The Great Bible, also known as the Cromwell Bible, the Whitchurch’s Bible, and the Chained Bible, was published in England in 1539. The Great Bible was the first authorized translation of the Bible into English—up till then, it had been illegal to print or distribute English Bibles in England. King Henry VIII authorized the creation of the Great Bible so there would be a Bible that could be read aloud in the vernacular during church services in England. Overseeing the production of the Great Bible were Thomas, Lord Cromwell, secretary to the king; and Myles Coverdale, who had previously published the Coverdale Bible. By the end of 1541, seven editions of the Great Bible had been printed. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote the preface to the second edition.
Much of the Great Bible is identical to the Tyndale Bible, the work of William Tyndale. The parts of the Old Testament that Tyndale was unable to complete before his martyrdom were translated by Myles Coverdale. The Great Bible was also similar in content to the Matthew Bible, published by John Rogers in 1537. The Great Bible, as the first authorized translation of the Bible into English, had a strong influence on subsequent English translations of the Bible, including the Bishops’ Bible and the King James Version.
The Great Bible was called “great” due to its large size—it was over fourteen inches tall. The Great Bible was intended to be a pulpit Bible and was often chained to something in the church to prevent its removal, hence the “Chained Bible” moniker. The printer was Edward Whitchurch, so the Great Bible also goes by the name “Whitchurch’s Bible.”
The Great Bible was only allowed to be kept in churches. It could not be taken home for personal study. The Great Bible was an important bridge: it was the first legal English translation of the Bible in England—a great step forward in religious freedom. But it was confined to the church building. The Reformers’ dream of putting the Word of God in every person’s hand was still yet to be realized.