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.
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.” 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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). 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” 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.
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.” The notes of the first edition were certainly most liberally sprinkled with what would become Calvinistic Theology. 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.
However, in 1560 the notes were more of a “running commentary on the whole Bible” 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.
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, which as Parker noted, apparently was not of great concern.
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. 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.” 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.” 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.
As Ryken states, “Every translation has been clear in its own generation and when judged by the audience for which it was intended. 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,” 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.
 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.
 F. F. Bruce, History of Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 95.
 S. L. Greenslade. Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 157.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 David Daniell, The Bible In English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 296.
 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.
 John Ferling, Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015), 142.
 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.
 Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.
 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.
 Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 90.
 Daniell, Bible in English, 305.
 Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 91.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.
 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.
 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.
 Leland Ryken, Word of God in English: Criteria and Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 229.
 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.