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What is The Bishops' Bible?

The Bishops’ Bible audio

The Bishops' Bible was an English translation of the Bible produced under the authority of the established Church of England in 1568, whose bishops were offended by the Geneva Bible, the notes of which were decidedly Calvinistic in tone. Since the Great Bible, the only authorized version in use in the Anglican Church, was considered deficient because it was translated from the Latin Vulgate, a new translation was authorized by the Anglican bishops and came to be known as the “Bishops’” Bible. The first edition was exceptionally large and included 124 full-page illustrations. It was substantially revised in 1572, and this revised edition was to be prescribed as the base text for the Authorized King James Version of 1611, which became the standard for the Church of England.

Along with the Great Bible and the King James Version, the Bishops’ Bible was authorized to be read in church, although the Geneva Bible remained the favorite of the people for reading at home. The text of the revised 1572 version carefully excluded the offending Calvinistic notes and cross-references. The wisdom of the common people is evident from the fact that the Bishops’ Bible went through more than fifty revisions, while the Geneva Bible was reprinted intact more than 150 times.

The Bishops' Bible - Translation method
Under the direction of Queen Elizabeth I, who had no love for the Puritans and their Calvinistic doctrine, the archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, himself a scholar, took on the task of coming up with an alternative to the Geneva Bible. Portions of the text were assigned to various revisers, the majority of whom were bishops. In spite of their prejudice against the Geneva Bible because of its blatant advocacy of lay elders and church leaders—as opposed to the clergy-led paradigm embraced by the Anglican hierarchy—the Geneva Bible was the basis for the Bishops’ Bible, although the offending anti-episcopal notes were removed. No doubt this is partly why the Bishops’ Bible never achieved the support among the common people enjoyed by the Geneva Bible.

The Bishops' Bible - Pros and Cons
Because there was lax supervisory editing for the work completed by the various translators, translation practice varies greatly from book to book. Some used the Geneva Bible as their base text; some used the Great Bible, resulting in translational inconsistencies. For example, in most of the Old Testament the tetragrammaton YHWH is represented by "the Lord", and the Hebrew Elohim is represented by "God." But in the Psalms the practice is the opposite way around. Describing the translation, one commentator remarked that where the Bishops’ Bible reprints the Geneva Bible it is acceptable, but most of the original work is incompetent, both in its scholarship and its verbosity. Unlike Tyndale’s translations and the Geneva Bible, the Bishops' Bible has rarely been reprinted and the archaic language makes it all but unusable for the modern reader.

The Bishops' Bible - Sample Verses
John 1:1, 14 – “In the begynnyng was the worde, & the worde was with God: and that worde was God.” “And the same word became fleshe, and dwelt among vs (and we sawe the glory of it, as the glory of the only begotten sonne of the father) full of grace and trueth.”

John 3:16 – “For God so loued the worlde, that he gaue his only begotten sonne, that whosoeuer beleueth in hym, shoulde not perishe, but haue euerlastyng lyfe.”

John 8:58 – “Iesus sayde vnto them: Ueryly, veryly I saye vnto you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye made safe through fayth, and that not of your selues, it is the gyft of God: Not of workes, lest any man shoulde boast hym selfe.”

Titus 2:13 – “Lokyng for that blessed hope and appearyng of the glorie of the great God, and our sauiour Iesus Christe,”

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What is The Bishops' Bible?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022