Giving God's Word Back to the People
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. But for centuries, it wasn't available in any common language -- only scribes and clergy men had access to it. If you were just a regular English speaker, you couldn't read and study God's Word for yourself.
The high church and tyrannical state liked it that way. In fact, one of the first English Bibles, authorized by King Henry VIII after he declared himself head of the church, came to be called the "Chained Bible" because it was chained to the pulpit so no one could take it home.
If you can't study the Bible for yourself, you have to rely on the words of men. After the Reformation broke out, the common people were less willing than ever to take the Pope's or the King's word for it. People wanted to see for themselves what the Bible said.
And that's where the Geneva Bible came in. The New Testament of the Geneva Bible was published first in 1557. The entire Bible followed in 1560 and became an immediate best-seller. It went through numerous editions and printings culminating in the final edition, the 1599 Geneva Bible, which went through many more printings because of its popularity.
The Geneva Bible: A Bible of Firsts
The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use cross-references. It was the first to use verse numbers for easy reference and memorization. It had extensive notes throughout to help explain and apply the text. It was the first English Bible to translate the Old Testament directly out of the Hebrew. It was the first to be printed in roman (rather than gothic) type for easy reading. It was really the first English Bible published for common men -- the first "study Bible."
The Geneva Bible was created to help even the most unscholarly readers understand God's Word for themselves. It was no "Chained Bible." And because of this, the monarchs of England and the elitists in the high church feared it would upset the civil and ecclesiastical hierarchy they had worked so hard to build and maintain.
A Mighty Weapon Against Tyranny
The Geneva Bible got its name from the fact that it was conceived and printed in Geneva, Switzerland when a number of Protestant scholars fled there from "Bloody Mary." With the bloodthirsty narrow-mindedness of Mary's Roman Catholic monarchism fresh on their minds, these Protestant refugee-scholars were eager to free the Bible from the self-serving distortions of popes and kings.
John Calvin and John Knox endorsed the Geneva Bible and had some hand in its popularity. They were active and vocal in their opposition to the "divine right of kings" doctrine. They thought that the Pope and his bishops had polluted the purity of the Gospel for their own ends.
Knox and Calvin, as well as the other Reformers, wanted the Bible to speak for itself. The Geneva Bible fulfilled that need. It nurtured liberty of conscience and freedom of thought. A generation of men and women raised on this Bible would not tolerate tyranny in church or state.
King James's Authorized Replacement
Recognizing that the Geneva Bible and its notes were undermining the authority of the monarchy, King James I of England commissioned the "Authorized Version," commonly known as the King James Bible, as its replacement. The King James Version did not include any of the inflammatory footnotes, of course, but it also altered key translations to make them seem more favorable to episcopal and monarchial forms of government.
But the people were not fooled. The Pilgrims and Puritans preferred the Geneva Bible over the King James Bible, not trusting the king's purported good faith. The Geneva Bible was brought over on the Mayflower, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the Geneva translation and footnotes were the biblical foundation for the American Republic.
The 1599 Geneva Bible Restoration Project
When it was first printed, the Geneva Bible was the most reader-friendly version of the Bible ever created. Numerous innovations made it ideal for the common reader.
Since the sixteenth century, other Bible publishers have built on the wisdom of the Geneva Protestants. In fact, today, it is nearly impossible to find a version of the English Bible that does not include chapter and verse numbers, cross-references, roman typography, and a translation from the original source languages in straight-forward contemporary language -- all of which were originally unique to the Geneva Bible. Other Bible publishers have adopted the spirit of the Geneva Protestants to such an extent that the 1599 Geneva Bible is comparatively difficult for modern readers to understand. The contemporary spelling, typography, and diction of 1599 is not current anymore.
Does that mean that we should throw the Geneva Bible out as some dusty relic? No! It is one of the most historically influential books in English-speaking history, and its notes and translation still have much to teach us today.
If it is worthwhile to read Shakespeare and Milton, then it is worthwhile to read the Bible that informed the minds of Shakespeare and Milton. If it is worthwhile to preserve our American Republic, then it is worthwhile to draw fresh inspiration from the book that ended the age of kings.
But reading a facsimile edition of the Geneva Bible (though it may be productive to scholars) is beyond tedious for the regular reader -- with its use of the long s (an s that looks like an f), its cramped archaic typography, and outdated spellings and word usage.
This is why Tolle Lege Press undertook the Geneva Bible Restoration Project. Using the most complete edition of the Geneva Bible -- The 1599 Geneva Bible -- we painstakingly re-typeset it with modern typography and spelling. All of the original footnotes are there. The original translation is there. Every word that put fire in the bellies of Reformers and Patriots is included.
This edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible removes the major obstacles for the contemporary reader, returning this historic Bible to its rightful place of influence and importance. The original 1599 Geneva Bible gave God's Word back to the people. Tolle Lege Press wants that tradition to continue.