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What is the Coverdale Bible?

Coverdale Bible
Question: "What is the Coverdale Bible?"

The Coverdale Bible, named after its compiler, Myles Coverdale, was published on October 4, 1535, in Europe. It was the first English translation of the Bible to be printed (not handwritten), containing the entireties of the Old and New Testaments.

Leading up to the Coverdale Bible were other pioneers of biblical literature. John Wycliffe in the 14th century produced a handwritten English Bible—the first-ever English translation of Scripture. The next century, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and promptly printed a Latin Bible on it. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in 1522, and William Tyndale published the New Testament in English in 1525–26. Tyndale’s translation was based on Erasmus’s Greek text (Wycliffe had translated from the Latin Vulgate). Myles Coverdale used the New Testament of the Tyndale Bible for the Coverdale Bible and finished Tyndale’s work on the Old Testament and the Apocrypha (published as an appendix to the Old Testament). Rather than translating from the Hebrew text, Coverdale used Luther’s German translation, Ulrich Zwingli’s Zürich Bible, and the Latin Vulgate as the basis for his Old Testament translation.

The Coverdale Bible was remarkably accurate despite significant parts of it being translations of translations rather than translations of the original Hebrew. Coverdale was the first translator to include chapter summaries in his Bible. The second edition of the Coverdale Bible was printed in 1537 in England under license from King Henry VIII. In 1539 Coverdale was hired by the king to assist Thomas, Lord Cromwell produce the Great Bible, authorized for public use in Anglican churches. In 1553 the Catholic Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) ascended the throne of England and began persecuting the Protestants in her realm. Myles Coverdale and other Reformers fled to Geneva, Switzerland, where they began work on the Geneva Bible in 1557. This popular translation was the first Bible to include chapter and verse numbers. Myles Coverdale helped write the study notes for the Geneva Bible, although he died before the edition was published. The Coverdale Bible continued to be published through over twenty editions, even after the appearance of the Matthew Bible (published by John Rogers using a pseudonym) in 1537. Besides his work on the Coverdale Bible, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible, Myles Coverdale also helped publish a dual-language New Testament (in English and Latin) and an illustrated New Testament. Until 1979, the Psalter in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer was essentially Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms. Myles Coverdale’s commitment to the Word of God has impacted millions of people, and his legacy of scholarship has literally changed history.

Recommended Resource: How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon D. Fee & Mark L. Strauss

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Who was William Tyndale?

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