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Biographical Memoir






New – York





1. Introductory Narrative 44. Richard Kilby, D.D.
2. Venerable Bede 45. Miles Smith, D.D.
3. John Wiclif 46. Richard Brett, D.D.
4. Henry de Knyghton 47. [Daniel] Fairclough, D.D.
5. John de Trevisa 48. Thomas Ravis, D.D.
6. William Tyndale 49. George Abbot. D.D.
7. John Rogers 50. Richard Eedes, D.D.
8. Miles Coverdale 51. Giles Tomson, D.D.
9. Cranmer’s Bibles 52. Sir Henry Savile, Knt
10. Edward VI 53. John Peryn, D.D.
11. Marian Persecutions 54. Ralph Ravens, D.D.
12. William Whittingham 55. John Harmar, D.D.
13. Anthony Gilby 56. William Barlow, D. D.
14. Geneva Bible  57. John Spencer, D.D.
15. Thomas Sampson D.D. 58. Roger Fenton, D.D.
16. Queen Elizabeth 59. Ralph Hutchinson, D.D.
17. Parker’s or the Bishop’s Bible 60. William Dakins
18. Hampton Court Conference 61. Michael Rabbet
19. King James’s Version Printed 62. Mr. Sanderson
20. Made in Good Time 63. John Duport, D D.
21. Competency of the Translators 64. William Brainthwaite, D.D.
22. Their Mode of Procedure and Rules 65. Jeremiah Radcliffe, D.D.
23. Launcelot Andrews, D.D. 66. Samuel Ward, D. D.
24. John Overall, D.D. 67. Andrew Downes, D.D.
25. Hadrian Saravia, D.D. 68. John Bois
26. Richard Clarke, D.D. 69. John Ward, D.D.
27. John Laifield, D.D. 70. John Aglionby, D.D.
28. Robert Tighe, D.D. 71. Leonard Hutten, D.D.
29. Francis Burleigh, D.D. 72. Supervisors of the Work
30. Geoffry King 73. Thomas Bilson, D.D.
31. Richard Thompson 74. Richard Bancroft, D.D.
32. William Bedwell 75. Conclusion
33. Edward Lively 76. Revised Editions
34. John Richardson, D.D. 77. Importance of Circulating the Scriptures
35. Lawrence Chaderton, D.D. 78. Practice of the Early Christians
36. Francis Dillingham 79. No better Translators now to be found
37. Roger Andrews, D.D. 80. Opinions of Critics
38. Thomas Harrison 81. Multiplication of the Common Version
39. Robert Spaulding, D.D. 82. Its Influence on Religious Literature
40. Andrew Bing, D.D. 83. An Obstacle to Sectarism
41. John Harding, D.D. 84. Has Survived Great Changes
42. John Reynolds, D.D. 85. Translators Blessed of God
43. Thomas Holland, D.D.    


            This little volume has been long in preparation. It is more than twenty years since the Author’s attention was directed to the inquiry, What were the personal qualifications for their work possessed by King James’s Translators of the Bible? He expected to satisfy himself without difficulty, but found himself sorely disappointed. There was abundance of general testimony to their learning and piety; but nowhere any particular account of the men themselves. Copious histories of the origin, character, and results of their work have been drawn up with elaborate research; but of the Translators personally, little more was told than a meagre catalogue of their names, with brief notices of such offices as a few of them held.

            The only resource was to take these names in detail, and search for any information relative to each individual. For a long time, but little came to hand illustrative of their characters and acquirements, except in relation to some of the more prominent men included in the royal commission. The Author quite despaired of ever being able to identify the greater part of them, by any thing more than their bare surnames. But devoting much of his time to searching in public libraries, he by degrees recovered from oblivion one by one of these worthies, till only two of them, Fairclough and Sanderson, remain without some certain testimonial of their fitness for the most responsible undertaking- in the religious literature of the English world. In regard to some of them, who for a long time eluded his search, the revived information at last seemed almost like a resurrection. As the result of his researches, which he has carried, as he believes, to the utmost extent to which it can be done with the means accessible on this side of the Atlantic, he offers to all who are interested to know in regard to the general sufficiency and reliableness of the Common Version, these biographical sketches of its authors. He feels assured that they will afford historical demonstration of a fact which much astonished him when it began to dawn upon his convictions, – that the first half of the seventeenth century, when the Translation was completed, was the Golden Age of biblical and oriental learning in England. Never before, nor since, have these studies been pursued by scholars whose vernacular tongue is the English, with such zeal, and industry, and success. This remarkable fact is such a token of God’s providential care of his word, as deserves most devout acknowledgment.

            That the true character of their employment, at the precise stage where those good men took it up, may be properly understood by such as have not given particular attention to the subject, a condensed “Introductory Narrative” is given. In its outlines, this follows the crowded octavos of the late Christopher Anderson. He has gleaned out the very corners of the field so carefully, as to leave little for any who may follow him. To his work, or rather to the skilfull abridgment of it, in a single octavo volume, by Rev. Dr. Prime, all who desire more minute information on that part of the subject are respectfully referred.

            The writers to whom the author of this book is most indebted for his biographical materials are Thomas Fuller and Anthony a-Wood. The former, the wittiest and one of the most delightful of the old English writers,—and the latter one of the most crabbed and cynical. What has been obtained from them was gathered wherever it was sprinkled, in scattered morsels, over their numerous and bulky volumes. Beside what was furnished from these sources, numerous fragments have been collected from a wide range of reading, including every thing that seemed to promise any additional matter of information.

            The work is, doubtless, quite imperfect, because after the lapse of more than two centuries, during which no person appears to have thought of the thing, the means of information have been growing more scanty, and the difficulty of recovering it has been constantly increased. Critical inquisitors may be able to detect some inaccuracies in pages prepared under such disadvantages; but it will require no great stretch of generosity to make due allowance for them.

            The general result, to which the Author particularly solicits the attention of any who may honor these pages with their perusal, is the ample proof afforded of the surpassing qualifications of those venerable Translators, taken as a body, for their high and holy work. We have here presumptive evidence of the strongest kind, that their work is deserving of entire confidence. It ought to be received as a “final settlement” of the translation of the Scriptures for popular use, – at least, till the time when a body of men equally qualified can be brought together to re-adjust the work, – a time which most certainly has not yet arrived! If that time shall ever come, may there be found among their successors the vast learning, wisdom, and piety of the old Translators happily revived!


            The translation of the Bible into any language is an event of the highest importance to those by whom that language is spoken. But when such a translation is to be read for successive centuries, by uncounted millions scattered over all the earth, and for whose use so many millions of copies have already been printed, it becomes a work of the highest moral and historical interest. Thus the translation and printing of the Bible in English forms a most important event in modern history. Far beyond any other translation, it has been, and is, and will be, to multitudes which none can number, the living oracle of God, giving to them, in their mother tongue, their surest and safest teaching on all that can affect their eternal welfare.

Venerable Bede

            Many attempts had been made, at various times, to put different portions of the Scriptures into the common speech of the English people. Of these, one of the most noticeable was a translation of John’s Gospel into Anglo-Saxon, made, at the very close of his life, by the “Venerable Bede,” a Northumbrian monk, who died in his cell, in May, A. D. 735. A most interesting account of his last illness is given by Cuthbert, his scholar and biographer. Toward evening of the day of his death, one of his disciples said, “Beloved teacher, one sentence remains to be written.” “Write it quickly, then,” said the dying saint; and summoning all his strength for this last flash of the expiring lamp, he dictated the holy words. When told that the work was finished, he answered, “Thou sayest well. It is finished!” He then requested to be taken up, and placed in that part of his cell where he was wont to kneel at his private devotions; so that, as he said, he might while sitting there call upon his Father. He then sang the doxology, – “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!” and as he sang the last syllable, he drew his last breath*.  (*See Neander, Denkwurdigkeiten, &c, III. 171-175; and Fuller, Church History, I. 149-151.)

John Wiclif

            The admirable King Alfred, who ascended the throne two hundred years after the birth of Bede, translated the Psalms into Anglo-Saxon. But the first complete translation which can be said to have been published, so as to come into extensive use, was that made by Wiclif, about the year 1380. It was not made from the “original Hebrew and Greek of the Holy Ghost;” but from the Vulgate, a Latin version, chiefly prepared by Jerome during the latter part of the fourth century. John Wiclif was born in Yorkshire, England, in the year 1324. He was a priest, and a professor of divinity in the University of Oxford. His ardent piety was nursed by the Scriptures which gave it birth. He is commonly called “the morning-star of the Protestant reformation,” and was one of the brightest of those scattered lights of the Dark Ages, who are often spoken of as “reformers before the reformation.” Like Martin Luther, his opposition to popish errors and corruptions was at first confined to a few points; but prayer, study of the Bible, and growing grace, led him on in a constant advance toward the purity of truth. He became in doctrine what would now be called a Calvinist; and in church discipline his views agreed with those which are now maintained by Congregationalists. After encountering many prosecutions and persecutions, having however a powerful protector in John of Gaunt, (or Ghent, in Flanders, his native place,) the famous old Duke of Lancaster, Wiclif peacefully-closed his devout and laborious life, at his rectory of Lutterworth, in 1384. Forty-one years after, by order of the popish Council of Constance, his bones were unearthed, burned to ashes, and cast into the Swift, a neighboring brook. “Thus,” says Thomas Fuller, “this brook has conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wiclif are the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over.”

This noble passage from a favorite author, Wordsworth has finely versified in one of his Ecclesiastical Sonnets:

“As thou these ashes, little brook, wilt bear
Into the Avon, Avon to the tide
Of Severn, Severn to the narrow seas,
Into main Ocean they, this deed accurst
An emblem yields to friends and enemies,
How the bold Teacher’s doctrine, sanctified
By Truth, shall spread throughout the world dispersed.” 

            Wiclif’s translation of the Bible was made before the invention of the printing machines; and the manuscripts, though quite numerous, were very costly. Nicholas Belward suffered from popish cruelty in 1429, for having in his possession a copy of Wiclif’s New Testament. That copy cost him four marks and forty pence. This sum, so much greater was the value of money then than it is now, was considered as a sufficient annual salary for a curate. The same value at the present time would pay for many hundreds of copies of the Testament, well printed and bound. Such are the marvels wrought by the art of printing, which Luther was wont to call “the last and best gift” of Providence* (*Summum et postremum donum). It has become “the capacious reservoir of human knowledge, whose branching streams diffuse sciences, arts, and morality, through all ages and all nations.”* (*Darwin’s Zoonomia, I. 51).  Let us hope, with an old writer, “that the low pricing of the Bible may never occasion the low prizing of the Bible.”

Henry de Knyghton

            Limited as the circulation of the English Bible must have been in its manuscript form, it still made no little trouble for the monkish doctors of that day. One of them, Henry de Knyghton, said, “This Master John Wiclif hath translated the gospel out of Latin into English, which Christ had intrusted with the clergy and doctors of the Church, that they might minister it to the laity and weaker sort, according to the state of the times and the wants of men. So that, by this means, the gospel is made vulgar, and made more open to the laity, and even to women who can read, than it used to be to the most learned of the clergy and those of the best understanding! And what was before the chief gift of the clergy and doctors of the Church, is made for ever common to the laity.” If the publication of an English Bible in manuscript caused such popish lamentations, we need not wonder that the multiplication of a similar work in print should afterwards awaken such a fury, that Rowland Phillips, the papistical Vicar of Croydon, in a noted sermon preached at St. Paul’s Cross, London, in the year 1535, declared; “We must root out printing, or printing will root out us!”

            Manuscripts of Wiclif’s complete version are still numerous. His Bibles are nearly as numerous as his New Testaments; and there are besides many copies of separate books of the Scriptures. They are quite remarkable for their legibility and beauty, and indicate the great care taken in making them, and in preserving them for nearly five hundred years. The New Testament of this version was printed in the year 1731, or three hundred and fifty years after it was finished. The whole Bible by Wiclif was never printed till two or three years since, when it appeared at Oxford, with the Latin Vulgate, from which it was translated, in parallel columns.

John de Trevisa

            Contemporary with Wiclif, was John de Trevisa, born of an ancient family, at Crocadon in Cornwall. He was a secular priest, and Vicar of Berkeley. He translated several large works out of Latin into English; and chiefly the entire Bible, justifying himself by the example of the Venerable Bede, who had done the same thing for the Gospel of John. This great, and good, and dangerous task he performed by commission from his noble and powerful patron and protector, Lord Thomas de Berkeley. This nobleman had the whole of the book of Revelation, in Latin and French, which latter was then generally understood by the better educated class of Englishmen, written upon the walls and ceiling of his chapel at Berkeley, where it was to be seen hundreds of years after. Trevisa, notwithstanding his translation of the Bible made him obnoxious to the persecutors of his day, lived and died unmolested, though known to be an enemy of monks and begging friars. He expired, full of honor and years, being little less than ninety years of age, in the year 1397*.  (*Fuller’s Church History of Britain, I. 467) Little else is known of him, or of his translation, which did not supersede the labors of Wiclif.

            The first book ever printed with metal types was THE LATIN BIBLE, issued by Gutenberg and Fust, at Mentz, in the Duchy of Hesse, between the years 1450 and 1455, for it bears no date. It is a folio of 641 leaves, or 1282 pages, in two volumes. Though a first attempt, it is beautifully printed on very fine paper, and with superior ink. At least eighteen copies of this famous edition are known to be in existence; four of them on vellum, and fourteen on paper. Twenty-five years ago, one of the vellum copies was sold for five hundred and four pounds sterling; and one of the paper copies lately brought one hundred and ninety pounds. Truly venerable relics! Thus the printing-press paid its first homage to the Best of Books; the highest honor ever done to that illustrious art, and the highest purpose to which it could ever be applied.

            The first Scripture ever printed in English was a sort of paraphrase of the seven penitential

Psalms, so called, by. John Fisher, the popish bishop of Rochester, who was beheaded by Henry VIII. in the year 1535. This little book was printed in 1505.

            The first decided steps, however, toward giving to the English nation a Bible printed in their own tongue, were the translations of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, made by William Tyndale, and by him printed at Hamburg, in the year 1524; – and a translation of the whole of the New Testament, printed by him partly at Cologne, and partly at Worms, in 1525. After six editions of the Testament had been issued, he published Genesis and Deuteronomy, in 1530; and next year the Pentateuch. In the year 1535 was printed the entire Bible, under the auspices of Miles Coverdale, who mostly followed Tyndale as far as he had gone; but without any other connection with him. Of Coverdale, further mention will be made. But in the year 1537 appeared a folio Bible, printed in some city of Germany, with the following title, – “The Byble, which is the Holy Scripture; in which are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament, truely and purely translated into Englysh – by Thomas Matthew. – MDXXXVII.” This is substantially the basis of all the other versions of the Bible into English, including that which is now in such extensive use. It contains Tyndale’s labors as far as he had gone previous to his martyrdom by fire about a year before its publication. That is to say, the whole of the New Testament, and of the Old, as far as the end of the Second Book of Chronicles, or exactly two-thirds of the entire Scriptures, were Tyndale’s work. The other third, comprising the remainder of the Old Testament, was made by his friend and co-laborer, Thomas Matthew, who was no other than John Rogers, the famous martyr, afterwards burnt in the days of “bloody Mary;” and who, at the time of his immortal publication, went by the name of Matthew.

William Tyndale

            William Tyndale, whose vast services to the English-speaking branches of the Church of God have never been duly appreciated, was born in the Hundred of Berkeley, and probably in the village of North Nibley, about the year 1484. His family was ancient and respectable. His grand-sire was Hugh, Baron de Tyndale. From an early age, he was brought up at the University of Oxford. Here, during a lengthened residence in Magdalen College, he became a proficient in all the learning of that day, and in the latter part of his time read private lectures in divinity. He was ordained a priest in 1502; and became a Minorite Observantine friar. His zeal in the exposition of the Scriptures excited the displeasure of the adversaries, and “spying his time,” says Foxe, “he removed from Oxford to the University of Cambridge, where he likewise made his abode a certain space.” This place he had left by 1519. In total independence of Luther, he arose at the same time with that great translator of the Bible into German; being equally moved with him to resist the corruptions and oppressions of a priesthood, which sought to imprison and enslave the minds of all nations, by keeping from them “the key of knowledge.”

            Returning from Cambridge to his native county, he spent nearly two years in the manor-house of Little Sodbury, as tutor to the children of Sir John Walsh. On the Sabbath he preached in the neighboring parishes, and especially at St. Austin’s Green, in Bristol. At Sir John’s hospitable board, the mitred abbots, and other ecclesiastics who swarmed in that neighborhood, were frequent guests; and Tyndale sharply and constantly disputed their mean superstitions. At the first, Sir John and his lady Anne took the part of the “abbots, deans, archdeacons, with divers other doctors and great-beneficed men;” but after reading a translation of Erasmus’s “Christian Soldier’s Manual,” which Tyndale made for them, they took his part. Upon this, those “doctorly pre-Latists” forbore Sir John’s good cheer, rather than to take with it what Fuller calls “the sour sauce” of Tyndale’s conversation. A storm was now gathering over his head. Not only the ignorant hedge-priests at their ale-houses, but the dignified clergymen in the Bishop’s councils began to brand him with the name of heretic. In 1522 he was summoned, with all the other priests of the district, before the bishop’s Chancellor. In their presence he was very roughly handled. In his own account, he says, “When I came before the Chancellor, he threatened me grievously, and reviled me, and rated me as though I had been a dog.”

            It was not long after this, that in disputing with a divine reputed to be quite learned, Tyndale utterly confounded him with certain texts of Scripture; upon which the irritated papist exclaimed, – “It were better for us to be without God’s laws, than without the Pope’s!” This was a little too much for Tyndale, who boldly replied, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than you do!” A noble boast; and nobly redeemed at the cost of his life! He now clearly saw, that nothing could rescue the mass of the English nation from the impostures of the high priests and low priests of Rome, unless the Scriptures were placed in the hands of all. “Which thing only” he says, “moved me to translate the New Testament. Because I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in the mother tongue.”

            When he could no longer remain at Sir John Walsh’s without bringing that worthy knight, as well as himself, into danger, Tyndale went to London, with letters introducing him, as a ripe Greek scholar, to the patronage of that Dr. Tunstall, then bishop of London, who afterwards burned so many of Tyndale’s New Testaments. The courtly and classical bishop refused to befriend him; and he who had hoped in that prelate’s own house to translate the New Testament, was obliged to seek a harbor elsewhere. For nearly a year, he resided in the house of Humphrey Munmouth, a wealthy citizen of London, and afterwards an alderman, knight, and sheriff. During this time, he used to preach in the Church of St. Dunstan’s in the West. By this time, he was convinced that no where in all England would he be permitted to put in act the glorious resolve he had formed at Little Sodbury.

            In January, 1524, with a heart full of love and pity for his native land, Tyndale sailed for Hamburg, being “helped over the sea” by the generous Munmouth, who also assisted him during his fifteen months’ abode in that city. Here he so improved his time, that in May, 1525, he went to Cologne, and began to print his New Testament in quarto form. Ten sheets had hardly been worked off, before an alarm was raised, and the public authorities forbade the work to go on. Tyndale and his amanuensis, William Roye, managed to save those sheets and to sail with them up the Rhine to Worms, where they finished the edition of three thousand copies in comparative safety. A precious relic, containing the Prologue and twenty-two chapters of Matthew, is all that is known to exist of this memorable edition, which is in the German Gothic type. In the same year and place, there was printed another edition, in small-octavo, of which one copy is extant in the Bristol Museum. During the subsequent ten years of the Translator’s unquiet life, spent in labor and concealment from foes, more than twenty editions of this work, with repeated revisions by himself, were passed through the press. These, through the agency of pious merchants and others, were secretly conveyed into England, and there with great privacy sold and circulated, not without causing constant peril and frequent suffering to those into whose hands they came. Many copies fell into the grasp of the enemy, and were destroyed; but very many more were secretly read and pondered in castles and in cottages, and powerfully prepared the way for the liberation of England from the yoke of Rome. This New Testament has been separately printed in not less than fifty-six editions, as well as in fourteen editions of the Holy Bible.

            Besides all these impressions of the work as Tyndale left it, it has been five times revised by able translators, including those appointed by King James; and still forms substantially, though with very numerous amendments, the version in common use. The changes made in these revisions, though generally for the better, were not always so. The substitution of the word charity, where Tyndale had used love, was not a happy change; neither was that of church, where he had employed congregation. Still, large portions of his work remain untouched, and are read verbally as he left them, except in the matter of spelling. The fidelity of his rendering is such as might be expected from his conscientious care. “For I call God to record,” he says, in his reply to Lord Chancellor More, “against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience; nor would this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honor, or riches, might be given me.”

            Not only was this holy man faithful in his great work, but he was fully qualified for it by his scholarship. His sound learning is evident enough on reading his pages. Certain historians, however, while acknowledging his proficiency in Greek literature, have represented him as having little or no acquaintance with Hebrew, and as making his translations of the Old Testament from the Latin or else the German. As for German, then a rude speech just taking its “form and pressure” from the genius of Martin Luther, there is no evidence that Tyndale ever had much acquaintance with it. But of his knowledge of Hebrew- there can be no question. In his answer to Sir Thomas More’s huge volume against him, he accuses the prelates of having lost the understanding of the plain text, “and of the Greek, Latin, and especially of the HEBREW, which is MOST of need to be known, and of all phrases, the proper manner of speakings, and borrowed speech of the Hebrews.” In these words he clearly indicates his critical familiarity with the Hebraisms of the New Testament, which contains so many expressions conformed rather to the idiom of the Hebrew tongue than to that of the Greek. George Joye, once occupied as his amanuensis, who turned against him, bears unwitting testimony upon this point. “I am not afraid,” he says, “to answer Master Tyndale in this matter, for all his high learning in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, etc.” What were the other tongues Joye referred to, we learn from Herman Buschius, a learned professor, who was acquainted with Tyndale both at Marburg and Worms. Spalatin, the friend of Luther, says in his Diary, – “Buschius told me, that, at Worms, six thousand copies of the New Testament had been printed in English. The work was translated by an Englishman staying there with two others, – a man so skilled in the seven languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French, that whichever he spake, you would suppose it his native tongue.”

            We must draw this account of Tyndale to a close*.  (*Those who would know all they can of Tyndale are referred to the First Volume of Anderson’s Annals of the English Bible, which might have been entitled, Tyndale and his Times). But one curious incident must be mentioned, which took place in 1529. Tunstall, then bishop of the wealthy see of Durham, bought up the balance of an edition of the New Testament, which hung on Tyndale’s hands at Antwerp, and burned them. The purchase was made through one Packington, a merchant who secretly favored Tyndale. The latter rejoiced to sell off his unsold copies, being anxious to put to press a new and corrected edition, which he was too poor to publish till thus furnished with the means by Tunstall’s simplicity. A year or two after, George Constantine, one of Tyndale’s coadjutors, fell into the hands of Sir Thomas More. That bitter persecutor promised his prisoner a pardon, provided he would give up the name of the person who defrayed the expense of this Bible-printing business. Constantine, being something of a wag, and aware that More was a dear lover of a joke, accepted the offer, and amused the Chancellor by informing him that the bishop of Durham was their greatest encourager; for, by buying up the unsold copies at a good round sum, he had enabled them to produce a second and improved edition. Sir Thomas greatly enjoyed the joke, and said he had told Tunstall at the time, that such would be the result of his fine speculation. “This,” as D’Israeli says, “was the first lesson which taught persecutors that it is easier to burn authors than books.”

            Early in 1535, Tyndale who had been constantly hunted by the emissaries of his English persecutors, was betrayed by one Phillips, a tool of Stephen Gardiner, the cruel and crafty bishop of Winchester. He suffered an imprisonment of more than eighteen months in the castle of Vilvorde, where he was the means of converting the jailor, the jailor’s daughter, and others of the household. All that conversed with him in the castle bore witness to the purity of his character; and even the Emperor Charles the Fifth’s Procurator-General, or chief prosecuting officer, who saw him there, said that he was “homo doctus, pius, et bonus,” – “a learned, pious, and good man.” It was Friday, the sixth of October, 1536, when this man, “of whom the world was not worthy,” and who ought to be famed as the noblest and greatest benefactor of the English race in all the world, was brought forth to die. Being fastened to the stake, he cried out with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, – LORD, OPEN THE EYES OF THE KING OF ENGLAND!” He was then strangled, and burned to ashes. Thus departed one for whom heaven was ready; but for whom earth, to this hour, has no monument, except the Bible he gave to so many of her millions.

“He lived unknown

Till persecution dragged him into fame,

And chased him up to Heaven. His ashes new –

No marble tells us whither. With his name

No bard embalms and sanctifies his song;

And history, so warm on meaner themes,

Is cold on this.”

            But there is a better world, where he is not-forgotten. “Also now, behold, his witness is in heaven, and his record is on high.”

            Old John Foxe, the martyrologist, who justly calls Tyndale “the Apostle of England,” gives the following beautiful sketch of the man – “First, he was a man very frugal, and spare of body, a great student and earnest laborer in setting forth the Scriptures of God. He reserved or hallowed to himself, two days in the week, which he named his pastime, Monday and Saturday. On Monday he visited all such poor men and women as were fled out of England, by reason of persecution, unto Antwerp; and these, once well understanding their good exercises and qualities, he did very liberally comfort and relieve; and in like manner provided for the sick and diseased persons. On the Saturday, he walked round the town, seeking every corner and hole, where he suspected any poor person to dwell; and where he found any to be well occupied, and yet over-burthened with children, or else were aged and weak, these also he plentifully relieved. And thus he spent his two days of pastime, as he called it. And truly his alms were very large, and so they might well be; for his exhibition [I. e. pension] that he had yearly of the English merchants at Antwerp, when living there, was considerable, and that for the most part he bestowed upon the poor. The rest of the days of the week he gave wholly to his Book, wherein he most diligently travailed. When the Sunday came, then went he to some one merchant’s chamber, or other, whither came many other merchants, and unto them would he read some one parcel of Scripture; the which proceeded so fruitfully, sweetly, and gently from him, much like to the writing of John the Evangelist, that it was a heavenly comfort and joy to the audience, to hear him read the Scriptures: likewise, after dinner, he spent an hour in the same manner. He was a man without any spot or blemish of rancor or malice, full of mercy and compassion, so that no man living was able to reprove him of any sin or crime; although his righteousness and justification depended not thereupon before God; but only upon the blood of Christ, and his faith upon the same. In this faith he died, with constancy, at Vilvorde, and now resteth with the glorious company of Christ’s martyrs, blessedly in the Lord.”

            The good man’s work did not die with him. During the last year of his life, nine or more editions of his Testament issued from the press, and found their way into England “thick and threefold.” But what is strangest of all, and is unexplained to this day, at the very time when Tyndale by the procurement of English ecclesiastics, and by the sufferance of the English king, was burned at Vilvorde, a folio-edition of his Translation was printed at London, with his name on the title-page, and by Thomas Berthelet, the king’s own patent printer. This was the first copy of the Scriptures ever printed on English ground.

John Rogers

            The next year, 1537, two translations of the entire Bible, printed in folio on the continent, made their appearance in England. One of these was Tyndale’s version, completed and edited by his devoted friend and assistant, John Rogers, otherwise known as Thomas Matthew. The other was the work of Miles Cover-dale, afterwards bishop of Exeter.

            Rogers was born at Deritend in Warwickshire, about the year 1500. He was educated at Cambridge, and was for some years chaplain to the English factory at Antwerp. He also ministered for twelve years to a German congregation. He returned to England during the reign of Edward VI., in the year 1550. He was made rector of St. Margaret Moyses, and after that vicar of St. Sepulchre’s; two of the London churches. The next year he resigned the rectory on being appointed one of the prebendaries of St. Paul’s. When “bloody Mary” came to the throne, he was at once in trouble, but refused to escape to the continent, as he might have done. For half a year, he remained a prisoner in his own house; and during the whole of 1554 he was confined in Newgate among thieves and murderers, to some of whom he was an instrument of good. He was very harshly and cruelly treated, and being the first of Mary’s victims, he is honorably known as the Proto-martyr of that fiery-persecution. He was burned alive at Smithfield, January 4th, 1555. He thus suffered with great constancy and piety. His wife, whom he had married eighteen years before, was a German, Adriance de Weyden. She is sometimes called Prat, which is the English form of the same name, both meaning meadow. He was refused permission to see her; but she met him with all her children, as he was on his way to the fatal stake. It has been much disputed, whether they had nine, ten, or eleven children. The fact seems to be, that, at the time of his imprisonment in Newgate, they had nine; and another was born afterwards. In documents written during his confinement, he repeatedly speaks of his ten children. His widow returned with her fatherless flock to Germany. Daniel Rogers, probably the eldest child, lived to be Queen Elizabeth’s ambassador to Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. Richard Rogers, the famous Puritan minister of Weathersfield, was, in all probability, another son of the martyr; and if so, then the numerous families in New England which trace their descent from Richard, are descended from the illustrious Bible Translator and Protomartyr.

Miles Coverdale

The origin of Miles Coverdale is very obscure, no other person being known of that surname. He was a native of Yorkshire, and born in 1488. It is said that he graduated as Bachelor of Canon Law, at Cambridge, in 1531. He afterwards received a Doctor’s degree from Tubingen and Cambridge. He was an Augustine friar, and enjoyed the powerful protection of the lord Crumwell while he was the prime minister of England. He was an eminent scholar; and was put upon the work of translating the Bible by some influential patrons, who also paid the cost of publication. The first edition purports to be faithfully translated out of the German and Latin, and is dedicated to Henry VIII. and his queen, Anne Boleyn. It is dated 1535; but the place where it was printed is uncertain. It is a mistake to suppose, as many have done, that he acted in? concert with either Tyndale or Rogers. That he was skilled in the Hebrew and Greek tongues is certain, though he professes to translate from the German and Latin, in which languages he had five versions before him. His work was “set forth with the Kynge’s most gracious license;” and was warmly favored by the potent Crumwell, and by Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury.

            But notwithstanding all this favor, his book could not displace the labors of the martyred Tyndale, which received and retained such a decided preference, that Coverdale himself repeatedly edited impressions of the rival translation. Cranmer gave a decided preference to Rogers’s publication of his own and Tyndale’s labors, and entreated the Vicar-General Crumwell to exert himself to procure the King’s consent, that it may be “read of every person, without danger of any act, proclamation, or ordinance heretofore granted to the contrary, until such time that we, the Bishops, shall set forth a better translation, which I think will not be till a day after doomsday.” The license was fully conceded; and thus, almost before the ashes of Tyndale had had time to cool, his labors received the warm sanction and approbation of the great men who had denied him all countenance or support, and who ten years before were quite indignant at his efforts. This translation will never be suppressed again. It may be corrected and improved, and at times it may be denounced and burned; and after seventy years, King James’s fifty learned men may spend three or four years in making it, as they say, “more smooth and easy, and agreeable to the text.” But the work has been substantially the basis of all the subsequent editions of the Bible in English unto this day.

            Grafton, who printed Rogers’s Bible just mentioned, commenced the next folio edition, of two thousand five hundred copies, at Paris, in 1538. The reason for executing the work at that place was the high perfection to which the art of printing was then carried there. But when the edition was nearly completed, the Inquisition pounced upon it, and had nearly-succeeded in destroying it. The printed sheets, however, were rescued and carried to London! Also the printing presses and types were purchased; and even the workmen removed with them; so that in two months more the entire volume was completed at London. At the end of these copies is found the inscription, – “The Ende of the New Testament, and of the whole Byble, fynished in Apryll anno 1539. It is the Lord’s doing.” The work was accomplished at the procurement and expense of the Lord Chancellor Crumwell. Thus after a struggle of fifteen years’ continuance, since Tyndale left England, his Bible obtains a secure footing upon his native soil. Crumwell, as “vicegerent unto the King’s Highness,” issued his injunctions, that a copy of this book should be conveniently placed in every parish-church, at the joint expense of the parson and the parishioners; and no man should be in any way discouraged from reading, or hearing it read—but contrariwise, that every person should be stirred up and exhorted to the diligent study of the Word of God. In another of the injunctions, the clergyman in every church is required to make, or cause to be made, one sermon, every quarter of the year at least, wherein he shall “purely and sincerely declare the very gospel of Christ.” The issuing of such an injunction gives a deplorable view of the qualifications of the ministry, and of the miserable plight of the people as to religious instruction, at that day. An old historian, Strype, thus speaks of the interest excited by those old folios, usually secured by a chain to a reading-desk attached to one of the pillars in the churches, – It was wonderful to see with what joy this book of God was received, not only among the learneder sort, but generally all England over, among all the vulgar and common people; and with what greediness the Word of God was read, and what resort to places where the reading of it was! Every body that could, bought the book, or busily read it, or got others to read it to them, if they could not themselves. Divers more elderly people learned to read on purpose; and even little boys flocked, among the rest, to hear portions of the Holy Scripture read.” Thus was brought to pass that memorable saying of Tyndale’s to the mitred Abbots of Winchcombe and Tewksbury, – “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do!” All this was gall and wormwood to Stephen Gardiner, and the other popish clergy, who, as Foxe says, “did mightily stomach and malign the printing of this Bible.”

            During the next year, 1539, the printing and circulation of the Bible went on with great activity. The King himself, in a public proclamation, urged upon his subjects, “the free and liberal use of the Bible in their own maternal English tongue,” as the only means by which they could learn their duty to God or man.

Cranmer's Bibles

            In the following year, those great Bibles, now called “Cranmer’s Bibles,” first appeared. These were published under the archbishop’s direction, with a preface written by him, warmly pleading in behalf of the domestic reading of the Word of God; and quoting, in favor of the practice, some eloquent passages from Chrysostom and Gregory the Nazienzene. The following passage is taken from Chrysostom, who insists “that every man should read by himself at home, in the mean days and time, between sermon and sermon; that when they were at home in their houses, they should apply themselves, from time to time, to the reading of the Holy Scriptures. For the Holy Spirit hath so ordered and. attempered the Scriptures, that in them, as well publicans, fishers and shepherds, may find their edification, as great doctors their erudition. But still you will say, I cannot understand it! What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again and again. Here all manner of persons, men, women; young, old; learned, unlearned; rich, poor; priests, laymen; lords, ladies; officers, tenants, and mean men; virgins, wives, widows; lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen, and all manner of persons, of what estate or condition soever they be, may in this Book learn all things, what they ought to believe, what they ought to do, and what they should not do, as well concerning Almighty God, as also concerning themselves and all others.” One edition of “Cranmer’s Bible,” which varies but slightly from Tyndale and Rogers, was issued this year, under the royal command, sanctioned in -the title-page and preface by two prelates of the popish party, Cuthbert Tunstal, bishop of Durham, and Nicolas Heath, bishop of Rochester. So potent was the will of the tyrant, who, about that same time, executed in one day, and at the same spot, three advocates of the “old learning,” and as many of the “new learning,” as popery and Protestantism were then respectively known. So impartial in cruelties and persecutions was that odious monster of lust and tyranny. What an age! when men suffered equally for not reading the Bible, and for not reading it with the despot’s eyes. But how wonderful are the ways of divine Providence in so ordering it, that the very Tunstal who was so eager to buy up and burn the labors of Tyndale when printed at Antwerp but half a score of years before, is now editing the same at London, in repeated editions! These noble and finely print-e4 folios, of which four or five impressions were made in little more than a year, were published at the expense and risk of Anthony Marler, a London merchant. Even the Bishop of London, the “bloody Bonner,” chief butcher of the Protestant martyrs in the subsequent “burning times” of Queen Mary, actively promoted the circulation and reading of the Scriptures in English. This vile hypocrite, and flatterer of royalty, set up six large Bibles for public perusal in his cathedral of St. Paul’-s, where they were read aloud to attentive throngs of young and old. Stephen Gardiner, the wily Bishop of Winchester, and other crafty and malignant opposers, tried many crooked policies to hinder the free course of God’s word, but their subtle devices came to naught. As Thomas Becon, afterwards Christ’s faithful martyr, witnessed, “The most Sacred Bible is most freely permitted to be read of every man in the English tongue. Many savor Christ aright, and daily the number increaseth, thanks be to God!”

            Tyndale’s translation had been many times printed under the names of Matthew, Taverner, Cranmer, Tunstal and Heath; and under all of them, had received the royal sanction, and had been “appointed to be read in Churches.” But still the name of Tyndale was offensive to the brutal Henry and his slavish parliament. By act of parliament, in 1543, his translation, though in current and almost exclusive use, was branded as crafty, false, and untrue,” and was “forbidden to be kept and used in this realm, or elsewhere in any of the King’s dominions.” Acts of parliament are said to be so near omnipotent, that “they can do any thing except changing a man into a woman;” but they can no more bind the Word of God, than they can change the winds and light of heaven. The same act of parliament which prohibited this version in one clause, ignorantly enforced its use in its other clauses, and also vainly attempted to restrict its use by the “lower orders” of the people.

Edward VI

            The wretched Henry VIII. died in 1546. He was succeeded by his only surviving son, Edward VI, who held the throne but six years and five months, when he died of consumption, at the age of sixteen. This intellectual- and pious child was one of those “who trembled at God’s Word,” which he loved and venerated; and which had “free course and was glorified” during his brief reign. At his coronation, three swords were brought, to be carried before him, in token that three realms were subject to his sway. The precocious prince said that yet another sword must be brought; and when the attending nobles asked what sword that might be, he answered, – “The Bible!” That, said he, “is the sword of the Spirit, and to be preferred before these swords. That ought, in all right, to govern us, who use the others for the people’s safety, by God’s appointment.” Adding some similar expressions, he commanded the Sacred Volume to be brought, and to be borne reverently before him in the grand procession. In the course of his reign, the Bible cause prospered greatly. At least thirty-five editions of the New Testament appeared, and fourteen editions of the whole Bible in English.

            Edward’s first Parliament repealed the Act passed by his father’s last parliament against the labors of Tyndale. Cranmer, who was at the head of the regency, made no attempt to press the use of his own correction or revision of Tyndale’s version; and most of the editions followed the older copies, which were the more popular. When Henry died, there were fourteen printing-offices in England. In Edward’s time these were increased to fifty-seven; of which, not less than thirty-one, and these the most respectable, were engaged either in printing or publishing the Sacred Scriptures. This short reign was a period of unexampled activity in the good work, which was sadly interrupted by the lamented death of the king in 1553.

Marian Persecutions

            His reign was followed by that of his sister, the bigoted and melancholy Mary; who, during her reign of five years and more, did her utmost to suppress the Word of God in her realm, and to restore the authority of Romish corruptions and pretended traditions. It was not till she had been more than a year and a half on the throne, that she felt herself seated firmly enough to dip her hands in the blood of her Protestant subjects. During this time, hundreds who saw the gradual rising of the storm of persecution, fled for shelter to continental Europe. Nearly one thousand of these exiles were learned Englishmen, who were scattered abroad in many cities. Meanwhile, in England, two hundred and eighty-eight faithful martyrs, including one arch-bishop, four bishops, many clergymen and doctors in divinity, as also men, women and children of every rank in life, were committed to the flames for their love to God’s Word, and their adherence to its teachings. The first who thus suffered was that John Rogers who had done so much toward the translation, printing, and circulation of the Bible in English. There is now, in this country, in the hands of one of his descendants, a copy of the Bible which had been for the private use of that holy martyr, whose effigy makes such a prominent figure in the famous New England Primer. Many others were famished to death, or pined and expired in unwholesome dungeons. Miles Coverdale, who had been so active in the business of translating and editing the Bible, had been made Bishop of Exeter by Edward VI.; but two years after, on the accession of Mary, he lost his office, and was imprisoned for two years and a half. He was several times examined before his inquisitors, and was in extreme peril of his life. But in February, 1555, he was allowed to leave the realm, at the intercession of Christian II., King of Denmark*. (*In 1559, after Mary’s miserable death, Coverdale returned to England; but being now a zealous non-conformist, he repeatedly refused to resume his bishopric. He continued to preach, in a somewhat private way, as long as he lived; and died most happily, February, 1569, in the eighty-first year of his age, much venerated for his virtues, labors, and sufferings, and regarded as a “firebrand plucked out of the burning.”). 

            During the Marian persecution, there was no proclamation expressly prohibiting the reading of the Bible, or calling in the copies to be burned. Still several occasions are recorded, in which copies of the sacred volume were consigned to the flames. Very many were carried abroad by the numerous fugitives. And many were concealed in private places. Some were even built up in closets whose doors were concealed by masonry.

“Fierce whiskered guards that volume sought in vain,

Enjoyed by stealth, and hid with anxious pain;

While all around -was misery and gloom,

This shewed the boundless bliss beyond the tomb;

Freed from the venal priest, – the feudal rod,

It led the sufferer’s weary steps to God:

And when his painful course on earth was run,

This, his chief wealth, descended to his son.”

It is a remarkable fact, that, while of a large proportion of the many books printed in England up to this date, 1558, not a vestige is to be found in our day, there is scarce one of the many editions of the Bible and Testament of which one or more copies are not preserved. Such has ever been God’s watchful care in the preservation of his blessed Book.

            The cessation of open operations in publishing the Bible in England was attended by one signal advantage. It gave opportunity for a new and very important revision of the translation.

William Whittingham

            The great work first effected by the exiled Tyndale some twenty-five years before, during his banishment in Europe, was now ably revised by another exiled scholar, and again introduced into England when every port seemed to be shut against it. This was the celebrated “Geneva Testament,” which is a reprint of Tyndale’s, after carefully comparing it once more with the Greek original, and various translations in other tongues, and making many decided improvements, forming by far the best form of the English version, which had till then appeared. The first edition, which is now rare, is noted for the beauty of the type and paper. It left the press in June, 1557. It is the first English Testament divided into verses, and it led the way to a revision of the whole Bible. It is not positively known by whom this good work was done; but there is no doubt but that the person was William Whittingham. He was a native of Lanchester, near Durham, born in 1524. He was of a good family, a Fellow of one of the Colleges at Oxford; and had spent three years in foreign travel, and at the Universities in France. When Mary mounted the throne, he betook himself first to Frankfort in Germany. A year later, in 1555, he removed to Geneva, where he was ordained as minister of the English Congregation, of some hundred members, and where he married Catharine Chauvin, the sister of John Calvin*. (*Calvinus is the Latin, form of the French name Chauvin.)  Having issued the New Testament of the Geneva version, he was aided to some extent by two of his learned fellow-exiles in revising the entire Scriptures, on which they were engaged night and day in 1558, the year that hapless Mary died of a broken heart*. (*One of the old Protestant ministers preached a funeral sermon for her, on the text, – “Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.” 2 Ki. ix. 34. “When he was called in question for it, it was decided that the text was the most objectionable part of the sermon!).  They continued their labors till April, 1560, when the whole work was finished. The expense was defrayed by the wealthier members of the English Congregation at Geneva. Of this revision, numerous editions were printed in the course of the next eighty years. It was several times reprinted even after King James’s translation was published, as it was very popular with the Puritans on account of the numerous very brief marginal annotations. As soon as the first edition had passed the press at Geneva, the editors returned to England.

            Whittingham, soon after, went to France as chaplain to the British ambassador, the Earl of Bedford. On his return, he acted in the same capacity for the Earl of Warwick. Through the influence of that excellent nobleman, he was appointed to the deanery of Durham, in 1563, notwithstanding his sturdy opposition to the popish ceremonies retained in the Church of England. His abilities were so highly esteemed, that when the Secretary Cecil became, by promotion, Lord Treasurer Burleigh, the vacant secretaryship might have been taken by Mr. Whittingham, had he desired it. He was repeatedly impleaded in the ecclesiastical courts for his non-conformity, and for his presbyterial ordination at Geneva; and he was once excommunicated by the Archbishop of York. On appeal to Queen Elizabeth, she appointed Henry, Earl of Huntington, who was Lord President of the Council of the North, and Dr. Hutton, Dean of York, as a commission to examine and decide the case. The Commission boldly declared, “that Mr. Whittingham was ordained in a better sort than even the Archbishop himself.” Another attempt on the part of that dignitary succeeded no better. Before these prosecutions were ended, Mr. Whittingham died in possession of his benefice, in 1579, and in the sixty-fifth year of his age. He was buried in the cathedral at Durham. He was an eminently pious and powerful preacher, and an ornament to religion and learning, to which he greatly contributed by his publications, and chiefly by his agency in the revision of the English Bible. He was the author of several of those metrical versions of the Psalms, which-are still sung in the Episcopal Churches of England and America, even as Tyndale’s prose translations of the Psalms are still printed and read in the Book of Common Prayer*. (*Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and Thomas Norton, who with William Whittingham prepared the Psalms in metre, were all strongly puritanical men, and eminent in their day). 

Anthony Gilby

Geneva Bible

            Anthony Gilby, who was associated with Mr. Whittingham in preparing the Geneva Bible, was born in Lincolnshire, and educated in Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he acquired a very exact and critical skill in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages; and became a bold reformer as to the habits, ceremonies, and corruptions of the national Church. When Queen Mary went about her bloody and burning work, he fled to the continent, tarrying most of his time at Geneva. Soon after the accession of Elizabeth to the throne, he went back to England, and was placed in the wealthy vicarage of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where he lived “as great as a bishop.” He was a “famous and reverend divine,” and God wonderfully blessed his zealous and faithful ministry. He stood in the highest esteem with the best and noblest in the land, which did not screen him from being harassed for his non-conformity. He lived to a great age, but the time of his death is unknown. He was noted for a flaming zeal against the errors and abominations of papistry, and all the remnants and patches of it retained in the Church of England.

Thomas Sampson

            The other helper of Mr. Whittingham at Geneva was Thomas Sampson, D. D., born about 1517, and educated at Oxford. He was a stout Protestant and Puritan, and a very great scholar. In 1551, he became rector of Allhallows, Bread-street, London; and next year Dean of Winchester. He continued a famous preacher of God’s Word, till the death of King Edward. After that, he was obliged to live in concealment; and at last, with great difficulty, escaped from his country. At Geneva he found the best of employments in aiding to perfect the Bible in English. On returning to England under the reign of Elizabeth, he was offered the bishopric of Norwich, and declined it from conscientious scruples. He was noted in the pulpit for his wonderful memory and fine elocution; and was for several years one of the most popular court-preachers. In 1560, he became Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. The numerous men distinguished for their learning, and who were connected with that College, thus speak of him, in a letter soliciting his appointment, – “After well considering all the learned men in the land, they found none to be compared to him for singular learning and great piety, having the praise of all men. And it is very doubtful whether there is a better man, a greater linguist, a more complete scholar, a more profound divine.” In 1564, he was arraigned for non-conformity before the odious High Commission Court, and deprived of his office, and confined. It was not without much trouble, that he procured his release. He was made Prebendary of Pancras in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1570. In 1573, having suffered some from a paralytic affection, he was appointed to the mastership of the Hospital at Leicester, a position of influence, where he made himself very useful for sixteen years, till his death in 1589, at the age of seventy-two.

            It is evident that these three companions in exile were abundantly qualified for the work of revising the translation, and publishing what for nearly eighty years was the favorite household Bible of the English nation. It was a wonderful providence of God, which drove those learned exiles abroad to give them the opportunity for making this improved translation, and prepared the way for its free introduction among the English people as soon as it was ready. Thus the persecution of the Scriptures, like that

“Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself.

And falls on th’ other side,”

defeats its own object, and helps on what it would have destroyed. Haman, while pursuing in his pride the destruction of the whole Jewish race, was elevated at least “fifty cubits” higher than he had ever thought or dreamt of!

Queen Elizabeth

            During the reign of Elizabeth, “whose inclinations,” says Coleridge. “were as popish as her interests were protestant,” the printing of English Bibles went on, at first, more by connivance than by royal approbation. Soon after she began to reign, a gentleman somewhat publicly said to her, that she had released many persons from undeserved confinement, but that there were still four prisoners of most excellent character, who craved liberation. On her asking who they were, the courtier replied, that they were the holy Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and he craved that they might have leave to walk abroad as formerly in the English tongue. To this the politic spinster replied, that she “would first know the minds of the prisoners, whether they desired any such liberty.” But though the sovereign refrained from committing herself at the outset, the year 1561 had not expired, before new editions of the four versions of Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer, and the Geneva exiles, were in free circulation.

Parker's Or The Bishop's Bible

            It was in 1568, when Elizabeth had been queen for ten years, that the “Bishop’s Bible” was published under the supervision of Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. This text was most carefully revised by fifteen very learned men, the majority of whom were bishops; and hence the name of the work. As each of these divines completed his share, the Archbishop gave to their labors a final revision. Thus the translation was still further perfected. This first imprint was the most splendid that had ever been issued. It is a magnificent folio, and contains nearly a hundred and fifty engravings. It has long been supposed that this revision was undertaken at the queen’s command; but such was not the case. It was eight times printed before the death of Parker in 1775; but was not appointed, like Cranmer’s Bible, “to be read in churches.”

            Up to this time, the Geneva Bible had been repeatedly printed on the continent, and mostly at Geneva itself; but not in England. Yet this was decidedly the people’s Bible, and enjoyed the popular preference for domestic use. From that time, almost all the Bibles, for more than thirty-five years, were issued from the press of the Barkers, father and son; whereas previously it had afforded employment to a large number of different printers. While Elizabeth, “the throned vestal,” was in all her glory, not less than one hundred and thirty different editions of the Bible and Testament were issued; eighty-five of them being of the Bible, and forty-five of the Testament. Of these editions ninety, or more than two-thirds, were of the Geneva version. Of the eighty-five issues of the entire Bible, sixty were of this latter version. The sale of so many copies, and at tenfold higher prices than are paid now, was a “sign of the times,” and evinced the growing eagerness of the nation for the precious Book of God.

            When James I. succeeded to the kingdom in 1603, they who desired a thorough reformation in the Church of England, and against whom the terrible Elizabeth had ever “erected her lion-port,” then indulged high hopes of obtaining their desires. His Presbyterian education, and the hypocritical professions he had made with real Stuart perfidy, had raised their hopes only to dash them more cruelly to the dust. He soon gave them to understand, that, in his view, “presbytery and monarchy agreed together as well as God and the devil:” and loudly proclaimed his famous maxim of king-craft, – “No bishop, no king!” As he entered his new realm of England, he received what was called the “millenary petition,” because it purported to bear the names of about a thousand ministers, though the exact number of signers is not known. The petition craved reformation of sundry abuses in the worship, ministry, revenues, and discipline of the national Church. The Universities uttered their remonstrances against this petition. The king, who was eminently qualified to perform the leading part in “the royal game of Goose,” undertook to settle the business at a conference between the parties, at which he was to moderate and decide. He sent out a proclamation, “touching a meeting for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the Church.” This conference was held at Hampton Court, on the 14th, 16th, and 18th days of January, 1604. On the part of the Puritans, the king summoned four of their divines, selected by himself. To match them, he called nine bishops, as many cathedral clergymen, and four divinity professors from Cambridge and Oxford. It soon became manifest, that the only object of the meeting was to give the king an opportunity to declare his bitter hostility to the Puritans, who were brow-beaten, insulted, and trampled upon by the tyrant and his ghostly minions. The Puritans were confuted, “as bitter bishop Bale” said on another occasion, “with seven solid arguments, thus reckoned up, Authority, Violence, Craft, Fraud, Intimidation, Terror and Tyranny.” * (*In the nervous Latin of the crabbed ex-bishop of Ossory, the arguments run thus; Authoritate, Vi, Arte, Fraude, Metu, Terrore et Tyrannide). The monarch roundly declared that he would “harry out of the land” all who would not conform their consciences to his dictation.

Hampton Court Conference

King James's Version Printed

            One good result, however, came from this “mock conference,” as it was usually called by the oppressed Puritans. Among other of their demands, Dr. Reynolds, who was the chief speaker in their behalf, requested that there might be a new translation of the Bible, without note or comment. In an account of the proceedings, given by Patrick Galloway, one of the King’s Scotch chaplains, who was present, and whose account was corrected by the king’s own hand, it is set forth as the second of the articles noted among things to be reformed, and presented by Reynolds, – “That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England, in time of divine service.” To this demand the King acceded; but it was not till nearly six months after the Hampton Court Conference, that the selection of scholars to undertake the work was made. Their labors began soon after, and the first revision of the sacred text by the whole company occupied about four years. The second revision, by a committee of twelve of them, took up nine months more. The sheets were then some two years in passing through the press; and the new and immortal version was finished and published in 1611, after seven years of most thorough and careful preparation.

            Thus it came to pass, that the English Bible received its present form, after a fivefold revision of the translation as it was left in 1537 by Tyndale and Rogers. During this interval of seventy-four years, it had been slowly ripening, till this last, most elaborate, and thorough revision under King James matured the work for coming centuries. It is a very great advantage, that the work, which was well done at first, had the benefit of this accumulated labor and pious care bestowed upon it by so many zealous and erudite scholars in long succession. To this is to be ascribed much of its intrinsic excellence and lasting popularity. Its origin and history so strongly commended it, that it speedily came into general use as the standard version, by the common consent of the English people; and required no act of parliament nor royal proclamation to establish its authority*. (*Says Dr. Lee, Principal of the University of Edinburgh; “I do not find that there was any canon, proclamation, or act of parliament, to enforce the use of it.” “The present version,” says Dr. Symonds, as quoted in Anderson’s Annals, “appears to have made its way, without the interposition of any authority whatsoever; for it is not easy to discover any traces of a proclamation, canon or statute published to enforce the use of it.” It has been lately ascertained, that neither the king’s private purse, nor the public exchequer, contributed a farthing toward the expense of the translation or publication of the work.)  Some of the older versions continued to be reprinted for forty years; but no long time elapsed ere the common version quietly and exclusively occupied the field. Who believes it possible that another translation can be produced in our time, which shall command the like acceptance; and without strife or controversy, take, among the English-speaking population of the globe, the place now held by our venerable version?

Made In Good Time

            This translation was completed at a fortunate time. The English language had passed through many and great changes, and had at last reached the very height of its purity and strength. The Bible has ever since been the grand English classic. It is still the noblest monument of the power of the English speech. It is the pattern and standard of excellence therein. It is the most full and refreshing of all the “wells of English undefiled.” It has given a fixed character to our language. It is as intelligible now as when it was first imprinted; and will be as easily understood by readers of coming centuries as by those of the past and the present. It is singularly free from what used to be called “ink-horn terms;” that is, such words as are more used in writing than in speaking, and are not well understood except by scholars. “In the church, among the congregation,” says Luther, “we ought to speak as we use at home, in the house, – the plain mother-tongue, which every one understandeth and is acquainted withal.”

Competency Of The Translators

            That King James’s scholars wisely clave to the language of the cottage and the market-place, appears by what Thomas Fuller wrote of Nottinghamshire in 1662; “The language of the common people is generally the best of any shire in England. A proof whereof, when a boy, I received from a hand-laboring man therein, which since hath convinced my judgment.’We speak, I believe,' said he, ‘as good English as any shire in England; because, though in the singing-Psalms some words are used to make the metre, unknown to us, yet the last translation of the Bible, which no doubt was done by those learned men in the best English, agreeth perfectly with the common speech of our county.’” Thus we came to have a version as easy of comprehension as the nature of the case will admit. It is the most precious boon possessed by the vast masses, to whom it speaks “in their own tongue the wonderful works of God.” Well does the Translators’ Preface speak of God’s Sacred Word as “that inestimable treasure which excelleth all the riches of the earth.” And well was it said of them by that same Thomas Fuller; “These, with Jacob, rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well of life; so that now even Rachels, weak women, may freely come, both to drink themselves, and water the flocks of their families at the same.”

            But were those ancient scholars competent to make their translation correct, as well as plain?

This is a question of the utmost importance in estimating the value of their work, and the degree of confidence to which it is entitled among readers who cannot examine for themselves the original tongues of the inspired writers. It is, therefore, the principal object of this little volume to present brief biographical sketches of our Translators. By showing who were the men, and what were their qualifications for their work, we shall best enable the common reader to decide for himself, how far he may depend upon their ability and fidelity. Considering the boundless circulation and unapproachable popularity of their work, it seems most strange that no person, up to this time,—not even in the mother-country, – has attempted to do this, except in the most slight and compendious manner.

            As to the capability of those men, we may say again, that, by the good providence of God, their work was undertaken in a fortunate time. Not only had the English language, that singular compound, then ripened to its full perfection, but the study of Greek, and of the oriental tongues, and of rabbinical lore, had then been carried to a greater extent in England than ever before or since. This particular field of learning has never been so highly cultivated among English divines as it was at that day. To evince this fact, so far as necessary limits will admit, it will be requisite to sketch the characters and scholarship of those men, who have made all coming ages their debtors. When this pleasing task is done, it is confidently expected that the reader of these pages will yield to the conviction, that all the colleges of Great Britain and America, even in this proud day of boastings, could not bring together the same number of divines equally qualified by learning and piety for the great undertaking. Few indeed are the living names worthy to be enrolled with those mighty men. It would be impossible to convene out of any one Christian denomination, or out of all, a body of translators, on whom the whole Christian community would bestow such confidence as is reposed upon that illustrious company, or who would prove themselves as deserving of such confidence. Very many self-styled “improved versions” of the Bible, or of parts of it, have been paraded before the world, but the religious public has doomed them all, without exception, to utter neglect.

            Not that absolute perfection is claimed for our common English Bible. But this blessed book is so far complete and exact, that the unlearned reader, being of ordinary intelligence, may enjoy the delightful assurance, that, if he study it in faith and prayer, and give himself up to its teachings, he shall not be confounded or misled as to any matter essential to his salvation and his spiritual good. It will as safely guide him into all the things needful for faith and practice, as would the original Scriptures, if he could read them, or if they could speak to him as erst they spake to the Hebrew in Jerusalem, or to the Greek in Corinth. Nor is this any disparagement of the benefits of a critical knowledge of the original tongues. For while a good translation is the best commentary on the original Scriptures, the originals themselves are the best commentary on the translation. Passages somewhat obscure in the translation often become very plain when we recur to the original, because we then distinctly see what it was that the translators meant to say*. (*Take an instance from Isai. v. 18. “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart-rope.” From the last member of this parallelism has arisen the absurd proverb for a high-handed transgressor, – “He sinned with a cart-rope!” On recurring to the Hebrew, we find that “sin” is not a verb but a noun, standing in apposition with “draw,” as iniquity does in the preceding clause. So that the full expression of the last clause would be, – “and that draw sin as it were with a cart-rope,” – thus drudging in the harness of sin). To one who can readily understand both, the original must, in the nature of the case, always be the easier of the two; just as it is easier for a man to walk by the sight of his own eyes, than by the guidance of another man’s eyes. It is only maintained, that the common English reader enjoys, by the good providence of God, that which comes the nearest to the privilege of the classical scholar; and has a translation so exact, plain, and trustworthy, that he may follow it with implicit confidence as “a light to his feet and a lamp to his paths.”

            The King was for appointing fifty-four learned men to this great and good work; but the number actually employed upon it, in the first instance, was forty-seven. Order was also taken, that the bishops, in their several dioceses, should find what men of learning there were, who might be able to assist; and the bishops were to write to them, earnestly charging them, at the king’s desire, to send in their suggestions and critical observations, that so, as his Majesty remarks, “our said intended translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom.”

Their Mode Of Procedure And Rules

            Seventeen of the translators were to work at Westminster, fifteen at Cambridge, and as many at Oxford. Those who met at each place were divided into two companies; so that there were, in all, six distinct companies of translators. They received a set of rules for their direction. The first instructed them to make the “Bishop’s Bible,” so called, the basis of their work, altering it no further than fidelity to the originals required. In the result, however, the new version agreed much more with the Geneva than with any other; though the huffing king, at the Hampton Court Conference, reproached it as “the worst of all.” The second rule requires that the mode then used of spelling the proper names should be retained as far as might be. The third rule requires “the old ecclesiastical words to be kept,” such as “church “ instead of “congregation.” The fourth rule prescribes, that where a word has different meanings, that is to be preferred which has the general sanction of the most ancient Fathers, regard being had to “the propriety of the place, and the analogy of faith.” The fifth rule directs that the divisions into chapters be altered as little as may be. The sixth rule, agreeably to Dr. Reynolds’s wise suggestion at Hampton Court, prohibits all notes or comments, thus obliging the translators to make their version intelligible without those dangerous helps. The seventh rule provides for marginal references to parallel or explanatory passages. The eighth rule enjoins that each man in each company shall separately examine the same chapter or chapters, and put the translation into the best shape he can. The whole company must then come together, and compare what they have done, and agree on what shall stand. Thus in each company, according to the number of members, there would be from seven to ten distinct and carefully labored revisions, the whole to be compared, and digested into one copy of the portion of the Bible assigned to each particular company. The ninth rule directs, that as fast as any company shall, in this manner, complete any one of the sacred books, it is to be sent to each of the other companies, to be critically reviewed by them all. The tenth rule prescribes, that if any company, upon reviewing a book so sent to them, find any thing doubtful or unsatisfactory, they are to note the places, and their reasons for objecting thereto, and send it back to the company from whence it came. If that company should not concur in the suggestions thus made, the matter was to be finally arranged at a general meeting of the chief persons of all the companies at the end of the work. Thus every part of the Bible would be fully considered, first, separately, by each member of the company to which it was originally assigned; secondly, by that whole company in concert; thirdly, by the other five companies severally; and fourthly, by the general committee of revision. By this judicious plan, each part must have been closely scrutinized at least fourteen times. The eleventh rule provides, that in case of any special difficulty or obscurity, letters shall be issued by authority to any learned man in the land, calling for his judgment thereon. The twelfth rule requires every bishop to notify the clergy of his diocese as to the work in hand, and to “move and charge as many as, being skilful in the tongues, have taken pains in that kind, to send his particular observations” to some one of the companies. The thirteenth rule appoints the directors of the different companies. The fourteenth rule names five other translations to be used, “when they agree better with the text than the Bishop’s Bible.” These are Tyndale’s; – Matthew’s, which is by Tyndale and John Rogers; – Coverdale’s; – Whitchurch’s, which is “Cranmer’s,” or the “Great Bible," and was printed by Whitchurch; – and the Geneva Bible. The object of this regulation was to avoid, as far as possible, the suspicious stamp of novelty. To the careful observance of these injunctions, which, with the exception of the first five, are highly judicious, is to be ascribed much of the excellence of the completed translation.

            To these rules, which were delivered to the Translators, there appears to have been added another, providing that, besides the directors of the six companies, “three or four of the most ancient and grave divines in either of the Universities, not employed in translating,” be designated by the Vice-Chancellors and Heads of Colleges, “to be overseers of the Translation, as well Hebrew as Greek, for the better observation of the fourth rule.”

            The learned Selden says, that when the Translators met to compare what they had done, each of them held, in his hand a Bible in some language. If any thing struck any one as requiring alteration, he spoke; otherwise the reading went on. The final revision was made, not by six men, as the tenth of the above rules would seem to indicate, but by twelve. At least, such was the statement made in the Synod of Dort in 161S, by Dr. Samuel Ward, who was one of the most active of the Translators. It seems to have bee?, carried through the press by Dr. Miles Smith and. Bishop Bilson, aided perhaps by Archbishop Bancroft and other prelates. All the expense of making and printing-the translation was defrayed by Robert Barker, “Printer to the King’s most Excellent Maiestie.” The copy-right thus cost him three thousand five hundred pounds; and his heirs and assigns retained their privilege down to the year 1709. For two hundred and forty years and more, God has been speaking by this precious volume to the multitudes of the Anglo-Saxon race. Popery, apparently believing that ignorance is the mother of devotion, and especially ignorance of the Word of God, would fain have supplanted it by priestly inventions and monkish corruptions.

“But to outweigh all harm, the Sacred Book,

In dusty sequestration wrapt too long,

Assumes the accents of our native tongue;

And he who guides the plow, or wields the crook,

With understanding spirit now may look

Upon her records, listen to her song,

And sift her laws,—much wondering that the wrong,

Which faith has suffered, Heaven could calmly brook,

Transcendant boon! noblest that earthly king

Ever bestowed to equalize and bless

Under the weight of mortal wretchedness.”

            The printing of the English Bible has proved to be by far the mightiest barrier ever reared to repel the advance of Popery, and to damage all the resources of the Papacy. Originally intended for the five or six millions who dwelt within the narrow limits of the British Islands, it at once formed and fixed their language, till then unsettled; and has since gone with that language to the isles and shores of every sea. “And now, during the lapse of almost two and a half centuries, it has gladdened the hearts, and still gladdens the hearts of millions upon millions, not only in Great Britain, but throughout North America and the Indies, in portions of Africa, and in Australia. At the present day, the English is probably the vernacular tongue of more millions than of any other one language under heaven; and the English Bible has brought and still brings home the knowledge of God’s revealed truth to myriads more of minds than ever received it through the original tongues. The Translators little foresaw the vast results and immeasurable influence of what they had thus done, both for time and for eternity. Venerated men! their very names are now hardly known to more than a few persons; yet, in the providence of God, the fruits of their labors have spread to far distant climes; have laid broad and deep the foundations of mighty empires; have afforded to multitudes strength to endure adversity, and. grace to resist the temptations of prosperity; and only the revelations of the judgment-day can disclose how many millions and millions, through the instrumentality of their labors, have been made wise unto salvation*. (*Report of the Committee on Versions, made to the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society, and adopted May 1st, 1851).

            Surely it is time, that the names of these “venerated men” were rescued from such unjust oblivion; and that at least some considerable part of those who have received such incalculable benefits at their hands, should know to whom they are so deeply indebted. The sensation of gratitude is one of pleasure; and it is hoped that this little book may serve to awaken it in many a bosom, both toward the men who wrought so good a work, “and made all corning ages their own,” – and toward Him who gave them their skill, and the opportunity to exert it in thus widely diffusing his saving truth.

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