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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

II. Reformation Literature in England

§ 14. The Great Bible

The history of the English Bible had thus moved quickly; but the publicity, which Coverdale, perhaps even above Tindale, had aimed at, was gained even more largely by another edition. Thomas Matthew, or, rather, John Rogers, to give him his real name, formed another Bible by a combination of Tindale’s Old Testament so far as it went and Coverdale’s—the Apocrypha being included. This was printed abroad by R. Grafton (who was a fellow-worker with Coverdale) and T. Whitchurch (1537). It is usually thought that, in parts where this edition differs from Coverdale, it is indebted to remains left by Tindale, up to 2 Chronicles, since Rogers, Tindale’s former assistant, probably had access to these. It was dedicated to Henry VIII, and Cranmer, who liked it better than all previous translations, was able to befriend it. The king gave leave for its sale, and thus it reached a place not publicly gained before; and its many notes found it favour or disfavour according to the reader’s opinions.

Coverdale began to prepare a new edition, for which he went abroad in the Lent of 1538; but, as the inquisition forbade its being printed in Paris, it was partly printed (1539) in England, after it (September, 1538) had been ordered for use in churches. This edition is known as the Great Bible. Again, Coverdale’s labours had turned more to other versions than to the text, and he had availed himself of some new continental versions. A second edition of it (April, 1540) appeared with a preface by Cranmer, who saw, in an English Bible formally approved, his own great hope fulfilled; and this edition, therefore, became known as Cranmer’s Bible, although he had done nothing for it beyond writing the preface. Then, at last, the English Bible was set up in churches (May, 1540) and was in general use both public and private.

One more edition of the New Testament, significant from the place of its appearance, and destined from its doctrinal bias to be widely popular, was the Genevan New Testament of William Whittingham (1557), who had married a sister of Calvin’s wife, and succeeded John Knox as English pastor at Geneva. The text was founded upon previous English versions, but Beza’s Latin version, the rival of the Vulgate, was also used. The whole Bible appeared at Geneva (1560) with a dedication to queen Elizabeth and with more apparatus than had hitherto been added, the text being due to Whittingham, helped by Anthony Gilby and Thomas Sampson. As they were, respectively, the first Testament and Bible printed with verse-divisions and in roman type, they mark a distinct stage.

Convocation, the authority of which had been sometimes pushed aside, was not wholly satisfied with the Great Bible, and (1542) sought a revision of it by the Vulgate, but, although parts were assigned to various translators, nothing came of the proposal. Under Elizabeth, and upon the initiative of archbishop Parker, the Bishops’ Bible was issued (1568); but, in the end, it was superseded by the Authorised Version (1611) prepared after the Hampton Court conference.

It should be noted that these Bibles varied in their treatment of the Apocrypha: Coverdale’s, Matthew’s and the Genevan Bible, following continental protestant usage, differentiated it from the Old Testament, and, soon after the Authorised Version had appeared, editions of Bibles without the Apocrypha became common. Apart from any critical or theological views supposed to be involved, this omission was a serious literary loss, which is now being more appreciated.