None should take for granted the wonders of technology given the low reproduction costs of high quality facsimile editions of Bibles that shaped history.This 1560 Geneva Bible: Facsimile Edition is a treasure in so many ways. It is the first modern study bible in that it has numbered verses, Scriptural cross references, and annotations to make the sense of the Scripture clear. The Geneva Bible was the work of the Frenchman John Calvin, the Englishman William Whittingham, and a small committee of translators. The translators relied upon Theodore Beza’s Latin translation, the Hebrew Masoretic text, the Greek Textus Receptus produced by Desiderius Erasmus, and William Tyndale’s translations. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the most influential English Bible of the 16th and 17th centuries. It is also the most controversial Bible of all time due to the militant marginal notes that kings wanted censored and popes wanted burned. This edition is better than what’s in a museum, because this book can be handled and studied. No white cloth mittens required with a nervous curator with those penetrating eyes burning holes in the back of your neck. For those who have been in a rare book room of a serious library, you know what I’m talking about.
We start with Henry VIII, who had divorced himself and the nation from Rome as a political power, Latin as a language, and Roman Catholicism as a culture shaping faith when he established the Church of England in 1534. The English Reformation was political, not theological. Because of Henry VIII – the brutal king who was quick to behead wives and those who disagreed with him – English language bibles shaped England, the English language, and western culture. But, the Authorized Versions were by products of and for Anglicans of the Church of England, not Puritans. The Geneva Bible was for Puritans, and it represents the theological basis for the Protestant Reformation. The Geneva Bible was produced by Englishmen exiled in Geneva during the five year reign of England’s Queen Mary (1553-1558). Queen Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII (1509-1547), failed to see the direction of the wind of history for England when she reasserted Roman Catholicism as the state religion. When Mary died of influenza, her protestant sister Elizabeth became queen of England (1558-1603), and Catholics fled for exile in France where they produced the English language Douay-Rheims Bible (1582/1609/1610). England and Scotland were unified under King James VI of Scotland (1566–1625) and I of England (1603-1625). James did not like the sentiments of Scottish Presbyterians, who were Geneva Bible-wielding Calvinists, opposed to bishops, and approved of revolutions to overthrow tyrants as acts of obedience to God. The Geneva Bible with its notes transformed the laity to become a deadly conspiracy against professional clergy (vestment clad bishops) and the “divine right” of kings. Puritans saw themselves as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a kingdom of kings and priests with King James as one member of the Body of Christ with Jesus Christ, not the king, as the head over all.
To make matters more interesting, one Puritan in sarcastic disdain said he would rather read the Koran than the Bishop’s Bible of 1568. The fact is, the Church of England’s second authorized version, the Bishop’s Bible had many poorly rendered passages and was read aloud in the church. It was not portable. All across England, the English had hand sized copies of the Geneva Bible, which they read and studied for 100 years. The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare quoted from the Geneva Bible in some of his famous plays. But, many of the Puritans were separatists, as was the case with those in Scrooby. Some, like Henry Barrowe, were imprisoned in the Tower of London, interrogated, tortured, and then executed under the eyes of Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft and Bishop of Chichester Lancelot Andrewes, lead translators of the King James Bible. The capital crime of these unfortunate Puritan separatists was having conducted home-based bible studies and meetings and not wanting to be part of the Church of England. In 1620, some Puritans fled for freedom to the New World on the Mayflower. These 120 passengers, the Pilgrim Fathers, carried with them the Geneva Bible. They settled Plymouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The colony they established was governed by the Mayflower Compact. My cousin’s wife’s ancestors were on the Mayflower, and she and her husband live in New England. In his book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville suggested that Puritanism provided American democracy with a firm foundation.
The Geneva Bible appeared in 144 editions between 1560 and 1644. The Geneva Bible was eventually driven from prominence. Alister McGrath’s book In the Beginning bluntly drives the point that James I’s agenda was “to destroy, discredit, or displace [the Geneva Bible].” (McGrath, In the Beginning, p. 129).
The appearance of the King James translation of 1611, the third authorized version by and for the Church of England, was widely promoted. But, the King James Bible was met with ridicule and was a marketplace failure due to non stop printing errors. King Charles I (1625-1649) and Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud forbade printing of the Geneva Bible in England. Archbishop Laud made the vending, binding, or importation of the Geneva Bible a high-commission crime. “Archbishop Laud, who had from his youth a great dislike of this version, and had shown it strongly when president of St. John College, for bad the importation of copies. This prohibition was one of the special charges brought against him on the trial which ended in his execution.” (John Eadie, The English Bible, p. 52). When the Geneva Bible disappeared from circulation, the people complained that “they could not see into the sense of Scripture for lack of the spectacles of those Genevan annotations.” When the Puritans took over England and abolished the monarchy, it was time for pay backs. The career of Archbishop Laud came to a cutting end with “mass demonstrations, petitions, and leaflets” against him.” On January 10, 1645, Archbishop Laud was beheaded.” On January 30, 1649, King Charles I was beheaded. During the Commonwealth with Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) as Lord Protector, the King James version of the bible in English was published with the notes from the Geneva Bible. It was not until 1660 that the King James version completely displaced the Geneva Bible.
The revolutionary nature of the Calvinistic notes and teachings within the Geneva Bible, and other translations of the bible into European languages, was evidenced in The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). Reformer John Calvin, it should be remembered, was the man to first use the term Great Architect of the Universe (GAOU), which Freemasons now use to designate deity. This was the last great religious war, which ironically birthed the secular nation state in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The horrors of the Thirty Years’ War inspired my ancestors on my father’s side, Etienne and Antoine Hebert, to leave France for Nouvelle France, what is now Canada’s Prince Edward Island, during the reign Louis XIII. America’s many deist founders, Freemasons, separated the church from the state and enshrined freedom of speech and religion in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution of 1789. And thus, as ironic as it may seem, the Geneva Bible with its notes on just rebellion was instrumental in forging a novus ordo seclorum, that Latin phrase on the back of the dollar bill.