consideration in this review (Volumes 1 & 2) are the first offering in the series. Volumes 3 & 4 are due for release in 2014–15. As one would expect from any Cambridge series work, the research is near exhaustive. Each volume has a near-exhaustive bibliography (1:871–912; 2:874–983) and are thoroughly indexed (1:913–79; 2:984–1045).

The volume one editors, James Carelton Paget, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge and Joachim Schaper, Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Aberdeen, note that since the original CHB the field of Biblical studies, “has witnessed a considerable number of discoveries of texts and artefacts relevant to the study of the Old and New Testaments and an often remarkable shift in scholarly methodology and opinion” (1:xii). Volume One is divided into five parts: “Languages, Writing Systems and Book Production” (3–82); “The Hebrew Bible and Old Testaments” (83–388); “The New Testament” (389–504); “Biblical Versions Other Than the Hebrew and The Greek” (505–48); and “The Reception of the Bible in the Post-New Testament Period” (549–870). A total of 37 chapters bringing together a notable collection of scholars specializing diverse fields of Old and New Testament background, introduction, and development.

Happily, the editors also retained chapters on several key individuals, “a decision was made, perhaps rather unfashionably, to retain the policy of CHB of devoting some chapters to individual exegetes of significance” (xiv). Along with chapters on Origin (605–28), Jerome (653–75), and Augustine (676–96); a chapter on Eusebius of Caesarea (629–62) was added. However, the individual chapter on Theodore of Mopsusetia was not retained and the discussion on his contribution was subsumed into the chapters on exegesis. This new edition also enlarges the discussion of the Septuagint beyond the “fragmentary way” (xiii), which the original edition presented the material, “reflecting, in particular, the fact that since 1970 the study of the Septuagint for its own sake, and not simply as a text-critical tool for the original Hebrew, has become much more the standard” (ibid).

The writing quality amongst the chapters is more uneven than one might expect. The opening sentence of the first chapter, “The languages of the Old Testament are Hebrew and Aramaic,” (Kahn, 3) is clearly not going to remind anyone of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville. Fortunately though, aside from this tediously pedantic first chapter there are many well-written and stimulating contributions. Paget’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Second Century” (549–83) is a valuable overview. In particular, his discussion of development of biblical interpretation in the second century (562–72) is especially helpful.

There are some other particularly notable chapters. Bogaret’s discussion of the Latin Bible (505–26), although perhaps a bit brief, is a helpful contribution and a good reminder that the Latin is an important field of study, especially in the context of New Testament translation. Of particular interest is Graumann’s chapter, “The Bible in doctrinal development and Christian Councils” (798–821). Of interest is his discussion of the debate between Origen and Heracleides (ca. AD 244). Graumann concludes that,

The debate is almost entirely concerned with scriptural interpretation. The Bible is the unquestionable normal against which any teaching is measured and from which the answers to any disputed question are expected (800).

He notes that the dialogue between Origen and Heracleides, “may illustrate the kind of reasoning we can expect at other, formal, synods” (ibid). His overview of the Christological controversies (800ff) and the interpretative methodology of Athanasius is informative. His discussion on how the Nicene Creed slowly began to supersede Scripture as the theological standard is fascinating (812ff). In discussing the machinations of Cyril against Nestorius, he notes, “for his [Nestorius] theology was measured against the Nicene Creed as the norm of orthodoxy – not scripture” (814). One other notable section is Edwards’ “Figurative readings: their scope and justification” (714–33), especially his discussion of allegory (720 – 22) and “Origen’s hermeneutic” (723–26).

The volume two editors are noted biblical and medieval scholars. Marsden is Emeritus Professor of Old English at the University of Nottingham and Matter is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The work is arranged in five parts: “Texts and Versions” (19–308); “Format and Transmission” (309–484); “The Bible Interpreted” (485–658); “The Bible in Use” (659–754); and “The Bible Transformed” (755–873). A total of 44 chapters by individual scholars within those parts present a depth of material on the Bible in the medieval era, a period the editors call a “diverse and complex period of history” (xv). Marsden’s Introduction (1–16) where he notes that when the era begins, “Christendom still enjoyed a broad measure of political and spiritual unity, and Islam had yet to appear. Byzantium was leading the Christian society in the East, while the evangelization of the West continued apace, which much of northern and western Europe still in the process of conversion” (1). By the end of this era every aspect of the entire world: politically, theologically, culturally, and socially had changed. In terms of technology the revolution enabled by Johannes Gutenberg (1395–1468) was about to change the world even further.

The strength of the second volume is also the source of its weakness. While there are new and more detailed discussions of the Bible in the several languages (Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, along with the Scandinavian and Slavonic languages), it seems to come at the expense of the discussion of the Latin texts and particularly the English. Marsden notes, “large parts of the Bible have been available in the English language continuously for more than 1100 years, a record unparalleled by any of the other language communities of western Christianity” (217). While this “unparalleled” record has its foundation established in this period; his chapter on “The Bible in English” (217–38) is one of the shortest, and in many ways, least satisfying parts of this volume. Hopefully the forthcoming volume edited by Cameron will backtrack and enlarge the discussion of the English versions.

One chapter of particular note is “The Use of the Bible in Preaching” (2:680–92) by Siegfried Wenzel. He notes that both preaching styles and format of the sermon (sermo) and homily (homilia) “underwent some significant changes and developments” in this period (682). The homily was often a more discernable and perhaps more formidable “biblical exegesis” than the sermon, which was often only “loosely built upon a scriptural verse” (ibid). Wenzel’s entire chapter and particularly his discussion of Wyclif, or more familiarly to American readers, Wycliffe (688ff), is stimulating reading.

These volumes represent the best modern research on the history of the Bible, some of the most varied and stimulating essays on the subject, and open avenues of future research into areas not covered in the original edition. It will be interesting to see if Volume Four gives any attention to the rise and impact of “Study Bibles” which have now witnessed enormous range and influence.

This set is a must have for any seminary or research library, training school, or scholar; although the sheer cost of the entire set (nearly $800) may be prohibitive for the individual. These volumes are most highly recommended and we are eagerly anticipating the release of the last two volumes.

Examining Martyrdom in Early Christianity

I’m going to be posting some book reviews in the next month or so and continue the series on the History of the English Bible.


Candida Moss. Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. xiv + 256pp (cloth) $40.00.

Candida Moss. The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2013. 308pp (cloth) $25.99.

Often, one of the first “apologetic” arguments Christians are exposed to are the martyrdom narratives in the early church, that is, the death of early Christians for their faith. Perhaps the most readily recognized in anecdotal apologetics is Christianity must be true (especially details regarding the resurrection and the life of Christ) since people assuredly would not die for what they knew to be a false or for a false cause. As Candida Moss states,

For much of the Christian era, martyrdom was viewed as particular to Christianity and as an indication of Christianity’s unique possession of religious truth. If Christians alone were prepared to die for their beliefs, it was thought, then there must be something special about Christianity (Ancient Christian Martyrdom, 23).

Moss, a graduate from Oxford and doctorate from Yale University, is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame. She is also the author of another book on the subject of martyrdom, The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom (Oxford, 2010).

The two titles reviewed here cover the same material. Ancient Christian Martyrdom (ACM) is the more detailed and “scholarly” contribution and is part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. Moss has extensive notations and is painstakingly detailed in ACM, while The Myth of Persecution (MP) is the same material presented in a more popular writing style. ACM contains a near-exhaustive bibliography (205–30); however, the bibliographic support for MP, while present, must be culled from the notes (263–95) and not in a separate listing, which even in this more “popular” format must be counted as a negative. Both works have very helpful indexes.

As Moss demonstrates the study of the subject of martyrdom is complex, even in terms of definition. “Originally, martyrs referred to the testimony or witness presented by an individual in a trial setting” (ACM, 2). However, by the time of Polycarp (AD 69–155), “the meaning of this term had been transformed from a material witness to an executed Christian” (ACM, 3).

Moss states,

As a history of ideologies of martyrdom, this book will utilize a functional definition of martyrdom that incorporates texts whose protagonists are memorialized as martyrs, even if the texts do not use martys in a technical sense (ACM, 5).

Moss presents her study of martyrdom geographically more for convenience and organization, although she notes the variation of accounts and ideology in the differing regions. “The arrangement of this book [ACM] into discrete geographically and sociohistorically grounded ideologies is an attempt to do justice to regional variations of Christianity and should not be taken too literally” (20).

Moss notes, correctly in our view, that while martyrdom accounts were stories that served both an inspirational and apologetic purpose, “Martyrs were ordinary people—slaves, women, and children—as well as bishops and soldiers who had risen above the constraints of their circumstances to display exceptional courage” (MP, 19). However, the downside, especially in modern history, are those same stories in some circles produce an “us vs them” mentality.

It is this idea, the idea that Christians are always persecuted, that authenticates modern Christian appropriations of martyrdom. It provides the interpretative lens through which to view all kinds of Christian experiences in the world as a struggle between “us” and “them (MP, 13).

Moss begins MP by arguing that the “Age of Martyrs” (Christianity before Constantine) is largely an exaggeration. She also makes the important distinction between “prosecution” and “persecution” (MP, 14; ACM, 9–12) “although prejudice against Christianity was fairly widespread, the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years” (MP, 14). She notes that,

Before Decius, the prosecution of Christians was occasional and prompted by local officials, petty jealousies, and regional concerns. That Christians saw themselves as persecuted and interpreted prosecution in this way is understandable, but it does not mean that the Romans were persecuting them. This interpretation does not match up with the political and social realities: Christians were ridiculed and viewed with contempt, and there were even sometimes executed, but there weren’t the subjects of continual persecution (ibid).

Part of the problem that Moss notes is that modern sensibilities are offended by the harshness of governmental penalties in the ancient world (MP, 164–79). For example, Nero accused Christians of causing the great fire of Rome in AD 64, and subsequently burned many Christians alive. “The fact that Nero would have had Christians burned alive, however, was perfectly in keeping not just with Nero’s own penchant for cruelty, but also with the general principles of Roman punishment” (MP, 165; see also ACM, 77–79). As a comparison, during the American Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered 25 to 50 lashes for soldiers for failing to use the proper latrine and execution of soldiers, often with a level of cruelty, for non-treasonous, lesser offenses was not uncommon.

Moss’ discussion of the “Cultural Contexts: The Good Death and the Self-Conscious Sufferer” (ACM, 23–48), is important. “martyrdom was viewed as particular to Christianity and as an indication of Christianity’s unique possession of religious truth” (ACM, 23). She particularly discusses the death of Socrates (ACM, 33–37). She notes, “Socrates’s dying on principle in many ways stands [according to his biographers] as guarantor of the truth of his message. His nonchalant and at times joyful approach to death earned him admiration from many quarters, not least from the early Christians” (ACM, 35).

In short, unlike some misguided believers in the Ante-Nicene era (ACM, 149–55), martyrdom is neither desirable nor to be sought after. More importantly, while those who have been martyrs serve as examples of faithful steadfastness should not be viewed, biblically speaking, as a category of believers who are somehow spiritually superior (cf. MP, 19). Because he avoided a martyrs death, Myles Coverdale (c. 1488–1569), even though he assisted William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), produced the first complete English translation of the Bible and worked on two others (The Matthews and Great Bibles), is often viewed in a disparaging manner in comparison to Tyndale. Moss’ discussion of the “Avoidance of Martyrdom” (ACM, 155–59) is singularly helpful on this point. In terms of a Biblical example, the Apostle Paul is a model in this regard. In Acts 22:24, when faced with a punishment that nearly always resulted in death he exerted his rights to avoid that possibility (compare mastzin anetazesthai “examine by scourging” in Acts 22:24 and ekelenon rabsizein “beaten with rods” in Acts 16:22, the later, while painful rarely resulted in death or disabling injury, while the former almost always did); but at the end of his life when his death was inevitable he was confident that the Lord would “bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18).

These two works are important contributions to the study of martyrdom and the apologetics of the early church. Her observations and conclusions regarding the non-inspired texts of the church fathers on this subject will run counter at an emotive level to the popular evangelical understanding of martyrdom; but they are recommended as significant studies and a corrective. The entire concept of martyrdom is difficult, as Moss notes, “it is, perhaps, a cultural script that glorifies comfort and the pursuit of long life at any costs that reads martyrdom as unintelligible” (MP, 166).

Her questioning of the historiography of the Biblical accounts and, by implication, the uniqueness of Christ’s vicarious and propitious death, should not distract from her underlying arguments and observations. Her through examination of the history and realities of martyrdom in the early church require thoughtful consideration. An evangelical, biblically-based examination of martyrdom is clearly a need in the modern church, which is seeing persecution and killing of Christians (in the broadest sense of that term) rising in many regions and perhaps Moss’ work will inspire such an undertaking.

The Construction of Logical Argumentation

I’m taking a little break in the series on the History of the English Bible (the Bishops Bible will appear next week) and adding this post on logic.  Logic is a vital function in both writing and preaching.  It is often ignored and occasionally ridiculed.  I’ve been called a “logic-nazi” (as well as a “grammar-nazi”) in the past, but if one builds a preaching or writing style on logical fallacy, eventually it will catch up with the person.  It is simply a lazy way to present truth.  It may be funny, it may even be compelling, but it won’t stand up to scrutiny and even if the conclusions are correct in a particular case, the power of the communicator is diminished.  I’ve used this material in lectures for 20+ years and I hope some may find it helpful.




When all of the research has been performed the matter of “constructing” the thesis or sermon begins. One of the differ­ences between a poorly constructed paper or sermon and an excellent one is the matter of “logic.” The best of research can quickly become a useless assortment of quotations if there are widespread violations of the rules of logic in the writing. Even good writing skills will cover very little in the way of fallacious logic. Unfortunately, that same cannot be said about sermons or public speaking. A clever or witty public speaker can often cover widespread fallacious arguments with equally witty and fallacious quips. However, long-term effectiveness of a sermon is dependent on the use of solid logic.

The idea of logic is vitally important in both writing and preaching. As Carson points out:

This study is important because exegetical fallacies are painfully frequent among us among us whose God-given grace and responsibility is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. Make a mistake in the interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s play, falsely scan a piece of Spenserian verse, and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture” (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p. 12).

Logic is the science of necessary inference and is founded on the principle of non-contradiction (that is, something cannot be both true and false). Without going into a long explanation of Logic here are the main points as summarized by The Logic Classroom at

What is Logic?

Logic is the science of necessary inference. An inference is the forming of a conclusion from premises by logical methods — the conclusion itself. The adjective necessary in necessary inference or necessary consequence means there is no way to avoid the conclusion of an argument. We define an argument as one or more propositions in support of another proposition. The propositions in support of the other proposition are called premises; the proposition supported by the premises is called the conclusion. More about necessary inference later, but first, what is a proposition?


A proposition is a form of words in which the predicate is affirmed or denied of the subject of a declarative sentence. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. Declarative sentences are either true or false. Propositions are the premises and conclusions of arguments. Other sentences, in expressing commands, posing questions, or conveying exhortations are neither true nor false. Some questions, rhetorical questions, are intended as propositions; but if a question is not rhetorical, then it is neither true nor false.


Arguments divide into two classes: deductive arguments and inductive arguments. This classification amounts to two different claims. The premises of Inductive Arguments claim to provide incomplete or partial reasons in support of the conclusion. The premises of Deductive Arguments claim to provide conclusive reasons for the conclusion. In Inductive Argument, the conclusion is said to be either probable or improbable. With Deductive Argument the conclusion either follows necessarily or it does not. That is to say, the conclusion is either a necessary consequence of the premises or it is not a necessary consequence of the premises. Another way of stating the same thing: A Deductive Argument consists of a conclusion presumably deduced from premises. The deduction of conclusions from premises is at the heart of logic.


The phrases necessary consequence and necessary implication mean necessary inference . The use of one or the other phrase depends on the emphasis. If one stresses that the premises imply a conclusion, one speaks of necessary implication. If one stresses the conclusion resulting from premises, one speaks of necessary consequence. With either phrase, the reference is a claim of necessary inference between premises and conclusion of a Deductive Argument. If the conclusion of a Deductive Argument is a necessary consequence of the premises, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid. Using other words: If the premises of a Deductive Argument necessarily imply the conclusion, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid.

Summarizing this section. Logic is the study of the relation between premises and conclusion in Deductive Arguments. If the conclusion follows from premises necessarily (that is, the conclusion is unavoidable), then the argument enjoys valid status; if not (that is, the conclusion can be avoided), then the argument is invalid. Every Deductive Argument is either valid or invalid.


Violations of the Rules of Logic

The violations of logic are most often referred to as “fallacies.” Fallacies will appear in both written and verbal form. Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies and poor reasoning will increase the usefulness of you’re your spoken and written word. Below are the common types of fallacies with some examples.

Anecdotal evidence

One of the simplest fallacies is to rely on anecdotal evidence. For example:

“I’m sure that speaking in tongues must still be going on today, since my cousin goes to a church where they speak in tongues every Sunday.”

It’s quite valid to use personal experience to illustrate a point; but such anecdotes don’t really prove anything to anyone. Your friend may say he met Elvis in the supermarket, but those who haven’t had the same experience will require more than your friend’s anecdotal evidence to convince them.

Proper research methodology and content will overcome the fallacy of Anecdotal Evidence. It is important to remember that Anecdotal Evidence can only serve to illustrate, it is the weakest possible form of argumentation. If you make Anecdotal Evidence a foundation or pillar of your argumenta­tion you may have some initial success with those who are easily swayed, but ultimately you have built an argument on sand. Anecdotal Evidence should generally be used in a very limited fashion in scholarly writing.

Argumentum ad Baculum (the argument or appeal to force)

An Appeal to Force happens when someone resorts to force (or the threat of force) to try and push others to accept a conclusion. This fallacy is often used by politicians, and can be summarized as “might makes right”. The threat doesn’t have to come directly from the person arguing. For example:

“… In any case, I know your phone number and I know where you live. Have I mentioned I am licensed to carry concealed weapons?”

“…The budget that I have presented should be accepted without any further discussion, I do not need to mention of course, that I contribute more money to this church than anyone else in the membership.”

The Appeal to Force can either be direct and physical or indirect intimidation. For instance, to bolster an otherwise bad argument a person may resort to intimidation by mentioned that they graduated from a prestigious seminary or university, or have written some number of books.  Often that is an indirect appeal to force, in other words, “How dare you question me.”  Normally, this type of fallacy will not find its way into open scholarly work, but can more than often appear in internal memos and often in sermons.

Argumentum ad Hominen 

Argumentum ad Hominem literally means “argument against the man.” There are two types: abusive and circumstantial.

If you argue against some assertion by attacking the person who made the as­sertion, then you have committed the abusive form of argumentum ad hominem. A personal attack isn’t a valid argument, because the truth of an assertion doesn’t de­pend on the virtues of the person asserting it. For example:

“Atheism is an evil philosophy. It is practiced by Communists and murderers.”

Sometimes in a court of law doubt is cast on the testimony of a witness. For example, the prosecution might show that the witness is a known perjurer. This is a valid way of reducing the credibility of the testimony given by the witness, and not Argumentum ad Hominem. However, it doesn’t demonstrate that the witness’s testimony is false in this particular case.

In scholarly work it is also a valid point to demonstrate that a particular author’s work has been criticized or proven to be inaccurate in the past, this again is not Argumentum ad hominem.

While this sort of evaluative criticism is a valid approach it also cannot be the key point of your presentation. You must argue the facts at hand

If you argue that someone should accept the truth of an assertion because of that person’s particular circumstances, then you have committed the circumstantial form of argumentum ad hominem. For example:

“It is perfectly acceptable to kill animals for food. How can you argue otherwise when you’re quite happy to wear leather shoes?”

This is an abusive charge of inconsistency, used as an excuse for dismissing the opponent’s argument. The fallacy can also be used as a means of rejecting a particular conclusion. For example:

“Only those who reject the Bible accept modern translations instead of the King James Version.”

This particular form of Argumentum ad Hominem, when you allege that someone is rationalizing a conclusion for selfish or manipulative reasons is also known as Poisoning the Well.

A special form of the Argumentum as Hominem is know as the Tu quoque or the “you too” fallacy. It occurs if you argue that an action is acceptable because your opponent has performed it. For instance:

“You’re missed the entire point of the passage.”  “So? You’ve mishandled the text before too.”


Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

Argumentum ad ignorantiam means “argument from ignorance”. The fallacy occurs when it’s argued that something must be true, simply because it hasn’t been proved false. Or, equivalently, when it is argued that something must be false because it hasn’t been proved true.

Note that this isn’t the same as assuming that something is false until it has been proved true; that’s a basic scientific principle.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Of course evolution is true, no one has proven it to be false.”

“Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, we have no original copies with his name on them.”

Note: this fallacy doesn’t apply in a court of law, where you’re generally assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Also, in scientific investigation if it is known that an event would produce certain evidence of a particular occurrence, the absence of such evidence can validly be used to infer that the event didn’t occur. However, inferences are not conclusive evidence.

For example:  “A flood as described in the Bible would require an enormous volume of water to be present on the earth. The earth does not have a tenth as much water, even if we count that which is frozen into ice at the poles. Therefore no such flood occurred.”

In science, we can validly assume from lack of evidence that something hasn’t occurred. We cannot conclude with certainty that it hasn’t occurred, though. This type of fallacy also often combines with the failure to consider other options and assumes facts that may affect the whole.

Of course, the history of science is full of logically valid, but terribly wrong conclusions. In 1893, the Royal Academy of Science were convinced by Sir Robert Ball that communication with the planet Mars was a physical impossibility, because it would require a flag as large as Ireland, which it would be impossible to wave. In a National Geographic article in the early 1920’s a noted physicist “proved” that what appears to be a curveball from a baseball pitcher was an “optical illusion” that it was impossible for a man to spin a baseball hard enough to produce an alteration of trajectory.

The burden of proof is always on the person asserting something. Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person whom denies or questions the assertion. The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise.“OK, so if you don’t think the gray aliens have gained control of the US government, can you prove it?”

Argumentum ad Misericordiam

This is the Appeal to Pity, also known as Special Pleading. The fallacy is committed when someone appeals to pity or emotion for the sake of getting a conclu­sion accepted. For example:

“I did not murder my mother and father! Please don’t find me guilty; I’m suffering enough through being an orphan.”

“Certainly you cannot be upset with us for going to the faith healer, my father is suffering ter­ribly and we just had to try something.” 

Argumentum ad Populum

This is known as Appealing to the Gallery, or Appealing to the People. You commit this fallacy if you attempt to win acceptance of an assertion by appealing to a large group of people. This form of fallacy is often characterized by emotive lan­guage. For example:

“Everyone agrees that the NIV is the best translation of the Bible.”

This type of fallacy is typical of newspaper and television news, as well as most advertising. Any statement that includes such expressions as “most scholars,” “many economists” or a “majority of Noble prize winners” and such things are always suspect.

Argumentum ad Numerum

This fallacy is closely related to the argumentum ad populum. It consists of asserting that the more people who support or believe a proposition, the more likely it is that that proposition is correct. For example:

“Recent survey’s show that 90% of the adult population believe they have encountered angels. Conclusion (stated or unstanted): Angels must be real and active today.”

The argumentum ad populum and argumentum as numerum are closely related to the No True Scotsman Fallacy. 

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

The Appeal to Authority uses admiration of a famous person to try and win support for an assertion. For example:

“Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos says to be a winner you must eat your Campbell’s Chunky Soup.”

This line of argument isn’t always completely invalid; for example, it may be relevant to refer to a widely regarded authority in a particular field; but only if you’re discussing the subject where the authority in question has legitimate expertise. For example, we can distinguish quite clearly between:

“Dr. John MacArthur has stated that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.”


“Alec Baldwin says that Jeb Bush will make a horrible president.”

Now while Dr. MacArthur can be viewed as an expert in theological and Biblical matters, and his view on the above statement carries a measure of weight; Alec Baldwin is an actor, so discussing national politics or the relative merit of the candidates is beyond the scope of his expertise; thus his opinion carries, or should carry, no more or less weight than the average person on the street.  Conversely the same is true, if a preacher is speaking out of his area of expertise, his opinion is no more valid than anyone else.

Argumentum ad Antiquitatem

This is the fallacy of asserting that something is right or good simply because it’s old, or because “that’s the way it’s always been.” This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Novitatem. This fallacy often appears in the area of Biblical and theological studies.

“We have always closed the service with a hymn.”

“The Puritans naturally have the best material on this subject.”

Argumentum ad Novitatem

This is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Antiquitatem; it’s the fallacy of asserting that something is more correct simply because it is new, or newer than something else is. This fallacy often occurs in the area of worship and music styles as well as matters related to youth and children ministries.

“This commentary is based on the latest research and clearly supersedes any of the old conclusions of the Reformers.”

Argumentum ad Crumenam

The fallacy of believing that money is a criterion of correctness; that those with more money are more likely to be right. This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Lazarum. This fallacy often appears in the area of political elections, where wealthy and successful people are often viewed as the best selections for solving political problems. 

“Joe here is a banker and quite a wealthy man, I’m certain he would make a fine church treasurer.” 

Argumentum ad lazarum

This is the fallacy of assuming that someone who is poor is somehow sounder or more virtuous than someone who’s wealthier. This fallacy is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Crumenam. It is a populist approach to issues.

“I’m sure that Catholic theology must be correct. I mean look, my priest has taken a vow of poverty and given up all his worldly possessions. No one would do that for something that wasn’t true.”

“He could have made a fortune in private industry but he’s dedicated his life to ublic service instead, so he is the person who should be elected.”

Argumentum ad nauseam

This is the incorrect belief that an assertion is more likely to be true, or is more likely to be accepted as true, the more often it is heard. So an Argumentum ad Nauseam is one that employs constant repetition in asserting something; saying the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of hearing it. This is a key issue in examining Biblical commentaries. Many “true” facts have become accepted simply because they have been repeated year after year from one commentary to another.

The fallacy of Accident / Sweeping Generalization / Dicto Simpliciter 

A sweeping generalization occurs when a general rule is applied to a particular situation, but the features of that particular situation mean the rule is inapplicable. It’s the error made when you go from the general to the specific. For example:

Baptist churches are always congregational in their polity, even though that church calls itself a baptist church, it has elders so it can’t be a real baptist church.

People who try to decide moral and legal questions by mechanically applying general rules often commit this fallacy.

Converse Accident/Hasty generalization

This fallacy is the reverse of the Fallacy of Accident. It occurs when you form a general rule by examining only a few specific cases that aren’t representative of all possible cases. For example:

“Jim Bakker was an insincere Christian. Therefore all Christians are insincere.”

Non causa pro causa

The fallacy of Non Causa Pro Causa occurs when something is identified as the cause of an event, but it has not actually been shown to be the cause. For example:

“ I had a migraine headache, so I took my prescription medicine and prayed. A little later my headache disappeared. God graciously cured me of the headache.”

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

The fallacy of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc occurs when something is assumed to be the cause of an event merely because it happened before that event. For exam­ple:

“In 1950 we began a bus ministry and the church grew. Therefore if we want the church to grow we should begin a bus ministry.”

“That church switched to elders and they began to grow and be successful, if we want to be successful we need to switch to elders.”

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

This fallacy is similar to post hoc ergo propter hoc. The fallacy is to assert that because two events occur together, they must be causally related. It’s a fallacy because it ignores other factors that may be the cause(s) of the events.

“We canceled the Wednesday night prayer meeting and the next day the church was broken into.”

Petitio principii/Begging the question

This fallacy occurs when the premises are at least as questionable as the con­clusion reached. For example:

“We know that today we have sufficient tools to understand the Bible without knowing the original languages; therefore seminaries should drop classes in the original languages and focus on more practical issues.”

Circulus in demonstrando

This fallacy occurs if you assume as a premise the conclusion that you wish to reach. Often the proposition is rephrased so that the fallacy appears to be a valid argument. For example:

“The Gospel of Matthew was written originally in Hebrew, so in our exegetical work it is useless to utilize the Greek, since we know it was not written originally in Greek but rather Hebrew.”

“We know that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. In reconstructing an account of the life of Paul we cannot make events mentioned in the Pastoral epistles mesh with the account of the Book of Acts. We should not use material from the Pastorals in creating an account of Paul’s’ life since we know that Paul did not write the Pastorals.”

 Note that the argument is entirely circular; the premise is the same as the conclusion. An argument like the above was actually used by a writer writing on the life of Paul.

Circular arguments are surprisingly common, unfortunately. If you’ve already reached a particular conclusion once, it’s easy to accidentally make it an assertion when explaining your reasoning to someone else.

Complex question /Fallacy of interrogation /Fallacy of presupposition

This is the interrogative form of Begging the Question. One example is the classic loaded question:

“Have you stopped beating your wife? 

The question presupposes a definite answer to another question that has not even been asked. Lawyers in cross-examination often use this trick, when they ask questions like:

“Where did you hide the money you stole?”

Similarly, politicians often ask loaded questions such as:

“How long will United Nations interference in our affairs be allowed to continue?”

Another form of this fallacy is to ask for an explanation of something that is untrue or not yet established.

Ignoratio elenchi/Irrelevant conclusion

The fallacy of Irrelevant Conclusion consists of claiming that an argument supports a particular conclusion when it is actually logically nothing to do with that conclusion.

For example, you may argue that the conclusions of a particular writer are undoubtedly true. But you cannot then proceed to support your assertion by bringing a list of conclusions that have little or nothing to do with the assertion.

This type of argument typically arouses the emotions and clouds judgment that allows the supposed conclusion to have more weight than it should ever receive.

An example of one form of this would be in a recent advertisement for the Los Angeles Times Newspaper. The advertisement encourages people to subscribe to the newspaper; the narrator states that she receives the Times because she “likes to feel informed.” Note that no claim of actual or real information is given, the appeal is entirely emotive and therefore irrelevant to reality.

Equivocation /Fallacy of four terms

Equivocation occurs when a key word is used with two or more different meanings in the same argument. For example:

“What could be more affordable than free software? But to make sure that it remains free, that users can do what they like with it, we must place a license on it to make sure that will always be freely redistributable.”

One way to avoid this fallacy is to choose your terminology carefully before beginning the argument, and avoid words like “free” which have many meanings. In public speaking words that sound the same but have different meanings or different meanings depending of the context should be avoided, for example, “Which witch is which?”


Amphiboly occurs when the premises used in an argument are ambiguous be­cause of careless, convoluted or ungrammatical phrasing. This often occurs in online discussions. People who are careless in writing, spelling, and grammar are simply difficult to converse with because it is generally unclear what they are really saying. And, calling them to account in a discussion will often see the offender rely on ad hominem comments like calling his opponent a “grammar nazi.”

Fallacies of composition

 One Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property shared by the parts of something must apply to the whole. For example:

“The bicycle is made entirely of low mass components and is therefore very lightweight.”

The other Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property of a number of individual items is shared by a collection of those items. For example:

“A car uses less gas and causes less pollution than a bus. Therefore cars are less environmentally damaging than buses.”

 Fallacy of division

The Fallacy of Division is the opposite of the Fallacy of Composition. Like its opposite, it exists in two varieties. The first is to assume that a property of some thing must apply to its parts. For example:

“You are studying at a rich college. Therefore you must be rich.”

The other is to assume that each item shares a property of a collection of items. For example:

“The man arrested was an illegal immigrant, therefore all illegal immigrants commit crimes.”

The slippery slope argument

This argument states that should one event occur, so will other harmful events. There is no proof made that the harmful events are caused by the first event. For ex­ample:

“If we cancel the Sunday night service people will have to go elsewhere for something to do with their time; if that happens people will find something more interesting than church therefore people might leave the church entirely.”

“A is based on B”fallacies / “…is a type of…“fallacies / Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle

These fallacies occur if you attempt to argue that things are in some way similar, but you don’t actually specify in what way they are similar.


“Islam is based on faith, Christianity is based on faith, so isn’t Islam a form of Christianity?”

“Cats are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, dogs are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, so aren’t dogs a form of cat?”

Affirmation of the consequent

 This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, B is true, therefore A is true”. To understand why it is a fallacy, examine the truth table for implication given earlier. Here’s an example:

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. I was outside sleeping in my hammock and when I woke up I was all wet, therefore it must have rained while I was asleep.”

This is the converse of Denial of the Antecedent.

  Denial of the antecedent

This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”. The truth table for implication makes it clear why this is a fallacy.

Note that this fallacy is different from Non Causa Pro Causal That has the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”, where A does not in fact imply B at all. Here, the problem isn’t that the implication is invalid; rather it’s that the falseness of A doesn’t allow us to deduce anything about B.

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. Even though I was outside, it did not rain, therefore I am not wet.” (as he wipes himself off)

This is the converse of the fallacy of Affirmation of the Consequent.

 Converting a conditional

This fallacy is an argument of the form “If A then B, therefore if B then A”

“If it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella I get wet. So if I get wet, then it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella.”

This fallacy is similar to the Affirmation of the Consequent, but phrased as a conditional statement.


Also referred to as the “black and white” fallacy, bifurcation occurs if you present a situation as having only two alternatives, where in fact other alternatives exist or can exist.

“Our Sunday night service is only attended by 30% of our congregation. We must have a huge sin problem in the church or people just don’t want to hear the preaching of the Word.”

Plurium interrogationum /Many questions

This fallacy occurs when someone demands a simple (or simplistic) answer to a complex question. “Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.”

Non Sequitur

A non sequitur (it does not follow) is an argument where the conclusion is drawn from premises that aren’t logically connected with it. For example:

“Since Egyptians did so much excavation to construct the pyramids, they must have been well versed in paleontology.”

Actually this type of fallacy can be quite amusing, and is really the basis for most situation comedy on television.

Red Herring

This fallacy is committed when someone introduces irrelevant material to the issue being discussed, so that everyone else’s attention is diverted away from the points made, towards a different conclusion. Often this is an ad hominem interjection.

“But pastor, we shouldn’t have this man for our Bible conference speaker. Haven’t you heard about what is going on in the seminary where he graduated from?” [this man graduated from the seminary in question 30 years earlier]

Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent or caricaturize a position so that it can be attacked more easily, then knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished. It’s a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that have been made.

The Extended Analogy

The fallacy of the Extended Analogy often occurs when some suggested gen­eral rule is being argued over. The fallacy is to assume that mentioning two different situations, in an argument about a general rule, constitutes a claim that those situations are analogous to each other.

“I believe that the Inerrancy of the Bible is vitally important.”

“But this would put you at odds with Kierkegarrd who believed that you could come to know Christ only by personal experience.”

“Are you saying I don’t believe in Christ! How dare you!” 

The Argument of Irrelevance

There are often appeals to factual information that is largely irrelevant.  This often occurs in advertising.  For instance a popular car advertisement states that a particular car will go from Zero to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. That fact may be true, but it is irrelevant to the purchase of an automobile because it would be illegal (unsafe acceleration) according to every state vehicle code to perform such a feat.  Or, one could argue that churches today need to deal with heretics the same way the Reformers did. This is another irrelevant point because churches are not able today (and probably never should have) to, burn heretics at the stake.

Audiatur et altera pars

Often, people will argue from assumptions that they don’t bother to state. The principle of Audiatur et Altera Pars is that all of the premises of an argument should be stated explicitly. It’s not strictly a fallacy to fail to state all of your assump­tions; however, it’s often viewed with suspicion.

Ad hoc

There is a difference between argument and explanation. If we’re interested in establishing A, and B is offered as evidence, the statement “A because B” is an ar­gument. If we’re trying to establish the truth of B, then “A because B” is not an ar­gument, it’s an explanation.

The Ad Hoc fallacy is to give an after‑the‑fact explanation that doesn’t apply to other situations. Often this ad hoc explanation will be dressed up to look like an argument. For example, if we assume that God treats all people equally, then the following is an ad hoc explanation:

“I was healed from cancer by the Lord.”

“So, will He heal all believers who have cancer?”

“Well, you must have sufficient faith.”

 Argumentum ad Logicam

This is the “fallacy fallacy” of arguing that a proposition is false because it has been presented as the conclusion of a fallacious argument. It must always be remembered that a fallacious argument can arrive at true conclusion.

“Take the fraction 16/64. Now, canceling a 6 on top and a six on the bottom, we get that 16/64=1/4.”

“Wait a second! You can’t just cancel the six!”

“Oh, so you’re telling us 16/64 is not equal to 1/4, are you?”

The issue here is twofold: (1) to deal with the reasoning that was used to arrive at the conclusion and (2) to demonstrate that even though the conclusion is correct, if this reasoning is allowed to stand and proliferate throughout the paper, the entire thesis could become a “house of cards.”

The “No True Scotsman“fallacy

Suppose I assert that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. You counter this by pointing out that your friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge. I then say “Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. A variety of this is to say “Reformed Theologians don’t believe in premillennialism, because you believe in premillennialism you can’t be Reformed.”

This is an example of an ad hoc change being used to shore up an assertion; combined with an attempt to shift the meaning of the words used original assertion. You might call it a combination of fallacies.


History of the English Bible: The Geneva Bible of 1560

The most important English Bible, other than the King James Verison of 1611, was the Geneva Bible of 1560.  The Geneva would have an entirely different purpose heretofore from previous (and even subsequent) editions of the Bible.  It was the first true “Study Bible” in history.


When Myles Coverdale reached Geneva in 1558 work was already well underway on what would become the most controversial and at the same time the most popular English translation of the era. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was to be most significant English Bible to date and would remain the Bible of choice for English Protestants for the next 100 years. It was significant for many things, but mainly it was notable for its notes; this would be the first true “Study Bible” in history.

The Geneva Bible is bound up in the work of the famous reformer John Calvin (1509–64) and the city most identified with his life and work, the French-speaking Swiss city of Geneva. Geneva had quickly moved towards the Protestant movement and from 1523 to 1533 there were several uprisings and wars and finally in March 1533 the Town Council agreed to a compromise that made Geneva a “free” city with its inhabitants allowed to practice either Catholicism or Protestantism. By 1536 Geneva declared itself a Protestant republic and Catholicism essentially ceased to exist within its walls. Calvin had been invited back to Geneva in 1541 after the town council had expelled him in 1538 (Calvin had originally come to the city in 1536 and at William [Guillaume] Farel [1489–1565] urging began teaching New Testament). Calvin and the town council had a tenuous relationship at best; while they supported his work in the church they were resistant to allow the essential merger of church and city government that he desired. The struggle between Calvin and the Council lasted until 1555 when French migration into Geneva had given Calvin the majority support and in the elections of that year most of Calvin’s opponents were removed from power.[1]

In 1555 Calvin allowed exiles from England and the Catholic persecutions of Mary to take up residence in Geneva. Led by John Knox (1514–72) and then William Whittingham (1524–79), the English speaking community grew significantly. When Knox left for a short-lived work with the English community in Frankfurt, Whittingham was selected at Calvin’s urging to become the pastor of the English congregation (the fact that Whittingham had married Calvin’s younger sister undoubtedly helped his promotion). In terms of the creation of the Geneva Bible, other than providing a safe haven and whose works provided the basis for many of the notations (especially in the Pauline epistles), Calvin had no significant involvement in the project. Calvin was, quite naturally, more concerned about protestant work in his native France and he had produced a French Bible in 1558. Knox also had little if any, direct impact on the production. By all accounts Knox, while a great preacher, was short on “people skills” and was exceptionally difficult to work with.

Calvin’s Geneva was a “bubble” in the Christian world, what Bruce called the “most favourable setting for the work of Bible study and translation.”[2] The free city was relatively safe and biblical and theological scholarship was allowed to advance and did so at a very rapid pace. The Geneva Academy under the leadership of Theodore Beza (1519–1605). Beza was one of the “Four” of Geneva famously enshrined in the relief on the “Reformation Wall” in Geneva (from left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox). While Beza was largely away from the city while the Geneva was being produced, his influence mainly being the contribution of his Latin version of 1556. Also, Beza’s French translation of the Apocrypha was very important. As Greenslade notes:

The translators, Whittingham, Gilbey, and Sampson, had much new work to help them. The foundation of their Old Testament was the Great Bible (1550 edition), which they revised in light of the Hebrew-Latin Bibles of Pagninus (1528, and in Stephanus’ Latin Bible, Geneva, 1557) and Muster (1534/5) together with the more recent Latin versions of Leo Juda (1544) and Castellio (1551) and Olivertan’s French Bible, then under revision at Geneva. They were sufficiently good Hebraists to form their own judgment and they were perhaps the earliest English translators to make first-hand use of Rabbi David Kimchi’s commentary, though they may have known him on through Pagninus. The 1557 New Testament was further revised, with much more attention to Beza’s Latin version of 1556, already used by Whittingham. Their Greek text was that of Stephanus as in the edition regia with its collection of variants (Paris 1550) or in that of Geneva (1551), the first to have verse numbers.[3]

While the whole Geneva Bible was produced in 1560, the New Testament and Psalms appeared as early as 1557. Whittingham was the “driving force” overseeing the work in the New Testament while Anthony Gilbey (1510–85) supervised the work in the Old Testament. Thomas Sampson (1517–89) was the other leading translator. Myles Coverdale joined the project, but to what extent is not clear. He might have been more of what today would be called a “style editor.” However, just the practical experience of Coverdale, who at this time was the most experienced and accomplished English translator living, must have been invaluable. The Geneva Bible, as a project, had more resources (textual, research, manpower, and financial) than any previous English translation project. The entire team under Whittingham also had a unified goal in terms of production, something that was not true of The Great Bible (and later the Bishops’ Bible).

All of the Geneva translators at this time would be classified in the more radical “Puritanism.” All would be caught up to one degree or another in the “vestment controversy” under Elizabeth I and her Archbishop, Matthew Parker.[4] They were also all decidedly anti-monarchial, which would be evident by some notations, and would cause both Elizabeth I and later James I, to oppose its propagation in England. The costs of the project were carried by the English congregation in Geneva, but mostly by the wealthy merchant John Bodley.[5]

The Geneva Bible was unique in the history of the English Bible in several respects. It is often over-rated while at the same time being under-rated. This is largely because the Geneva Bible had a singular purpose entirely different than it’s predecessors, except for the Tyndale. The Geneva Bible was produced, not as a “church bible” for the podium (like the Great Bible had been), it was designed for individual use, printed in a more portable quarto size (about 9 x 11 inches) it was much less expensive. In fact, with the dominance of Knox and Calvin’s Presbyterianism in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament in 1579 passed a law requiring all households “of sufficient means” to buy a copy of the Geneva Bible. The Geneva, printed in Scotland by Thomas Bassendyne, became widely available the same year.[6]

The Geneva Bible introduced several features that are taken for granted in English translations now:

  • When English words were added for clarity they were rendered in italics; that is when a word wasn’t in the Greek or Hebrew, but is necessary in English grammar and syntax for clarity and added by the translators.
  • The chapter and verse divisions of Robert Estienne[7] included for the first time in an English Bible. These divisions, while not always appropriate to the flow of the text, caught on and have remained essentially unchanged.
  • There was also an elaborate system of marginal references and notations for textual variants.
  • It should also be noted that, despite the modern popular legend, The Apocrypha was always included in the Geneva Bible. The myth that the Geneva Reformers did not want to sully their translation with the Apocryphal text is simply untrue and, in fact, it was a superior English rendering. The notes are scant to nearly non-existent in comparison to the Old and New Testaments, but the Apocrypha remained an important part of all English translations well into the 18th century when later editions of the King James Version finally began to drop it.

As Daniell notes:

Two things immediately strike a reader who opens any page of most Geneva Bibles produced in Geneva or London over almost a hundred years: the clarity of the roman type in its little numbered paragraphs, that is, their verses; and the fullness of the surrounding matter. Headings crown each page, italic summaries are at the head of each chapter, and the inner and outer margins have notes, in small roman or italic, all keyed to the text by small letters or signs.[8]

Besides the actual layout and the text-type, the translation itself was clear and exceptionally readable. The basis of the work was Tyndale’s English in the New Testament and Coverdale’s in the Old Testament, although both significantly updated. The English language itself was just beginning an enormous time of transition in vernacular usage. The Late Middle English of Tyndale, Coverdale and Henry VIII was shifting to what would become Elizabethan English (and then into Early Modern English[9]). Whittingham and the other translators were likely influenced by the English usage of the community in Geneva, which was more of the upper business class, than the more formal usage of the academy. In this they were similar to Tyndale in their approach to translation. To use an illustration from two centuries later, it was similar to the popularity of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense of 1775, which sparked the American Revolution and the push for independence. Of Common Sense, Ferling said, “It was free of suffocating jargon and indecipherable Latin phraseology”[10] and thus appealed to and was widely read by the entire literate public, not just the highly educated elite. This was perhaps the main reason the Geneva Bible was so well received. It was rendered in clear, everyday, “market place” English. The Geneva was developed for people to read and study, not, at least primarily, for liturgical use, which of course was the purpose of The Great Bible and would be the main purpose of The Bishop’s Bible.[11]

Beyond the translation, what the Geneva Bible is most known for are its notations. In the original 1560 edition the notes were as Greenslade observes, “are as a whole generally Protestant in intention rather than specifically Calvinist. They do no, for example, stress Presbyterian polity.”[12] The notes of the first edition were certainly most liberally sprinkled with what would become Calvinistic Theology.[13] Bruce also notes that the first edition was, by and large, not doctrinaire,

The notes of the Geneva Bible are famous, largely because the irritated James I so much; yet they are mild in comparison to Tyndale’s. They are, to be sure, unashamedly Calvinistic in doctrine, and therefore offensive to readers who find Calvinism offensive; but for a half century the people of England and Scotland, who read the Geneva Bible in preference to any other version, learned much of their biblical exegesis from these notes.[14]

However, in 1560 the notes were more of a “running commentary on the whole Bible”[15] than a presentation of a systematic theology.

In 1559 Mary I and Cardinal Pole died (within hours of each other) and the Catholic resurgence in England was quickly reduced in the long reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603, reigned 1559–1603). Elizabeth immediately established the English Protestant church, and like her Father, Henry VIII, made herself the Supreme Governor of it. She was an able ruler and inherited something of her father’s political skill. She was also exceptionally intelligent and was clearly the most well-educated woman of her time. Besides English she spoke the other dialects of the islands (Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, and Irish) with ease and fluidity. She read both Latin and Greek and clearly knew what a good translation into English should be. As we previously noted, she gave license to John Bodley to print and sell the Geneva Bible in England for a seven-year period beginning in 1560 (the title page of the first edition has an elaborate dedication to the Queen). Even her Archbishop, Matthew Parker, who was to shortly begin his quest for a new “church” Bible (The Bishops’ Bible) thought the Geneva a superior work. As Bruce notes:

At the very time Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, was pressing ahead with a rival version, the Bishop’s Bible, he thought so well of the Geneva Bible that he advocated a twelve year extension of the exclusive right of printing it granted in 1561 to John Bodley. Even if he and his fellow-bishops were specially interested in the Bishops’ Bible, he added, “yet should it nothing hinder but rather do much good to have diversity of translation and readings”—a remarkably enlightened opinion.[16]

Even the notes of the 1560 edition of the Geneva do not appear to have led to significant objection and personal ownership and use of the Geneva Bible, especially in Scotland where by 1579 is was legally required, increased significantly. But even in this time, The Great Bible was still the official text for the actual church services and readings[17], which as Parker noted, apparently was not of great concern.[18]

However, in 1576 there was a significant revision of the Geneva New Testament and particularly the notes, undertaken by Laurence Tomson (1539–1608). Tomson was educated at Magdalen and Oxford and was the secretary for Elizabeth’s secretary of state, Francis Walsingham[19]. He had fled England during the Marian persecutions and was lecturer of Hebrew at the Geneva Academy.

Tomson’s revision of the New Testament included, “introducing still more of Beza’s readings and interpretations from his critical (but sometimes rashly conjectural) Greek text with Latin version and commentary.”[20]   However, it was the notes where the larger changes occurred. Calvinism, as enlarged by Beza, became more evident and more strident than the previous editions. However, it was the emphasis on polity: Presbyterian polity, which was to become the crux of the problems with the Geneva, particularly when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Another significant change that Tomson introduced were the notations of Franciscus Junius (1543–1602) in the Book of Revelation and in 1699 (and subsequent editions) Junius’ entire translation and notes were substituted for the previous text. Junius’ notes were “violently anti-papal.”[21] The notations had been notably anti-Catholic from 1560 to 1595 (it was a Protestant Bible after all), but Junius’ notes even in an era not given to civility in written discourse were extremely outlandish. The discussions of individual popes as fulfillments of different prophecies in Revelation, was a move away from a careful explaining the text of Revelation to a rather sensationalistic and propagandist interpretation of the text. Being Anti-Catholic, even “violently” so, wasn’t a significant issue. The various intrigues of the Pope and his declarations against Elizabeth and her reign had the effect of forcing what little Catholicism remained in England completely underground. It was the shift in emphasis on polity that was the most problematic, at least initially, to the rulers of England.

The notes were, in many ways, central to the popularity of The Geneva Bible. So much so, that when it was clear that the King James Bible was eclipsing the Geneva in popularity, an edition of the King James with the Geneva notes was issued. It was an interesting market ploy and it did go through a couple of printings; but by this time Puritanism as a social force was spent (especially under Oliver Cromwell) and the Calvinism represented in the Geneva Bible  was increasingly falling out of favor in England; as it also would in Scotland albeit about 150 years later.[22]



As Ryken states, “Every translation has been clear in its own generation and when judged by the audience for which it was intended.[23] This is certainly the case for The Geneva Bible. While McAfee states that the Geneva, “drove the Great Bible from the field by the sheer force of its brilliance,”[24] it was a completely different Bible in terms of type and purpose from The Great Bible. It was a Bible translation that was unique in church history to that point. It was designed to be affordable and portable. It was produced in exceptionally large numbers and it initially had sufficient political support to gain traction. It dominated Bible sales for nearly 100 at years and was only finally supplanted by the King James Bible.

The temptation is to move directly from the Geneva Bible to the King James, but there were two other translations still to appear, both largely forgotten, one essentially ignored or relegated to a footnote by Protestant and evangelical scholars, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1609; the other viewed as little more than a vain attempt by the now established English Church to regain its control of the Bible from the “foreigners” of Geneva. However, The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 was much more than that and in many ways without this now nearly forgotten English bible, the King James Bible that we know today may have been completely different.



[1] There are dozens of books and essays on this era from every conceivable angle. It really reaches its climax with the arrest, trial, and execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. In popular circles this established Calvin as the “defender of orthodoxy.” The Servetus affair is exceptionally complex and beyond the scope of this essay to go into great detail (I will say that those who attempt to present this as a simple or straightforward affair, whichever side they are supporting, are the most mistaken). Executions, especially for heresy, were common in that era and Calvin had supported several over the years. In later histories some of supporters proposed the argument that he was not involved in the sentences handed down by the “civil magistrates,” (the City Council and Syndics) but this stretches credulity to the extreme. Some sources assert that Calvin tried to either save Servetus (exceptionally unlikely) or at least have him beheaded (which was quicker, but not a legal option for those guilty of heresy). On the other side some sources indicate that Calvin decreed that “green wood” be used for Servetus’ fire so he would burn slower and suffer longer before he died. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

[2] F. F. Bruce, History of Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 95.

[3] S. L. Greenslade. Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 157.

[4] Interesting though, Calvin had advised Knox and the others not to make an issue out of the vestment decree and to submit to the Elizabeth and Parker’s directives.

[5] Bodley’s son Thomas Bodley (1545–1613) was one of the most important men in the history of English scholarship. Growing up in Geneva he studied under Calvin, Beza, Beroaldus, and Chevalier and regularly attended the sermons of John Knox. Upon the family’s return to England, after the death of Mary, he finished his extensive education at Magdalen College. He was a minor official “Gentlemen-usher” to Elizabeth I (who also granted him exclusive rights to print the Geneva Bible in England. Bodley, left political life, taught at Oxford, and ultimately drove the creation of the now-famous Bodleian Library, which was named in his honor.

[6] In fact, Bassendyne died in 1577, two years before the project was completed in whole. He did manage to get the New Testament printed in 1576. Although the “king’s printer”, Thomas Bassendyne, was nonetheless often late on deadlines. The specific printing project for the Geneva Bible, in partnership with Alexander Arbuthnot (d. 1585) specified “nine months” to complete the project, perhaps an indication that Bassendyne’s rather languid work ethic was well known. There is a record dated March 8, 1575 from the Scottish Privy Council instructing every parish in Scotland to advance 5 £ (Scot) to fund the printing project.

[7] Robert Estienne (c. 1507–59), often referred to by his Latin name Stephanus, a Parisian printer and classical scholar. He was the most important printer (“Printer in Greek to the King”) of the era in the most important city for scholarship in the medieval into the Reformation eras. His three sons (Henri, Robert, and François) continued the family business and were all notable printers. There had been attempts at chapter divisions in the past, notably by Stephen Langton (1150–1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, whose system was largely. There was a competing system developed around the same time by Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), but Estienne’s system ultimately proved more popular.

[8] David Daniell, The Bible In English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 296.

[9] The shift in language took nearly 200 years, starting the Late Middle English in the 1500’s to finally modern English in the 1700’s. “Elizabethan English” is more of a transitory phase in the process. Early Modern English (e.g. the King James Bible and William Shakespeare) can generally be read and largely understood by English readers today (although, there are some lexical reverses, phrasing, and often word usage which would be hard or even offensive to the modern ear). An untrained modern reader typically has difficulty reading earlier Tudor era and earlier works. Even the previous Bibles we have examined, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthews, and the Great Bible, range from quite difficult to impossible for the typical modern reader.

[10] John Ferling, Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015), 142.

[11] It is important to remember that at this time the idea of an individual carrying a Bible to the worship service and following along the sermon is simply unheard of. Likewise the idea that a pastor of that era would say something like, “turn in your Bible to…” would be simply impossible; in fact this would not become commonplace for another two centuries. The Geneva Bible is not particularly “lyrical,” that is while it appeals to the eye in reading, it doesn’t appeal to the ear in hearing as the King James would.

[12] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[13] For instance, the notes in Romans are quite clear in presenting the Calvinist view. In Rom 9:15 the interpretation of double predestination if affirmed, “As the only will and purpose of God is the chief cause of election and reprobation: so is his free mercy in Christ is an inferior cause of salvation and the hardening of the heart an inferior cause of damnation.” A dubious assertion based on the content of the actual verse.

[14] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 90.

[15] Daniell, Bible in English, 305.

[16] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 91.

[17] While Mary I had ordered English text bibles to be burned, this was only applied to Tyndale, Coverdale, and Matthews’ Bibles. The Great Bible remained in the churches and remained in use. Neither Mary, Parliament, nor Cardinal Pole ever made an effort to ban it or remove the royal license of Henry VIII. This did have the overall effect though of making a scarcity of English Bibles available when Elizabeth I took the throne and practically speaking this had a very positive influence on the distribution of the Geneva Bible. In commercial terms there was a great market, and the Geneva was “designed” to fill that market.

[18] Some assert that Parker, while allowing the Geneva on one hand, attempted to thwart it and point to the fact that none were actually printed in England until 1576. But, this is somewhat misleading. They were printed elsewhere (Geneva and finally in Edinburgh) and their sale was not hindered in England. Bodley and his sons had significant enough influence and importance that if their license had been a “sham” as one writer called it, history would certainly have noted their complaint.

[19] Walsingham was Elizabeth’s most trusted minister and most importantly her “spymaster.” Elizabeth maintained an elaborate interior and continental system of spies. The famous “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth with the cloak of “eyes and ears” indicating that she saw and heard everything.

[20] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[21] Ibid. Daniell gives an entire chapter to Junius (The Bible in English, 369–75) and gives a moderate defense of Junius’ work. Daniell clearly sees the Geneva as the high point of English translations and rises to its defense at every opportunity. However, it has to be remembered that while the Geneva was sufficiently anti-Catholic in its original notes for the first 35 years, the notes of Junius, which most are familiar with, were an addition, and ultimately in terms of understanding the text, not a helpful one.

[22] Even John Knox’s grave today is nearly forgotten as it is underneath a parking lot at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Parking Space #23 has a yellow marker and small plaque commemorating Knox’s final resting place.

[23] Leland Ryken, Word of God in English: Criteria and Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 229.

[24] Cleland Boyd McAfee, The Greatest English Classic: A Study of the King James Bible and its Influence on Life and Literature (Champaign, IL: Project Guttenburg, 1999), 54.


The History of the English Bible: The Great Bible of 1539

The Great Bible of 1539 is the first fully “authorized” Bible in English.  Its creation, production, distribution, and use in churches being decreed by the command of the king, Henry VIII.  The previous versions, Coverdale and Matthews, had simply be approved or licensed to be sold in England. It was no longer a crime to possess the Bible in the English language.  Some have insisted that the King James Bible was the first and only “authorized” Bible, but this simply is untrue.  The Great Bible, in many ways, stabilized the production of the Bible in English, and once allowed and placed into the churches the process could never be reversed and undone.


This is the first “authorized” version of the Bible in English. Also completed by Myles Coverdale, this Bible was called “Great” because of its size. It was also known as the “Whitchurch Bible” after the original publisher, the “Chained Bible” because of its being attached to the stands in the churches, and the “Cromwell Bible” after Thomas Cromwell (1485–1550)[1], who oversaw the work.

To call the politics of the English Reformation complex would be the most massive of understatements. There is often a tendency to view this period simplistically from only one angle. The German Reformation under Luther is often viewed as “spiritual” and the English Reformation under Henry VIII as “political.” This is to ignore the very real political intrigues surrounding Luther and to ignore the very real spirituality of Henry. The production of the Great Bible in 1539 shows this complexity at its greatest and shows the balance of political power and conservative piety that marked most of Henry’s reign. Greenslade summarizes this well:

The intricate story of the English Bible from 1535 is but one aspect of the story of the English Reformation. Apart from repudiating the papacy, Henry did not wish to move far doctrinally. But he approved some practical reforms and wanted to check superstition. He would consider restatement of doctrine in terms conducive to unity and was ready enough to exploit the religious convictions of others for his own political ends, for example by intermittent negotiation with German Protestants. Anne’s fall, therefore, which it marked (rather than caused) the end of the first round of negotiations with Germany and was soon followed by the mainly conservative Ten Articles (July 1536), did not provoke a sharp reaction. Indeed, the injunctions which accompanied the articles gave some encouragement to the reformers Jane Seymour was a Protestant, and Cromwell still more powerful. In the episcopal debate preceding the Bishop’s Book of 1537, Edward Foxe, a mediating theologian, could say” ‘The lay people do know the holy scripture better than many of us; and the Germans have made the text of the Bible so plain and easy by the Hebrew and Greek tongue that n many things may be better understood without any glosses at al than by all the commentaries of the doctors.’ Henry himself had instruction Convocation to determine all things by Scripture and not by custom and unwritten verities, a phrase which may suggest the influence of Cramner. About a vernacular Bible he was cautious, but open to persuasion. In 1537 Cromwell could tell Cramner that the king would authorize an English version which the archbishop had just submitted for license ‘until such time that we the bishops shall set forth a better translation which I think will not be till a day after doomsday.[2]

We have already met the two ministers most responsible for the Great Bible, the kings close advisor Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540) and the archbishop, Thomas Cramner (1489–1556). Cromwell had been both the architect and general contractor of the break of England with Rome, carrying out Henry’s larger vision, in so doing, Cromwell implemented the larger vision moving the church in the direction of Protestantism along with Cramner.

Both Cromwell and Cramner realized that the work of Tyndale (whom both acknowledged as a genius in linguistics and translation) was an important step in securing an English church separate from the power of Rome. With Myles Coverdale now returned to England, the pair had the perfect man to organize a new translation of the Bible into English that Henry could “call his own” and place into the churches by royal decree and the authority of Cramner as Archbishop of Canterbury. The plan was for a not so much a new translation, but a thorough revision and updating of the Matthew’s Bible (most of which was Tyndale in disguise and Coverdale). The work was to be done in Paris and printed by Grafton and Whitchurch at their excellent presses there. The best printers were in Paris at this time and such an arrangement was fairly common. The Bible was to be produced in a large folio size and in such quantity that essentially every church in England could be supplied (as well as the personal chapels of important families).

Coverdale began his work in 1537 and printing began in 1538. There was an initial problem with the British Ambassador to France, the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. Although Gardiner had been Cardinal Wolsey’s spokesman at the Vatican on behalf on Henry’s marriage annulment from Catherine, he was vigorously opposed to the Reformation and a vernacular translation of the Bible. When he began to actively hinder the production Coverdale and Grafton sent word to Cromwell. Cromwell engineered Gardiner’s recall, removal from the ambassadorial post, and replacement with the new Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (1500–69).[3]

However, the peace and progress was short-lived. The French “Inquisitor General” seized 2500 completed copied of the Bible and Coverdale, Grafton, and Whitchurch had to flee back to England. During the next year there was a series of adventures, including a chase in the open sea and a protracted legal engagement with over the seizure of a ship with unbound pages from the printer.

Ultimately the Great Bible reached the English parish churches beginning in 1539, remarkably only 13 years after Tyndale “illegal” Bible, the Great Bible came with the full authority, authorization, and encouragement of Henry VIII, now not only the de facto leader of the English Church, but also the de jure. One of the nicknames for the Great Bible, is The Chained Bible, because it was often chained to the podium in front of the pulpit. In some circles this nickname has taken on a negative connotation as symbolic of the Scriptures being “chained” to keep them away from the people an in the control of the church. That’s really romanticized nonsense however; these bibles were expensive and while not entirely portable, they could be stolen. They were secured with a “chain” or cable to keep them secure, not isolated. These were large volumes (14 x 9 inches) and they were used for public reading and the liturgical aspects of a service, not by the person delivering the sermon. As Bruce notes:

Many bishops, even some who were by no means friendly to the principles of the Reformation, encouraged their clergy to possess and study the English Bible. Some went further than that: Nicolas Shaxton, bishop of Salisbury, required his clergy, early in 1538, to see to it that by Whit Sunday of that year an English Bible should be chained to the desk in every parish church throughout the diocese, in order that literate parishioners might read, and illiterate ones hear, ‘wholesome doctrine and comfort for their souls.”[4]

In fact the practice of the preacher having a Bible in the pulpit when they are preaching is a relatively modern convention. The idea of an extemporaneous sermon (that is not read from a manuscript) would be been unheard of and even highly improper more than 100 years ago.

When the Great Bible was finally produced, the title page is an elaborate woodcut that has Henry on his throne handing the Bible to Cramner with his right hand and to Cromwell with his left hand. Below them the masses are crying out “God Save the King!” and above God is looking down approvingly and proclaims: “I have found a man after my own heart who shall perform all my desire” (Acts 13:22). Interestingly enough, all of the “word balloons” in the woodcut have the speech by God and Henry in Latin. The title page was slowly changed as Cromwell fell out of favor. In the 1540 edition his arms were removed and by the fourth and sixth editions removed his likeness removed entirely. Interestingly enough in the 1540 edition (the 4th edition) the preface was re-written and the charge of carrying out the King’s instruction that the Bible be used in his whole realm was given to Bishop Cuthbert of Durham; the same Cuthbert Tunstall who 17 years earlier as Bishop of London had been central to the story of William Tyndale.

The Great Bible was a good solid translation. Coverdale’s lack of facility in Greek and Hebrew did mean that he was mainly limited to Latin and German sources. But this was politically advantageous, as the conservative and pro-Catholic faction of the bishops would have rebelled at anything that connected it to Tyndale. He did modernize the portions of Tyndale and as we noted in an earlier essay his work in Psalms, despite not knowing Hebrew, was particularly strong and his metrical sense made for an excellent English wording for singing the Psalms. Daniell called Coverdale an “inspired choice” to head the project and states, “Coverdale’s skill with English spoken rhythms would ensure the Bible in English sounded well in stone churches.”[5] Tyndale’s genius was in English prose and creating a translation in English in the manner in which people actually spoke. Coverdale’s genius was in English poetry, rhyme and meter and making the poetic sections of the OT read and more importantly at that time, sing, properly.[6] In fact Coverdale’s Psalms became so entrenched in English Churches that they would be brought back into the Bishop’s Bible at a major revision, as English churchgoers viewed the original Psalms in the Bishop’s as “unsingable”.

Although authorized by the Henry VIII, he soon began to put restrictions on its use and possession. This was mainly due to his more pious nature. The English translations had become quite popular and the text was beginning to find it’s way into everyday speech, literature, and even popular songs. However, some of the “popular” songs of the day were often drinking songs from the local public houses. Henry apparently was exceptionally offended by a couple of the ones he heard and decided the masses were profaning the Bible. There was also the problem that was reported to Cramner that people were reading the Bible out loud in the public services, often while the sermon was bring preached. Cramner had to also issue decrees forbidding this practice as well as unauthorized “readings” and “expositions” during the week by those not “qualified” or licensed.  While today we are used to anyone, anywhere, regardless of training (or even skill) being able to lead a Bible study, preach a sermon, or even write a book; this was not the case well into the 18th century, when a preaching “license” was still required.

By the end of his reign he had decree that the Bible could only be read in church, owned by upper class families, and all marginal notations were blacked out. Shortly before his death he also outlawed the use of any Bible except the Great Bible, which led to many of the copies of the previous versions being destroyed.

As for Myles Coverdale, although he would have some minor involvement in the production of the Bishop’s Bible before his death in 1569, in many ways he reached the pinnacle of his career with the Great Bible; at least within England itself. In 1553, Edward VI died and a Catholic revival began under the reign of Mary, Coverdale was arrested and in danger of execution, but because of the intercession of brother-in-law, the chaplain of the King of Denmark, the Danish government put pressure on Mary[7] and Coverdale and his wife were allowed to go into exile (for the third time). In 1558 Coverdale settled in Geneva and had another role to play in another Bible, The Geneva Bible.



[1] Who should not be confused with Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) later Lord Protector of the short lived English Republic. Oliver Cromwell was distantly related, through Thomas Cromwell’s sister.

[2] S. L. Greenslade (ed), The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge UK: The Cambridge University Press, 1963), 149–50.

[3] Interestingly enough Bonner would later rejoin Rome and under Mary was known as “Bloody Bonner” for his persecutions of Protestants. Bonner, like Gardiner, came to reject the royal supremacy in the English Church in favor of the Pope. When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 Bonner was persona non grata and ultimately died in the Tower of London.

[4] F. F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 67. This reference also makes it clear that the idea of “chaining” a Bible to the desk predated the Great Bible.

[5] David Daniell, The Bible in English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 200.

[6] Hebrew poetry is actually based on parallelism and not rhyme and meter, a concept that was still not well recognized in Biblical studies. Coverdale and even the later King James translators in places tend to obscure this in their translations as rhyme and meter are superimposed onto the text; but their work was still vital as their translation made memorizing the Scripture easier to the English reader.

[7] England was still not an empire yet and Mary’s hold on the throne was tenuous, she and her main advisor, Cardinal Reginald Pole, simply could not afford to offend and possibly go to war with Denmark, which at the time was the far superior navel power.

History of the English Bible: The Matthew’s Bible of 1537

This is the fourth in my little series on the History of the English Bible. The Matthew’s Bible is known as the first complete Bible in English from the original languages.  As a categorical statement this needs a lot of qualification, which we will examine here.  The first thing of course, is that the Matthew’s Bible wasn’t by Matthew’s. In fact, that only Thomas Matthews know at this time was a Lutheran fish monger in Antwerp, who perhaps had his name borrowed (probably without his direct knowledge) for the third of the great English Bibles.


Perhaps the most obscure of all of the Seven Bibles is the Matthew’s Bible (1537). From the common name of the Bible; which was a complete fabrication, there was no such person as Thomas Matthews, to whom it was inscribed; to its publishing (the actual publisher of the first edition is unknown) the Matthews Bible is both obscure and important marker in the pathway from Tyndale to the King James.

The pseudonym of Thomas Matthews, was used by John Rogers[1] (1500–55), but why is open to some speculation. The first thing is who was Rodgers? Rogers took his BA from Pembroke Hall at Cambridge in 1526. From 1532–34 he was Rector of Holy Trinity the Less parish in London. It would appear that this was not exactly a front line posting. By 1606 the church was reported to be falling apart and was maintained with scaffolding. The entire parish was destroyed in the Great London Fire of 1666 and the church, although included in Christopher Wren’s master rebuilding plan of 1670 was never rebuilt. He moved to Antwerp in 1534 to become a chaplain to the English speaking community. English merchants had a significant community in the “free city.” At this time Antwerp was free from direct imperial control and was a commercial and trading center for Europe with several different communities of which the English were prominent.[2] Given the cosmopolitan nature of the city, Antwerp had a very tolerant policy towards religion.

While in Antwerp Rogers became an associate of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale working on Tyndale’s Bible translation. By about 1537 he had renounced his Catholic orders (and Catholicism as a whole) and married a Flemish woman, the neice of Jacob van Meteren, a merchant who had been supporting Tyndale’s work. After Tyndale’s death in 1536 Rogers continued translation work although the exact relationship he had with Coverdale at this time is rather difficult to determine. In 1537 Archbishop Cramner was able to secure a royal license to print a new edition of Coverdale’s Bible. Later in the same year Rogers received a license, against orchestrated by Cramner to print 1500 copies of his Bible. Coverdale had, by this time, been employed by Cromwell and Cramner to supervise the creation of the Bible that Henry VIII had authorized, which would be The Great Bible.

By 1538 Rogers and his wife had moved to Wittenberg where he finished his MA in 1540. During this time he became a good friend of Philip Melanchthon. From 1544–48 he was the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Meldorf. In 1548 he returned to England, translated Melanchthon’s work Considerations of the Augsburg Interim, into English, became a prebendary (a senior member of the clergy who was supported by a local parish) at St. Paul’s and a lecturer in divinity (theology). Although a Protestant of the Lutheran branch he had also opposed the “radical” Reformation mainly the Anabaptists. Despite an appeal from John Foxe he had refused to assist Joan of Kent (d. 1550) and called her punishment of burning at the stake, “sufficiently mild” for her anabaptist heresy.

However, with the death of Edward VI and Mary I’s assent to the throne in 1553 Rogers was no longer safe. Immediately Rogers preached an inflamatory sermon at Paul’s Cross which affirmed the “true doctrine” that was taught during Edwards’ reign and also had undiplomatic words for the Catholic church. The result was he was arrested, tried at Smithfield and burned at the stake (like Tyndale he had probably been strangled first and his remains were burned). Despite not helping John Foxe in 1550, Foxe still included a brief account of Rogers in his Book of Martyrs and there is an illustration of his being burned.[3] Rogers goes down as the first Protestant martyr to die ins of the five year terror of Queen Mary and her religious (if not more) consort, Cardinal Reginald Pole.

But what of his version of the Bible? The Matthew’s Bible was a revision of Tyndale and an updating of the portions of the Old Testament that Coverdale had done, this time using Hebrew sources, of which Rogers had some facility. However, there is no indication that Rogers actually did any of the translation, except for the Apocryphal Song of Manasses. Daniell speculates that what happened was that when Tyndale was arrested his unpublished translations of the Old Testament from Joshua to Second Chronicles were rescued from the arresting agents by John Rogers. Rogers then got those sections into print in The Matthew’s Bible. Daniel states, that “for the first time moreover, there appeared an English translation of the nine historical books ending at 2 Chronicles made from the Hebrew.”[4] He concludes that “this was the work of Tyndale is now beyond doubt.”[5] The rest of the Old Testament and Apocrypha were Coverdale.

Daniell’s conjecture of how Tyndale’s draft translations for the nine historical books in the OT got into print is certainly possible, and at is the most plausible explanation to account for the Old Testament section. Greenslade acknowledges Tyndale as the translator of the section. He also notes that the entire Bible was “composite version.”[6] The Matthew’s Bible was a mixture of Tyndale’s New Testament, Pentateuch, Joshua thru Second Chronicles; the rest of the OT was Coverdale with “some revision to the middle of Job and only the slightest thereafter.”[7]

Interestingly there are some 2000 notations, mainly on the text. They include many of Tyndale (although the prefaces and more controversial notations were removed), some notations from Coverdale, and some likely from Rogers himself. There were also notations from Luther, Erasmus, Bucer, and other European scholars. This had the effect of making it “from the Hebrew,” as opposed to Coverdale’s Bible, so it appealed to scholars.

The Bible, probably produced in Antwerp, was dedicated to “The King’s Majesty and to Queen Jane” and in the preface it claims to be “purely translated into English by Thomas Matthew.” There are several possible reasons for the false name. It couldn’t be called the “Tyndale” because he was a recently executed heretic and Henry would still not be willing to license a work with Tyndale’s name on it. The common explanation is that Rogers feared for his life and wanted to hide his identity. However, this isn’t entirely plausible since Rogers was in no particular danger and Coverdale was now working on a new English Bible in the open and with the approval of the King and his chief ministers (Cromwell and Cramner). There is also a notation that the king’s Privy Council knew well early on that Matthews was an alias for Rogers.[8] It is more probably that the subterfuge was both known to and approved by Henry, which allowed his to have an English Bible in print (which by now was a high priority) while at the same time not be seen approving of a work by Tyndale.

The Bible in English had now gone from an entirely outlaw affair only a decade earlier (1526) to the point where two English Bibles could claim approval and license for printing and sale by the king himself. The Matthew’s Bible, was a singularly important work, although history would make it obsolete in a brief time. John Rogers was not so much a translator, although he could translate, as an editor. He was able to, at an opportune time, put together a Bible, which was an improvement on the Coverdale. While it was not completely “from the original” in the Old Testament, it was a noticeable improvement over Coverdale’s work from the German, Swiss, and Latin.

Greenslade notes,

There were now [1537] two complete Bibles in circulation, Coverdale’s (1535 and 1537—the quarto claiming to have the king’s license) and the Matthew (1537, 1500 copies printed). The former could not satisfy the scholars, not being made from the originals; the later would offend the conservatives by its notes and its origin, for Tyndale’s share must soon be detected.[9]

It would simply not do to have competing English versions available as this played into the objections of the Catholic and conservative wing of the church that claimed without singular control over the Bible a “free for all” would develop (which of course, in the modern era would be the case). The answer, in the minds of Cromwell and Cramner, and now affirmed by Henry VIII was that an entirely new work be produced. Edited by the ever-dependable Myles Coverdale, the next Bible on the scene would have as it’s name something befitting the king who authorized it, The Great Bible.



[1] Rodgers was the first Protestant martyr (1555) under the persecutions of Queen Mary (1515–58) and Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500–58) who were attempting to re-establish the Catholic Church in England after the death of Edward VI. Interestingly, both died within hours of each other on Nov 17, 1558.

[2] Antwerp and it’s enormous port (still one one of the largest in the world) operated much the way Shanghai did prior to World War II as a “treaty port.” It was to the mutual benefit of various nations to keep the port open and operating and keep commerce flowing.

[3] John Foxe (1517–87) wrote the Actes and Monuments in 1563. More popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It went through four editions and contained the largest number of woodcut drawings of any book to that date (60). It was presented as a history of the protestant church, highlighting its persecution by Catholicism (particularly the reign of Mary) in England and Scotland. His work is based in history, that is all the people he discusses did in fact die, often horribly, as martyrs (although the account of King John being poisoned by priests is a stretch); however, Foxe was an apologist and propagandist and his work has to be viewed in that light. His work is largely reliable as a history of those times, if not exaggerated at times for effect, from a protestant viewpoint.

[4] David Daniell, The Bible in English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 193.

[5] Ibid. Daniell makes reference to his own work in support of this conclusion, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1994), 333–57.

[6] S. L. Greenslade, The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1963), 150.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Daniel, Bible in English, 196.

[9] Greenslade, Cambridge, 150.

A History of the English Bible: The Coverdale Bible of 1535

This is the third in my series on the History of the English Bible.  The Coverdale Bible and it’s originator, Myles Coverdale, are unfortunately not given the recognition today that he deserves. His life was remarkable, especially in terms of longevity, and his work was significant.


The Coverdale Bible of 1535 was produced by Myles Coverdale (1488–1569) and while this version is generally thought to have a relatively minor role in the concatenation to the King James Bible it was, in its own way, a key pivot point.

The text was largely Tyndale’s work (the NT and the Pentateuch and possibly Jonah) with Coverdale completing the Old Testament not done by Tyndale. However, Coverdale did not have facility in Hebrew and the remainder of the OT was largely from Luther’s German Bible, Zwingli’s Swiss Bible, and the Vulgate. The most notable feature of this Bible is that it was the first complete Bible in English. However, Coverdale, like Tyndale, gave the English some new words, generally compounds (following the German style with which he was more familiar), such as: “loving-kindness,” “winebibber,” as well as “tender mercies” and “saving health.” As Daniell notes, he had a “love for variation”[1] in his word choice as he translated.

Myles Coverdale is perhaps the most overlooked and under appreciated figure in what I call The Era of the Seven Bibles. Coverdale graduated from Cambridge with his BA in 1513. His emphasis of study was mainly in Canon Law. After Cambridge he was a Friar in the Augustinian Order at Cambridge and was influenced by the new Prior, Robert Barnes (1495–1540). It is appropriate to note here as C. S. Lewis does, that the study of this era and understanding the various Bibles cannot be accomplished apart from the greater history of the era.

The history of the English Bible from Tyndale to the Authorized Version should never for long be separated from that European, and by no means exclusively Protestant, movement of which it made part. No one can write that history without skipping to and fro across national and religious boundaries at every moment.[2]

And so the reader will perhaps indulge me a little as we piece together a brief summary of the people and events of that most tumultuous of times and put Coverdale into his proper setting.

Barnes had studied under Erasmus, received his Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge and was by all accounts a dynamic, if undisciplined preacher. He had adopted some of his humanistic teachings of Erasmus and had leanings towards Luther’s theology. In 1525 he preached what has been called “the first sermon of the English Reformation” at St. Edward’s Church. The result of the sermon was a trial before Cardinal Wolsey preaching a “heterodox sermon.”

At the trial Coverdale served as Barnes’ secretary and part of his “defense team” being the Priory’s expert on Canon Law. His defense was successful for that era. He was given the choice of abjuring (which was to recant and do an act of penance) or to be put to the stake. This was a most lenient sentence and Wolsey balanced the politics of the day. To have found Barnes innocent would be giving official sanction to his sermon (and evangelistic one with a decidedly anti-Rome element where he detailed some of the doctrinal errors of the church) but to have sent him to his death was more than Wolsey (and probably Henry VIII behind the scenes) would want. Barnes, rather wisely, chose to abjure. In 1528 he “escaped” from his house arrest with the Austin Friars in London and made his way to Antwerp and for a while to Wittenberg, where he developed a relationship with Martin Luther.

Barnes became an ally of Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540), Henry VIII’s chief minister from 1532 until his execution in 1540. The importance of Cromwell to the English Reformation cannot be emphasized too strongly. Where Wolsey had failed to obtain the annulment through the papal route, Cromwell engineered the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon in favor of Anne Boleyn by the political one. He had worked through Parliament to officially break the English church away from Rome and recognize the king as the Supreme Head of the English Church (and thereby placing all the church lands in Henry’s hands to dispense to various nobles and those who supported him). In this maneuver he had recalled Barnes to England and sent him as an official emissary to Germany to secure a statement of approval for the divorce from Luther and his emerging movement.

Cromwell had a final grand scheme in place where Henry would marry (most unhappily) Anne of Cleves (1515–57), the second daughter of the Duke of Cleves. In 1536 Henry had married Jane Seymour[3] after the divorce, trial, and execution of Anne Boleyn (which Cromwell had orchestrated at Henry’s direction). Barnes also worked in those negotiations. Cromwell had hope this union with the daughter of an important Germanic (and Lutheran) Duke would help reinvigorate the Reformation in England, which had stalled. The end result though was a thoroughgoing disaster for Cromwell and ultimately Barnes.

Henry’s antipathy towards Martin Luther’s theology and politics were well known; Cromwell, however, apparently under-estimated the severity of that antipathy. Cromwell’s plan was two-fold: (1) Henry’s marriage to the German princess Anne of Cleves; (2) firming the Reformation in England along more Lutheran lines. However, the arrangement was a disaster. Although Anne was of the nobility she had received no formal education, could only read German (he native land) and enjoyed needlework and playing card games and was apparently rather vacuous in conversation. Henry found her both intellectually and physically unattractive and after six months the marriage was annulled (Henry referred to he as his “sister” and she was given a generous pension and estate and would outlive all of Henry’s other wives). Anne had no particularly strong opinions and changed her religion a few times (becoming Catholic during Mary’s reign) and was amiable but disinterested in matters outside her rather narrow abilities.

Cromwell paid the price for the debacle (which had also threatened England relations with several of the German states) he was tried and executed. In carrying out Henry’s wishes Cromwell accumulated a number of powerful enemies along the way. In the moment of his weakness they pounced upon him. Barnes was also caught in the affair, as he, sensing England would soon be fully involved in the Lutheran Reformation had himself become Lutheran. After the passing of the Six Articles in 1540, Barnes was tried for heresy and executed. Henry quickly regretted the decision; Cromwell had been his most loyal, talented, and effective chief minister.

Back now to Myles Coverdale. By 1527 he had left the Priory, apparently shed the garments of the priesthood and was something of an itinerant preacher affirming some of the same theology as the Lollards and now Luther. Itinerant preaching was illegal and the content of his preaching even more so. In 1528 he left England for Antwerp. Early on he became an associate of William Tyndale and assisted him in translation work until Tyndale’s arrest and subsequent execution in 1535.

Coverdale, although his original language skills were lacking, he had what we would call “a good way with words,” as Lewis points out,

Coverdale was probably the one whose choice of a rendering came nearest to being determined by taste. His defects as well as his qualities led to this. Of all the translators he was the least scholarly. Among men like Erasmus, Tyndale, Munster, or the Jesuits at Rheims he shows like a rowing boat among battleships. This gave him a kind of freedom. Unable to judge between rival interpretations, he may often have been guided, half consciously, to select and combine by taste. Fortunately his taste was admirable.[4]

While he retained virtually all of Tyndale in the New Testament he occasionally varied the wording. In some passages he reverted back to “penance” instead of “repentance.” That was perhaps the most controversial of Tyndale’s translation, but he rather dogmatically used the same word in every instance, even when “penance” in it’s proper English meaning was the better choice. Although he didn’t read Hebrew at all (he mainly relied on Luther in the Old Testament) he had a good sense of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. As Greenslade states,

His English style is commonly judged by his Psalms, where it is at its best: abounding in music beautifully phrased. Elsewhere he is generally smoother and more melodious than Tyndale, less given to variation, missing something of his swiftness and native force, but often finding a better phrase.[5]

It might be said of Coverdale that he was a translator of “phrases” rather than words. In the Coverdale Bible there are no controversially worded prefaces or introductions (as with Tyndale) and the first edition is dedicated to “the kings majesty.” Remarkably, his work on the Psalms would not be superseded until the King James Version, and that, in its 1611 rendering, follows Coverdale very closely.

The Coverdale Bible would be printed widely and with the more moderating political climate (as well as the work of Cromwell and Cramner behind the scenes) there wasn’t a enormous outcry against the work. Henry and the Pope were also in the height of their disputes, so there were other issues to distract them.

During Anne Boleyn’s life she, working with Cromwell (when they were still allies), had persuaded Henry to authorize an English Bible in every church. This project had apparently been started in 1536 but not carried out at the time. Henry’s main disagreement with Catholicism had been with the Pope, the church hierarchy, and perhaps more importantly, the syphoning off of English wealth to Rome. Theologically he was much more conservative. As his Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (A Defense of the Seven Sacraments) demonstrated, he was well versed in the theological issues and his movement towards a more Protestant theology was much slower. But, he did in 1537 allow for an English Bible to be produced.

About a vernacular Bible he was cautious, but open to persuasion. In 1537 Cromwell would tell Cramner that the king would authorize an English version which the archbishop had just submitted for license ‘until such time that we thei bishops shall set forth a better translation which I think will not be till a day after doomsday.’[6]

The version he is referring to for immediate approval is The Matthews Bible, which is the next installment in the story and the Bible that Cromwell states is in production, would be The Great Bible. Myles Coverdale would be instrumental in the translation and production of both, and he would also be involved at the end of his life for a brief time Matthew Parker’s Bishops Bible.

Coverdale is nearly forgotten today. The Bible that bears his name is often disregarded as insignificant. He is overshadowed by Tyndale (and later the Geneva Bible and King James) and I think suffers in reputation, unjustly, simply because he managed not to be martyred (which is hardly a bad thing). But this is a man who was involved in five of the first seven great English Bibles, and was the key figure in three of them.



[1] David Daniell, The Bible in English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 181

[2] C. S. Lewis, “The Literary Impact of the Authorized Version,” The Ethel M. Wood Lecture Delivered Before the University of London, 20 March 1950 (London: The Athlone Press, 1950), 8–9.

[3] Jane Seymour (1508–37) was Henry VIII’s third wife. She was the mother of the future king, Edward VI. Unfortunately she died from complications arising from the birth of Edward. Seymour was the only of Henry’s wives to receive a queen’s funeral and is the only one who is buried next to him. Seymour, however served Catholic interests by working to reconcile Mary and ultimately placing her back into the royal succession.

[4] Lewis, “Impact,” p. 11.

[5] S. L. Greenslade (ed) The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1963), 149.

[6] Ibid., 150.

A History of the English Bible: The Tyndale Bible of 1523

This is the second of a series of posts on the History of the English Bible.  The first part gave an overview of the Bibles created from 1526 to 1611 and the overall textual history of the King James Bible of 1611.  This post deals with the first of the modern English Bibles, The Tyndale Bible of 1523.


The first significant English Bible of the modern era was The Tyndale Bible (ca. 1523). The work of William Tyndale (1494–1536), he produced an English version that, for the first time, translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, although he also made use of the Latin Vulgate. It was widely opposed by the Catholic Church and initially by Henry VIII of England. As I noted in the first part of this series, Tyndale made some notable changes at variance with traditional church teaching. Four words in particular in the New Testament translation were noted:

  1. Church to “congregation”
  2. Priest to “elder” (although in the first edition he used the word “senior”)
  3. Do Penance to “repent.” (this was the most controversial change)
  4. Charity to “love”

The background of the Tyndale Bible is a little more complex than is often presented in more popular treatments. It was a remarkable achievement by a singularly remarkable individual.[1] Little is known of Tyndale’s early life, even the year of his birth (ca. 1494) and the location of his birth (perhaps the area of Dursley, in Gloucestershire). The normal myth that Tyndale “crept out of humble origins, a small country mouse from an unimpressive clan, and then dared to challenge the great and well-connected lions of London, is not true: indeed it should perhaps be reversed.”[2] On the contrary Tyndale’s family was itself well connected, wealthy, and leaders in the region.

Tyndale first appears in the historical record when he takes both his BA and MA at Oxford in 1512 and 1516 respectively (Magdalen College, where C. S. Lewis was a Fellow and Tudor from 1929 to 1954). He actually had first enrolled under his main family name of Hychyns. By Tyndale’s time Oxford had become the leading European university overtaking the medieval stalwart University of Paris. After Oxford he was at Cambridge for nearly five years (1517–21) but missed working under Erasmus who had departed Cambridge a few years earlier.

Tyndale was clearly a linguistic genius, mastering all of the key European languages of scholarship (French, German, Italian, and Spanish) as well as the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), the mandatory academic language of Latin, and his native English. It seems the key to Tyndale and his Bible translation was that he was able to keep the languages “separate” in his mind. That is, when he translated into English, it was as the expression goes, “the King’s English” the English used in everyday conversation; an English that was both readable and able to be read aloud. This was in contrast to the Wycliffe Bible of 1382. John Wycliffe (ca. 1331–84) is rightly remembered as the “Morning Star” of the Reformation, however his English Bible was a literary cul-de-sac. Wycliffe simply translated the Latin Vulgate into a sort of English. It was not an English that anyone actually would have used, it was highly Latinized and poorly done. Its value was more symbolic than useful and no subsequent English translator would refer to it as a source document.

Once Tyndale completed his education he became the chaplain and tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh at Little Sodbury in the south of Glouchestershire. Almost immediately Tyndale became unpopular with the local establishment clergy. He was certainly aware of Martin Luther’s work and the emerging Protestant Reformation but he also was influenced by the changing politics. England was accelerating its emergence as a world power and Tyndale was perhaps more in keeping with Henry VIII politically than is generally recognized. British nationalism was gaining in popularity and the Renaissance concepts that the monarch modeled were paralleled in Tyndale, albeit Tyndale was perhaps a decade ahead of Henry in his progress.

Walsh did not retain Tyndale who then went to London to seek the patronage of the Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall for his project of translating the Bible into the vernacular English. Tyndale, perhaps naively, blamed his problem with the clergy in Glouchestershire, on their lack of Biblical knowledge. As Daniell notes,

Tyndale himself, continues the story in the first preface to his Pentateuch. He had recognized the need for the Scriptures in the mother tongue. His own bad experiences had been ‘because the priests of the country be unlearned’, unable to expound Scripture to the laity, whose needs were desperate. Everyone should be able to see ‘the process, order, and meaning’ of the Bible.[3]

Tunstall (1474–1559) was also a significant scholar and classicist and, importantly for Tyndale, was an admirer of Erasmus. Tunstall was a man of great ability and was an advisor and special envoy for Henry VIII. He was something of a “liberal Catholic” and ultimately sided with Henry in the split with Rome. However, when Edward came to the throne Tunstall finally reached the limit of his tolerance for Protestantism and ran afoul of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset (1500–52), was deposed as bishop and sent to the Tower of London. He was released and reinstated when Mary came to the throne but then again was deposed by Elizabeth for failing to support the Act of Uniformity. He died shortly thereafter at the age of 85. As Daniell states,

The true nature of Tunstall, a moderate learned man, is now quite difficult to grasp. Almost a saint to what might call the Catholic humanists, almost an ogre to the pious reformed, he warrants neither label. He was generally a considerate and considering cleric and politician who shunned the certainties at either extreme, and moved in a reasonable way through the difficulties that presented themselves in his long life.[4]

Every indication is that Tunstall was sympathetic to Tyndale and his project to translate the Bible into English. He certainly had supported scholarly endeavors in the past, such as second edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. Tyndale was recommended to Tunstall by William Latimer (c. 1467–1545) one of the foremost scholars of the day, teacher and advisor to Thomas More and advisor to Henry VIII. This gives some indication as to the reputation of Tyndale as a scholar in those early days. Latimer was apparently willing to overlook, or was sympathetic to, Tyndale’s theological views. Tyndale remained in London in 1523 waiting on Tunstall. A local merchant, Henry Monmouth, supported him and he also lectured regularly in the area. Tunstall ultimately declined to bring Tyndale, more likely because of his cautious nature and political astuteness more than his opposition to the project itself.

Tyndale traveled to Germany, and quite possibly in Wittenberg at the university completed the translation of the New Testament. He gained the assistance of William Roye. Roye is an interesting character. He was a friar, apparently fallen, a man of more than adequate learning, useful, but apparently of dubious character. He was able in Latin and Greek, but also seemed to take credit for translating more than he actually did (or was able) and ultimately they went their separate ways. Roye was put to the stake in 1531 for heresy in Portugal.

Tyndale’ first edition of the New Testament was printed in Worms in 1526 and then more notably in Antwerp. It was printed in various sizes, but the normal size that was smuggled into England was roughly 7 x 5 inches. They were easily hidden in various commodity bundles. It quickly came to the notice of the authorities and by October Bishop Tunstall had warned book dealers not to sell it and had copies burned. Although this effort produced results almost the reverse of his intentions. The literate (and pious) public in London was significantly outraged by the “spectacle of scriptures being put to the torch”[5] also had the effect of creating interest and more importantly a market. It was clearly politically expedient for Tunstall to do this, but it also ran contrary to all of humanist ideals and had a tendency to also create interest in Tyndale’s work amongst those Erasmus had influenced. However, it wasn’t until 1529 that Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII’s court openly declared Tyndale to be a heretic.

Greenslade provides the most likely answer to the reason for the opposition:

Why was Tyndale’s enterprise so bitterly opposed? To say, because it was not authorized, merely forces the question back a step. Why did not the English Bishops, several friends of Erasmus among them, welcome a translation at once so readable and so scholarly? In general the answer must be that Tyndale’s work as a whole, treatises and translations, came before them as part of the Lutheran movement.[6]

Martin Luther, whose translation of the entire Bible into German Tyndale made significant use of, although Tyndale clearly varies from Luther in significant ways, was viewed as the most dangerous man in Europe by not only the Pope, but the Catholic monarchs of Europe. Henry VIII, himself a man of singular genius and a significant scholar in his own right, wrote, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (A Defense of the Seven Sacraments) in response to the Lutheran Reformation in 1521. This was the work that earned him the title “Defender of the Faith” from the Pope (a title carried by the English crown to this day). Any connection with Lutheran ideals was viewed as seditious as well as heretical.[7]

The problem of being closely identified with Luther and his movement perhaps would not have been singularly fatal to Tyndale, but his treatises were. His 1528 treatise, The Obedience of a Christen Man (and how Christen rulers ought to govern), despite being officially banned was widely read in England. Anne Boylen owned a copy and apparently had Henry read it and said, “this is a book for me and all kings to read.”[8] The tone of Obedience, was remarkably, for Tyndale, mild and despite some flaws it was both popular and influential. Had Tyndale stopped here and simply continued with his Bible translation, his relationship with Henry may have had a much happier conclusion.

However, in 1530 Tyndale wrote The Practyse of Prelates in 1530. It was an incisive indictment of Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon (the mother of the future Queen Mary) for Anne Boleyn. Tyndale condemned the divorce as unscriptural but also that it was part of a larger plot by Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey, in fact failed to obtain the annulment, was dismissed and later would have been tried for treason had he died before that could occur.

While Tyndale might be praised for the courage of writing the treatise and confronting the powerful monarch, it was a Quixotic enterprise and ultimately doomed Tyndale as Henry’s wrath was now directed squarely towards him. This is where Tyndale’s political ineptitude showed the most. To call into question the biblical basis of the divorce was entirely unnecessary and was quite beyond the question at this point (at these level of power biblical injunctions were routinely ignored by both government and church). But to insinuate that Henry was a dupe of Wolsey, the church, or anyone else could only lead to one outcome.

Tyndale managed live, albeit often on the run, for the next five years. He produced new editions of the New Testament (1534) and completed the translation of the Pentateuch (1530). He also translated Erasmus’ 1501 Enchiridion Militas Christiani (Handbook of a Christian Knight) into English in 1533. It was one of Erasmus’ most influential and popular works and Tyndale’s translation was a significant product and showed Tyndale’s appreciation for the great scholar’s work.

In 1535 Henry Phillips, an associate, betrayed Tyndale to the imperial authorities of Emperor Charles V. Arrested in Antwerp and held, tried for heresy, and executed near Brussels. In early fall 1536[9] he was strangled to death and then his corpse was burned at the stake (this was the common practice, very few were actually burned alive at the stake). His last remark before he was strangled was reported to be “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.” In fact Henry’s eyes were already opened. He was singularly outraged that Tyndale had not been sent to England for trial before him. Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540), Henry’s Chief Minister at the time personally interceded for Tyndale but was rebuked, further cementing the break of Henry and England from Catholicism.

Tyndale’s Bible was never actually the “entire” Bible. Most significantly it was the New Testament and the Pentateuch. It would be left to one of his final assistants, Myles Coverdale to produce a complete Bible in English about a year after Tyndale’s death. The Coverdale Bible would be completed with the tacit approval of Henry VIII, and during the remainder of his reign, no fewer than four new English Bible versions would be produced.

Tyndale was a singular genius in linguistics and translation. His ability to work with the Biblical languages as well as the Latin and German translations, place the Bible into an English version which was both readable and felicitous enough to be read aloud, was the turning point not only for the dissemination of the Bible, but also set a standard for translation that has stood to the present day.


[1] The best biography of Tyndale is undoubtedly, William Tyndale: A Biography, by David Daniell (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994). Daniell is perhaps the most knowledgeable scholar on Tyndale. He does tend however, to overemphasize Tyndale’s work as over against later works. His claim that “nine-tenths of the Authorized Versions New Testament is Tyndale” (1), is rather hyperbolic, even for the original 1611 edition. By its final revision of 1769 the English language, lexically, grammatically, and syntactically, had changed radically from Tyndale’s day.

[2] Daniell, Tyndale, p. 11. Daniell notes, that Tyndale’s chief adversaries, Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall; Henry VIII’s close advisors Thomas Cromwell, and Thomas More, all came from much humbler families than Tyndale.

[3] Daniel, Tyndale, p. 83.

[4] Daniell, Tyndale, p. 84.

[5] Peter Ackroyd, The Life of Thomas More. (London: Oxford, 1999), 270.

[6] S. L. Greenslade (ed) The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge: The University Press, 1963), 141.

[7] The problem was not, as it would be in later English versions, most notably The Geneva Bible, the marginal notations. Luther’s German Bible contains very few notations and Tyndale’s first quarto edition from Worms none at all.

[8] William Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christian Man, [editors preface] (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), xxiv.

[9] Tyndale’s death is normally listed as October 6th, 1536, but the records indicate that he may actually have been executed several weeks earlier.

The Textual History of the King James Bible

This is is the beginning of a series that I’m going to do on the history of the English Bible. While I’m sort of starting backwards from King James Version of 1611, this overview puts everything into overall perspective in terms of the progress of the Bible in English.  I’m going to do one article on each of the main English Bibles from 1523 to 1611 and then an article on versions since 1769 (the last major official revision of the KJV, generally if you have a KJV you are reading the 1769 edition) and then a discussion on the history and phenomena of “Study Bibles.”



In 1611 the King James Version of the Bible was first printed and made available by Robert Barker, the King’s Printer. This was the culmination of a translation committee that first began in 1604. 2011 was the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the single most printed and widely distributed book in the world and in the English language.  Although the first press run by Barker had a typographical error in Ruth 3:15 where a letter was left out and the text reads, “and she went into the city.”  This was corrected in a subsequent printing later in the year.  The result was the “She” and “He” Bibles.  The “She” Bible became a great item for collectors as a first rate “She” Bible can fetch in excess of $250k.  We’ll discuss typographical errors more in subsequent posts.


From the time of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation there were various initiatives to produce the Bible in the vernacular languages of the different people groups in Europe. The most notable was the German translation by Martin Luther (1534). While initially opposed to the Reformation, Henry VIII, the King of England, began to slowly break with the Catholic Church and in 1534 declared himself to be the supreme head of the Church in England[1]. Slowly in his reign, the Church in England would become the Church of England.

To advance his nationalistic vision of an English Church he was promoted the Bible being translated into English. He would authorize the completion of an English version of the Bible (The Great Bible) and when that project took longer than his patience would allow for, he permitted the use of another English version that was already available (The Matthews Bible).

Prior to this there had been efforts to translate the Bible into the English language. The most notable had been John Wycliffe (produced ca. 1382–95). Wycliffe’s work is notable, but really does not impact the subsequent translations into English leading up to the production of the King James Bible. The single most important individual in the work of creating a Bible in the English language was William Tyndale.

From 1523 to 1611 no fewer than eight different English versions of the Bible would be produced (seven Protestant and One Catholic), culminating in the production of the King James Bible. After 1611, it would be nearly 250 years before another significant English version would be produced. While this can be attributed both to the changed political and ecclesiastical situation in England; it was also because of the quality of the final product of the King James Bible. It would become the Bible of the English-speaking world (The British Empire and the emerging United States) and the Bible of the evangelical and missionary movements that would stretch from 1648 to 1929.

English Translations Prior to the King James

The Tyndale Bible (ca 1523). The work of William Tyndale (1494–1536). Tyndale produced an English version that, for the first time, translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, although he also made use of the Latin Vulgate. It was widely opposed by the church and by Henry VIII.[2] Tyndale made some notable changes at variance with traditional church teaching. Four words in particular in the New Testament translation were noted:

  • Church to “congregation.”
  • Priest to “elder” (although in the first edition he used the word “senior”).
  • Do Penance to “repent.” (this was the most controversial change).
  • Charity to “love.”

Tyndale was persecuted and was forced to move from place to place to avoid arrest. Tyndale had also written, “The Practyse of Prelates” (1538) which was pointed in its attack on Henry’s divorces. Henry VIII sent agents to locate him and arrest him. He was finally captured in Antwerp in 1535 and executed by strangulation and burning at the stake. His famous dying expression was “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.” Henry VIII was actually infuriated by Tyndale’s execution, as he had specifically given instructions that he was to be arrested and brought to him personally.

Coverdale Bible (1535 Produced by Myles Coverdale (1488–1569), this is plays a minor role in the concatenation to the King James Bible. This was largely Tyndale’s work (the NT and the Pentateuch and possibly Jonah) with Coverdale completing the Old Testament not done by Tyndale. However, Coverdale did not have facility in Hebrew and the remainder of the OT was largely from Luther’s German Bible, Zwingli’s Swiss Bible, and the Vulgate. The most notable feature of this Bible is that it was the first complete Bible in English.

Matthew’s Bible (1537). Actually completed by John Rodgers[3] (1500–55) who used the pseudonym of Thomas Matthews to hide his identity. This version was a revision of Tyndale and an updating of the portions of the Old Testament that Coverdale had done, this time using Hebrew sources. This Bible was the first “approved” Bible, having secured the blessing of Henry VIII who desired an English Bible for his “reformation” and was annoyed by the slow process of the completion of the Great Bible.

The Great Bible (1539). This is the first “authorized” version of the Bible in English. Also completed by Myles Coverdale, this Bible was called “Great” because of its size. It was also known as the “Whitchurch Bible” after the first publisher, the “Chained Bible” because of its being attached to the stands in the churches, and the “Cromwell Bible” after Thomas Cromwell (1485–1550)[4], who oversaw the work at the direction of the king.

Although authorized by the Henry VIII, he soon began to put restrictions on its use and possession. He was irritated that phrases in the Bible were being used in “popular” songs of the day.

  1. By the end of his reign he had decree that the Bible could only be read in church, owned by upper class families, and all marginal notations were blacked out. Shortly before his death he also outlawed the use of any Bible except the Great Bible, which led to many of the copies pf the previous versions being destroyed.
  2. The Geneva Bible (1560). This was the most significant English Bible and would remain the Bible of choice for English Protestants for the next 100 years. Compiled by William Whittingham (1524–79), who was John Calvin’s brother-in-law. There are several notable features of this version:
  3. It was so superior to the Great Bible in terms of English usage that it was said to “have driven the Great Bible from the field by the sheer force of its brilliance.
  4. It was the first English Bible to use the modern chapter and verse divisions.
  5. It contained notations, not only on difficult words and phrases, but interpretations (strongly Calvinistic). It was the first “study Bible.”
  6. The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to come to the American Colonies with the Mayflower in 1620 and remained in wide use until the advent of the King James Bible.

The Bishop’s Bible (1568, with a significant revision in 1572). When Queen Elizabeth I (1553–1603) came to the throne after the death of Mary, the Catholic resurgence was ended. The Queen brought her father’s Church of England back into prominence, but it was a “high church” or Anglican in nature. She was not sympathetic to the Calvinists and along with her bishops despised both John Calvin and particularly, John Knox, both of whom were instrumental in the production of the Geneva Bible. However, the bishops were all aware that the Great Bible was significantly flawed and inferior to the English usage in the Geneva. This led to the production of The Bishop’s Bible under the direction of Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker (1504–75). This Bible was notable for several reasons:

  1. It was a significant improvement over the Great Bible and was the second “Authorized Bible” in English.
  2. Although quoted by William Shakespeare (1564–1616), it is not the only English version that he quotes in his works, as some references suggest, he actually more often quotes the Geneva Bible.
  3. One of the main drawbacks of this version was the poor quality of the Old Testament work, which in places was little more than a rough translation of the Vulgate. Daniell stated, “The Hebrew work in the Bishop’s Bible of 1582 was a botch, and was understood to be so.”[5]
  4. The Bishop’s Bible was designated to serve as the official “starting point” for the King James Bible. 40 copies of the 1572 edition were prepared especially for the use of the King James Committee. Only one of those copies is known to still exist and is housed in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

However, the Bishop’s is a notable contribution, especially in the creation of a “committee” to do the translation. While Parker’s implementation of the committee system was imperfect, it served as a model for the King James.

The King James Bible or Authorized Version (1611). Although the Bishop’s Bible was to be the starting point for this new version, The Bishop’s Bible “was, and is, not loved. Where it reprints Geneva it is acceptable, but most of the original work is incompetent, both in its scholarship and its verbosity.”[6] The King James Bible project was approved by James I (1566–1625) at the Hampton Court Conference (1604).

  1. The Hampton Court Conference was in response to the Puritan ministers petition (The Millenary Petition) to the King James I (who had previously been James VI, King of the Scots) to make Presbyterianism the official practice of the Church of England (along with several other requests).
  2.  While some of the Puritans raised were settled in their favor, clear the most significant outcome obtained was the production of a new English translation of the Bible. This Bible was to be produced by the members of the Church of England and it was to be done by a committee (originally 54, but in the end 40) and overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft (1544–1610). The translators were to be clergy, but mainly scholars who did not hold high ecclesiastical office, but who, because of their work were to be highly considered when vacancies occurred.
  3.  There were six committees:

 First Westminster Company (translating from Genesis to 2 Kings): Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, Hadrian à Saravia, Richard Clarke, John Layfield, Robert Tighe, Francis Burleigh, Geoffrey King, Richard Thomson, William Bedwell.

First Cambridge Company (translated from 1 Chronicles to the Song of Solomon): Edward Lively, John Richardson, Lawrence Chaderton, Francis Dillingham, Roger Andrewes, Thomas Harrison, Robert Spaulding, Andrew Bing.

First Oxford Company (translated from Isaiah to Malachi): John Harding, John Rainolds (or Reynolds), Thomas Holland, Richard Kilby, Miles Smith, Richard Brett, Daniel Fairclough, William Thorne.

Second Oxford Company (translated the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation): Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, Richard Eedes, Giles Tomson, Sir Henry Savile, John Peryn, Ralph Ravens, John Harmar, John Aglionby, Leonard Hutten.

Second Westminster Company (translated the Epistles): William Barlow, John Spenser, Roger Fenton, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins, Michael Rabbet, Thomas Sanderson (who probably had already become Archdeacon of Rochester).

Second Cambridge Company (translated the Apocrypha): John Duport, William Branthwaite, Jeremiah Radcliffe, Samuel Ward, Andrew Downes, John Bois, Robert Ward, Thomas Bilson, Richard Bancroft.

There were 15 specific rules made by the King and his Archbishop for the translators:

  • The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
  • The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
  • The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
  • When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
  • The Division of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
  • No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot “without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the Text.”
  • Such Quotations of Places to be marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
  • Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
  • As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this Manner they shall send it to the rest, to be considered of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
  • If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the general Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
  • When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.
  • Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many skilful in the Tongues; and having taken pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.
  • The Directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster, and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
  • These translations to be used when they agree better with the Text than the Bishops Bible: Tyndale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s[7], Geneva.
  • Besides the said Directors before mentioned, three or four of the most Ancient and Grave Divines, in either of the Universities, not employed in Translating, to be assigned by the vice-Chancellor, upon Conference with the rest of the Heads, to be Overseers of the Translations as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the 4th Rule above specified.[8]

The final product would be recognized as one of the finest achievements in the English language. The fascinating feature, among many, is that in the New Testament, the King James Bible is largely identical to the work of William Tyndale (albeit with updated English).[9] While it would take about 50 years for it to gain supremacy in English (the Geneva Bible was still preferred by many of the Puritan party). The last edition of the Geneva Bible was produced in 1644. One interesting note is that an edition of the King James Bible with the Geneva notes was first produced in 1679 (through 1715). But this edition was never particularly popular. The energy of Puritanism had been largely misspent by Oliver Cromwell and radical Calvinism was never again viewed with great favor among the ruling class of England. The King James Bible would go through several revisions, the last one being 1769. It would remain essentially the exclusive English Bible until the late 1800’s and the dominant English version until the 1950’s.While the King James Bible is in the public domain in the United States (and most of the world), In Great Britain, the Crown perpetually retains the exclusive rights to the Bible and grants permission to publish under the Letters Patent.

The Douay-Rheims Version (1609–10): This English version was produced at the University of Douay (Douai) in France, by English Catholic scholars who were not welcome not safe in England. This version is often ignored in the listing of English Bibles of the era because it was both Catholic and largely a translation of the Vulgate and not from the Hebrew and Greek. However, the translators did make use of the available English versions, especially that of Myles Coverdale and, interestingly enough, the Geneva. It contains marginal notations that are as partisan as the Geneva, from a Catholic position. There was a significant revision completed in 1750 by Bishop Richard Challoner (1691–1781). While it retains the original name, it is also occasionally referred to as the Challoner Bible. This version was also long lasting. It would remain the standard English language Bible for Catholics until 1941.

Textual Sources for the King James Bible

  1. Besides the English Bibles already mentioned the main textual sources for the King James Bible were as follows:
  2. The Textus Receptus: Produced by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) who was called, “the crowning glory of the Christian humanists.”[10] He compiled a standard Greek text from about six different manuscripts which contained most of the New Testament. Notably missing were the last six verses of Revelation, which Erasmus translated from Latin back into Greek. While the work of Erasmus was the standard of the day, he mainly consulted Greek text of the Byzantine textual family and largely avoided older texts because he was afraid of what he thought was an “erratic text” in Codex 1.[11] The King James translators utilized the 1550 edition of Stephanus (Robert Estienne, 1503–59).
  3. The Latin Vulgate: Original produced by Jerome (ca 347–420) by the 13th Century had become the official and “inspired” Bible of the Catholic Church and was significant in the Protestant Church as well even beyond the Reformation. Over the centuries the Vulgate went through many revisions and the King James translators were likely using Erasmus’ edition.
  4. Hebrew Rabbinic Bible: Produced in 1524 by Daniel Bomberg, this is the Masoretic Text. While the King James translators would occasionally use the LXX or Vulgate for more preferable “Christian” phrasing of some OT passages, they also were the first to consult Jewish commentators (especially David Kimhi 1160–1235) for insight into difficult Hebrew expressions.
  5. Luther’s German Bible: Martin Luther (1483–1546) produced a German translation of the New Testament in 1522 and then the complete Bible (including the Apocrypha) in 1534. He worked continually on the project and finished a revision the year he died. His Bible was the standard German language Bible into the 20th One oddity of his translation was Romans 3:28 where he adds the word “alone” to the phrase, “justified by faith apart from deeds of the law” to read, “justified alone by faith.” Besides being an important and influential reformer, many scholars of the day (particularly Coverdale) had facility in German.  The influence of Luther’s Bible cannot be underestimated.  It had a longer “useful” life than the King James Bible and was the standard German language Bible well into 20th century.
  6. Other sources: While the translators do not have appeared to consulted available Greek manuscripts, they did consult the Syriac and other vernacular translations (Spanish, French and Italian).

The Impetus for New English Versions in the Victorian Era

By the middle of the 19th Century there was a growing consensus that the King James Bible was beginning to become obsolete in terms of both English usage and the scholarly apparatus. Significant new manuscript discoveries (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, to name the two most notable) demonstrated that the Textus Receptus was problematic in places and that the English translation of the King James Bible was clearly problematic in sections as well.

English Bible commentaries were becoming increasingly adamant in their remarks of the translation in the King James Bible. The movement for a revision or a new version entirely came to fruition during this time. Even a traditionalist such as Charles Spurgeon remarked, “it ought to be done, and must be done. The present version is not to be despised, but no candid person can be blind to its faults. . . I love God’s Word better than I love King James’s pedantic wisdom and foolish kingcraft.”[12]

However, to his student he added a more practical admonition:

Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, mistrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct were correction must be for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your own critical ability.[13]

This movement would see its culmination in 1870 with the release of the Revised Version of 1885.

The Revised Version is the only official revised of King James Bible and was overseen by the Church of England and approved by Queen Victoria (1819–1901). Its purposes were “to adapt King James’ version to the present state of the English language without changing the idiom and vocabulary,” and “to adapt it to the present standard of Biblical scholarship.”

The leading scholars on the revision committee were Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901), Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–92), and J. B. Lightfoot (1828–89). The most vehement critic was John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester (1813–88). But there was also significant infighting, often led by Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener (1813–91), who was also a member the New Testament revision committee.

While the Revised Version was initially a commercial success and was received both by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen, it was a singular disappointment. The scholars involved were all leaders in their language fields, but not known for English prose. Spurgeon summed up the feelings about the Revised Version when he said it was, “strong in Greek but weak in English.”

Quick Bibliography

This small list of works is designed to open the door for additional study; it is certainly not to be considered exhaustive nor even complete.  I’ll add more bibliographic references in future posts.

Bruce, F. F. History of the English Bible, 3rd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Carson, D. A. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979.

Daniell, David. The Bible in English. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Greenslade, S. L. (ed). The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West From the Reformation to the Present Day. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

Metzger, Bruce. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Norton, David. A Textual History of the King James Bible. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.



[1] Henry’s break with Rome is often, rather simplistically, viewed as an issue of his multiple marriages and the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Henry viewed the authority Rome was enjoying in the temporal affairs in England to be intolerable and England was in a position of only having a single cardinal who was not, at that time, allowed to become pope. Interestingly enough, his argument was similar to the American Colonies position some 200 years later of “no taxation without representation.” Henry’s reformation was a political and nationalistic one and only slowly was there actual ecclesiastical and theological alterations. “The Reformation was rather a final assertion by the State of its authority over the Church in England. The breach with the Roman Church, the repudiation of papal influence in English ecclesiastical affairs, was not a spontaneous clerical movement; it was the effect of the subjection of the Church to the national temporal power. The Church in England had hitherto been a semi-independent part of the political community. It was semi-national, semi-universal; it owed one sort of fealty to the universal Pope, and another to the national King. The rising spirit of nationality could brook no divided allegiance; and the universal gave way to the national idea. There was to be no imperium in imperio, but ‘one body politic” (A. F. Pollard, Henry VIII. [Project Gutenberg eBook], 234).

[2] Henry VIII was also a significant scholar in his own right, in 1521 he wrote, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (A Defense of the Seven Sacraments) in response to the Lutheran Reformation. It was a significant work and , in many respects, superior to any defense the Roman hierarchy had produced. In response, Pope Leo X award Henry with the title, “Defender of the Faith” which the British Monarchs retain to this day.

[3] Rodgers was the first Protestant martyr (1555) under the persecutions of Queen Mary (1515–58) and Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500–58) who were attempting to re-establish the Catholic Church in England after the death of Edward VI. Interestingly, both died within hours of each other on Nov 17, 1558.

[4] Who should not be confused with Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) later Lord Protector of the short lived English Republic. Oliver Cromwell was distantly related, through Thomas Cromwell’s sister.

[5] David Daniell. The Bible in English (New Haven Yale University Press, 2003), 435.

[6] David Daniell. Tyndale’s New Testament (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), xii. A parallel to this project can be made to the Constitutional Convention in the United States in 1787, which was originally designed to revise the Articles of the Confederation, but in reality ended up creating an entirely new constitution.

[7] Whitchurch’s is The Great Bible of 1539.

[8] The 15th rule was added slightly after the work had begun and, interestingly enough is often ignored by proponents of the so-called “King James Only” position.

[9] Daniell, The Bible in English, 448.

[10] Kenneth Scott LaTourette. History of Christianity (New York: Harper Brothers, 1953), 661.

[11] Bruce Metzger. The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 102.

[12] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Preface to H. H. C. Connat’s History of the English Bible (New York: Sheldon, 1856), x-xi. As cited in Daniel, The Bible in English, 685.

[13] Charles H. Spurgeon. Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore and Alsbaster, 1976), 31.

THE Best Biography of G. K. Chesterton Available

The quote that leads this little “adventure” as noted is from one of  my favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton. The following review is of what I consider to be the single best biography of Chesterton that has ever been written and delves into his mind and thought perhaps as well as any biographer could.

dmsthumbIan Ker. G. K. Chesterton: A Biography. Oxford University Press: 2012. xxi + 757pp. (cloth), $65.00

“Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere mention of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: Bogley Head, 1908), 218–19.

 One of the single most fascinating Christian apologists in the modern era, like C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), was not a trained theologian, but rather a man of letters, or as Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton (1874–1936), often referred to himself, “a journalist.” His chief secular antagonist (and good friend) George Bernard Shaw called him an individual of “colossal genius.” Known as a Roman Catholic apologist (although he did not convert to Catholicism until 1922), his works have been reprinted by several evangelical publishers and perhaps his most influence works, The Everlasting Man (1925), was identified by C. S. Lewis as a significant contribution to his own conversion, and one of the books that shaped his “vocational attitude and philosophy of life” (Christian Century, 79, No. 23 [6 June 1962], 719).

Interest in Chesterton and his works has never really waned since his death in 1936; however, in recent years interest in “GK” has steadily risen. In the last ten years there have been over 50 books produced with Chesterton as the central subject. Of all of these new volumes, the subject of this review stands out as a singular contribution.

Ian Ker is Senior Research Fellow in Theology at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford University. He states in the preface that his goal is to “help establish his [Chesterton’s] rightful position as the successor of the great Victorian ‘sages’, and particularly [John Henry] Newman” (xi). For Ker to seek to place Chesterton alongside Cardinal Newman is no flight of fancy, as he is one of the most noted living authorities on Newman and author of the formidable biography, John Henry Newman (Oxford University Press, 2009).

This volume is “the first full-length intellectual and literary life of Chesterton” (viii, xi) incorporating many heretofore little known or unpublished letters and other materials. The final product is a singular accomplishment, integrating insights into his multiple genres as well as his theological, socio-economic, and philosophic thoughts into a biographic tour de force.

Ker follows chronological style with allowances for the thematic approach he mentions in the preface. Straying from pure chronology was also somewhat forced upon Ker by his subject since Chesterton, “never dated” (viii) letters which he personally wrote. Ker devotes entire chapters to Orthodoxy (195–232) and The Everlasting Man (487–538). There is a listing of plates (xxi) and an abbreviation key to Chesterton’s works (xvii–xx). The index (731–47) is largely a name index, with subjects only being listed in relation to Chesterton himself and his wife Frances (née Blogg) Chesterton (1871–1938). The index is adequate, but only barely so, and although the book runs to nearly 800 pages, one could have wished that the publisher had expended a little more effort towards the exhaustive index which this volume deserves.

In creating this “literary life of Chesterton” (xi), Ker examines the creation of Chesterton’s major polemic and apologetic works, detailing the background and piecing together Chesterton’s personal life at the time of writing. Ker also spends a good deal of time on his major novels, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (127ff) and his most enduring novel, The Man Who Was Thursday (187ff). The Man Who Was Thursday, is the Chesterton novel Ker states, “will continue to be read” (125, 127). Thursday was Chesterton’s reaction against the pessimism of the 1890’s that he viewed, in contrast with the societal pessimism that enveloped England after World War I, as “the sad souls of the nineties lost hope because they had taken to much absinthe; our young men lost hope because a friend died with a bullet in his head” (192). It was a typical contrastive of Chesterton, pessimism caused by dwelling in self-induced unreality as opposed to the pessimism caused by the tragedies of real life. This reviewer would take some issue with the assertion by Ker that only these two novels will continue to be read. Both The Flying Inn (345–47) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (487) are novels we continue to enjoy.

Chesterton’s most “remembered” books are, of course, the Father Brown mysteries. The stories were highly profitable, when his bank account would run low, he was reported to have said, “Oh well, we must write another Father Brown story” (283). Ker’s discussion of the origination and development of Father Brown (282–90) is excellent. The examination and solving of crimes by an otherwise non-descript Roman Catholic priest combines Chesterton’s twin passions of the common man and the singular importance of Christian theology in everyday life.

Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man are Chesterton’s two main theological works and they, perhaps as clearly as anything written, detail his view of Christianity and Catholicism, although, Orthodoxy was actually published 14 years before he entered the Catholic Church. Ker’s analysis of these volumes is worth the price of the entire book. For Chesterton Christianity, and the visible church, was a living and vital reality. He stated, “Plato has told you a truth, but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you any more” (228). “The Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me tomorrow” (ibid). In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton was dealing with a “post-Christian” society. Ker helpfully notes:

By pointing out that in a post-Christian age it is very difficult to see Christianity for what it is: post-Christians ‘still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.’ They are in a state of ‘reaction’: ‘They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians.’ They are not ‘far enough away not to hate’ Christianity, nor are they near enough to love it’ (516).

Ker develops the theme of Chesterton’s humour in greater depth than any other biographical work and makes significant use of Chesterton’s Autobiography (published shortly after his death in 1836). Ker states:

The unfailing humour that was so significant an aspect of Chesterton’s personal life has its parallel in the enormous importance he attached in his writings to humour as a medium for comprehending and interpreting life, regarding comedy as he did as an art form at least as serious as tragedy (xi).

In this approach Ker demonstrates the singular skein that runs through his life and works, the difference from being serious about life, yet approaching it with humour and being solemnly humourless whereby one loses the joy of living life (506–07). Humour was so thoroughly entwined in his writings Chesterton remarked that he feared, “his humorous books were taken seriously and his serious books humorously” (550).

The literary device Chesterton is best known for is the use of paradox. Chesterton himself came to believe when he saw that “the paradoxes of Christianity are true to life” (150). Ker’s discussion of Chesterton and paradox is woven throughout the work, as it was in Chesterton’s life itself. Ker notes that Chesterton explained every aspect of Christianity and the Christian life by means of paradox. He summarizes Chesterton’s view of the pagan and Christian view of self by stating:

The pagans had set out to enjoy themselves but in the end made ‘the great psychological discovery’ that ‘a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else’, and that, ‘whereas it had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to the infinity, the truth is that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero’ (151).

Chesterton remains one of the most fascinating Christian apologists/philosophers of the modern era. He straddled the eras between Queen Victorian and the opening curtain of World War II. He wrote significant critiques of poets like Robert Browning and Robert Lewis Stevenson and also warned the world about the horrors that, left unchecked, Hitler and Nazism would certainly unleash on the world. He was a giant in the English literary world when Fleet Street was in its golden age. He saw the introduction of the telephone (which he personally was adverse to using) and in 1932 became a successful radio personality for the BBC. His radio success foreshadows the broadcasts of C. S. Lewis during World War II, from whence Mere Christianity (1945) would derive.

For evangelicals, of whom Chesterton often critical, he is a writer, apologist, and thinker of the first rank who remains vital to interact with today. While one may be disappointed that the final destination in his spiritual journal was the Catholic Church, if one reads Chesterton without profit it is not the fault of the writer. Ker has produced one of those rare biographies that is full of detailed information and personal anecdotes about the subject and never loses the author’s original goal. We cannot recommend this volume too highly.