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..

THE Reference Set for Early Church History: A Review of “Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity”

dmsthumbAngelo Di Beradino (General Editor). Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, Produced by the Institutum Patristricum Augustinianum. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014. Volume One (A–E) xxxviii + 937 pp; Volume Two (F–O) xxxvi + 1020 pp; Volume Three (P–Z) xxxiv + 994 pp (cloth), $450.00 (set).

As a librarian one of the most frequent questions this reviewer receives is for a recommendation as to how a pastor might configure his library. My working principle over the years has been to emphasize “reference” as the core of a library. To find stock a library with sources of excellent articles on particular subjects that have been through a rigorous academic review (as opposed to Wikipedia or other popular online sources) is key for quick research for the busy pastor.

For many years there has been a significant need for a updated Patristic era reference, especially in English has existed. The 1992 English edition Encyclopedia of the Early Church (Oxford Press) was a straight translation of the Italian Dizinario patristico e di antichitá cristiane (Marietti, 1983–88). The Nuovo dizionario was completed in 2010. This edition represents more than a straight translation as the general editor, Angelo Di Beradino has overseen the addition of many new articles to a total of 3,220. All of the articles were revisited and updated. Di Beradino, for many years the director of the Hewitt Library at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA and is currently Professor of Patrology at the Augustinian Patristic Institute in Rome and has served as an editor for several other works including We Believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Ancient Christian Doctrine series (IVP 2012).

The three volumes roughly cover the era of AD 90 to 750. Consulting editor, Thomas Oden, states that the volumes cover, “key topics in early Christian studies with special attention to authors, texts and contexts of the first through eighth centuries” (ix). The articles range in length from a single paragraph to several pages. Owing to Di Bernadino’s skill as a librarian and researcher, this set is a model of reference organization and detail. The articles all have useful bibliographic references to introduce the reader to additional material. The only organizational criticism this reviewer would advance is the lack of “see also” notations to assist the researcher.

It is impossible to highlight all of the articles deserving of mention but a sample of notable articles would include Trapé on “Justification” (2:490–92) is an important read noting that the discussion of justification by faith was a dynamic conversation in the early church. Crouzel and Odrobina’s entry on “Celibacy of the Clergy” (1:478–79) is valuable in sorting out the development and geographic progression of this concept. The treatment of “Kingdom of God” (2:504–507) by dal Covolo and “Millennialism” (2:802–803) by Simonetti are excellent contributions. Filoramo’s “Eschatology” (1:837–40) is particularly helpful in detailing how the works of Origen and Augustine precipitated the shift in early church doctrine from literal to spiritualized concepts in eschatology. The lengthy entry on “Baptism” (1:321–26) has a very stimulating discussion on the “iconography” of baptismal scenes. The discussion of the early baptismal controversies, especially in the cases of the Novatians and Donatists, is quite helpful. Interestingly, there is no discussion on the issue of infant baptism or its development in the early church. Hanson’s “Creeds and Confessions of Faith” (1:630–33) is excellent, especially in the discussion of the evolution of “style” of creedal statements.

One of the longest articles in the set is the important discussion of “Preaching” (3:273–93). Federico Fatti details the homily, “used in reference to sermons in which exegetical interest prevailed” (3:274) and sermon, which “was used in reference to sermons on a theme” (ibid). He details the development of both substance and style in preaching and a fascinating discussion of the introduction of presbyters as preachers (3:284–86). Another fascinating discussion is the role that audience and congregation participation in the sermon in this era. Any studdent of preaching will benefit from this article, especially the extensive bibliography that takes four full columns.

The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity is highly recommended as a front line source for information on all aspects of the early church. The cost ($450 list) will be prohibitive to some individuals, but it is a must have for any seminary, training school, or other educational institution. Those specializing in church history will want to have this reference set within arms reach at their desk..