Geneva Bible, Source text for our series on the beginning of Jesus

Having 2020 years since the birth of Christ Jesus we are going to look at this special man who changed the world.

Geneva Bible
Geneva Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For this series on the beginning of Jesus we shall look at a bible which was preceding the King James translation by 51 years. originally it was the primary Bible of 16th century English Protestantism and was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan, author of the Christian allegory with an everyman character, and the plot centres on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion, bringing one of the most significant works of religious English literature, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).

English: Example of Geneva Bible gothic or bla...
Example of Geneva Bible gothic or blackletter text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first mechanical printed Bible was used by many English Dissenters, and it was still respected by Oliver Cromwell‘s soldiers at the time of the English Civil War, in the booklet “Cromwell’s Soldiers’ Pocket Bible“.

The language of the Geneva Bible in the 16th century was more preferred than that of the Great Bible of 1539, the first authorized Bible in English, which was the authorized Bible of the Church of England.

The annotations which are an important part of the Geneva Bible were Calvinist and Puritan in character, and as such they were disliked by the ruling pro-government Anglicans of the Church of England, as well as King James I, who commissioned the “Authorized Version”, or King James Bible, in order to replace it.

The version we are going to use for this series also made the choice to present the protestant notes Study notes from the source edition frequently employ wording like “Look afore, chap. 5,29” [found in Matthew 18:8] or “as God command Levit. 23.40” [at Matthew 21:9]. The publishers have standardized all references to Scripture using the book name abbreviations
listed on the Books of the Old and New Testaments page in this volume, and using contemporary practice of separating chapter and verse with a colon. In cases like the first one above we simply use, for these examples, “See Matt. 5:29” and “as God commanded, Lev. 23:40.”

They use the restored 1599 Geneva Bible which entered the New World (the present United States of America) on which was worked from January of 2004 until its publication in 2006/2010 by the  Tolle Lege Press.

Soon after January of 2004 a team was organized to reset every word of the Geneva Bible, making no changes except these few: (which they call) modern spelling (but still looks old language for us); proofreading to ensure word-for-word accuracy with the original 1599 edition; and designing an easy-to-read format.

Unlike most contemporary Bible translations, which have unvarying contents because of copyright strictures, the Geneva Bible was never a uniform publication. Due to the relative novelty of publishing Bibles in English, as well as the sheer number of printings (approximately 150 in its first 75 years), its many editions often varied in content and presentation.

Theodore Beza (Theodorus Beza; Théodore de Bèze or de Besze; 1519–1605) disciple of John Calvin. French Protestant Christian theologian and scholar who played an important role in the Reformation. Translator of the Psalms bringing the Genevan Psalter and completed the revision of Pierre Olivetan’s translation of the New Testament.

The Geneva Bible was first published in 1560, and then “in 1576 a revised form of the Geneva Bible was produced by the  Calvinist Laurence Tomson, Secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham (then Elizabeth I of England’s Secretary of State) and formerly lecturer in Hebrew at Geneva. This contains a few changes in the translation, the most characteristic being Tomson’s pedantic rendering of the Greek definite article by ‘that’ (e.g., Matt. 16.16, ‘Thou art that Christ’); but the chief difference is the introduction of an English translation of Theodore Beza’s summaries of doctrine and exposition of phrases, in Beza’s Latin Bible. In 1598, the annotations on the Book of Revelation by Francis Junius, a Huguenot divine, who was the first person to substantially study the Codex Argenteus (or Gothic Bible), were introduced into the Geneva Bible” [Metzger, Bruce M., “Book Notes,” Theology Today, Vol 46, no 4 ( January 1990): 463].

François Junius [Franciscus Junius (the younger)] François du Jon, professor of Hebrew at Leiden University, & pioneer of Germanic philology. As a collector of ancient manuscripts, he published the first modern editions of a number of important texts.
The edition the editors of the 2010 edition have chosen as their source is a facsimile of the work of Tomson and Junius, dated 1599; however “in 1599 alone ten editions appeared” [Dr. Roger Nicole, “The Original Geneva Bible,” Tabletalk Magazine, Vol. 19, no 4 (April 1995)]. Their source copy was published by L L Brown (The 1599 Geneva Bible. Ozark, MO: LL Brown Publishing,7th printing, 2003), with an introduction by James W. Bennett, and back matter containing the (undated) Sternhold & Hopkins Psalms. The Apocrypha and metrical Psalms, included in that edition, are omitted here, as well as the brief introductions to the Old Testament books (since they were not available for the New Testament books, the publishers of the new edition also elected to omit them consistently). A “Note to the Reader” in their source copy’s front matter, lists errors that, “according to the Historical Catalogue of Printed Bibles,” were in the original 1599 edition — indicating an edition printed early enough in 1599 to precede these corrections.

A 1581 edition of the Geneva Bible.
A 1581 edition of the Geneva Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the editors of the new Geneva publication of 2006/2010 it has been their attempt faithfully to preserve this single source, rather than consult many editions that would risk producing an inauthentic pastiche. The only exceptions are rare indiscernible sections or words; in those cases they have consulted other editions, indicated by citations in brackets. The use of italics, by which the original translators indicated that they had supplied words not found in the original manuscripts, is also preserved by the new publication. Original punctuation was retained except in cases of egregious mistakes or obvious typographical errors in the source edition.

David Norton, in A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), describes his own editorial standards for a new edition of the KJB for Cambridge: “Very importantly, [to] not modernise wherever possible. Modernisation must not be at the expense of the text, even if the result is more difficult for the reader” (page 136). Similarly, the publishers of the Geneva version we are going to use for this series, did not attempt to make the text readable from a modern standpoint — only to offer contemporary readers what the Geneva Bible said.

New King James Version
The New King James Version (NKJV) a translation of the Bible which took a total of 7 years to complete, the full Bible in 1982 published by Harper Collins (a subsidiary of News Corp).

For this 2010 version of the Geneva Bible the editors have also changed the spelling of the proper names in the Bible to that of the NKJV, since this can greatly help the contemporary reader, and does not compromise the meaning of the original edition.
If, however, the NKJV used a completely different word than the source text, they retained the word from the source text, since to change would be to make a different choice than the original translators made. For example, they did not substitute “Syria” for “Aram.”

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

The used Geneva version for our series is the first completely new publication edition of the Geneva Bible since the time of its first issue, and was timed for release on the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown in what is now Virginia, “the first colony in the British Empire”. The Geneva Bible surely was carried aboard their three ships that sailed from England in December of 1606.
The New England Pilgrims likewise relied on the Geneva Bible for comfort and strength on
their 66-day voyage aboard the Mayflower in 1620, and were even more dependent upon it as they wrote the Mayflower Compact, a document unique in world history and the first constitutional government in the western hemisphere.

Cover: 1643 Souldier’s Pocket Bible: The Soldier’s Pocket Bible first issued in 1643 to Cromwell’s army and put in general use among his soldiers.
Christian Soldier’s Penny Bible (1693); a version of Souldier’s Pocket Bible (1643)

The legendary Soldier’s Pocket Bible, famous as the spiritual companion to Oliver Cromwell’s Christian soldiers in the English civil war, was composed of verses from the Geneva translation. And it was the Geneva Bible that was carried and read by the Pilgrims as they landed in the wilderness of America and extrapolated concepts of civic morality from its pages as they laid foundation-stones of the world’s first constitutional republic.

The Soldier’s Pocket Bible was used for religious inspiration and to help influence good morals and rigid discipline.
Before Cromwell’s soldiers went into battle, they would pray and sing religious songs from the Book of Psalms.
The work was reissued in 1693 under the title “The Christian Soldier’s Penny Bible. This version is similar to Cromwell’s Soldiers’ Pocket Bible except for changes to some of the “Headers” and minor alterations in the text. The latter reflect the King James Version of the Bible rather than the Geneva Bible text used for the 1643 edition.

Cromwell’s Soldier’s Pocket Bible was the first of the shortened, concise Bible versions that became popular for distribution to troops by military authorities and for use by individuals for personal guidance and inspiration.

So popular was the Geneva Bible that between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions were published, compared to but five editions of another, inferior, translation known as The Bishops Bible. The Geneva Bible lost its prominence only after the King James Authorized Version of 1611 was widely promoted by the King and Bishop Laud (later Archbishop of Canterbury and persecutor of Presbyterians), who outlawed the printing of the Geneva Bible in the realm. When the Geneva Bible disappeared, there were widespread complaints that people “could not see into the sense of Scripture for lack of the spectacles of those Genevan annotations.”

The marginal notes of the Geneva Bible served a.o. to liberate believers from the ignorance, heresy, and tyranny of the Middle
Ages. Calvin, and the Reformers who followed in his footsteps, expounded the whole counsel of God concerning doctrines of Sola Scriptura — the Word of God alone, inspired and directional for our lives and culture; Sola Fide — faith alone as the only means of justification before God; Sola Christus — Christ alone as mankind’s only mediator, lord, and king; Sola Gratia — grace alone as the only hope of salvation and sanctification; and Soli Deo Gloria — God alone, not king nor pope, to receive the glory He is due in heaven and on earth.



Additional reading

  1. Glory of only One God Who gives His Word
  2. See God’s wonderworks and hear His Voice
  3. Written down in God’s Name for righteousness
  4. Bible, helmet of health, salvation and sword of the spirit
  5. Bible, sword of the Spirit to come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man
  6. We should use the Bible every day
  7. Preachers should know and continue the task Jesus has given his followers
  8. Learn how to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News of the coming Kingdom
  9. Looking at notes of Samuel Ward and previous Bible translation efforts in English
  10. Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #3 Women and versions


Find also to read:

  1. Yea, Hath God Said?
  2. The Word and the words: a sonnet for Lancelot Andrewes
  3. Friday Five: The Bible!
  4. The Lord Is My Shepherd
  5. New Age Deism
  6. New Age Deism: Part Two
  7. The Bible: Kept Pure in All Ages
  8. AV1611: England’s Greatest Achievement
  9. Ye King Iames Bible
  10. The King James Bible
  11. Why King James Bible?
  12. King James Only?
  13. The King James Bible and the Restoration
  14. The King James Version Controversy
  15. The Wicked Bible
  16. Thees, Thous, and Wot Nots
  17. Greek Bibles Are Not The Standard
  18. Do Not Fear
  19. How Hollywood Copies the Bible
  20. An Insurance Policy with God
  21. The Attack on the Bible




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