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BIBLE, ENGLISH

the books from Joshua to the end of Chronicles are traditionally, and lately also by external evidence,[1] assigned to Tyndale and were probably left by him in the hands of Rogers. From Ezra to Malachi the translation is taken from Coverdale, as is also that of the Apocryphal books. John Roger’s own work appears in a marginal commentary distributed through the Old and New Testaments and chiefly taken from Olivetan’s French Bible of 1535. The volume was printed in black letter in double columns, and three copies are preserved in the British Museum. In 1538 a second edition in folio appeared; it was reprinted twice in 1549, and again in 1551. It is significant that this Bible, like Coverdale’s second edition, was “set forth with the kinges most gracyous lycence,” probably with the concurrence of Cranmer, since he, in a letter to Cromwell, begged him to “exhibit the book unto the king’s highness, and to obtain of his grace ... a licence that the same may be sold and read of every person, without danger of any act, proclamation or ordinance, heretofore granted to the contrary.”[2] And thus it came to pass, as Dr Westcott strikingly puts it, that “by Cranmer’s petition, by Crumwell’s influence, and by Henry’s authority, without any formal ecclesiastical decision, the book was given to the English people, which is the foundation of the text of our present Bible. From Matthew’s Bible—itself a combination of the labours of Tyndale and Coverdale—all later revisions have been successively formed” (op. cit. p. 71).

Meanwhile the successful sale of Matthew’s Bible, the private venture of the two printers Grafton and Whitchurch, was threatened by a rival edition published in 1539 in folio and quarto by “John Byddell for Thomas Barthlet” Taverner. with Richard Taverner as editor. This was, in fact, what would now be called “piracy,” being Grafton’s Matthew Bible revised by Taverner, a learned member of the Inner Temple and famous Greek scholar. He made many alterations in the Matthew Bible, characterized by critical acumen and a happy choice of strong and idiomatic expressions. He is, perhaps, the first purist among the Biblical translators, endeavouring, whenever possible, to substitute a word of native origin for the foreign expression of his predecessors.[3] His revision seems, however, to have had little or no influence on subsequent translators, and was only once, in 1549, reprinted in its entirety. Quarto and octavo editions of the New Testament alone were published in the same year, 1539, as the original edition, and in the following year, 1540, the New Testament in duodecimo. The Old Testament was reprinted as part of a Bible in 1551, but no other editions are known than those named.

It will have been observed that the translations of Holy Scripture which had been printed during these years (1525-1539) were all made by private men and printed without any public authority. Some of them had indeed been set The Great Bible, 1539. forth by the king’s licence, but the object of this is shown by the above-quoted letter of Archbishop Cranmer to Cromwell, touching Matthew’s Bible. It is “that the same may be sold and read of every person ... until such time that we, the bishops, shall set forth a better translation, which I think will not be till a day after doomsday.” This letter was written on the 4th of August 1537, and the impatient words at the end refer to an authorized version which had been projected several years before, and which was, in fact, at that very time in preparation, though not proceeding quickly enough to satisfy Cranmer. In the year 1530, Henry VIII. had issued a commission of inquiry respecting the expediency and necessity of having “in the English tongue both the New Testament and the Old” (Wilkins’ Concilia, iii. 737). This commission reported against the expediency of setting forth a vernacular translation until there was a more settled state of religious opinion, but states that the king “intended to provide that the Holy Scripture shall be, by great, learned and Catholic persons, translated into the English tongue if it shall then seem to His Grace convenient to be” (ib. 740). The Convocation of Canterbury refreshed the royal memory on the subject by petitioning the king on the 19th of December 1534 “that His Majesty would vouchsafe to decree, that the Scriptures should be translated into the vulgar tongue ... and ... delivered to the people according to their learning” (ibid. 770). The subject was again before Convocation in 1536,[4] but the detailed history is lost to us—all that is known being that Cromwell had placed Coverdale at the head of the enterprise, and that the result was an entirely new revision, based on Matthew’s Bible.[5] Coverdale consulted in his revision the Latin version of the Old Testament with the Hebrew text by Sebastian Münster, the Vulgate and Erasmus’s editions of the Greek text for the New Testament.

Concerning the printing of this authorized Bible more details are known. Cromwell had planned the work on a large scale, too large evidently for the resources of the English presses, for it was determined that the printing should be entrusted to Francis Regnault, a famous Paris printer. At the request of Henry VIII., a licence was granted to Regnault for this purpose by Francis I., while Coverdale and Grafton were sent over in 1538 to superintend the work as it passed through the press. The work was pressed forward with all speed, for, as Coverdale writes to Cromwell, they were “dayly threatened” and ever feared “to be spoken withall.”[6] Indeed, when the printing was far advanced, on the 17th of December 1538, its further progress was interdicted by the Inquisitor-general for France, and orders were given to seize the whole of the impression. Coverdale and Grafton left Paris quickly, but soon returned, rescued a great number of the finished sheets, “four great dry-vats” full of them having been sold to a haberdasher instead of being burnt—and conveyed types, printing-presses and workmen to England. Thus the volume which had been begun in Paris in 1538 was completed in London, the colophon stating that it was “Fynisshed in Apryll, Anno M.CCCCC.XXXIX.” It is a splendid folio Bible of the largest volume, and was distinguished from its predecessors by the name of The Great Bible. The title-page represents Henry VIII. giving the “Word of God” to Cromwell and Cranmer, who, in their order, distribute it to laymen and clerics, and describes the volume as “truly translated after the veryte of the Hebreue and Greke texts by þe dylygent studye of dyverse excellent learned men, expert in the forsayde tongues. Prynted by Rychard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch.” “Certain godly annotations,” which Coverdale promised in the Prologue, did not, however, appear in the first issue, nor in any of the following. This was the first of seven editions of this noble Bible which issued from the press during the years 1539-1541,—the second of them, that of 1540, called Cranmer’s Bible from the fact that it contained a long Preface by Archbishop Cranmer, having the important addition “This is the Byble apoynted to the vse of the churches” on the title-page. Seventy years afterwards it assumed the form ever since known as the Authorized Version, but its Psalter is still embedded, without any alteration, in the Book of Common Prayer.

For the sake of comparison the following extracts from St Matthew are given, according to the edition of 1539.

(Matthew iii. 1-4.) In those dayes came Iohn the Baptyst, preaching in the wyldernes of Iewry, saying, Repent of the life that is past, for the kyngdome of heauen is at hande, For thys is he, of whom the prophet Esay spake, which sayeth, the voyce of a cryer in the wyldernes, prepare ye the waye of the lorde: make hys pathes strayght. Thys Iohn had hys garment of camels heer And a gyrdell of a skynne aboute hys loynes. His meate was locustes and wylde hony.

(Matthew vi. 9-13.) Oure father which art in heauen, halowed be thy name. Let thy kingdome come. Thy will be fulfilled, as well in erth, as it is in heuen. Geue vs this daye oure dayly bred. And forgeue vs oure dettes, as we forgeue oure detters. And leade vs not into temptation: but delyuer vs from euyll. For thyne is the kyngdom and the power, and the glorye for euer. Amen.

Meanwhile the closing years of Henry VIII.’s reign were characterized by restrictive measures as to the reading and use of the Bible. Tyndale Version was prohibited by an act of

  1. Westcott, op. cit. p. 172 note.
  2. Cranmer’s Works, letter 194 (Parker Soc.).
  3. See examples in Westcott, op. cit. pp. 208 f.
  4. Burnet’s Ref., ed. Pococke, 1865.
  5. Westcott, op. cit. pp. 180 f.
  6. Remains (Parker Soc.), p. 493; cf. J. A. Kingdon, Incidents in the Lives of Thomas Poyntz and Richard Grafton (1895).