Theological Presuppositions and Sixteenth Century English Bible Translation Part II -- By: William E. Nix
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and Sixteenth Century English Bible Translation
In 1538, Oliver Cromwell “ordered a Latin and an English Bible placed in every church to encourage its reading by the laity.”1 He made this move in order to make Matthew’s Bible more generally acceptable, and the revision of it was begun in 1538 under Miles Coverdale. With the publication of the Six Articles (1539), such a revision was in an even better position, as the Wycliffite, Tyndale, and Coverdale versions were all produced by opponents to the doctrine of transubstantiation, a doctrine espoused by the Six Articles. In addition, the Coverdale Bible could not satisfy the scholars, not being based on the originals, and the Matthew’s Bible offended the conservatives by both its origin and its notes.
Widespread desire for a version made from the original tongues, and support given it by royal and episcopal injunctions placed the new Bible in great demand; in fact, it eclipsed another revision of Matthew’s Bible by the layman, Richard Taverner. Its 1539 edition needed reprinting in 1540, and Cranmer wrote an impressive preface for it (hence the name “Cranmer’s Bible”). By 1541 this Great Bible, the name given it because of its size, had gone through another five editions.
All was not peaceful for the Great Bible, however, for most of the bishops were Roman Catholics, and they resented the separation of the Apocrypha from the Old Testament. Their distaste for a Lutheran arrangement of the New
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Testament books, as followed by Tyndale, “Matthew,” and Coverdale led to the discontinuation of that arrangement in favor of Erasmus’. In 1543 Parliament made it a crime for unlicensed persons to read or expound the Bible publicly, and Henry VIII forbade anyone, of any “estate, condition, or degree…to receive, have, take, or keep, Tyndale’s or Coverdale’s New Testament,”2 in 1546.
Nevertheless, the Great Bible, the product of Tyndale via Coverdale, maintained its prominent and appointed position throughout all England. It was about to be revised in accordance with the Latin Vulgate when Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, and Edward VI ascended to the throne. The Great Bible was reprinted in 1549 and 1553, and The Booke of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, based on the text of the Great Bible, was published in 1549 and 1552.
When Mary Tudor ascended to the throne in 1553, the reforming policy of her brother was reversed. Those individuals who played such a prominent role in the Bible ...
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