Calvinistic Emphases in the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles -- By: Charles C. Ryrie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 122:485 (Jan 1965)
Article: Calvinistic Emphases in the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles
Author: Charles C. Ryrie

Calvinistic Emphases in the Geneva and Bishops’ Bibles

Charles C. Ryrie

[Charles C. Ryrie, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dean of the Graduate School, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The popularity of the Geneva Bible, first published in 1560 after Queen Elizabeth had ascended the throne of England, was an immediate embarrassment to the Episcopal bishops. Its superior translation made all too obvious the deficiencies of its predecessor, the Great Bible. Since the population was fast becoming attached to the Geneva Bible, how could the clergy go on using the Great Bible for public reading in the churches?

The Geneva Bible was the fruit of the labors of Englishmen who went into exile during the reign of Queen Mary and who settled finally in Geneva. There, aided directly and by the climate produced by John Calvin, the great theologian of the Reformation, and by Theodore Beza, the great Biblical scholar of the day, these men produced this translation. Just who they all were is not certain, but their leader was William Whittingham who married Calvin’s sister-in-law and who himself had produced a translation of the New Testament in English in 1557. It is not impossible that Miles Coverdale and John Knox also had a part in the work. The Old Testament was a thorough revision of the Great Bible, the translation being made directly into English from the Hebrew (and Aramaic). The basis of the New Testament translation was Tyndale’s version revised with the aid of Beza’s Latin version and his commentary. The translation was based on the best scholarship of the day and was done in good idiomatic English. Its reception was

immediate, widespread (due in part to its more convenient size and less expensive price) and sustained. No less than 150 editions of the Geneva Bible were printed between 1560 and 1644, and it held its own not only against the Bishops’ Bible but also for 33 years against the King James version.

Nevertheless, the Geneva Bible was never an authorized version (though it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth). Its popularity, therefore, was disquieting to the authorities of the Church of England. Here was an unauthorized version of the Bible preferred to the one which they had ordered to be read in the churches (i.e., the Great Bible). Furthermore, the important matter of the notes to the Geneva Bible was at the same time one of the chief reasons for its popular acceptance and one of the principal causes for its lack of reception by the ecclesiastical authorities.

The title to the Bible includes these words: “With most profitable annotations upon all the hard places, and other things of great import, as may appear in the epistle to t...

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