By the late Rev. Neil MacIntyre *
Extracted from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Volume 9 (1904-5), and edited.
(Continued from last month)
Part 4 – Bible Translations and Editions after Tyndale
AFTER Tyndale’s New Testament, Myles Coverdale’s translation appeared. Myles Coverdale was born in Yorkshire in the year 1488. He was at first a friar, and subsequently became Bishop of Exeter. He made no pretensions to learning, and made his translation from the German and Latin. It has indeed been questioned whether Coverdale was not entirely ignorant of Hebrew and Greek, as it is evident that the originals were not consulted in the preparation of the work. He had, however, the honour of presenting to the English- speaking people the first entire English Bible, as also the first issued by Royal authority. It was published on October 4th, 1535, just a year before the martyrdom of his friend Tyndale, whom he had also assisted in his work.
Myles Coverdale no doubt was a good man, but his religious character does not stand so high as that of Tyndale and some others. He was weak, and pandered a good deal to the wishes of Henry VIII. In Queen Mary’s reign he was deprived of his bishopric and imprisoned, but was released and allowed to go abroad on the intercession of the King of Denmark. On the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England he returned, but did not resume his ecclesiastical office, and died at a good old age. The name and memory of Myles Coverdale will never be forgotten as the man who gave to the English people the complete printed Bible in their own tongue for the first time.
The next Bible translator is John Rogers, who was born about 1500 near Birmingham. A man of fervent piety, deep learning and singular eloquence, Rogers was not so much a translator as a reviser. The King’s printers, Grafton & Whitchurch, engaged him to revise Coverdale’s Bible, but Rogers adapted Tyndale’s New Testament after carefully comparing it with the original and also with the German. As to the Old Testament, he again followed what Tyndale had previously translated from Genesis to the end of 2 Chronicles, using Coverdale’s Bible for the remaining parts, after carefully revising it. It was published in 1537, and the work, with prefaces, notes, and numerous woodcuts, was dedicated to Henry VIII by Rogers under the name of Thomas Matthew. This Bible is therefore known as Matthew’s Bible. Of the first edition, only 1500 copies were printed. Soon after the accession of Mary to the throne, John Rogers was ordered by the Lords of the Council to remain in his house as a seditious preacher, then he was committed to Newgate, and on February 4th, 1555, he was cruelly burnt at Smithfield, but the word of God for which he lived and died, liveth and abideth for ever.
Taverner’s Bible was the next Bible that appeared. It was simply a revision of Matthew’s Bible with its notes, but without the woodcuts. In the margin the reviser added numerous notes of his own, besides titling the chapters. Richard Taverner was born near Norfolk in 1505. He first studied law, and was made High Sheriff of Oxford, but afterwards was licensed as a preacher. He died on July 14th, 1577. Little is known of him or his Bible.
The next edition of the sacred Scriptures which we notice is the Great Bible, so called because of its large size: it measured 15 inches in length and 9 inches in breadth. It was printed in Paris by Regnault, under the editorship of Myles Coverdale, the expense being borne in part, if not in whole, by Cromwell. It was simply a revision of the Tyndale-Matthew Bible. The King of France, Francis I, granted permission to have this Bible printed in Paris, but the ecclesiastical authorities set themselves in determined hostility to its publication, seized it and had most of the copies burned. What does Popery fear so much as that word which giveth light? The Bible was completed in London in 1539. By Royal command it was placed in churches, and for safe keeping was chained to desks, and accordingly, when so used, came to be called the Chained Bible.
The title-page of the Great Bible is very remarkable in that it has a picture by the Dutch artist Holbein. The following inscription filled the centre of the title-page: The Byble in Englysche, that is to saye, the content of all the holy scrypture both of ye olde and newe testament truly translated after the veryte [truth] of the Hebrewe and Greke texts, by ye dylygent studye of dyuerse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tonges.
In the year 1540, Cranmer’s Bible was issued. This year is memorable in the history of our English Bible. For the first time in this country both the civil and ecclesiastical powers combined to make the Bible accessible to the people. However, in 1543 the Popish bishops obtained an order restricting its circulation. It is told that at the coronation of Edward VI, in 1547, when the three swords of state were to be borne before him, he commanded that the “fourth sword” be brought forward also. “Which sword, your Majesty?” he was asked. “The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” he replied.
Continued next month
* See the January issue for a biographical note about the Rev Neil MacIntyre.